By Mark Carotenuto | August 25, 2022
From busking in Miami in college to electrifying Music Hall of Williamsburg, you can count on Magic City Hippies to bring the alt-pop, psych-funk party. Comprised of singer, Robby Hunter, drummer, Pat Howard, and guitarist/bassist, John Coughlin, the trio formed nearly a decade ago. Since then, they continue to produce together and have played major festivals, and tour across the country. Over the pandemic, they remotely recorded their sophomore album, Water Your Garden–from Montana, Los Angeles, and Miami, respectively. Their beats just keep on giving as you groove (in their words) to “mosaic of poolside grooves and lingering, sun-kissed melodies.” We took a trip to the Magic City during their live performance, where they feature keys and more guitar, and we can’t wait to return.
We sat down with the Magic trio, Robby Hunter, Pat Howard, and John Couhlin before their headlining set at Music Hall of Williamsburg and heard more about their last tour, their inspiration and they answered a few questions for the groovement:
How was your journey back to New York?
It’s been almost exactly a week since we left. That first week (of a tour) is always a lot of fun, because every tour, you’re kind of a different version of the same band. We’re always looking forward to the New York show – you nail this one, you really nail a lot of the tour, so, we’re excited.
How does this tour compare to previous tours?
We’re playing a couple of new songs from the last record that we haven’t played live before. So this will be the first time people get to hear “Champagne on the Rider”and “High Above the Sun.” Those are a fucking rip to play. Those are so much fun–we trade out guitar solos.
It’s something about the magic of making a record. We make our stuff without being able to play it live. Then we have to go back and relearn it and figure out how we’re gonna make it work live. And so you’re kinda falling in love with a different version of the songs all over again when you play ’em live, so it’s fun.
When you’re writing, and when you’re in the studio, are you thinking about the live performance, or are you just making music that you want to make?
I would say that these days we are a little bit more, but it’s not limiting us at all. We didn’t used to think about it, but now I think it’s back of our brains. Like, how the hell are we gonna pull this off?
Our band is like a free for all in the studio — whoever writes the guitar solo gets it on the record. So it’s like we have three producers in a room and then the songs come out and then we’re like, ‘shit, how do we do this live?’ So, for the live band, we grab more people to help us out.
Guille (Guillermo Belisario) has been playing with us for 7 years now. He’s one of the main guys, he’s just not in the recording side of things. Then we have our keyboard player, Jake, this is his second tour with us. He’s my best friend from high school. We played in bands together when we were like 14 and then he brought in this drummer to play with us, Harry. He’s a monster. He’s Still Woozy’s drummer, so he knows what he’s doing. So this live stuff is a different animal than this studio thing. We really like to let it rip and trade lasers throughout the show.
Do you feel more energized by bigger crowds?
It’s more about the percent of the room sold. People screaming and yelling makes all the world of difference.
I’ve had shows where I’m so excited, and the crowd is more of a new crowd who are like, “oh, what is this band?” And I have to dial back my expectations a little bit. Maybe I shouldn’t go out there screaming, because they’re gonna need a couple songs to start screaming themselves.
What was your first show?
Can I count the sidewalk one, or no?
Robby: It was a Chase Bank on a corner in Coconut Grove. It’s a Starbucks now. I’d climb the awning to the bank and plug in an extension cord, which was illegal, I guess. Frowned upon. We’d power the two PAs that I had out there and just play to the 20-somethings walking around. It was awesome. It was a lot of fun.
It lasted for like a year though. It went on for a while. It was a thing. I did it every Thursday night, which was college night. Eventually we graduated to the bar across the street called the Barracuda Bar. That’s where we really cut our teeth, ’cause we would do really long sets.
That’s where I met Pat, the drummer. And John started playing with us.
John: We played every Friday for free beer for like five hours. That was 10 years ago. But we played our fist gig together at a place called The Joint.
How did you go from there to eventually thinking “okay, we’re gonna try to go on tour, we’re gonna create an album”?
John: Pretty quickly, we were already working on music and releasing it. We released our first record. We didn’t know how to play it live, so we just did. Then right around the same time, we released Castle, and we brought in the two extra guys..
Robby: We got an agent and he signed us and then we got onto the Hippocampus tour, opening up for them. And that kinda opened up all the doors.
John: We released the EP in 2015, a couple of singles, and then a record in 2019. And by 2019 we already started touring. That’s kinda the order of things. But when it comes to making our records, we’d be in the studio five days a week till three in the morning, then work our day jobs. So most of the records are under extreme duress. The last one, not so much. We actually got to work on it at home. It’s gonna be fun to play.
How would you describe your music?
John: Our producer is a drummer, and all my favorite producers are drummers ‘cause the song just knocks from left to right, and you can really move to it. I guess you’d call that funk maybe. But it’s still songs and guitars, indie rock.
Robby: Even our slowest song, “The Wind,” has a beat.
John: We haven’t played that one live. As we age and mature, I think we’ll probably whip out an acoustic guitar and have Robby do a couple songs solo. But right now, the live show is a good time, a party. The high energy. Harry confirmed it. He said: “I get it. Now I know that every moment of the set is supposed to make you wanna move your shoulders or hips, whatever you need.”
It’s a good way to go. People like good times.
We cut our teeth in Miami playing for people. We’re trying to entertain them. In our music, like the live thing is supposed to be exactly what we want to play overlapping with the Venn diagram with what we think people want to hear. Sometimes that Venn diagram barely touches, and you gotta find that gold where it does. You’re like “Oh, I love playing this. I’m like, Oh, they love hearing this!” That’s definitely what we’re going for. It’s not like you need to patiently sit through my feelings and my esoteric lyrics.
Any pre-show routines?
John: I usually drink two gin and tonics. An hour before our set, I always make my first one. And then I stretch and change while I drink it. Then 15 minutes before, I have my other one. Then I walk on with a double. And then the night continues as it does.
We have a song called “Champagne on the Rider” and we do have champagne on our rider every night. We drink that. It’s a good time. We’ve been doing this on the road long enough that the green (room) is relatively calm before we go on stage.
Robby’s doing warm ups in the attic or on the street. Or behind a dumpster.
Robby: Yeah, you can find me doing vocal warmups by the dumpster.
What do you want people to receive or take away from your music? Is there any intention of what you want the listener to get out of it, or is it more about what you like?
Robby: I find that indirectly people have a catharsis that happens. I don’t even know if that’s the game plan, but it’s great to have people be like, “I listen to your music to get through this thing.” And I hear that all the time. It’s amazing.
John: And there’s two ways to do that. There’s music that really moves people, and they wanna cry along with it. And that is one thing. Ours, I think, is to help push you through the hard times by being something you really connect to. You write the songs and you have no idea if people are gonna receive the lyrics, receive the vibes. I know when Robby wrote “Ghosts on the Mend,” I’d literally be watering my garden listening to it and be tearing up like, “this is beautiful.”
What’s your dream venue to play?
What’s next for you guys?
We’ve got another tour starting New Year’s and into January and February. So that’s the biggest thing coming up.
We’re already working on the new music for the next record, but that’s a little more open ended. Next year’s gonna be a busy road year too.
It’s gonna be our busiest year ever.
📸: shot by Sarah Schneider