“I feel like we deserve to be here, for sure,” says Johnny Griffin as he squints at me from across the large picnic table, sun in his eyes, “I just didn’t expect us to play this year.” The rest of John Jacob Magistery laugh or nod in agreement, knowing full well that while they are labelled ‘up-and-coming,’ their sound and vision for the future is fully formed. As opposed to other young bands making their major festival debuts in 2015, John Jacob Magistery are a group of seasoned musicians who know exactly what they’re capable of, their performance at Osheaga serving as a testament to just how much can be accomplished in a year.
Led by lead singer/songwriter Griffin and composed of Anthony Lombardi (drums), Mackenzie Myatt (violin/vocals), Antoine Ferron (bass), and Francois Jalbert (guitar), John Jacob Magistery are an indie/folk band with bite. Their debut EP—gracefully titled Narcissism Unto Loneliness and released independently last spring—has been picking up a lot of traction locally and online, their single “Greatest Story Ever” receiving heavy rotation on CHOM, who named John Jacob Magistery one of their ‘Best Music Discoveries of 2014.” “They were really supportive,” says Myatt. “It does a lot when you’re going to play shows and trying to move forward, and you say ‘we play on a radio station.’ It gives your music more importance — it’s a leg up.”
Built on rich tones and quavering, powerful vocals, Narcissism Unto Loneliness was created a little haphazardly with a group of notable musicians from around Montreal—such as Simon Angell of Thus Owls—that Griffin happened to gather together for the sole purpose of creating the album in a day. “I rehearsed with people separately, and we all met at that one time, on that one day, and we all just recorded it because that’s what it was. I knew I had to put something out. But now…now this is the band. This is John Jacob Magistery, all these guys here. It feels like a proper debut for a band. It feels more real all the time.”
Their forthcoming LP Phantom i, which will be released sometime this year, was recorded at the Grouse Lodge in Westmeath, Ireland — a secluded, world class recording studio where they spent two weeks fleshing out and recording as much as they could for their debut. After winning the trip through Recording Festival, and with the help of their manager Joseph Griffin, John Jacob Magistery just need to mix, master, and release…and maybe add a few extra tracks if they feel like it.
“It was an experience that was unparalleled. We were basically there at a kind of resort. Just in the most amazing resort. It was all stone, and it was out in the country,” says Johnny Griffin. “There was nothing around,” added Myatt, “you have no choice but to be immersed in the music.” Titled after a idea found in book on Tibetan Buddhism, Griffin explains that the concept resonated within his writing and has, in turn, weaved its way throughout the new record.
The “phantom I,” he explains, represents “the fabricated self: the person you believe yourself to be, the person that you think you are,” adding that it also “translates into the person I believe you, and others to be, just based on the way that you look are the things that you’ve said — an idea of somebody.”
While Griffin acts as the band’s sole lyricist, the rest of the group undoubtedly play vital roles in the conception of each track, with everything culminating in an organic whole. Lombardi, who has been playing with Griffin for upwards of eight, nine years (“so about 40 years” they joke), has been there since the beginning, with Myatt and Jalbert joining last year, and with the final addition of Feron about four months ago. With a new, solidified lineup, and with an air of ambition underlying the band’s laissez-faire attitude, it’s clear that John Jacob Magistery are only getting started.