Interview – 10/9/2021 – Magdalena Bay


Luke Adams, Host of Terminally Online

Magdalena Bay are a L.A.-based pop duo composed of singer Mica Tenenbaum and engineer Matthew Levin. Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to sit down with them to talk about their upcoming tour with George Clanton, taking L’s and not really being much of an online band. Their terrific new album Mercurial World is out now.


L: So as we’re having this conversation, it’s been about a day and a half since the release of Mercurial World. As a temp check, how do we feel?

Matt: Oh man, I dunno. It doesn’t feel real yet. Especially, you know, we’ve been so busy prepping for this show, and we’re going on tour on Monday. We just have a long list of things that we need to get done, so it’s kind of distracting us.

Mica: Yes, we’re coming to terms with it. *Laughs*

Matt: But all of the responses that we’ve seen… It’s incredible.

Mica: It’s incredible! It also feels unreal.

L: My first impression of this album is that it’s a big sonic leap from your previous EPs. It’s a lot more high fidelity, a lot more layered and I think generally more diverse stylistically than previously. What was your idea of this album as you were coming into it? Like, what image of it do you have?

Matt: I don’t think it’s as deliberate as maybe it seems.

Mica: We just started making songs and I feel like we probably got to a place with our production and songwriting where we were just more comfortable getting a little weirder.

Matt: It’s probably also just a shifting taste thing because a few years ago, we were super into very straight-forward pop music, and that’s what we were listening to at the time. I think with being trapped in our apartment, I guess our vibe shifted and we started listening to more rock. We went back to our early high school Radiohead obsession, y’know, and went through their discography a bit, so I think it’s just a reflection of what we were listening to at the time.

L: On the album itself, for me, “Chaeri” was kind of an eye-popping moment, especially considering in the long run, it’s kind of the emotional centerpiece of the album. What led to that being chosen as the lead single?

Matt: There’s something special about that song.

Mica: Yeah! I dunno. I feel like as soon as we made it, we were like “this one is kind of special”. We talked to our label and they were like “we think it would be cool to start with ‘Chaeri,” and we were like “Yeah! We think the same thing. We didn’t know how you guys would feel,” and they were like “We didn’t know how you guys would feel” *laughs*.

Matt: Yeah, it’s funny because it’s not an obvious choice for a lead single, just because the structure’s not… What’s the word I’m looking for…

Mica: Conventional?

Matt: Yeah, it doesn’t have a conventional song structure and it gets a little weird. Like you said, the album does center around “Chaeri.”  It’s kind of like the climax in a way. It just felt right. This is what we’re gonna come out with.

L: So you got out of the booth and were like “this is the one,” metaphorically.

Matt: *Laughs* The booth! Yeah, there’s no real booth. I dunno, I’m trying to put myself back to when we finished it, and how we felt. Well I remember we were trying to do the chanting thing at the end, and you kind of felt weird about it at first, but then when I processed all the vocals together and played it back, then I think you were sold, right?

Mica: Yeah! I dunno. I just remember the first year after we made “Chaeri,” just getting goosebumps when I would hear that climax moment, because of the music but also the lyrics too are emotive or personal or whatever, so that emotional reaction with that song specifically was the strongest. That kind of told me “Oh, maybe other people will feel that some sort of way.”

L: Another thing that kind of struck me upon first hearing it was “You Lose!” mostly because there’s a lot less of a groovy or funky vibe than I got from a lot of this album and especially your early work. It’s very chiptune, almost. Is this a sound or aesthetic you could see yourself venturing further into in the future.

Matt: Yeah! I guess. For us, it’s kind of hard for us to repeat ourselves. I love “You Lose!” I don’t know if I’d do another song exactly like that.

Mica: Maybe elements of it will live on in the rest of our music.

Matt: Yeah, like the fuzzy guitars. We have them in “Domino” as well, and I think that’s just a fun sound to play around with for sure.

L: Is there anything on this album, whether it’s a song, a stretch, or just a general theme that has a sort of significance to you as a band?

Matt: I feel like the whole album, right?Mica: *laughs* Yeah!

Matt: The whole album is essentially about us and our lives, and if it doesn’t come off so obvious in that way then that’s probably a good thing.

Mica: I think it does come off as obvious *laughs*. But yes, it’s very personal to us for sure.

L: One of the big things about Magdalena Bay’s image and style is that you guys seem to be a very online band, from the very Geocities-esque Mercurial World page, to the presence you’ve cultivated on TikTok. Was Magdalena Bay ever conceived as this kind of online project, or was that just kind of a dimension that you slipped into?

Matt: Well I feel like that all started from the Pitchfork article, right? They had that kind of headline that was trying to bait you: “Magdalena Bay Is More Online Than You.” The thing is, we’re totally not! Not in the way you would conceive of an online band.

Mica: Cause people ask us like, “you guys are so online, you must be into crypto” and we literally don’t know what that is.

Matt: I’m not a meme person, I don’t follow meme pages or anything like that.

Mica: We’re online, but like twenty years ago.

Matt: We’re like if someone was terminally online in like, 2002 or something, I guess that’s what it would be.

L: So do you think there’s a sort of nostalgia to it?

Mica: I dunno, we’re just fascinated by the way that people used the internet.

Matt: Pre-social media internet is such a different beast.

Mica: Pre the corporatization of the internet, it was such a personal thing! Imagine Tumblr but much cooler graphically. The whole internet was basically that: just people’s open diaries and pages for their pets. I dunno, I just find that really fun!

L: Is that kind of where the “Lost Pet” angle came from with the “You Lose!” video?

Mica: Oh! No, I think for that video we were just running out of time and money for it. We were like, “We need a concept that we can pull off by ourselves because there’s no time to bring anyone else on board for this.” We were like “what could we do?” and I think I was like “Oh, it could just be a series of Ls that we take. That’s funny! We could probably get away with doing that for three and a half minutes.” We were brainstorming with our label, I think, and we were like “Oh, lost pet is a saying.” 


Matt: We had that single art made by Ram HanMica: We were interested in having that character be a part of the video in some way already, so that kind of bridged those ideas.

Matt: Just tying the gap between the character of “Fluffy” and the idea of us losing.

L: You’re going on tour with George Clanton soon. He’s someone very well known for that sort of “hypnagogic” pop, and you mentioned nostalgia and how people previously processed the internet. Do you see either him or the 100% ELECTRONICA crowd as kindred spirits?

Matt: Oh for sure! It’s funny, one of the first songs we put out that sort of gained some traction online was a song called “Neon,” which was way back in 2017. I wasn’t even aware of aporwave as a concept, and then people were like “Oh, this is vaporwave!”.

Mica: It was like vaporwave to a T, and we just didn’t know what that was. *Laughs*

Matt: We had our friend Matt Lewis at the time make the video, and I guess he heard and was like “Oh, this is vaporwave,” so he made a vaporwave video. And we thought “Oh, that’s cool.” But yeah, we just like that deep nostalgia about it.

Mica: George is awesome, and we loved how with his music and 100% ELECTRONICA, they created a whole world around it. Like with the Big Stream and the characters, we love him and we’re definitely inspired by that.

L: To close us out, what do you think is next for Magdalena Bay? As a concept, a band, as you guys individually: what’s next?

Mica: Well, we can’t wait to write. We haven’t written since this album, so it’s been a minute, and we’re super excited for that. I dunno yet, we’re curious of different ways to keep expanding our world visually and seeing what silly ideas we can get into with our videos.

Matt: Yeah! Maybe more long-form video content could be fun.