Caught somewhere between some reality and mostly the imaginary, Magic Wands set the scene of their fifth album Illuminate. Finding it challenging not to produce a reflection of the times, Illuminate isn’t brimming with contemplations of the world’s events. It’s a figment of Dexy and Chris Valentine’s imagination, a mirage of music evading real life.
“We wanted to have it transcend the time,” says Dexy. “We create our own worlds, and it’s an escape from reality. It’s more fantasy-based reality, and there’s lot of imagery in the lyrics, and the songs are like little stories.”
Chris adds, “We want people to just forget about whatever’s going on and go somewhere else.”
A follow up to the Los Angeles duo’s Aloha Moon 19 in 2019, all of Illuminate was recorded in 2020, following the pandemic when production was abruptly halted. Shortly after everything shutdown, the Valentines decided to pick up right where they left off.
“Everything kind of froze for a minute, but then we got over that,” says Dexy. “We just said ‘let’s get back to what we were doing’ and just went into our own little bubble and didn’t really pay attention to the outside world.”
In under 30 minutes, every burst of Illuminate captivates. Steadily streaming through its own consciousness and see-sawed between reality and reverie, Illuminate opens on a rapturous tale of lovers and nomads on “Honeymoon.”
“It’s an imagined scenario of a honeymoon taking place in the ’80s at Niagara Falls, then glides into meeting up with a gypsy in San Francisco and having a night out, into a sort of a psychedelic flower garden,” saysDexy. “It’s reflective of some things in my life but it’s not literal. A lot of people ask me if I do acid, but no I don’t do drugs at all.”
The original idea of the band from its inception, says Chris, was to always write around magic, love, and dreams. ‘We don’t really write anything that’s based on any kind of reality,” he says. “We like to imagine a fantasy land and stay there.”
All of Illuminate is threaded in 10 songs that are “in the moment,” says Dexy. Slinking through the sticky sex and synth of “Blue Cherry” and levitating “Angel Dust,” Illuminate echoes the imaginary world conjured up by the Valentines from the quickened “Paradise,” and shorter bursts of instrumental “Psychic Allen” and the title track capturing a celebration around an alien, lemonade, caviar, and champagne. The infectious “Bat Babby,” a song Dexy wrote on a Casio keyboard, centers around an image in her head of an animated bat that takes over the human race.
“I just started daydreaming and there was this bat flying out of a cave that takes over the world,” says Dexy. “Then I thought this would be a great, cheesy horror movie. Right after that, the bat soup story was all over the news, and I started looking back at the lyrics about a bat that gets out of the cave and wins the human race.”
Motioning through the dark flickers of “Magic Flower” and “Queen of Gypsies” into the brooding instrumental close of “The Beach,” Illuminate connects all of Magic Wands “senses.”
“They’re all based around magic, love, dreams, and fantasy,” says Dexy of the tracks. “We don’t really write much of anything that’s too stuck in reality. We like to imagine a fantasy land.”
She adds, “I’ve always had a pretty vivid imagination. Maybe it has something to do with me being a Pisces, who supposedly live in fantasy worlds. Some people say they have a really hard time writing a love song, because it’s so simple. For me, all I can do is write a love song.”
Fitting Illuminate‘s transcendent setting, songs tend to come to the Valentines through various channels. “The best songs are the ones where we just sit down with a guitar and just make up things,” says Chris. “We’ll say ‘I like this or that chord,’ and then Dexy will channel Jerry Garcia or somebody.”
Someone with a collection of Jerry Garcia’s poetry once approached Magic Wands to put some of the late singer’s words to music. “I was like, ‘it’s not really my thing,’” says Dexy. “Then he said, ‘you don’t even need the poetry, because Jerry’s actually watching over you guys, and all you have to do is ask him for a song, and he’ll give you a song.’ So we listened to him and were trying to channel Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead and ended up writing this beautiful song called ‘Treasure.’”
If there’s a true connection, the lyrics will flood out. “I try to operate like a channel, not really writing songs,” says Dexy. “It’s kind of like a subconscious thing that just happens, and then we arrange it.”
Then, there are times nostalgia creeps in. “I started thinking about when I first started going to concerts, and how life is so different now,” says Dexy. “I want to write a song that kind of captures that same feeling that I had when I would go to a show.”
Growing up between New York and South Jersey, Dexy and Chris in Philadelphia, the two initially settled in Nashville, releasing their debut Aloho Moon in 2012, before later relocating to Los Angeles.
Still casting their own musical spell, everything—sonically, lyrically—is still where they’ve always imagined it. Stuck in more confinement following the pandemic, the duo have also returned to the earlier days of Aloha Moon when it was just the two of them in a room producing together.
“We’ve gotten a lot better at recording and know how to get the sounds we want a lot faster now,” says Chris. “We don’t have to labor over the it. We can just get right to it.”
Already moving ahead, Magic Wands have a new EP recorded but still hope to play Illuminate live once shows open up again.
“Normally, I don’t think I’ve ever played a copy of my own vinyl. I’ve never actually listened back to any of them once I’m done, but with ‘Illuminate’ and even ‘Abrakadabra’ , I don’t mind listening to it, and actually I like it,” says Dexy. “We’re on a roll.”