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Bruce Magnus: “We are still kind of the sperm on the outside of the egg that can’t quite make it in.” Photo by Dustin Schneider

I don’t want you to get the idea that Bruce Magnus sounds anything like Thee Oh Sees or any of John Dwyer’s other projects, but they do have a couple things in common. For one thing, both bands write and record a shit-ton of material. To this point, on Friday, at a show at Caves Lounge in Arlington, Bruce Magnus will release Bruce Magnus on the Radio, the band’s fourth studio album in total and their second studio album this year. And in the way that every LP by Thee Oh Sees (or The Ohsees, The Oh Sees, Oh Sees, Osees, or whatever spelling permutation Dwyer is using at the moment) sounds distinctly different from the previous one, so do Bruce Magnus recordings. Yet no matter what direction their arrangements go, they are still unmistakably representative of the band’s signature sound.

Of course, when a band’s sound evolves over every album, you might find it hard to identify the sonic watermarks on each of them. Bruce Magnus is a rock ’n’ roll band no matter what genre they pivot toward or which influence seeps into their riffs. In March, when I wrote about their then-new third album Spare Beans, I settled on the idea that the most applicable comparison is Ween, given that Ween writes songs that sound like the Beatles, Jimmy Buffett, and Motörhead yet still remains very obviously Ween. I also got the impression that Bruce Magnus is, perhaps unintentionally, Minutemen-like, in that their anything-goes, punk-is-whatever-we-make-it-to-be ethos is a cornerstone of the songwriting aesthetic.

Yet even before you hear singer-guitarist Samuel Fatzenberger’s energized rasp, you can always tell a song is a Bruce Magnus joint. There are certain signifiers: the deliciously dusty-sounding, live show energy of Joe Tacke’s production, the trebly crunch of Fatzenberger’s Telecaster over the gritty, growling low end from bassist Aaron Richter’s bendy, melodic runs, which slither and curl around the thump and snap of drummer Billy Hildreth’s deep-pocket backbeats like a boa constrictor. As a unit, their powers combine to form a three-headed classic-rock monster, like one drafted for a hypothetical ’70s mashup called Sabbath Bloody Songs in the Key of Little Feat — or Lipps, Inc.

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In a phone interview, Richter said they started working on the songs that would find their way onto Bruce Magnus on the Radio in March 2021. They had five songs finished and were thinking of releasing them as an EP, but then they wrote several more.

“We went back this year and finished the rest of them” with Tacke, Richter said. “He’s like our No. 2 fan, after my mom.”

That self-deprecating humor, along with Fatzenberger’s lyrical bent that favors a “get over it and get after it” sense of positivity over self-pity, is also part of the Bruce Magnus sound. Yet Richter says that while the new material has the usual serving of silliness, “This one might be our most topical record.”

He mentions a song called “Gun on Your Bible” that touches on the hypocrisy inherent in self-righteousness, and another track, “The Fountain,” that examines late-stage capitalism seen through the lens of a person forced to spend the night at Ridgmar Mall.

“That place is so sad,” Richter said, “but that’s about as far as the topical stuff goes. All our song ideas are shoot-from-the-hip anyway. We usually just start with a riff. … It’s a rock ’n’ roll record, but any time we go into the studio, there’s something different about the way we’re recording, and a lot of time that’s [Tacke’s] idea. And we’re down to experiment. You’ll notice there’s a lot of piano in this one, a lot of pure piano sound. It’s like a new character introduced into this season of Bruce Magnus.”

Played by Fatzenberger, the piano does indeed pop out like a new character, but, thankfully, it’s more like Pepe the Prawn debuting in the Muppets than Cousin Oliver’s entrance into the Brady Bunch: fun, lively, and complementary to the cast of lovable weirdos. And while Camillo Grisales left his role as a full-time member last year, he still makes in-studio appearances, shredding leads over the album’s first five tracks. So, overall, while Bruce Magnus still tries new things, they still know what their music “is” — as well as why they make it in the first place.

“I’ve been thinking about ‘the band’ a lot,” Richter said. “And, really, it’s all about the music for us. Being in a band, in a local music scene, there’s a lot of other stuff that surrounds the music itself. And it’s not that we don’t like to participate, and it would be cool to be able to tour and that be our job, but there’s a weird social groundwork we kind of orbit around. We don’t really insert ourselves in the scene. There are tons of great people I’ve met over the years doing music, but we are still kind of the sperm on the outside of the egg that can’t quite make it in. But it’s something we’ve become OK with. We’re making music because it’s fun. Hopefully people listen to our songs, but, really, we are just playing music because we have fun.”

Though if you listen to Bruce Magnus on the Radio’s title track, they at least imagine a world where they are a huge band, where everyone makes song requests and you hear their songs blasting out of car windows. And Richter said they would love to make some road trips. In August, they played one last show at MASS with a Nashville-based band called Hans Condor.

“We hit it off with them,” he said. “It was a fun show, where we all played to the bands and about four people, but we ended up keeping in touch with them, and we’re interested in boogeying on up to Nashville to play with them again.”

So Bruce Magnus does indeed have some bigger aspirations, but in the meantime, they’ll continue to write and record. Richter said they just started a new joint at Cloudland in Fort Worth. “We have three songs down, and we’re going to do three or four more. … I don’t know what it is. We just love writing music.”

Bruce Magnus
8pm Fri w/Siamese Hips, Red Admirals, Weathered Eyes at Caves Lounge, 900 W Division St, Arlington. 817-460-5510.

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