Q&A: Tri Magi

In the Bible it is told that upon his birth, the baby Jesus, Son of God, was visited by three magi. These wise men had followed the North Star for 12 days all the way to the town of Bethlehem to pay their respects to the new king, bestowing upon him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the modern day, beat maker The Lasso (Andy Catlin), cellist Jordan Hamilton and saxophonist Jarad Selner have come together to become the new three magi, collectively known as Tri Magi. They followed stars of their own musical making that led them to an oasis of the mind, gifting the world with the offering of their eponymous debut album. It is a divine experience in the magical exploration of beats, cello and saxophone that feels as liberating as it does engrossing.

The trio’s debut comes out this Friday from the ever exciting Mello Music Group, a label that has shown a dedication to showcasing the more experimental forms of hip-hop. The three friends have been making music together in different forms for years now, always stretching and evolving their dynamic to find alchemic sounds that seem unlike any natural elements found on earth.

Their album Tri Magi is no different, though the cohesion, flow and exploration feels as unified as ever. That’s thanks in large part to the group holing up in the northern reaches of Michigan in a Covid-safe cabin in the coldest recesses of this past winter. A wood burning-stove crackled just outside the reaches of mics and the group had nothing but time and curiosity to find their sound, a true miracle in the hectic schedules they all posses. In such close proximity Catlin, Hamilton and Selner were able to really hone in on a shared musical experience and create a cohesive jazz-meets-beat tape sound that reverberates in your soul with power and majesty.

As Hamilton perfectly put it, Tri Magi is “an escape and peak into a fantasy world created in sound between three musicians.” After listening, you’ll be inclined to bestow your speakers with your own gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These new magi must be recognized and respected for their divine musical powers, they are after all, Sons of God.

The following are answers submitted by Andy Catlin, Jordan Hamilton and Jared Selner via email. They have been edited for length and clarity.

Tri Magi is a great name, why does this feel like the right name for this group? 

Jarad Selner: The three of us agree, I think, on the inherent mystic properties of music as a conduit for spirituality. So that, coupled with the way in which we work together, as well as the venues we find ourselves in when recording and writing, feels to me as if we are conjuring magic or casting spells. 

You have played together on a number of different records. Can you explain what that general artistic dynamic looks like between the three of you? 

Jordan Hamilton: The Lasso is very much the container that provided space, gravity and inertia for the three of us to build with. Jared and I thrive in moments of obscurity and exploration so once the container was set, we colored in the lines and reformatted the rules if needed. Then the Lasso tied it all together once again to make it a complete package.

There was already a language and chemistry built from the three of us recording and playing music with each other in the past. Still we learned new ways and evolved as the project went on. I find each of us had a director’s role in the other’s sound. We played what we wanted but then we were subconsciously and consciously guided to realms outside of our initial thoughts by other members in the group.

JS: First and foremost I think our interplay and relationship when making music together comes from a place of love and respect. There’s very much an air of honesty and encouragement that I don’t always find in the writing room or the studio, but that never belies the honesty that is sometimes needed when working on artistic projects. As a result I think we all feel comfortable taking chances we might not otherwise take, which is an attitude I for one thrive in and I think has led to some of my favorite musical moments on these records.

What’s the general framework and sound that you initially wanted this album to exist in? Did that vision hold steady throughout the process?

Andy Catlin: Creating albums is always an action-reaction process. You know the cardinal direction you are heading, but the details along the way are unique and dictate the final destination. My initial inspiration was staring at old jazz LPs and seeing how they listed all the players on front of an album. I wanted to blend that idea of shared sound with beat tapes and electronic music.

JS: Beat-tape-meets-jazz was always kind of the crux. As we really dug into the writing process I think we were able to maintain that as a throughline while really expanding into more exotic places than even that nebulous of a description might imply. Most of the tracks on the record I think really take you places that never existed but somehow still feel real. “Voyager Too” was one that specifically does that for me, personally.

What are the unique musical challenges this band poses in this beat tape-meets-jazz sound and how did you go about addressing them on this debut record? 

JH: I don’t know why but making this music was very effortless. The most difficult part is finding time to record. Our styles naturally blend with each other and Andy does a great job of organizing and giving us space to perform freely. We also feel comfortable telling each other we don’t like something without it getting personal. The recording process really feels like a freestyle cypher turned into songs.

JS: Mixing textures in recorded music is not dissimilar to mixing flavors while cooking. There are combinations that people expect and as a result kind of always play, but taking the time to experiment and try new combinations and ratios, while certainly posing an opportunity for disaster, can also yield new and wonderful results that you never really even knew you were looking for. 

For me, blending with the existing landscape of both highly synthetic sounds as well as incredibly organic ones is a fun and wonderful challenge. Through the process of this record I personally developed a few new approaches and techniques to recording that have informed much of my work since, and that I may have never developed in another setting. 

AC: The only challenge is containing all the ideas into listenable formats. At any moment in a session we could take the sound in so many ways. I think our challenge as an ensemble will be to utilize our potential in the most effective ways for sound and listeners.

Artwork and Design: Mylkweed

What non-music related event/circumstance/quality had the most impactful role in your performance/writing on this record? In what way? 

AC: Going to therapy over the last year, more than ever I value every minute I get to share with creative partners. These are my friends and I’m grateful to be able to spend time creating new sounds with good people.

JS: The aforementioned setting of being in a cabin on a farm in Northern Michigan in the winter, for me at least, certainly had the largest impact on my approach and performance. I was able to dial in to a specific headspace and really come from an angle I don’t always get to exercise, which was refreshing to say the least.

Andy, you have the most outsized role in defining the rhythm of the record with your beats. Can you speak to what rhythmic qualities you find yourself being drawn to within Tri-Magi?

AC: By the time we get to recording, I’ve thought so much about both of them as players, listeners, friends, it’s kinda just there to unfold. We’ve all been playing and performing for years, so you come to collaboration with a knowledge of shared taste and ambition.

Jordan, the cello is the oldest instrument out of the trio. Is there anything about the history of this instrument or the myriad of different ways this instrument has been approached through the centuries that you believe is influential to how you play on this record? 

JH: As an artist, I am always trying to figure out ways the cello hasn’t spoken before. Usually I throw it through effects, use untraditional plucking, write modern songs with it functioning as a chordal instrument, etc. But for this record I mostly tried to find out how the cello can sit in non-classical music as a melodic instrument without it sounding “classical.” What musical language does the cello speak? What kind of time and articulations would it use? I tried to find my voice in that, to make a sound that is true to my character but can still be related to the sounds of great cellists through the centuries.

Jared, where do you think you pushed your boundaries as a musician on this record?

JS: Getting to stretch on fretless bass for “Requez” was challenging but incredibly fun. Some of the group horn arranging on this record was also a muscle I don’t stretch as much, “Requez” and “City of Grass” being examples of that. 

Photo Credit: John Hanson

Can you point to the song where you feel most proud of your individual performance?

JS: “Requez” is I think my favorite set of my personal performances, and also demonstrates the unity that we have found together and have really strengthened on this record. 

AC: “Voyager Too.” I could play that for myself in any era of my musical life and I would fuck with it. It’s got jazz, funk, noise, beat, komische, all wrapped into a sound.

When you were finished, what aspect of the finished album did you find to be a delightful surprise that you didn’t anticipate? 

JH: How well everything flowed together from song to song and how clean everything is. Andy made everything sound so full.

AC: The sound and intersection of genre and mood and all of the ways we were able to superimpose different melodic and harmonic content over static basslines. We found a sound and now I want to see it through further.

JS: To me, the fact that everything feels so whole and yet so specific at points really is magical. I think it’s rare for a record to really run together while all of its tracks stand alone, and I really do feel like we pulled that off here.

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