Siobhan Magnus, Part III: Singing with the Bee Gees, Alice Cooper, American Idol, and What’s Up Next!

Speaking to Siobhan Magnus, I was impressed with her reverence for the musical greats who have come before her, but also her love of music in general. The fact that she has a great deal of love for her family is also rather admirable. Getting the chance to hear her live, though, I suddenly understood why she not only made it to the Top 6 on American Idol, but also has such a strong and fervent fan base. To hear Magnus sing “Helter Skelter” and “Across The Universe” is awe-inspiring and goosebump-producing.  Doubtful Guest, the supergroup of ’90s musicians that she fronts and her new EP which is still in the works are projects that I’ll be keeping a close eye on, and I’d recommend you all do the same!

What follows is the final installment of my interview with Siobhan Magnus. Enjoy, and please “follow” my blog!

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(Photo by Jennifer Dodge)

 

Me: This is definitely a thrill for me to speak to someone who’s been able to do some cool things that I haven’t been able to, mostly because I can’t sing (laughing).  How did you get involved with this great band, Doubtful Guest, that I’ve been reading about while doing research on you? It’s got some amazing ‘90s musicians from some of the bands that I grew up listening to, and here you are fronting them. How did that come about?

 

Magnus: It was just pure chance. I met Sammy Hudson, the bass player, through my producer.  We were putting together a band for one of my shows, and we needed somebody, and my producer just said, “I know this guy Sammy…” and so I started working with him on my solo stuff, and after we’d played together a handful of times, he presented this idea that he’d been thinking about for a while because he had spent many years touring as the bassist for Everclear and through his travels he met all kinds of musicians for other bands and toured with a lot of them and got to know them. He realized that he had enough friends that were in other ‘90s bands that he could potentially put it together.

     It’s kind of funny. We joke about that they wouldn’t have wanted to use their lead singers because the lead singers are always a pain in the ass (laughing), are really full of themselves, and usually the biggest problems in the band. If they break up, it’s the singer.  None of them would have wanted to work with their old singers again, except for Peter Klett of Candlebox. They’re the only band that we incorporate that is still together and still touring. Other than that…so Sammy asked if I’d like to do it as it’d be interesting to re-interpret some of the songs because a lot of the songs we had to choose from were originally sung by men. We ended up having to adapt them all to suit my voice which can be really interesting, and really hard sometimes, too.  You want to just say, “No, never mind. I’m too self conscious to do this.”  You have to come up with a way to make it your own and then you do it.

 

Me:  Are you guys still touring?

 

Magnus: We’re actually working on booking shows for this whole year, mostly the summer right now. Hopefully there will be some more good news about that pretty soon.

 

Me: That’s great to hear. It’s interesting looking at the list of songs you performed on American Idol. Did you choose the songs or were they chosen for you?  Did you have any input?

 

Magnus: We chose them, but we chose them from pre-selected lists. Sometimes you had a lot to choose from, and sometimes you had very little to choose from at all. Then you would still get critiqued for your song choice. Sometimes you’re just doing the best you can. You had enough input to get through it, and then eventually you’re going to come across a theme that there’s no escape. That’s what happened to me because I got to Shania Twain week, and there was one song on the list that I thought I really could have done well, and someone else called it first. The system was whoever picked it first, got it. I was like, “What? I don’t know about this…” (laughing).

 

Me: And yet you had these songs that I wouldn’t normally associate with American Idol like “House of the Rising Sun,” “Paint It Black,” “Across The Universe,” “Suspicious Minds,” all of these really amazing songs that are all over the musical map. You went from R&B to rock to ballads. It’s really intriguing to find somebody who tackles all of that, because usually it seems like you can sort of pigeonhole certain singers and performers on American Idol. Yet you seemed to break through all of that and be all over the map. Was that a conscious choice?

 

Magnus: I guess mostly because I never really could say that there’s one genre of music that I do. I’ve always learned to sing by just singing anything I had to or anything that I liked. I have a huge family and everyone listens to their own favorite music. My brothers and sisters did, and so I grew up loving all different kinds of music. I’ve always found it fun to really push myself and try every kind that I could. Growing up and throughout high school I was in several different chorale groups that did different kinds of music, like a vocal jazz ensemble and then I’ve done musical theater since I was 8-years old, and so I had that drama nerd, drama-dork kid thing that I loved musical theater, Andrew Lloyd Weber and stuff like that. In real life, when I’m not on stage I’m not that animated. A lot of theater kids are that animated all of the time. I could never be like that, so I have to have my brooding self, too, and the stuff that I like when I’m being quiet and mysterious is punk, rock, jazz, and blues. I’ve always liked to do all kinds of music. I like to surprise people. 

     Being on American Idol, I didn’t want anyone to be able to think that of me because it became very clear to me mostly why I was there. I was their “quirky one.” I was the “rocker chick” or the “offbeat one.” That was my profile, and they wanted me to be that really bad, but then some [song] choices I made, they would…they were just confusing me. They’d praise you for something so you’d do it again, and then they’d shame you for it, the same thing. I thought, “It’s just television.” It didn’t really matter, and so I just always wanted to choose a great song regardless of the genre. Sometimes the themes of the week were a genre of music, but sometimes the themes were one artist, so when that happened you had to change the genre that, that artist is to suit you, if you can. As much as I could, I just wanted to choose songs that in 20 years I won’t be completely mortified that I chose that song. Someday I’ll have kids and they’ll pull this up on their hologram computer machine, and be laughing at me (laughing).

 

Me: (laughing) I have to say that I was really impressed with your song choice list. I’m still staring at it right now. Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin…the Queen song is incredible, a really under-appreciated Queen song, I think (“Love of My Life”). You also got to sing with some pretty impressive people through that TV show. The Bee Gees is one example, or Alice Cooper. You also were able to sing with Hanson at one point. You’ve had some really wonderful experiences that most singers and songwriters and musicians would give their right arm for, and you’ve been able to do that, and at a relatively young age, too. Have you ever pinched yourself?

 

Magnus: Yes (laughing). I forget about it. It’s really easy to get down about life in general and get distracted by stuff, and then sometimes I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, I did that.” I can say that. I don’t, and it’s not like I enjoy bragging about it or anything, but those are some of the proudest moments of my life, performing with those people. Especially the Bee Gees. My dad loves the Bee Gees so I grew up not just listening to them, but listening to him sing their songs. My dad is a singer and he taught me to sing, and so he would play piano and sing “Words” by the Bee Gees. It’s one of my favorite songs; it’s so beautiful. He always taught me to appreciate their voices and their harmonies. It’s just great pop music.

      When I found out that I was going to get to sing with them…I kind of weaseled my way into that, too. We were rehearsing for the finale. We had to rehearse for about two weeks for the finale because it was so complicated. One day the executive producer actually sat down and told me that he was going to have me sing with Ozzy Osbourne on the show, but there wasn’t time enough because they had to do this big video tribute to Simon, so only the Top 5 contestants got to sing with some amazing band, and I was 6th. Then he said, “Or maybe we were going to surprise you and bring out Hanson,” and this is before I met them. I used to ask him every week if they could come on the show, so he knew that I cared. He was like, “We were going to maybe surprise you and bring out Hanson on live TV so you would cry and it would be great TV, but there’s no time” (laughing).

      I was really bummed out, but then I found out that one of the other contestants, Aaron Kelly, was going to sing with the Bee Gees, and sing “How Deep Is Your Love,” which is another of my favorite songs of theirs. I heard him practicing for it and he came out and he was trying to work on it by himself, and I offered to help him because he obviously didn’t know it. If you knew Aaron like we all knew after not too long into the show, he’s the sweetest kid, a really sweet kid, but he didn’t know any music, really. He had a couple of favorite artists and other than that, he didn’t know much about music history and the culture and anything like that. So I was upset that he got to sing with the Bee Gees and he didn’t know who they were (laughing). I offered to help him learn it, and I was helping him practice with it, and some of the voice coaches noticed and some of them went to the producers and asked if I could sing it with him. I was just so grateful.

     I told a couple of people at home, but I asked everyone not to tell my dad so it was a surprise, because he’d be watching at home. That was the best that I could give him that surprise. He was pretty stunned.

 

Me: I was going to ask how he reacted to that, seeing his daughter sing with one of his favorite bands of all time.

 

Magnus: It was awesome. He’s not really one to overreact (laughing). I really thought it was pretty cool.

 

Me: When you think about music history, the Bee Gees and Alice Cooper and people like that really form a stranglehold over certain genres of music. It doesn’t get much bigger than the Bee Gees in a lot of ways.

 

Magnus: Singing with Alice Cooper was for my mom.

 

Me: Alice Cooper is another guy who seems like one of the coolest people. He and Johnny Cash are two of the people I would have loved to hang out with, just watch them for a day.

 

Magnus: He was so nice.

 

Me: People have a vision of Alice Cooper as the guy who has snakes and wears “Satanic make-up” and whatever else, but he seems to be really down to earth.

 

Magnus: Did you know he’s into golfing?

 

Me: Yes!  I saw him years ago on a sports network and I was like, “Who is that guy they’re saying is Alice Cooper?”

 

Magnus: He golfs with (country singer) Vince Gill a lot.

 

Me: Wow. Can you imagine being a caddie for those two? The stories you would hear…

 

Magnus: (laughing)

Me: Here you are again performing with these people who form a huge chunk of music history at the NYC:Fab 50 event a few Saturdays ago (https://mccartneyfans.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/siobhan-magnus-american-idol-finalist-and-performer-at-the-town-hall-in-nyc-saturday-february-8th/). You’re really living the dream in a lot of ways. It’s really inspiring to watch you do this, and you’re playing with members of some of my favorite bands from the ‘90s. Given all of that, what do you have in the hopper? What do have coming up that we should all be on the look out for?

 

Magnus: I’m working on a new EP. It’s funny because what I say that to my mom or some of my family, they’re like, “What’s an EP?”. I’m like, “Now it basically means that we don’t have enough money to produce a full record, so we’re going to put out five songs.” (laughing) And so that’s what we’re working on right now. I have a few of the songs done already, and one of them in particular, I’ve been waiting to be able to put out for a while now. I’m so excited about it. This song was written for a movie that is coming out soon, too. It was written, directed by, and stars Daniel Baldwin, and it’s called The Wisdom To Know The Difference.

     My producer was hired as the musical supervisor for the movie and we were able to write this song that we had actually written a year earlier. It had different words because it was written for something else entirely. It was a good song but we never finished it. Something just wasn’t right with it, and when he presented me with this movie project and I had a good think about it, I realized that maybe we could just use that song that was really good and rewrite the words. Luckily for me, the movie provided enough fodder for me imagination to rewrite the words in a way that I thought was much better. I was much happier with it. I was like, “Hey, this is a pretty good song!” Then they sent it to the film editors and it just so happened that Daniel Baldwin was in the room when they received it, and he listened to it right then and said, “That’s great, put it in this scene instead of what’s there right now.”  I’m really excited.

 

Me: That is really cool. So you have the new EP coming out sometime soon, and you have the tour coming up, too, so you’re pretty busy right now, I take it.

 

Magnus: Just preparing stuff and rehearsing because I will always be trying to do rock band-style shows, but then I’m lucky enough to get to do two upcoming performances this year with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra. I sang with them a couple of times. I find it so much fun to sing with a symphony. It’s so cool. It feels like being a Disney princess. You have to dress really nice for one thing, and for me that’s my fun, dress up show where I pretend that I’m really classy, and I take out all of my nose rings and wear a nice gown.

 

Me: (laughing)

 

Magnus: When you hear some of the instruments behind you, like the piccolo and the chimes, you feel like Cinderella. It’s really funny (laughing).  For my grandparents, that’s their favorite gig that I do. It always helps if it appeases the grandparents. I have tattoos and they certainly don’t like that, but I can still cover them all up enough to sing with the symphony (laughing).

 

Me: The orchestra does a really nice job. I saw them a few summers ago for a Paul McCartney show and it was a cover band with the orchestra behind them, adding instrumentation to the show. It was a really interesting combination, so I can imagine that it’s a really good show that goes on with you, too.  On another note, I really enjoyed some of the songs on your previous album, Moonbaby, so I’m looking forward to the new EP.

 

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~ by Jennifer Dodge on March 6, 2014.

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