DIY Till We Die: Magick Mountain

Image Credit: Magick Mountain

Our Chat With Lins Wilson Of Magick Mountain takes an in-depth look into what it is to be a DIY artist, its advantages and disadvantages and her experience in multiple communities throughout the country.

Magick Mountain, in the midst of a global pandemic have managed to create one of the most exciting albums of 2020, ‘Weird Feelings’. It’s not just sonically impressive but the DIY work that went into creating it, is extremely inspiring. The fuzzed out garage rockers controlled pretty much every aspect of their release, epitomising what it is to be an independent artist. Between the three of them (all of which have been part of other bands such as Pulled Apart By Horses, Menace Beach and Mother Vulpine) they worked on the different elements required for a release. From artwork to recording and even partially producing their debut album. 

It was a lot of hard work but it has certianly paid off, with the band shipping copies of their LP to fans globally. If the pandemic wasn’t in place we would have also seen them tour across the UK, but we can wait for that experience (it will 100000% be worth the wait). It’s safe to say that the band put a lot of effort, time and hard work (like most artists) into their release. 

With all this in mind we caught up with Lins Wilson, guitarist and vocalist to find out more about life as an independent artist, its advantages and disadvantages and much more. 

So, what is it about being a DIY band that is so attractive to you?

Lins: I think between myself, Tom and Nestor the spirit of DIY has always been alive, even when we’ve individually been involved with labels or whatever. In Mother Vulpine, Sky Larkin, Menace Beach, Grammatics and Pulled Apart By Horses we’ve each had the pleasure of (at least in the beginning) booking our own shows, burning CDs in the back of splitter vans or learning to tinker with recording. We’ve all had different experiences including some negative ones within the music industry, and it’s really taught us to trust our instincts and our collective experience. I think what’s attractive about it is that you have the opportunity to stay in control of your project creatively, practically and financially. It’s also super satisfying literally packaging up your own record for someone, knowing we’ve partially produced it, created the artworks and managed the whole thing.

What advantages are there?

Lins: I think it’s pushed us to do what we think is right for this band, whether that’s sonically, aesthetically, or even how many vinyl we think we should get pressed / what a ‘marketing campaign’ looks like for us, without compromise. I think remaining in control of finances has been a big one – it’s a double edged sword because we don’t have that initial injection of cash you might get with a label financially supporting it, but because we’ve been clever with how we’ve managed the release we now don’t owe any money to anyone, and have retained all the rights while still being happy with what we’ve put out. That’s actually a pretty difficult thing to achieve, especially in a pandemic! We do need to highlight a different kind of support we managed to get – via programmes like ReBalance (a week of recording at a studio in Leeds), Launchpad (who’s advice sessions and general support has been invaluable), then Help Musicians Do it Differently funding, which gave us almost £3k towards mixing, mastering, some of the physical production / PR, as well as offering 3 helpful advice sessions. The remaining money came from a few gig fees we’d managed to save last year and then from pre-orders/merch. We were also very lucky to develop a relationship with a great distributer, Forte Music, who have really helped us manage that side of things.

Have there been any disadvantages?

Lins: You really do need to do a lot of work yourself (but that’s the definition of DIY, so no surprise there!), including a lot of admin, digital managing, speaking to people, production, artwork, videos, social media etc on top of writing, recording, gigging. In one way it’s an advantage to really learn what a ‘label’ or equivalent needs to do to make a release happen, so that if you do work with a label in future you can make sure all those things are happening how you want them to, because you understand the process. But, the disadvantage is that it means a lot of unpaid time spent on making it happen. We’ve been lucky in a sense because I was furloughed from one of my two part time jobs, so that allowed me to spend a couple of days a week project managing/managing socials, planning etc, and Tom accessed the SEISS which meant he could spend a few weeks focusing on creating all five artworks (singles + album), merch and additional bits we made (like a riso-printed inner sleeve and a hand screenprinted patch), as well as a music video and collaborating on animated versions of the artwork. If we hadn’t have had that money it probably would have nearly killed us alongside working. Financial support is so desperately needed for artists not only to put out their own music but to have the space to create and record in the first place, where that once might have been a label advance or if you’re lucky enough to come from a wealthy background. Managing the release has taken over so much, that there hasn’t been time / energy to do what bands should be really doing – writing, rehearsing, gigging etc. Though we missed not playing launch shows that could have been really tricky for us all to do anyway. It’s a delicate balance and with me and Tom being a couple putting so much of our time into it, it can be difficult and you do have to make some sacrifices.

Has taking this DIY approach allowed you to be more creative?

Lins: I’d say yes, I know I just mentioned the release kind of taking over, but I think because we’ve been so ‘in it’ this year it has at least allowed for a lot of reflection, conversations about what we might want to do next writing wise or production/aesthetically. We started this band really to just enjoy it and try not to allow external pressures to affect it. To protect what’s great about it – that we’re three good pals enjoying making psychy fuzz jams together and love connecting with people. So that’s what we’ll do next, in our own time. I think there is less pressure to do things ‘a certain way’ if you do them yourself and instead try to find your own path, for us that is trying to create a sustainable way of continuing to make music in a way that we want to.

Check the video for ‘Infinity x2’ here:

Did you ever expect to have a global reach as a DIY band?

Lins: Not as much as we have! In general the album and singles we’ve released this year have gone better than we expected, including sending vinyl out to US, Germany, Finland, France and more. Even though there are  a lot of issues with certain online platforms as we all know, they are also useful tools for people to discover your music where they otherwise probably wouldn’t, and it’s been exciting for us to see that from our end. Especially as before this year we’d only really played a handful of shows and released one single. We’ve loved seeing people from all over the world enjoying it, buying it, adding to playlists etc. I also think that longer term it could help DIY bands to target their live show efforts to places that are supporting them the most, as touring becomes more expensive/difficult (not even gonna mention the B word!). It’s definitely super important to have a strong local connection and go from there, but that opportunity to reach people globally is really cool.

“I think what’s attractive about it is that you have the opportunity to stay in control of your project creatively, practically and financially.”

Lins Wilson – Magick Mountain

Why do you think there are so many DIY scenes popping up across the country?

Lins: I’m not sure that they haven’t always been there if I’m honest, or at least for a long time. In our time as musicians playing in various bands we’ve all seen different scenes / communities developing in different places over a number of years, perhaps they’re just more visible now with social media etc. Also that social media/internet has allowed people to connect quickly with likeminded people who maybe feel that coming together to collectively fill a gap where there was one is now more possible. Whether that’s people starting to put on shows of a certain genre, or perhaps a female-led DJ night or LGBTQ run spaces…I love that music is a vehicle for developing communities and bringing people together, I think that’s one of the core reasons most of us make music, whether we know it or not. I also think there is a pretty loud rumbling of collective unrest at the moment and these spaces, scenes and music are a response to that. Whether your music is political or, like ours, is a merging of sci-fi references merged with our own inner feelings, the act of being a DIY band – especially if you’re a minority – is a political act in itself. And that can give you a great purpose, as well as help you find your tribe.

What makes a good DIY Scene?

Lins: I think a great DIY scene/community (I prefer the word community) at it’s best is diverse, inclusive, open-minded and just driven to make good shit happen. Sometimes people can have the best intentions, working collaboratively with a certain bunch of musicians or setting up a space but can end up becoming a bit cliquey, where some people can still feel excluded. It’s a balance of things. I feel strongly about sharing – whether that’s information, resources, spaces, gear, whatever you can do to uplift each other (especially minorities in music) is so fundamentally important. I appreciate a level of competition is healthy to perhaps propel your motivation or creative development, but I much more enjoy seeing people talking to each other about how they’ve maybe got on a playlist, got those awesome T-shirts made or asked a brand new band to support them at a local show etc. It really strengthens a community if everyone can learn from each other. Leeds is really great at that actually and one of the main reasons me and Tom came here for college and never left (Nest is Leeds born and bred!).

Do you think you can remain DIY if you’re signed to a major label?

Lins: That’s a tricky question and it probably depends how you look at it. Personally I think at the moment we’re somewhere between romanticising ‘getting signed’ (definitely not what it once was) and artists being in control of their career/journey. Hopefully there is/can be a more open and equal version of the two out there but I also think there needs to be some major reform within the industry (see the campaign #brokenrecord). Ultimately it depends what you’re aiming for and if you do want to be signed to a major, I think you need to have done a lot of learning beforehand to balance the control and be wary of certain things. I’d like to think that if we signed to any kind of label that we’d stay in as much control as we can, because of everything we’ve learnt and feel strongly about. Gimme that budget spreadsheet! Ha. With majors it seems there’s definitely more danger of ‘look we’re giving you the money, so you need to do what we say’ sort of thing, so I’m not sure how to navigate staying DIY. You could potentially work very hard be in control of things, but as artists grow, it becomes pretty clear you need a team – and they need to work with you with collective aims, not you feel like you work for whoever essentially ‘loans’ you money. You physically can’t do everything yourselves past a certain stage so it would take some savviness. Probably need an excellent lawyer/manager too!

Lastly, what advice would you give to DIY bands out there and these looking to start?

Lins: Start doing stuff. No matter how small or big there’s a lot to learn so just start. I have a bit of a complex where I need to know how stuff is going to work before I do it, which you realise is pretty impossible so you kind of have to learn to trust the process. It’s so far been a balance of learning by experience, seeking out answers and asking for help. If you’re a Yorkshire artist/band, definitely find out about Launchpad (www.launchpad-music.com) for excellent advice and support. I’d also say it’s really important to remember that every artist journey is gonna be unique, and that’s a great thing. There are practical things you can learn from others, but if something doesn’t feel right to you, you don’t necessarily have to do it. Find your own ways and stick to your guns creatively (that doesn’t mean don’t take input! Definitely good to get people to give you honest feedback on your music). If you’re not so good at things like budgets and funding stuff, find help – and look at the different funds available so you don’t have to rely on a label. Be prepared to put the time in but also do ask collaborators to get involved like similar level artists/photographers/video makers looking to build their portfolios and pay them whenever you can. Consciously involve people who are minorities in your project as it will ultimately help the entire music community, the industry and you. Remember that you are the driving force and even if you decide to build a team around you, you don’t ‘work for them’, these are working relationships and ones that couldn’t exist if you weren’t creating. Lastly, do what you can to protect your mental and physical health at all costs. And have some fun!

Music journalist and photojournalist based in Cornwall.

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