Miami’s Magic City Hippies are having something of a moment. The band embarked on their first national tour earlier this year, bringing them to states and audiences far removed from the sunny shores and all-night parties that have characterized their time in Miami. But when the trio speak about their time on the road, it doesn’t sound as though their playful blend of indie sensibilities, funky basslines and hip-hop styled production proved to be a problem for non-native crowds. If anything, band members Pat Howard, Robby Hunter and John Coughlin were taken aback, surprised not only by how familiar audiences were with their work, but how infectious the enthusiasm was.
“We’d been getting messages from people for a long time that were like ‘come out here, your music is perfect!’” Coughlin says, referring to the band’s West Coast following. “You get one [show] every couple months where it’s one person, but when we got out there they weren’t kidding; those shows all sold-out, they were super high energy.”
“They know every lyric to Robbie’s stupid songs,” drummer Howard says, offering a good-natured ribbing at singer/songwriter Howard’s expense. Hunter insists that it’s true, offering Magic City Hippies’ set at Bonnaroo, one of the country’s premiere music festivals, as evidence.
“At Bonnaroo, we didn’t have the best slot; it was 1PM on Friday, and the sun was beating down,” Hunter says. “It was so crazy packed, and people were on each other’s shoulders singing songs… I get goose bumps thinking about it right now.”
It’s been a month since their pilgrimage to Manchester, Tennessee, and the Hippies are now a world away from the sprawling fields and countrified vibes of Bonnaroo. Enjoying sandwiches and warm drinks at Small Tea in Coral Gables on an early August afternoon, the band are taking things in stride before a gig at Wynwood Yard later that evening. Like their music, Coughlin, Hunter and Howard are decidedly fun, riffing on the food platter they routinely return to (“May I also have a crumpet?” “Which one’s the crumpet?”) and reminiscing on their formative musical experiences. Multi-instrumentalist Coughlin formed his first band at 13 to try to ape The Strokes’ zeitgeist-defining Is This It; Howard was more of a Red Hot Chili Peppers kind of guy, and Hunter’s first musical purchase was a cassette tape of Michael Jackson’s Bad. Like the fruit-infused tea in front of them, Magic City Hippie’s music fuses their disparate tastes into something altogether appetizing.
“We started as a party band, just playing music to people dancing, and we would get free beer in return,” Coughlin reminisces, recounting their days as The Robby Hunter Band. Since that time, the band has sublimated the relatively carefree Miami life into a sound that universally speaks to good times. “If you can’t dance to the music, you’re not gonna do that well.”
“It’s exciting what’s happening with Latin music and the crossover this year with ‘Despacito,’” Howard adds. “It’s all swirling together and Miami’s a little bit of the epicenter of that. So it’s cool to be making music here and letting all of that in.”
As of late, Magic City Hippies can often be found at 10K Islands Studios in Little Haiti, recording the follow-up to 2015’s Hippie Castle EP. The band are keeping things in-house, with Pat behind the production board and all of them swapping instruments as well as musical ideas. Although they now have access to professional gear and an expanded litany of sonic options, the trio are intent on maintaining the same cheeky attitude that defined their bedroom recordings.
“Robby’s got this kind of secretive process. We’re never there when he’s actually writing the skeletons of the songs, it’s like a séance,” Howard says regarding their creative process. “Sometimes it’s a complete song that he has written; the lyrics, vocal melody, chord progression, everything. Other times it’s more like a rhythmic, melodic idea, and we’ll build it out from there.”
“Other times we’ve come up with kind of beats or a put-together instrumental vibe, and that stuff sometimes lends itself to funky, rapping, kind-of Beck style. So it can start a variety of ways, just kind of anything that’s got a vibe.”
Apropos of their name, the band speaks about songwriting in alchemical terms, sublimating their musical talent and personas in service of the songs, rather than themselves.
“I think songcraft is so different than playing an instrument,” says Hunter. “You’re putting all of these things together and if there’s a vocal melody or lyric on top of that, it’s like a balancing act.”
“I feel like a song is kind of an entity of its own, [as opposed to] if you’re a virtuosic instrumentalist and you’re making your statement soloing; it’s this kind of chemistry that’s happening with the band, it’s a really special thing,” Howard says. “But the song is a separate thing that we’re all trying to serve. There’s no ego or anything.”
According to the band, recording in Miami has proved essential to the creative process, with the city’s laidback aesthetic offering an enviable alternative to the fast paced quality of cultural hubs like New York and LA. Howard refers to it as “breathing room.”
“You’re less inundated with everybody and their band and their movie and their… there’s just a little bit of room to take a breath and create down here,” Howard says. Coughlin agrees, noting that many out-of-town friends envy the leisure living in Miami affords.
“We have friends who work in LA that still will come out to Miami just to write, because there’s something about not everyone here being focused on the entertainment industry,” Coughlin says. “I love living here.”
With an ever-expanding audience, a passion for the process and a love for the stage, it’s no surprise that Magic City Hippies have every intention of making this moment count.
“I just want to do this and only this,” Coughlin says. “We don’t need to be rich and famous, but if we could just do this all the time and we like what we’re making and it’s the only thing I have to do everyday, that seems pretty good.”
“There’s nothing like playing music onstage and having a crowd vibe with you,” Hunter adds. “There’s just nothing like that. And to be able to do that for the rest of my life, I think would be… that’s it, that’s what I want to do.”
Check them out this Saturday at the SLS Brickell for a hurricane benefit concert hosted by City Gazettes. This will be a last chance to see them live for a while as they leave on tour. RSVP Here https://refreshflorida.splashthat.com