It was a warm fall night the night of October 13th as I sat around a small, green, metal table with the guys from Magic Giant under the twinkle lights of Madison Square Park. The area was bustling with people ordering and eating Shake Shack, people walking through to get to their Friday night activities and, of course, the bubble man. The guys had seen the bubble man earlier and insisted on getting a photo with some bubbles. Needless to say, this group of guys is a fun bunch.
The band consists of three friends – Austin Bisnow, Zambricki Li and Brian Zaghi aka Zang. The three guys got their start in music in very different ways. Austin was originally focusing all of his attention on basketball, until the day he broke his ankle. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life anymore,” Austin says. “I just knew myself as an athlete and then I started writing songs like the next day and I just fell in love with it.”
The act of writing a song was so foreign to him – he just thought songs existed. He ended up going to a songwriting camps and falling more and more in love with it. He would even be writing songs while he was supposed to be doing homework. Zang was put into a strings class as a kid thinking it was some kind of science class thinking they’d get to make projects out of string but went in realizing the class was a band room and the teacher asked the kids to pick the instrument they wanted to play. They had the choice between violin, viola, cello or bass and Zang had no idea what any of those were. He saw the basses in the closet and was instantly drawn to them.
“It was huge it was like double my size,” Zang says. “I had visions of me like carrying this on my back going home to practice it and I felt like a turtle ninja fighting the world with my instrument.”
Zambricki’s story is probably the wildest of all. When he was 12 years old, he was riding his bike with a group of friends and ended up getting hit by a car. His brain hemorrhaged and he fell into a coma for 4 days. When he got home from the hospital, he was still staying home from school for a while and got bored. As he stumbled around the house, he found his cousin’s violin and started to play around with it.
“I opened up the case, picked it up and taught myself how to play in a matter of hours,” Zambricki remembers. “After the first hour I could do the vibrato and by the time my parents came home from work, I was playing.”
Zambricki had acquired a rare brain trauma reorganization known as acquired savant syndrome in which subsided scholarly skills emerge, sometimes at a prodigious level. That’s how he got started in music. It was when Austin and Zambricki met in LA that they started playing a handful of shows together in what Austin calls a “hobby project” of theirs.
“[That band was] on hiatus for about 6 months when a talent buyer of a festival in DC called us and said, ‘hey do you want to play this festival?’ not knowing that we were on hiatus,” Austin says. “I immediately said yes because we had never played a festival we had always wanted to and always talked about it.” He called up Zambricki right after and told him they were getting the band back together.
They felt like they needed a change from the music they had played previously – that they were just missing the final piece to the puzzle – until the night that Austin saw Zang play for the first time. “He saw Zang playing bass at a club in LA with a mutual friend,” Zambricki explains. “[Zang] was playing stand-up bass, wearing a bow-tie and had a curly mustache and [Austin] told me about this and he’s like, ‘this might be the guy.’”
Austin and Zambricki decided to do a little Google stalking on Zang and the first thing that popped up was Zang dancing salsa in Croatia surrounded by tiki torches and fire. “We were like, who is this guy, he’s from another planet, let’s get him!” Zambricki remembers. “So we seduced him into being in the band.”
The three of them started working together about 3.5 years ago and played their first show together on March 26, 2014. From there, they started touring and playing festivals – everything that Zambricki and Austin had originally dreamed of doing together. It was during that festival tour that they recorded and fleshed out most of their debut album, In The Wind.
They built a solar powered mobile recording studio and went around the country recording in nature including inside a redwood tree off the coast of California in Humboldt County, in a wild daisy field near Crested Butte, in the Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, and on an airstrip in Marble, Colorado. They literally recorded this album “in the wind” surrounded by beautiful landscapes.
“We pulled the bus off the side of the road, ran all of the equipment from the bus and brought the wires into the tree,” Zambricki says as he describes the time they recorded in the redwood tree. Zambricki’s favorite place that they recorded was the airplane strip in Marble, Colorado. “It’s where they get all the marble for the monuments in DC so there are these huge marble mountains and it’s really stunning,” Zambricki explains. “I never even knew a place like that existed in this country.”
They even recorded singular songs in multiple places such as “Jade.” The guitar was recorded by a lake in Utah, the banjo was recorded inside the redwood in Humboldt and the vocals were recorded within the Snoqualmie Pass in Washington.
“Because it was a festival tour, we were rewriting the songs and reworking them as we went so we could play it at a festival and the next day be recording it,” Zambricki says. One of those songs was “Jade.” Zambricki says explaining that when they started the tour, it was still untitled and unfinished. “We played the song, untitled, and a girl came up to us after the show and said that her best friend passed away when she was 16 and she felt the presence of her friend when we played the song,” Austin remembers. “As we finished writing it, it became about her friend and her friend’s name was Jade.”
That was a moving moment for the band having someone express something that intense about one of their songs. “We freaked out, tears were coming out – it’s very emotional when someone shares with you that kind of intimate story,” Zang explains. “It’s like her story became part of ours. It felt very near and dear to us.”
Connecting with fans on a deeper level is probably the most fulfilling thing about making music for the band and, luckily for them, it happens often. One time when they were playing a show in San Francisco, a man in about his late 50s/early 60s came up to Austin after the show. “He said he did LSD when he was in his teens and he had this surreal out-of-body experience that he’s been chasing for the last 40 years and we gave it to him that night, he found it that night on no drugs, that was pretty cool,” Austin remembers.
Fans have also gotten permanent declarations of their love for the band tattooed on their body. “They’ll get our sloppy handwriting on their body – tattooed into their body,” Zang says. “The concept of that permanent message always there that’s one of our lyrics or mantra is really interesting and special.”
After seeing them play at Gramercy Theatre opening for Atlas Genius, it’s not surprising that they have so much support and are really connecting with their fans. The energy they bring to the stage is invigorating and infectious. Austin gets as close to the crowd as he can atop the barricade, Zang rolls on the stage with his legs in the air as he strums his guitar and Zambricki jumps on to the elevated part of the stage slayed his violin.
They even take a moment to hop into the crowd during their powerful song “Great Divide” and get up close and personal with their fans. Before they started sing the song, Austin mentioned how painful it is to hear what’s going on in the world especially the music right now, since the tragedy in Las Vegas, and we needed a song like this to unite us together. As the crowd was echoing the words, “We’re bound to get it right next time, drown the darkness in the light – let it shine,” Austin put his arms around two of the audience members and started swaying. As the last la la la’s were sung, the air in the room was thick with emotion and the crowd was bound together through this moment of harmony.
Article: Merissa Blitz