“It would be nice to put Essex on the map for something other than snooker,” grins Mark Brandon, guitarist in Magistrates, over a cuppa in a Shoreditch diner. He might have forgotten about a couple of other Essex outfits that have beaten them to it – Depeche Mode and The Prodigy – but one thing is sure, just like those megabands Magistrates share a desire to succeed worldwide. They certainly have an arsenal of melodies and a surfeit of confidence to back up any boasts. “We don’t want to be the sound of a place,” nerve-less singer Paul Usher is keen to point out. “We want to be heard everywhere.”
The four-piece – the aforementioned augmented by Thom Galbally (bass) and Andy Grant (drums) – are all mates from school and have been in other bands before. They formed Magistrates over a year ago with a simple plan: “We wanted to start writing really good pop songs.” They’re going about it the right way. Debut single Make This Work, a funk pop number released in August last year, was supported by some eyebrow-raising live shows, not least at Field Day where the band played to a full tent despite an early slot. And now there’s their Heartbreak EP, the title track of which is backed by drums that sound suspiciously like the ones from Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Never a bad thing. The lyrics concern Cupid’s evil spirit, which Paul reckons lurks in every girl’s mind. “I like writing about characters. I conjure up a picture of a story and then write how I might live that story.” Better still is Gold Lover – also the name of their album due this autumn – which has Paul’s falsetto over big piano chords reminiscent of late 80s Chicago house music. Is that an influence? It certainly sets them apart from the rest of 2009’s pop pack. “Our label, XL, used to be a dance label and they’ve exposed us to some early house. We like the fact that it’s stripped back, sparse and repetitive, a bit like our own music.” You can also hear it in the synthetic strings of Colour Co-Ordination. Consolidating their house cred is a cover of the Sterling Void classic Runaway Girl, which X-Press 2’s Ashley Beedle has produced.
As well as Beedle, they have attracted further pedigree producers and artists to their cause. Dan Carey mixed the record – known for his work with Kylie and Hot Chip – and Gorillaz producer Jason Cox introduced them to Damon Albarn. “We were working from his studio so he’d be around quite often. He would jam songs, discuss ideas and different structures with us and we’d chat generally about music. He was a bit of a guru.”
Their influences may be varied then but they very much draw from pop and soul. At one point the diner fills with fevered discussion about the brilliance of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and when asked to put their dream festival line up together there’s not an indie band in sight: Jackson, Sly & The Family Stone (“when he was good, not now”), Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, De La Soul, Miles Davis (“in the afternoon”), and Prince would headline. “We would have to give them a set list though and tell them what to play though.” Told you they were confident.
Magistrates’ Heartbreak EP is out now