IMAGE: Nilina Mason-Campbell
[BILINGUAL PUNK] There’s a reason Magic Johnson sings in another language—it’s the best way the pair could think of to retain the language they grew up speaking. “We decided to sing in Spanish because we moved up here, and there aren’t as many Spanish speakers in Portland,” says Los Angeles transplant Ana Rodriguez, one half of the bilingual punk duo. “We were going to practice with each other all the time,” she says, before guitarist Mando Blanco interjects: “To keep our Spanish [intact].”
Outside of their songs, the pair uses the language “when we gossip and we don’t want people to know what we’re saying.” Those gossip sessions have been particularly fruitful in the lyrics department. Tirades about housemates’ messes have been co-opted into catchy minimal anthems, full of the duo’s shouted, yelpy vocals and insistent tempo that inevitably leads to one big sing-along—even if most people singing have no clue what they are saying. “We’d gossip about the roommates. It’s really funny—they’d be like, ‘I love that song!,’” Rodriguez says. “And it’s like, ‘It’s about you! Clean up the fucking house!’” jokes Blanco.
After meeting outside school during a fire drill in seventh grade, drummer and co-vocalist Rodriguez and Blanco instantly bonded over a mutual appreciation for South Park. Feeling “stagnant” in L.A., the pair traded the city of smog for the City of Roses last year and quickly made the acquaintance of violin-punk trio New Bloods. While the name Magic Johnson existed prior to the duo’s arrival, it was only rushed into use when New Bloods’ violinist Osa Atoe told them they had a show to play with just one week’s notice. Magic Johnson premiered two tracks in August 2007 and hasn’t strayed far from the live grid since.
The buffet of high-energy live dates the duo offers—ranging from two a week to three in a day—isn’t about exposure but community, with friends in bands frequently asking them to join bills. “I think everybody does shows supporting each other. It’s like any other art; the more you share it, the more you learn,” says Rodriguez.
“We’re just playing because we love to do it,” says Blanco. That, and anything to keep the house clean.
SEE IT: Magic Johnson’s next show is Saturday, Nov. 8, at Dekum Manor.