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Steven Fusco of Psychomagic / Photo by Jon T. Cruz
Steven Fusco of Psychomagic / Photo by Jon T. Cruz

Surfing a Changing Portland

BY THEA PRIETO // Psych-rockers Psychomagic actively creating a community of their own

Portlanders saw many iconic bars and venues close throughout 2014, during what many musicians called the “Barmageddon” and the decline of Portland’s grassroots music scene. Small stages, which previously helped upcoming bands climb out of the basement, became more and more scarce. Event spaces and old Victorian houses were sold as Portland’s population boomed, venues that before hosted all ages shows and fostered a community of young music enthusiasts. Despite so many new obstacles for emerging bands, however, the local psychedelic rock band Psychomagic has been surfing out of the garage and onto bigger stages, playing for larger audiences.

“We’ve already played over one hundred fifty shows in 2015,” said Steven Fusco, vocalist and guitarist. “Around the release of Bad Ideas, back in November and December of 2014, we played about fifty shows.”

Perhaps it is Psychomagic’s sound that has kept them loyal to Portland’s garage music scene while at the same time propelled them over the growing void of small, all ages venues. Their music is both retro and contemporary, a sunshine-filled ‘60s nostalgia fueled with a modern rock and roll catchiness. Their songs are born out of grungy basements, and yet the songs also sparkle in the limelight.

“Our trajectory has always been different,” said Fusco. “Our expression isn’t predicated on trends. We add to the music equally, and these guys have the know-how to make my ideas come to fruition, it’s amazing. We’re problem solvers, and we appreciate the love. Hopefully people we dig find us.”

“And we find people too,” said guitarist Stone Laurila. “We find bands we’re digging on and push forward with it.”

Perhaps then it is Psychomagic’s sense of community that has allowed the band to straddle the cultural gulf between Portland’s pre-Barmageddon music scene and the state of affairs at the present. While the group is certainly immersed in Portland’s garage culture and familiar with most (if not all) of the bands on their concert lineups, Psychomagic is also signed to Los Angeles cassette label Lolipop Records. Community, for Psychomagic, has been defined on a small and large scale.

“We’ve been creating our own reality,” said Fusco. “For Bad Ideas, we matured in our song writing. I feel like we’ve hit our stride, but we keep challenging ourselves. We have sporadic moments of creation and then breaks, but ultimately we want a baseline of creation rather than inactivity. Some bands just want to be in the moment, and that’s cool, but we want to create an environment we like. There can be competition in music, but when you feel safe and inspired to be excited, that’s a good place to be.”

And Portland was the place the members of Psychomagic chose to be. All of the band members are transplants, every one of them made their own paths to Portland. Laurila came from as nearby as Vancouver, Washington, while others traveled from Brooklyn, New York and the beaches of Florida. “The music is the commonality,” said Fusco, and that says a lot about the shared dream that is Portland.

Eddie Bond, the keyboardist for Psychomagic, moved from Seattle to Portland in 2013. He arrived with the band Turtle, for which Bond played guitar.

“At the time, Portland seemed like a big blossom of music,” said Bond. “We came here for the music scene, but then it all started to fall apart. In Psychomagic, we’re not oblivious to the changes and not stoked. We just have to keep pushing and adapt, and see where we can go with it.”

Anthony Brisson, the drummer and backing vocalist, moved to Portland two years ago from Florida in wake of the BP oil spill. He was renting out surfboards on the beach, playing in a surf band called Barnacle Monument.

“After the oil spill, it was terrible. Friends were getting sick, and some friends and I decided we wanted to get as far away as possible,” said Brisson. He landed in Portland with his drumming skill and a degree in building string instruments.

And Scott Page, bassist for Psychomagic, moved from Bend, Oregon to Portland in 2010, also in pursuit of a better and more rich music culture.

“I used to play bass in the band Dirty Words,” said Page, “but I moved to Portland for the music scene. There are hardly any options for anyone under-aged, though.”

In answer to the lack of smaller stages and all ages venues, an element of the Portland music scene which first drew the band members to the area, Psychomagic has been in search of spaces to promote all ages concerts. Fusco shared his aspirations to start an all ages bimonthly event, as a way of supporting Portland’s upcoming musicians and young music lovers.

“It’s how I got started in music, playing for young crowds,” says Fusco, who lived in a few places around the United States before coming to Portland. “But it’s just like a conversation I was having recently: you can go to a movie theater and drink beer but as soon as music comes into the picture, it’s a lot of red tape. It’s not about about money and it’s not easy, but it’s important.”

In the meantime, as Portland’s pubs and venues are closed and reopened, sold and rebuilt, as the local music scene is changed and redefined, Psychomagic will continue to evolve.

“We’ve gotten better as a band, more cohesive sonically,” said Page. “Portland has changed a lot, but it also feels like it’s picking up.”

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