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Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010

Eric & Magill’s Songs of Rekindled Friendship

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While touring through Ann Arbor, Mich., with the band Camden a decade ago, Eric Osterman met and fell in love with the woman who would become his wife. He didn’t have to think long before he moved there from Milwaukee to be with her. It was the perfect happy ending—except for the scorned Milwaukee band mates he left behind. At the time, Osterman’s departure seemed a betrayal.

“We had just recorded another EP with Chris Walla from Seattle, and had probably come off our best tour to date with The Promise Ring, so things couldn’t have been going better for the band,” Osterman admits. “I can understand why there were hard feelings.”

After Camden’s breakup, band members Ryan Weber and William Seidel continued recording together in other projects, most prominently Decibully, while Osterman sought musicians to collaborate with in his new home, without much success. Separated by distance and dispute, Weber and Osterman went more than five years without speaking.

By 2007, the two had begun to reconcile, reconnecting, as many old friends do, through the Internet. Soon after, they began writing music together that way as well. Recording under the moniker Eric & Magill, the reunited friends e-mailed tracks back and forth, stitching them together on Weber’s Mac.

“Eric has always been one of my musical soul mates, so it was surprisingly easy to just pick up where we left off, even after almost 10 years,” Weber says. “We used to write together, just the two of us, in a studio we had built, spending these long nights recording, so it was really natural working together again.”

This month Eric & Magill released their first album, All Those I Know, a 10-song set of lustrous bedroom pop and atmospheric folk they posted for free download online at ericandmagill.bandcamp.com.

The album’s intimate sound belies its vast scope. Though Weber and Osterman form the core of each of these songs, over the course of the record the duo is assisted by dozens of guests. These outside collaborations began, fittingly enough, with the album’s title track.

“I was talking to Eric about how some of the progressions in ‘All Those I Know’ sounded a bit like American Football, and then I realized, ‘Hey, I’m friends with [American Football’s] Mike Kinsella, so why not give him a shot and see if he’ll harmony with me?’” Weber recalls. “Mike sent me a message and said he’d love to, then sent me a track shortly after. I thought, ‘That was easy.’ Then I started wondering who else we could get to contribute.”

They found a legion of eager collaborators, from friends to band mates, both past and present, and old tour buddies. Shearwater bassist Kimberly Burke lent her unmistakable bass tones to “I Hear Trumpets,” a track that also features vocals from Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian. Milwaukee musicians pepper most tracks, with members of Maritime, Decibully, Collections of Colonies of Bees, The Championship, The Celebrated Workingman, Fever Marlene and Juniper Tar, among many other bands, contributing.

For the album’s most teeming track, “Old Man Winter,” the band compiled an Internet choir from the voices of more than 40 peers singing into their own computers.

“We put out an open call to anybody we thought might have the technology to record themselves, and the response was huge,” Osterman says. Weber and Osterman heard back from acquaintances both close and estranged, rekindling friendships in the process, but one voice on the track holds particular significance to them: Buzz Goertzen, the Idaho Yodeler.

Osterman and Weber had discovered the yodeler’s recordings when touring through Idaho with Camden, and developed an obsession with the yodeling prodigy that no doubt irked their band mates. A decade later, while mixing their Eric & Magill recordings in Michigan, the two reminisced about those memories over late-night beers. They looked the yodeler up online and discovered he had a website, so they shot him an impulsive e-mail asking if he would sing on their track. By the next morning he had replied that he would.

“I suggested that he call and phone in a yodel for us to record through the studio’s iPhone, but he was really reluctant, because he was a professional and he kept saying that wouldn’t work,” Weber says. “He wanted to help us out because we were fans, though, so he tried anyway.”

It took several attempts, Osterman says, “but when we finally got it working and we heard this faint yodel, it was one of the most amazing sounds I’ve ever heard come out of speakers.

“That was the highlight for us, because it tapped this shared moment that we had 10 years ago, and we were able to remember it, find the guy and have him record with us all within 18 hours,” Osterman continues. “It was really a testament to memories and the Internet. Technology is extremely powerful these days.”