Magdalena Bay
Magdalena Bay | Credit: Rick Kern/WireImage

Love Letter to a Record: Magdalena Bay on Genesis’ ‘Selling England by the Pound’

Music Feeds’ Love Letter to a Record series asks artists to reflect on their relationship with the music they love and share stories about how it has influenced their lives. Here, Mica Tenenbaum, one half of prog-pop duo Magdalena Bay, heaps praise on Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound (1973).

Magdalena Bay’s two members, vocalist Mica Tenenbaum and multi-instrumentalist Matthew Lewin, met in high school in Miami, Florida. Their early collaborations were of a prog rock nature, but they later embraced the dynamic pop songwriting of Charli XCX, Chairlift and Grimes. The band’s debut album, Mercurial World, came out in October 2021 and was named one of the albums of the year by PitchforkThe New Yorker and PopMatters.

Magdalena Bay’s Love Letter to Genesis

Mica Tenenbaum: In high school, Matt had an extensive burned CD collection and I had no AUX in my car. So, he lent me some CDs. If you’re not aware of our pop duo’s ancient lore, we first met at an after school music program in 2011 and started a progressive rock band shortly after. Matt had grown up with Yes, Genesis, and King Crimson, but I did not know who these British men were. Of all the CDs Matt lent me when we started our band, Selling England by the Pound captivated me the most.

The obscurely British lyrical themes, time signature switches, endless song sections, and beautiful melodic and instrumental passages hooked me. And I was endlessly inspired by Peter Gabriel’s amazingly expressive voice and cast of characters. Literally characters, from shocking cockney accents to old man impressions and beyond.

‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’ was my early favourite but all of the songs on the album had moments of heavy rotation between my sophomore and senior year. ‘I Know What I Like’ is a perfect pop song, simpler than the other album tracks but still strange. It has some of my favourite lyrics, spoken by Peter: “Me, I’m just a lawnmower / You can tell me by the way I walk.”

I love the penultimate section of ‘Firth of Fifth’, where the guitar solos intensely on the melody we’d heard a few minutes earlier on flute. It’s the dramatic climax of the song, the height of the musical story. The songs are like a journey, with shifts in mood and energy that invite your mind to wander and churn.

Genesis – ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’

Amid all the musical and lyrical grandeur, among guitar solos and songs about knights, there’s an earnestness there that has always moved me. The music feels very human, in a way. I hear it in every delicate guitar pluck, lyric, and new song sectionThere’s lots of song sections, for sure, but not one of them is – in my opinion – overindulgent, or excessive. Or maybe the excessiveness is what makes it so human.

One of my favourite lyrical phrases on the album is both grand and introspective all at once: “Once a man, like the sea I raged / Once a woman, like the earth I gave / But there is in fact more earth than sea.”

The songs are so long and unwieldy, I couldn’t get tired of them on my drives to and from school. There were always new intricacies to discover. After graduating high school, we discovered pop music as listeners and creators. But we like to say that we expanded our palette, rather than shifted it. Because we still listen to prog rock all the time, and 70s-era Genesis is still a huge inspiration to us.

From their music to their groundbreaking live theatrics, we’re still finding new intricacies to fall in love with after all these years. Here’s a photo of me from our Halloween show in San Francisco this year, dressed as Peter:

Photo by @ colorsandcloudnines on Instagram

Magdalena Bay – ‘Unconditional’

Magdalena Bay 2022/23 Australian Tour

  • Saturday, 31st December 2022 – Falls Festival, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, VIC – Tickets
  • Monday, 2nd January 2023 – Falls Festival, North Byron Parklands, NSW – Tickets
  • Thursday 5 January 2023 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney – Tickets
  • Saturday, 7th January – Falls Festival, Fremantle Park, WA – Tickets

Further Reading

Lil Nas X, PinkPantheress and Magdalena Bay Announce Falls Sideshows

Falls Festival Share Set Times, Event Maps, & Triple J Unearthed Winners

Love Letter to a Record: Emily Lubitz on the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’

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