Magik Markers

We chatted with Elisa Ambrogio of Connecticut noise-rock outfit Magik Markers about how to define ‘funny’ and where to find it ‒ on public transportation, for example, or in a romantic situation. As the interview progressed, stuff got deep.


Google chat interview by Basje Boer, artwork by Geoff Kim


‘It seemed silly to stand on a stage and pretend we were special’



In her novel How Should a Person Be? Sheila Heti states: ‘If you know where the funny is, you know everything.’ Meaning, there has to be a core of funny in art for it to be good.

I think it is not 100 percent true that all art throughout all of history contained a core of comedy to have the sort of subjective and arbitrary mantle of ‘good’. I like the idea that all art must contain a window, or a door, some means to connect to it. I like the idea.


Do you think there’s any ‘funny’ in Magik Markers?

I guess it depends on how it’s defined.

Maybe ‘funny’ has got something to do with taking liberties.

There is a weird surface of vulnerability and humility to comedy or being funny, but it belies a subversion and aggression. When we started playing shows, there was this instant antipathy. We would be opening for much more ‘straight’ popular bands and there would be these apoplectic dudes in the audience, just screaming, ‘YOU SUCK!’. We would hand our guitars to the audience, because we were just improvising and thought it was important that people know that literally anyone could do this. It seemed silly to stand on a stage and pretend we were special. Or different, or important.


Wow! Did you do that a lot?

Yeah, especially the first few years. Just the act of not thinking we were anything special was somehow aggressive.


The audience found it aggressive?

Yes. I understand now. You had people who practiced alone in their bedrooms their whole lives, and maybe the way we were playing was tacitly implying that that was unimportant and music could be arbitrary, as long as it wasn’t cowardly or phoney. I mean, consciously they just genuinely thought we sucked for sure, but imaginary rock’n’roll was intimidating.



In what situation are you most desperate for humour?

I think I am most grateful for humour when it’s unexpected. I love when it just happens on public transportation; you see something absurd and you lock eyes with someone and you share that second where you are both laughing, or rolling your eyes.


And when is humour the most inappropriate?

I am often the person committing the inappropriate goofiness. In romantic situations, especially when I was younger and not necessarily passionate about the person I was with, just cracking up at something someone says in an ‘intimate’ moment. Or laughing when you are kissing, because you are bored and start thinking about how ridiculous it is. I take my work very seriously, but I really hate pretense or self-importance, so I like to joke. Some people misinterpret this as an actual lack of seriousness.


Do you use jokes or turning a situation into a joke as a defense mechanism?

Fuck, yeah!


This interview is turning into therapy.

GChat into the calm.


But don’t you need a deadly serious side as well if you want to get somewhere in music ‒ and life?

I think there’s a difference between taking ideas seriously, taking your work seriously and taking yourself seriously. I take my work very seriously. You cannot create a thoughtful body of work without a serious commitment. You are taking your own, and by proxy, the idea of the human imagination and the unconscious mind, seriously. You are quieting the voice that works hard to tell you your ideas are stupid and that you should be quiet. You are putting something vulnerable into the world without any defenses. You can’t really do this without humility and discipline.



Magik Markers will burn down Rotterdam’s WORM on 17 November and the show is free for Subbacultcha! members. If you want seconds, they’re also at Extrapool, Nijmegen on the 19th.