The Boston group BEDTIMEMAGIC performs an often emotionally-centered brand of noise rock — they’ve got grizzly textures and energetic performances running through their music, while there’s a striking emotion-laden punch from the frequently catchy, sometimes desperate-sounding melodies and the harried and sometimes caustic vocals.
“Noise rock” can definitely be a catch-all-leaning term, but the band have clearly got the musical chops to make up for the potential ambiguity — through the energetic haze of their tunes, they’ve established some pretty hook-laden footholds to hang onto. The guitars, bass, and drums all roar like the band have captured the sounds of a beast trying to break free from its chains, and with the in-your-face punch that their music packs, listeners feel like they’re suddenly seeing from the beast’s perspective. The band’s music feels perfectly ragged.
BEDTIMEMAGIC includes Nicholas Pentabona and Morgan Berns; for their most recent album, 2019’s Pillow Talk, Nicholas was on Vocals, Bass, Keyboards, Project Guitar, while Morgan contributed Vocals, Drums, Percussion, and Organ.
Below, Nicholas and Morgan discuss how they’ve been doing amidst the chaos of COVID-19, how they’ve worked on developing their craft, their observation that their band as a whole sounds like “the end of a Who song when they’re falling apart,” and how, for the duo, making music might be a bit like prison — maybe.
Dealing with COVID-19
Thanks for your time today! So, how have you guys been holding up amidst the chaos that’s been unfolding lately in the music community and in general thanks to COVID-19?
NICHOLAS: Thanks for having us. I think we’ve been doing ok. It was difficult for the period of time where our practice space was shutdown. I tried doing a solo project called XLonelyDogX, programming the drums in a Mac application called Hydrogen. Morgan bought a digital drum pad thing to do recordings for that but it wasn’t the same. Felt…synthetic all around. I need the feedback loop of another person telling me what’s working and what isn’t…bouncing ideas off of one another to get something unique.
MORGAN: It sucks we can’t play any shows. We’ve always been a band that likes playing live. That’s a bum out. How are we doing in general? Umm…yeah that electronic drum kit. Not the same. Should I talk about being a nurse? How crazy that’s been?
NICHOLAS: That’s up to you.
MORGAN: Well, in general…it’s been a fucked up couple of months. It’s tiring. The bright spot has been being able to practice again.
NICHOLAS: Yeah, that’s been good. We’ve been writing and haven’t felt the pressure since there are no shows.
MORGAN: We got a fat batch of stuff.
Although time has definitely felt somewhat hazy at times, what parts of all the chaos really stick out to you? For instance, I’m sure there have been plenty of show postponements and cancellations around where you guys are based, like there have been so many other places.
MORGAN: Marking of time for me has been a little different in that I’m a registered nurse…and I work on an oncology ward. At the height of COVID, and when the upswing happened, my unit was the last unit in the hospital to get COVID-positive patients. And when that took a downturn we were the first unit to stop taking COVID patients, because we have so many immunocompromised people…people in chemo…so that marks certain sets of time for me. Amidst this stuff, I guess, in general, my experience has been different because I’ve been seeing it…
NICHOLAS: Right. Like, instead of being recessed, you’ve been more involved.
MORGAN: Exactly. For many people it’s maybe been a vague concept during all of this. My day to day didn’t change all that much except not being able to practice or have friends over for dinner. That was really all that, socially, changed for me.
NICHOLAS: You were kinda riding your bike indoors…but I guess that’s from having a kid more than quarantine.
MORGAN: I put on a lot of fucking weight. My depression kicked in. That’s a bonus.
NICHOLAS: We had some cool things lined up for the Summer, those got all beat up and left for dead. We’re pretty industrious people, though…used to setbacks, getting absolutely torched by the life demon.
MORGAN: But how did -your- life change? Like for you personally?
NICHOLAS: Oh. Well my life has been a constant mess for the past six years. I don’t think I’ve ever really caught up or felt like I had a safe plateau. Can’t truthfully say more bullshit is anything different. A new round of chaos.
MORGAN: How I’ve dealt with it versus some friends of mine…I think both you and I are accustomed to having more…
NICHOLAS: For us it’s just another fucked up day to day.
MORGAN: Yup. No stability.
Developing More Jams
So, as for your music, how would you describe any guiding principles behind the music that you guys will be releasing next? What sorts of things stick out to you from the creative process behind the new songs?
MORGAN: There’s a bunch more organ stuff.
NICHOLAS: I think that’s for the better. It gives me a chance to do some lead lines I wanted to do. It’s always hard to not repeat history. Sophomore records are always the hardest ones.
MORGAN: I thought it was the third record that’s the hardest?
NICHOLAS: Oh no…is it? I hope not. So none of the records are easy records?
MORGAN: Well, like, the first one you already had stuff written. Second, you have momentum. Third you’re like “Oh God, what the fuck do I do?”
NICHOLAS: I don’t know. I feel like we’re kind of in that spot now. We have a strategy, which is to surprise ourselves. But as time goes by that’s more difficult. You begin to guess what you’re going to do, you have to try more and more elaborate ways to get outside your comfort zone.
MORGAN: Seems like the songs are drawn out more.
NICHOLAS: We need to fix that. Make things shorter.
MORGAN: We sort of have two ways we write songs. Either we write it in one fuckin’ practice or it takes months on months.
MORGAN: Tweaking little parts. Either short short or…our long stuff feels like eight minutes but really it’s three or four. Put a lot of notes in a small space.
NICHOLAS: I think we’ve earned the right to…it’s important to try things that we want to try. Not write stuff for the audience…
MORGAN: Have we ever written for the audience?
NICHOLAS: Well, no, but I mean as far as a guiding principle goes we’ve thrown caution to the wind…
MORGAN: We play the shit we want to play, no?
NICHOLAS: Sure, that seems accurate.
Are there particular musical concepts that you’d really like to explore next as a band? What sorts of musical ground would you like to cover next?
MORGAN: I’d like to cover the ground where we get paid.
NICHOLAS: That would be great, right? Selling records would be a ground that would be new. As you get older…Marilyn Manson just released a single…he used to write stuff that parents were afraid of. Now it’s the kind of stuff that probably parents are going to buy. I think that as time goes on you have a responsibility to try things that are dangerous. It ceases to be punk…or, ok, it ceases to be “art” if you write melodies like you’re 20 years old. And we’re not 20 years old. Music has to become more ugly, more sincere…
MORGAN: I just don’t want to play what we’ve already played.
NICHOLAS: I want to write Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music”
MORGAN: I think that would be lost on a lot of people.
Favorite Tunes and Pushing Forward
So, even if there’s not any kind of one-to-one relationship to your music per se, what sorts of music — old or new — have tended to really stick out to you in general? At this stage in your lives and in the band, what’s the music that really tends to stick with you? What do you like about it?
NICHOLAS: Morgan has said we sound like the end of a Who song when they’re falling apart, things go off track. Picture that as a band.
NICHOLAS: I think the Rolling Stones are done. I don’t know why they’re still putting out records.
MORGAN: They make a lot of money.
NICHOLAS: Well that’s it. Been listening to a lot of A Tribe Called Quest.
MORGAN: Have you heard Fela Soul? It’s De La Soul remixed with Feta Kuti tracks
NICHOLAS: Whoa that sounds awesome. Is it good?
MORGAN: Well like half of those De La Soul records were like direct Parliament songs. Knee deep in the funk.
NICHOLAS: So it’s not re-recorded, someone did this at home?
MORGAN: No no, it’s just mixed together. It’s good. It’s worth checking out.
NICHOLAS: We tend to like stuff that’s funky. We both grew up when hardcore and hip hop wasn’t so separated. Young MC, Run DMC, Sugar Hill Gang…
MORGAN: You didn’t like rock music
NICHOLAS: Nope! Me and my friend Jason made a pact in fifth grade to never listen to it.
MORGAN: Did you succeed?
NICHOLAS: I have failed him.
MORGAN: Did he?
NICHOLAS: He’s super into baseball now.
So, broadly speaking, what sorts of things keep you guys coming back to making music in general? For instance, what do your favorite parts of the process tend to be? Have you been making music for awhile?
MORGAN: What the fuck else am I gonna do, man? I don’t know if there’s an option other than this.
NICHOLAS: I tried taking a break for a while and it was miserable. I don’t know how to describe it.
MORGAN: It’s just what I’ve always done.
NICHOLAS: Like when you watch those prison documentaries and they can’t go back to being outside…like Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption…
MORGAN: That’s a good comparison. Like prison.
NICHOLAS: Ok, maybe not exactly, but still…
Header photo taken by Coleman Rogers