There's a strong sense of pride shared by people who hail from the 305. Bring up Gloria Estefan, Trina, or Trick Daddy in a conversation, and locals will find just about any opportunity to let you know they're products of the Magic City. So when Miami turns out to be the breeding ground for one of the most exciting up-and-coming pop music outfits around, you're going to hear about it.
Although Miami-born, Los Angeles-based duo Magdalena Bay traded colada in Styrofoam cups for cold-pressed juice sucked through biodegradable straws, you can still feel the effects of the Atlantic Ocean's iridescent shimmer on the pop pair's music.
Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin met in 2011 at Live! Modern School of Music, an after-school music program in North Miami they attended while in high school. (Tenenbaum attended Design and Architecture Senior High while Lewin went to Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High.) At Live!, they formed a prog-rock band but disbanded when they went separate ways for college.
In 2016, back at home during a winter break, Tenenbaum and Lewin discussed working together again, but instead of delving back into rock, they decided to venture into pop — a genre both had shunned growing up. They formed Magdalena Bay and continued to collaborate long-distance — Tenenbaum at the University of Pennsylvania and Lewin at Northeastern University in Boston.
"It's definitely been a learning experience for us," Lewin says. "Having never really listened to or made pop music before, [we've been] figuring it out as we went along."
The duo, which cites Grimes, Madonna, Britney Spears, and Charli XCX as influences, touts a refreshing DIY approach complemented by a retro flair. Lewin's production touches and Tenenbaum's nostalgic visual style have continued to sharpen through the band's willingness to experiment.
"I think over the past year, at least for the videos, we really figured out what we want them to look like and how to do it and how to have that consistent vision," Tenenbaum says.
Asked where their strong work ethic comes from, both credit their entrepreneur fathers who instilled a "do-it-yourself mentality" in them.
"I think it's cool to use limitations that we have — which is lack of professional equipment — and turn that into something a bit unique," Lewin says.
It was Magdalena Bay's Miami-set video for its cover of Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heels" that helped establish the band's aesthetic. Shooting with an old VHS camcorder, the duo embraced the outdated technology's limitations.
"That was the first time we did the whole '80s retro thing, and we loved how the camera made it so shitty but cool," Tenenbaum recalls.
They also acknowledge Miami's significant role in shaping the kitschy visuals.
"Miami was the backdrop with the palm trees and the neon — it kinda became Magdalena Bay's DNA," Tenenbaum adds.
Magdalena Bay had only performed in Miami twice before moving to the West Coast in 2018. Tenenbaum and Lewin had been self-releasing singles for a while, but once in L.A., they quickly grew impatient with the slow pace of production. Instead of trudging on, they switched their approach by releasing content at a rapid pace, which caught the attention of Luminelle Recordings, an independent label formed by Gorilla vs. Bear's Chris Cantalini in collaboration with indie labels Fat Possum Records and House Arrest Distribution.
"We figured that we needed a way to build an audience and put out content more regularly, Lewin says. "So we came up with the idea behind the mini-videos where we would just have a steady flow of video content and music and not put so much thought into it. [We'd] write a song as quickly as possible, make it short, do a fun little video, and then put it out."
After the release of the third mini-video for the bilingual track "El Dorado," Cantalini featured it on Gorilla vs. Bear and subsequently premiered the band's late-'90s-inspired video for "Only If You Want It." Less than a year later, in March 2020, Luminelle put out the band's intoxicatingly euphoric EP, A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling, a collection of eight songs that puts a tinge of sparkle on even the darkest of times.
Magdalena Bay looked forward to an exciting year with a few SXSW shows planned as well as touring in support of both Yumi Zouma and Kero Kero Bonito. Derailed by the pandemic, they only played one show with Yumi Zouma in Washington, D.C., before the tour was canceled.
Tenenbaum and Lewin headed south to quarantine separately with their parents in Aventura and Miami Beach, respectively. In keeping with their mantra of releasing content regularly, the duo used the unscheduled downtime to film a lyric video for the track "Story" while self-isolating.
Now back in L.A., they're working on their upcoming debut album.
"Existential angst," Lewin says, laughing.