iobhan Magnus’ first solo performance in Boston, “Siobhan’s Hallowe’en Dreams” at the Wilbur Theatre on Sunday night, is more than a casual Halloween bash for drunk, costumed revelers who somehow get lost in the theater district.
The 21-year-old vocalist, who will drop her debut record, “Moonbaby,” shortly, has conceived the performance to be an intricate, intimate theatrical performance complete with specially customized stage designs one for each of the two sets she’s playing as well as costume changes and an audience costume contest (the winner gets to go to Magnus’ own private Halloween party).
Who: Siobhan Magnus
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont St., Boston
CAPE SHOW TODAY
ANOTHER BHS ALUM AT WILBUR
Siobhan Magnus isn’t the only Barnstable High School alumnus onstage at the Wilbur Theatre this weekend: Crime writer Casey Sherman, a 1987 graduate, will be part of an author show tonight about “Whitey Bulger & Boston’s Biggest Crimes.”
The “Masters of Suspense” show, running from 7 to 10 p.m., will include authors Howie Carr and Michele McPhee, both radio hosts and Boston Herald columnists. Carr takes on recently captured mob boss Bulger; McPhee will talk about so-called Craiglist Killer Philip Markoff and Amy Bishop, accused of killing three colleagues at the University of Alabama in 2010.
Sherman’s part of the program deals with the hunt for the Boston Strangler, a killer who captured international attention in the 1960s. Sherman, an award-winning journalist and author of five books, including “Search for the Strangler,” asks whether the true Strangler was ever caught or whether the real murderers are still free.
Sherman told the Times in July, when the “Masters of Suspense” shows were put on in Hyannis, that his aunt was believed to be the last victim of the Strangler. His mother, however, didn’t think Albert DeSalvo, the man arrested for the crimes, was the killer, and Sherman says he has confronted the man he believes is actually guilty.
His story is part of the “Masters of Suspense” show, which is designed to be scary.
KATHI SCRIZZI DRISCOLL
Magnus says she was excited to develop a Halloween show because the spooky day has held a special place in her heart ever since she was a child, but also, more important, because she wanted to create an event and do something different to showcase her new disc (at press time it was unavailable except for two songs). She will be unveiling it live in its entirety for the first time.
“I wanted to do something new and exciting because of the frustration I often feel with the music industry when I hear a lot of the songs that are skyrocketing up the charts now and which I find more than a bit odd,” she says.
Of course, she is talking about the kind of Kesha/Katy Perry brain-dead, big-hooks-plus-big-breasts formula that has dominated the pop charts in the past few years.
“I think you have to have faith in your art and make an honest depiction of your stories,” she says. “All the songs from the new record draw a lot from my past in some way, and I feel I have to be true to them. People can sniff out contrived and dishonest music. I’m sure of that, so I wanted the unveiling of these songs to be something special, and coming from my theatrical background, a Halloween show seemed like a perfect vehicle.”
Magnus’ developing career has been widely chronicled on the Cape as she was a theater sensation at Barnstable High School before making her impressionable run on “American Idol” in 2010, only to be ousted as the sixth finalist. On the reality TV show she offered some of the most vibrant and exciting performances “Idol” has ever seen this side of Adam Lambert, and they helped entrench her as the Cape’s own “Idol,” but she knows very well that that part of her life is in the past and much of the story is played out.
What she’s focused on now are the coming Boston concert as well as the coming CD release.
The concert, according to Magnus, will be broken up into two major sets with different moods.
“The first set is much darker and the staging will be appropriate to the songs, but the second set will be lighter and more surreal and have the vibe and look inspired by the title track, ‘Moonbaby.’”
She sounds delighted as she envisions what she has planned for her audience.
“The key elements are the look and imagery. I almost wanted to create something akin to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona. It’s tough to describe and I think I describe it differently to everyone I talk to, but perhaps think of a fairy combined with a road warrior and maybe an astronaut.”
She laughs at the allusion and possible image it might conjure but continues:
“At least something like that. They’ll have to see.”
As for the idea of a young artist without a hit single or even a full CD released attempting to fill the Wilbur Theatre, Magnus acknowledges it’s intimidating but says she’s up for the challenge.
Her manager, Tony Raine, says, “The logic is that she played the (Cape Cod) Melody Tent in June and did very well, so with the very theatrical show that she is planning we are hoping that people will come out to see this, especially around Halloween. There should be an extra special treat in that they get to hear the new record. One thing we know is that we are also shooting a video at the performance, so at least we’ll get a video out of it.”
Earlier this year, Raine guided Magnus toward Nashville, where she developed the material for “Moonbaby” and co-wrote songs for the first time. The first two singles are promising and demonstrate that Magnus is refining her sound and vocal technique.
In conversation, she makes it clear that she knew she was writing and recording material precisely for her solo career, so a shift from the harder, fractured sound with her band, Lunar Valve, would be inevitable.
“I don’t want to say I made compromises because I didn’t,” she says with determination. “I understand that this is a different side of my musical vision and what I do with Lunar Valve is another outlet for me. But I want this music to be accessible we worked very hard on it and for it to be played on the radio and for people to get full understanding of what I’m capable of doing.”
Indeed the first single, “Beatrice Dream,” released in the spring, is a funky slice of pop featuring Magnus’ sensual, soulful vocals while the brand new “Black Doll” reveals her range as it’s a moody ballad and a tribute to one of her influences, Edward Gorey. The evocative accompanying video filmed at the Gorey house on the Cape looks like it was shot by Tim Burton on the set of “Sleepy Hollow.”
But peel back the layers of the song and it’s about much more than surface macabre references. In it, she sings, “When you draw me/there’s a hole where my heart should be/and I could take my crayons and paint it red/and decorate the monsters underneath my bed/with flowers and pearls/but that’s not me/you know me.”
“Yeah, sure, the song works on different levels and it is about how I want people, as well as the music industry, to understand that I know that they might want to fit me into a box and present me in a certain, prettified way, but I do need to preserve my individuality and integrity. I know who I am.”
Magnus says all the material on “Moonbaby” is made up of songs that mean something to her, as she and co-writers Michael Flanders, Chaise Flanders and Mitzi Dawn focused on real storytelling and finding the heart of the narrative.
“Down in Nashville, they get it, they live by the idea that it’s three chords and the truth you got my dog, my truck, and my momma and that’s all you need as long as it’s honest and you understand the core of the story,” Magnus says through a laugh before adding, “I’ve got to tell you I’m just so tired of so many pop songs about women going to a bar, picking up a guy and partying. I really don’t think we need to hear another, do you?”
“Moonbaby” was scheduled to come out this week but Magnus and Raine say there has been some major label interest leading them to pursue a deal before deciding to put it out independently. Magnus is hoping to get something done quickly and wants to get the record out by January or February at the latest.
She is adamant that she’s not going to change her image or the music if she does work with a major label. “I stand by my work. Everything I’ve written I own, so we are seeking greater distribution. If I don’t find it, I’m prepared to go independent. I just want people to hear the music.”