Within the indie world, Buffalo-born, Los Angeles-based Elliott Douglas is creating a new genre, focused on fusion and fluidity. Working under the moniker M.A.G.S., the artist combines elements of prog rock, pop punk, and indie rock for a head-spinning sound that is both eccentric and unbelievably enjoyable. An entirely solo project, Douglas plays each instrument himself while writing from the heart — a self-sufficient creative practice he found solace in after being homeschooled by a religious family. Since those days, Douglas’ wings have spread, helping him land in a corner of the music world that only he had the map to discover and develop.
His latest project, Destroyer, continues Douglas’ delicate exploration with instruments and sounds, one in which the artist makes clear he felt unaffected by any pressures to remain in a rigid genre or indie headspace. “This is the first album I’ve felt comfortable enough with my sound to explore that side of my interests,” he says. And there’s no doubt that nothing is held back on the new LP. He’s completely abandoned the idea of sticking to one style of music. After all, artists have begun focusing on the influence, not necessarily the genre. “I think we have to,” he adds. “That’s the only way to stand out. That’s the only way that people are going to remember you.”
While much of indie music has been made for and by outcasts, M.A.G.S. is still a true outlier. With early influences like Underoath, the Strokes, and Radiohead, mixed with his familial music taste of early ’60s and ’70s singer-songwriters, as well as his “fascination with the textures, patterns, [and the] freedom of jazz,” he’s established a niche for himself. It’s found within his own head, observing and producing what is consistently bouncing around his mind. “It’s all up here,” he says, pointing to his temple. “There’s an audience for everything. Social media has made it so you can build a world around yourself, with the most obscure, weird stuff. If that’s true and you’re doing something that is unique and different and authentic, you’re setting yourself up to be widely received.”
There’s no true way to define M.A.G.S. With his inspired, genreless sound, it’s impossible to home in on where he fits in. Douglas agrees: “I personally don’t classify my music to myself because I can’t. I think a lot of people who don’t know my music ask, ‘What genre are you?’ And there’s not a word.” One could argue he’s indie prog, especially when listening to “Sins,” a single off the LP. “It was the jumping-off point for Destroyer,” Douglas explains with a smile. “It got shelved. It wasn’t in line with anything that I did on the self-titled, and it felt a little too dark. But I sent it to my manager, and they were like, ‘This is one of the best songs I’ve heard from you. Are you going to release this?’”
M.A.G.S. also explores the darker side of his repertoire on Destroyer. Having been entranced by hardcore and metalcore at a young age, it was only a matter of time before he delved into the heavier side of his tastes. “[‘Sins’] has some riffs that I had been working on that are a little more left-of-center,” he says. “I think that’s how I like to describe my sound. It’s indie, but it’s not quite always going to be the best thing for a playlist.” The breakdowns throughout Destroyer cement his adventure into heavier music. His influences from Underoath are particularly evident as well, and he even asks himself when tracking his own drums, “What would Aaron [Gillespie] do?
He takes that influence and implements it in his music, without it being a traditional “hardcore” record. Using and unraveling its elements, Douglas plays with the ideas of other rock genres, specifically post-rock alongside his heavier inspirations. The guitar chords in “Wednesday” stand out, incorporating the ambiance and delicate nature of the genre while tapping into that hardcore influence in the bridge. With its intricate time signatures, it’s hard to believe that Douglas wasn’t originally a guitarist. In fact, he was a drummer, but watching an old bandmate play guitar pushed him to seek out other instruments. “Watching him play guitar made me want to start playing guitar,” he says. “It was a wild tangent that I took at the time — ‘I want to try something else. I have more in my head than just playing the drums.’ And guitar was calling me for a very long time.”
Douglas considers himself an “instrumentalist,” first and foremost. As much as he appreciates songwriting, he views instrumentals as his first love. And with his commitment to exploring the pieces of different sounds that live in his mind, he’s accomplished a level of fusion that is admirable, especially in the modern music landscape. “I think we live in a time where the term ‘genre’ is a little more vague. You’re seeing a lot more cross-pollination between hip-hop and rock music. There’s a lot more rock music in pop music now. And that’s all good and well, but I don’t really fit into any of that.”
He doesn’t seem too concerned with the reception from his audience. Douglas enjoys the album he’s put together, acknowledging the factors of perception and reception within a fanbase. “Something will click in their brains, ‘Oh, there’s something about this that reminds me of something I already know,’” he says. “All consumers know is what they already know. If there’s something there that they connect to, or have already connected to, I think that is a lot more impactful than trying to be something.” Regardless of his position as an instrumentalist, lyrically, he’s an open book, communicating previous experiences and scenarios he’s not always necessarily aware of when writing the songs.
In the end, Douglas believes there’s no real originality anymore. There are only so many chords in Western music. To him, it’s a matter of being creative and innovative with what’s already there. “There are some artists who are not original in the sense that they are reimagining something that does already exist, but they’re doing it in a way where they are influential in the way that they do it,” he explains.
And it’s hard not to see that perspective — many modern songs are created with the same four chords and the same songwriting formula. But Douglas’ creativity and innovation with the path of sound that’s already been laid out are exemplary, and his ability to fuse so many genres together is dizzying. Destroyer is a testament to an enjoyable, eclectic fusion that will indeed capture the attention of those who can identify with the endless list of genres he embodies. And what goes on in his mind is damn well influential.