Magic Bullets flying high

Not every Superman can find a Clark Kent-type straight job.

So says Philip Benson, who does his best to hide on the day shift at a San Francisco grocery store. But lately, that hasn’t been possible. Customers have started to recognize him as the lead vocalist for alt-rock combo Magic Bullets, which was just named Live 105’s Soundcheck Breakthrough Artist of ’07.

“And there’s so much food at this place that I often just walk around staring at it on my breaks, like that book ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’” says the singing stock boy. “And I was standing there staring recently when this guy came up to me, all wide-eyed, like a crazy person. So I said ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and he gasped. ‘I saw your band the other night and … and you guys were awesome!’ And everybody in the band is pretty modest about what we do, so when something like that happens, it’s kind of a shock.”

The store offers more than an occasional ego boost for Benson, 27. “They give me time off to tour, and that’s the biggest perk of the place,” he says; the sextet kicks off a national jaunt on Friday at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.

“Coming and going? It’s OK. Everything seems to be OK with them.” He might have to resign from his day job, though, if the buzz keeps building on “A Child But in Life Yet a Doctor in Love,” the Bullets’ Joy Division-dark debut (Words On Music), featuring jagged ditties such as “Heatstroke” and “New Kicks.”

Benson, an indie-comics buff, studied illustration in college but never made it to art school. But he learned one crucial lesson from his portraiture professor, who taught him to be hard on himself in order to be better. He applies that theory to his lyrics, sometimes going through four or five drafts of songs before he’s satisfied.

Magic Bullets formed by process of elimination. When Benson’s old Redwood City outfit the Cosmos went on hiatus three years ago when their drummer became a dad, he and guitarist Corey Cunningham tapped the Kennedy assassination for a moniker and reconvened as Magic Bullets, at the same time his art pursuits dead-ended.

“So I thought, ‘Well, I might as well leave school and just focus on this side band I’m in, and it panned out into this fully-functioning project,”says the Morrissey-inspired musician, who hired on in health foods to make ends meet.

Now, he adds, “We don’t pay attention to the music scene — we just do our own thing and don’t align ourselves with any particular faction.”

Benson has one final request. Should you happen to bump into in his store’s brie aisle, don’t go crackers on him like that one fan.

“But I am pretty easy to track down,” he laughs. “After all, I’m always wearing my name tag — ‘Phil.’”

IF YOU GO

Magic Bullets

Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco

When: Friday, 10 p.m.

Tickets: $10

Contact: (415) 621-4455 or www.bottomofthehill.com

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