Majical Cloudz is Montreal-based songwriter Devon Welsh, with producer and live collaborator Matthew Otto. Their introspective brand of synth-driven music is characterized by an almost architectural desire for balance, crafting songs that are as sonically minimal as they are emotionally complex, equally reliant on negative, hollow space and lush, warm textures. Welsh bares his soul through carefully articulated stories, oriented around themes of death, patience, family and desire. Their live performance is deeply expressive and raw, Welsh’s rich baritone woven into intricate stories amidst washes of white noise, filtered synths and sparse thuds.
Synth-driven music at it’s worst, can sound soulless and impersonal. However, Majical Cloudz is everything you’d ever want from this genre. Anytime a musician references Minor Threat, in discussing his approach to music, we’ll sit up and listen. The sparse beauty of his music envelops you in a haze of emotion and nuance. Having first drawn our attention thanks to his collaborative work with Grimes muse Claire Boucher, it’s not surprising that Matador has signed him and will release his next album.
We talked to Devon about the process of making his beautiful music and his path for the future.
Todd: Let’s start with the technical side of your music, please. Can you tell us about the process of making the Turns Turns Turns EP and how it differed from a production sense compared to II?
Devon: “II” was me learning how to produce music properly. That said, I wasn’t very far along; I’m still not very far along. I wrote and recorded it without the intention to play any of it live — it was just made to “make an album”, which was what my friends and I did in those days. You record as much as you can, do your best with it, and release it on the internet. It’s a friendly competition.
Turns Turns Turns EP came after Majical Cloudz had been turned into something else entirely — a band that plays shows. Matthew Otto was also involved at that point (he hadn’t been during II). So his influence is in there. Some of the songs on the EP are still holdovers from the period just after II where I was still unclear on what exactly Majical Cloudz was going to be. The EP is kind of all over the place, in a good way though. We recorded it in Matt’s apartment and at my place.
Todd: My understanding is that you have a new album coming out in a few months. To what extent does it differ from this EP?
Devon: By the time we put together the album we knew what Majical Cloudz was. We played a lot of shows and had a lot of good experiences with people. The album represents a clear picture in my head of what this project is. A lot of the time it’s slow and quiet, it’s stripped down to what I think are the fundamentals.
Todd: Lyrically your songs are brilliant. Filled with emotion and powerful imagery. First, how much of what you write is autobiographical?
Devon: Everything I write is autobiographical — I respect songwriters that sing from a fictional perspective or from the point-of-view of someone else, but I never do that. If I’m going to sing about it and feel something it needs to be coming from my personal world.
The most important part of songwriting for me is the language. The music is really just a way of lending impact and structure to the words.
Todd: When you sing these songs live, do you find yourself caught up in the emotion you felt as you wrote them or do you try and distance yourself?
Devon: I definitely feel what I sing when I perform. If a person doesn’t feel the emotion in their own music then performing must be a kind of lie.
Todd: To what extent has religion influenced you lyrically and musically?
Devon: “Religious thinking” generally seems to be thinking about mortality, love, human strength/weakness, etc. Big questions — I feel drawn to thinking about those questions, so I guess lyrically I’m doing “religious thinking”. I think the difference is that religion tends to answer those questions — I’m not really giving any answers, but even raising questions is good.
Todd: You’ve done a video for Turns Turns Turns, which leads me to wonder how you feel about the process of turning the images in your head into a video for the masses to see.
Devon: We had no idea what we were going to do going into making that video, we just improvised and had a lot of fun. I didn’t really think up any of it beforehand.
Todd: I’m guessing that you’re going to be asked about Grimes over 1000 times this year. Hopefully we are still early enough in the game to ask without you being tired of the question yet. Can you please talk about your collaborative work with Claire? What is she like to work with?
Devon: Collaborative work with Claire = friends hanging out and trading a computer back and forth, adding things, taking things away, sharing ideas. We work really well together, when we’ve made music together I’ve ended up doing things I would never normally do on my own. But it was never work, or with a view to the music being heard by lots of people.
Todd: How did your music and approach change when you started working with Matthew Otto?
Devon: He sees details in music that I never even think about, so working with him on recordings and playing live is amazing. We have a really good natural chemistry with music — we understand each other and have complementary strengths. He sees the vision I’m describing.
Todd: From what I’ve read, the visual element of your performances are as important as the music. Can you talk about the creation of your live show and what you hope the audience gets from it?
Devon: The live show is just as simple as possible. I just want to sing the songs and not be distracted by anything. If it’s 1983 and you go to see Minor Threat, what are you looking for? What does Minor Threat offer that hair metal doesn’t?
That said, our music is obviously completely different. It’s electronic, it’s minimal, it has more present vocal melodies. But the intention of a band like Minor Threat or Black Flag is something I strive for. To take the intentions of that kind of hardcore but direct it inward instead of outward. To strip away everything to get to a core of energy and emotion.
Todd: Beyond the tour, album and SXSW (phew, I’m exhausted just talking about it!), what are your plans for the rest of 2013?
Devon: Touring as much as possible, making more music, spending time in Montreal in the summer, meeting people. Everything, as much as possible.
Winter 2013 Tour Dates /
02.26.13 – Johnny Brendas – Philadelphia, PA
02.27.13 – Santos Party House – New York, NY
02.28.13 – Le Belmont – Montreal, QC
03.01.13 – Wrongbar – Toronto, ON
03.02.13 – Schubas – Chicago, IL
03.04.13 – Triple Rock – Minneapolis, MN
03.07.13 – Electric Owl – Vancouver, BC
03.08.13 – Barboza – Seattle, WA
03.09.13 – Bunk Bar – Portland, OR
03.11.13 – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
03.12.13 – Troubadour – Los Angeles, CA
03.13-13-03.17.13 – SXSW – Austin, TX