Majical Cloudz’s latest album Are You Alone? came to us in October. Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto’s modest arrangements are sure to leave listeners in a cool desert landscape that feels almost designed to invite us to confront something in ourselves – like the title of this record might also pull for (depending on your take). We reached Devon Welsh by phone at his Montreal home.
AMBY: How are you?
Majical Cloudz: Pretty well.
AMBY: I just wanted to launch into your record, which I’ve become such a fan of. For people who all know Majical Cloudz, we all know you to be a very gifted lyricist. I was wondering whether you’re a I Carry A Notebook Everywhere I Go kind of person, or do you tend to not write the lyrics until the music and the melodies are sitting right there with you?
Majical Cloudz: Usually, I just write lyrics when I’m writing songs – just in the moment. And then I’ll maybe edit and revise them later, but I’ve been curious to try different things recently and maybe in the future I’ll try writing songs by writing the words first and kind of creating a song around it. But I don’t really have a lot of experience with that. It’s not usually what I do.
AMBY: Are you hard on yourself do you find as you’re writing? Or has it gotten easier as you’ve gotten older and you’re more sure of yourself now.
Majical Cloudz: I think it just changes. I think anyone goes through periods of being like, confident with what they’re making and then sometimes it’s harder and you’re more self-critical.
AMBY: So Matthew Otto came on as a collaborator with you in 2012, is that right?
Majical Cloudz: Right.
AMBY: And the two of you perform live together now. I was wondering what his musical background is like, and how the two of you linked up originally?
Majical Cloudz: He studied electro-acoustics, and –
AMBY: Oh rad, in Montreal?
Majical Cloudz: At Concordia, yea.
Majical Cloudz: So he kind of came to music at that angle, interested in sound design stuff and producing, engineering.
AMBY: So you just met in town?
Majical Cloudz: Yea, yea. We just met through being in the city, being in the same circle of musicians and stuff.
AMBY: Was there a moment starting out where you knew you would get along well musically, or was it just sort of a gradual process?
Majical Cloudz: I can’t really remember any moments, but just kind of complimentary interests. I guess I was looking for someone who could turn songs into finished pieces of music, and I guess that was sort of something he was able to do, and was kind of interested in the artistic direction that I had been talking about.
AMBY: It seems like a really good match.
Majical Cloudz: Yea.
AMBY: So your records are deceivingly dense musically, but they’re ultimately very minimalist in terms of instrumentation. Do you consciously strip your arrangements back this way to encourage the more honest lyrics that we’ve all come to love from you? Or has it just always been your preference, musically.
Majical Cloudz: I mean, I guess just the way that I think about songs and the… like when I’m just writing music, the focal point or the thing that I feel has the most impact of a song is when I’m writing it is the words. I think I lean more towards investing myself in the way that the words can have an impact, so making music [songs], I’ll try and make the music so the words aren’t just a side note. So, I think just because of that, I’m sort of naturally attracted to keeping things simple and kind of out-of-the-way musically, because it kind of gives more dramatic emphasis to words in a song.
AMBY: Are you the kind of artist who likes to try and get ideas down, or try to record something, every other day? Or does the making of something like an album take a lot out of you, and you find you need a bit of breathing room between projects.
Majical Cloudz: I try to write music and record it as much as I can. That being said, it just comes in waves. There will just be periods of time where it won’t be happening, and something else will be going on so I won’t be working on something… and there will just be periods of time where if I have the time and I feel like I can do it, then more songs will be written. Usually it’ll happen more in bursts, but it’s not necessarily because I’m working towards finishing a record, it’s more just that it ends up coming together. Like in an ideal world, I would just write a song every day, because –
AMBY: It feels good.
Majical Cloudz: It makes me feel sort of fulfilled or something but, it does not end up like that.
AMBY: So on that note, I was just reading through this book recently, and it mostly focuses on authors, but it basically outlines and compares their daily routines, linking their basic activities that might have enhanced their creativity throughout the day. Even something as simple as, “going for a long walk,” or staying up very late to write, or waking up very early in the morning…
Do you find there are any little things you do that can trick you – not trick you – but get you feeling a little more creative, that you’ve discovered? Or do you just wait for the songs to appear when they appear. You just put the work in and they show up eventually.
Majical Cloudz: I guess the boring answer is doing it every day, and just having the time so that you can just be writing and give yourself time every day so you can keep trying things. And just like anything else, the more time that you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it, and the more songs that you write the more comfortable you’ll be writing the songs.
AMBY: Is there anything you’re reading right now that you wanted to recommend?
Majical Cloudz: Let’s see… I don’t think any of the things I’m interested in are very interesting to other people necessarily.
AMBY: [laughs] I’m sure that’s not true.
Majical Cloudz: I’m reading a book called Practical Ethics by Peter Singer, that’s just about ethics and sort of putting forward a kind of theory of ethics, and it’s pretty cool.
Thank you Majical Cloudz, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Rosemary Fairweather