Majical Cloudz’ Devon Welsh didn’t seem very eager to talk about influences when we met up to chat on a chilly park bench in Williamsburg this past December. He didn’t seem too keen on discuss the lyrical themes on his recent Turns Turns Turns EP either, although he was quick to insist upon on their personal nature, and when he spoke of his roots in the Montreal music scene surrounding Arbutus Records, it was mostly to emphasize the close friendships that hold that world together—rather than the music itself. Majical Cloudz’ sound is just as hard to unpack as Welsh’s manner of explaining the songs he records with beatsmith Matthew Otto—not because the music is so complicated, but because it’s pleasing in the most elemental way possible, luxuriating in deep emotional focus as he trains his voice on melody lines that are catchy for the very reason that they’re smartly simple. The mix he made us is pretty hard to parse together stylistically, but we’d like to think that it speaks somewhat to his professed goal of making “music that [is] full, and [is] sincerely attempting to fulfill its promise.” Catch Majical Cloudz at Brooklyn’s Death By Audio on January 23rd.
Download: Majical Cloudz FADER Mix
What brought you to Montreal? I went to school in Montreal. I went to McGill University and studied religion. And why did I go to school there? Because I grew up in Ontario and I wanted to get away from the feeling of my high school. Then over the course of that, I just met some people that played music and I became more involved in this other thing happening that wasn’t school and wasn’t student-related. It was about music and parties. Then my life just slowly transitioned to that aspect of Montreal. I graduated and now that’s sort of what I do there—my identity there.
What’s it like being a musician there? The lifestyle is there’s lots of shows that happen in non-traditional spaces. It seems like maybe compared to New York there’s a lot more possibility for shows to happen in places that aren’t bars, where there’s less money that needs to change hands for an event to take place. The apartment [of my friends Airick Woodhead, from Doldrums, and Matthew Duffy] has recently become the go-to place for shows, even though it’s a tiny two-bedroom that is now close to uninhabited and filled with trash. [Matthew Duffy] spends most of his time in my apartment but then he sleeps in a chair in his apartment and then throws shows there about twice a week. So it’s kind of like that, and off and on I work at a gallery with a lot of other people that also play music. It seems like there’s a number of institutions where people file in and out of if they play music, and it’s a really small community because of the language thing. Everyone lives really close together, because the music community that I’m around is [mostly] English-speaking. The apartment that I was speaking of earlier is a four-minute walk from my apartment, and Marilis Cardinal [from Arbutus Records] lives right below me in the same building. It’s all pretty close-knit, and maybe shows are less of a spectacle than they are in New York—less to do with the importance of the music, and more to do with the feeling of the music and whatever’s happening on a given night.
How did Majical Cloudz get started? I was recording music on my own, and I stopped for a little while and I started again. The music I was making I was thinking about more as something to be performed live. I asked Matt [Otto] if he would help me play the songs live and it turned into something that could be a full live experience, music that didn’t have the tone of being someone’s home recording project but the tone of music that was full, and was sincerely attempting to fulfill its promise. I’ll write the music and write the skeleton of the song, and typically that includes the sounds that are the skeleton of the music. I think where I have ideas and where I have visions, [Otto] has solutions and techniques to pull it together.
So a big sound? Not necessarily big—just fully realized.
How has the sound evolved for you since your previous record? My priorities before were just less clear, and I was just making music because I wanted to make music, but I didn’t really have a clear idea about what I thought music should do or what I thought I wanted to get out of my own music. I think I just want to make songs that resonate with me personally, that say something about who I am and what I feel and what I experience. That is music that I can stand on even if somebody doesn’t like it.
With the new release is there an overall story or telling about yourself or a theme that comes up in all of your songs? There’s no overall theme. The songs are personal. They’re not generic pop sings. They’re not about generic themes in the sense that of faceless character. They’re all about people and situations. I’m sure that’s not uncommon.
How do you prepare yourself for opening up like that in front of an audience? Mostly when we perform, I try to be focused and just clear my head—anything that an actor might do if when preparing to go on stage, get into character in a certain sense. Not that I get into a character that’s not me, but [who I am] as a performer is distinct from me as a [person] in that I have a pretty single-track mind. It’s just singing the songs and trying to get it across to the audience and stay present, because that’s how I’m able to sing the songs with genuine feeling and not just be making a copy [of the record]. It’s gotten easier, especially over the course of this year, because our live setup kind of facilitates that; I just have a microphone and all I’m required to do is sing the songs and connect with the audience in some way and stay in the moment.
Are there any artists coming out of the Montreal scene now that we might not have heard of but that you think we should check out? I don’t like to name drop specific people because I feel it sounds like I’m saying, Oh this person is worthy of checking out and the person that I didn’t name isn’t worth checking out. And that’s not how I really perceive my environment to function. Lots of different people are playing music, and mostly what I feel like we all get out of the community is the experience of going to say, Duffy’s apartment and it’s not as important necessarily who’s playing specifically then that fact that there are people playing, and we listen. And then we dance or react however is appropriate. You should just go there and check out the whole thing, and then just feel it out. Yeah, I think that’s probably what I’d be more comfortable repping and I just don’t feel like there should be any stars. If you’re a star, then you’re a star in that moment playing and you’re doing a good job, but to go so far as to single people out might be unfair.
Andy Kaufman excerpt
Broadcast, “Echo’s Answer”
Grouper, “Moon Is Sharp” // John Jacob Niles, “The Maid Freed from the Gallows”
Elliott Smith, “St. Ides Heaven” // Tim Hecker, “Harmony in Blue II”
Swans, “Live Through Me”
Stars of the Lid, “Dungtitled (In A Major)” //Steve Reich, Clapping Music
Emeralds, “Goes By”
Black Sabbath, “Changes”
Brian Eno & Harold Budd, “Steal Away”
Miles Davis, “So What”
Steve Reich, “It’s Gonna Rain” // Cop Car Bonfire, Street Acid excerpt
Ramzi, “Transit Aqua Jungle” // Steve Reich, D