The Montreal-based DIY pop duo mix up their influences from experimental vibes via Actress, to old school Kraftwerk, Steve Reich and Arthur Russell
Montreal duo Majical Cloudz came to our attention when they teamed up with Grimes on the magnificent 'Nightmusic' earlier this year, and this week the DIY pop duo (Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto) release their new 'Turns Turns Turns' EP on Arbutus/Merok. Their previous releases like 'Earth To Friend' showed a knack for haunting electronic experiments, but new songs like 'What That Was' showcase a more melodic side to the band, with an emphasis on Welsh's mournful baritone alongside sparse synths and casiotone beats. We caught up with Devon to find out more about the band's emotionally-charged DIY pop, and they made us an exclusive mixtape of their favourite jams, ranging from Actress to Arthur Russell.
Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to have such sparse cover art for the 'Turns Turns Turns' EP?
Majical Cloudz: What we do as a band is consciously direct. I have a lot of respect for ambitious, complex art, but my personal preference has always been for straightforward things. The idea for the cover art just came out of that inclination. I don’t have a very comprehensive knowledge of visual art, but the stuff I am intuitively attracted to is usually minimal or conceptual. The concept for the cover was probably inspired specifically by John Baldessari’s paintings like What This Painting Aims To Do.
DD: With this EP was it a conscious decision to make your vocals more foregrounded?
Majical Cloudz: It was a conscious decision to do this, and the short answer is that we did this because the songs I was writing became much more focused on the vocals. I lost interest in making music that wasn’t foregrounding the lyrics and expressing clear emotions. I gained an interest in expressing myself as directly as possible through music.
DD: Where did you get the name Majical Cloudz from?
Majical Cloudz: My good friend Matthew E. Duffy came up with the name in 2008 as a way to refer to a series of noise shows we did together in Halifax, NS. He is a writer and he uses unusual spelling all the time; I am inspired by that because it allows him to make the words his own unique creations.
Lots of bands name themselves after familiar things, but I want my music to be named after something unfamiliar. When the words are unfamiliar they become unique, and only refer to the music.
DD: You grew up in rural Ontario. How did those surroundings influence your consumption and appreciation of music?
Majical Cloudz: Growing up in rural Ontario restricted my consumption of music to a certain extent. I listened to whatever I was exposed to, and that was mostly through my friends or my friends’ older siblings. One of my best friends’ older sisters was really into the Pixies and a lot of other good music, so I tuned into some of it that way. The first CD I ever bought was the Backstreet Boys’ first album. At the time I also remember really enjoying Sarah McLachlan’s album 'Surfacing'. Soon after that I got MuchMusic on TV, and then my whole taste changed, for better or worse. [laughs]
DD: How do you feel about comparisons made between your voice and and Stephin Merritt's?
Majical Cloudz: I have never listened to any of The Magnetic Fields' albums in an extended way, but I remember when a good friend showed me 'Take Ecstasy With Me', and that song is still very special to me.
DD: What are the ideal conditions for you to record?
Majical Cloudz: The ideal conditions are: late at night in the basement of my father’s house. When I'm in Montreal it is early evening in my windowless bedroom with the door closed. Usually my roommates are hanging out in the living room, but I’ve gotten used to the idea that they can hear all the words I’m singing quite clearly. They understand me anyway, so what's to hide? I don’t really have a studio. The closest thing to a studio is my bandmate Matt’s apartment, where he has a mixing console and studio monitors.
DD: Has the success of Grimes and Arbutus changed the Montreal music scene?
Majical Cloudz: The effect of Claire’s success on the Montreal music scene has been profound. In truth, the fact that I am speaking to you right now attests to her impact. Whether or not it is a direct result, nowadays many of us have the opportunity to spread our music to bigger audiences and pursue our passions, and for that I am thankful.
DD: What can we expect from your forthcoming album?
Majical Cloudz: The full-length is even more spare than the music on the EP, and it is more consistent. The songs are all very personal to me, and myself and Matt are both really proud of how it sounds. There aren’t any collaborations, just the two of us.
DD: Where would you advise Dazed Digital readers to listen to listen to this mixtape? Like, on a rollercoaster, in the bath, or while jogging?
Majical Cloudz: You could probably do any of those three activities! I can only really go off how I felt when I made it, which was: relaxed, alone, and focused. I think if you want to dance you shouldn't listen to it.
Andy Stott - 'Numb'
Steve Reich - 'Music For 18 Musicians (Section I)'
Kraftwerk - 'Geiger Counter'
Kraftwerk - 'Hall of Mirrors'
Actress - 'Jardin'
Tim Hecker - 'I’m Transmitting Tonight'
Steve Reich - 'Come Out'
Arthur Russell - 'All-Boy All-Girl'
Tim Hecker - 'In The Fog I'
Thom Yorke - 'Atoms For Peace'
Blondes - 'Pleasure (Andy Stott Remix)'
Elite Gymnastics - 'Here In Heaven'
La Monte Young - ‘Black Album’
Elliott Smith - 'Satellite'
Nick Drake - 'Horn'
Arthur Russell - 'Just A Blip'