ABOVE: DEVON WELSH. PHOTO COURTESY OF WILL KAUFHOLD.
As Majical Cloudz, Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto make indie synth-pop, but don’t let that put you off. It’s hard to get excited by such a commonplace description—doesn’t everyone make indie synth-pop these days?—but Welsh’s deep, charismatic voice over simple, catchy, and melancholic melodies makes Majical Cloudz a band worth getting excited about.
Things are progressing quickly for Welsh and Otto; the two began performing together last February and are currently finishing their debut album (tentative release date is March 2013). The band has already performed with Interview favorite, Mykki Blanco, in Montreal. And somewhat obsessive Grimes fans might recognize Welsh’s name from his instrumental contribution to “Nightmusic” off of her breakout album, Visions.
Here, we talk to Devon Welsh about the Backstreet Boys, Blanco, and what music adds to the written word.
AGE: 24 (Devon Welsh)
HOMETOWN: Ontario (Devon Welsh); Montreal (Matthew Otto)
CURRENT LOCATION: Montreal, Canada
ASKING SOMEONE TO BE IN YOUR BAND… Is sort of like trying to get someone to go on a date with you—you ask them out on a date. I asked [Matthew] to play a show with me and he just helped me out by playing keyboards. Then I asked him to play another show with me and he played keyboards again, but this time he added a few things. Then I left the city for quite a while and, while I was gone, I was writing all of these songs and sending emails and songs and saying, “Oh we need to work on this together.” I was kind of courting him from afar. When I came back to the city, we played a couple of shows and we decided we were going to go steady and be in a band together.
THE AUTODIDACT: I didn’t study music. I used to play guitar—I taught myself how to play guitar and I never got very good. I don’t play anymore, and I’m even worse. I know how to use a keyboard and a synthesizer in a really simple way. For me, the musical element is a backdrop that allows me to express things and so it’s not something that I’ve ever gotten very technically proficient at.
SOUL MUSIC: Strangely enough, you can be more emotionally direct with music than you can with poetry, I think, because it’s more visceral, there’s more of a gut reaction. Music provides a second voice to a band, and it provides a context for what you’re saying. There’s a lot more literary attitude towards writing [poetry], and feelings are more submerged in allusion. That’s how I feel about my own writing; it was harder for me to directly express myself. With music, you can just be clear. There’s no metaphor, the music around it gives it this quality that allows people to digest it and allows people to feel like it’s being spoken to them.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE SKINHEAD: Over the summer, I started to just use a razor to shave my head completely. So it’s pretty recent. Has it changed the way that people react to me? Yeah, definitely. People’s initial reaction when you have a shaved head is, “Oh, you look crazy…” Or you look somehow sketchier or more intimidating. On a personal level, it’s just a really easy solution to having to wash my hair; I like the feeling of it. But in performance it ends up being really useful and interesting, because people often have a very certain impression of who I am before they see me perform. And then when we perform, the impression is completely changed, and it’s almost a counterintuitive image that comes with the music. A girl talked to me after a show we played in early summer, she was going to school in Poland, and she was in Montreal. She said that before we started playing, she assumed that the music was going to be some kind of skinhead music, because in her experiences in Poland, people that look like that are part of that culture. When we started playing she was shocked that it was not as aggressive as she thought it was going to be, it was almost sort of the opposite of what she had expected. I like to give people that, I like to have things not be like what is expected. People mostly suggest that I should be thankful for not being bald naturally and that I should have hair.
FIRST ALBUM PURCHASED…: I’m almost positive was the Backstreet Boys debut album. I do still have it, it’s in my dad’s basement. Although the CD itself is probably not in the package, it probably got lost in one of the many CD wallets. I found some CD wallets the last time I was at my dad’s. They’re bitter reminders of who you were, or who I thought I was, when I was 11 to 13.
I think that, on some level, my confession that the Backstreet Boys album is the first album I ever bought is somehow redeeming because it’s pop music and the intentions behind it are quite solid. And at the end of the day I think that when I hear a Backstreet Boys song today I actually like a lot of it. But something like Limp Bizkit is probably pretty unredeemable and that was something that I was quite into. So, that’s me not trying to hide that. Realizing I can’t somehow rhetorically make that cool, it’s not going to be cool.
LAST ALBUM PURCHASE…: Let’s see, my reengagement with music has become so abstract that I can’t even remember what the last piece of music I purchased was. The last record that I got, truthfully it was given to me, but the last piece of music that I received that I was really excited about was a copy of Mac DeMarco’s new LP.
MYKKI BLANCO’S MILITIA: I first met Mykki Blanco at an afterparty in Berlin in the summer when I was on tour with a friend of mine. She played a show, and that was the first time that I saw her perform, and I was super into it. And then she came back to Montreal, during POP Montreal, and played at a show that was shut down midway by police—it was an unofficial venue and it was a massive, massive show. There were tons of amazing people DJing, performing. Probably 20 cops came in during the middle of Mykki’s set and sort of hung around for half an hour to 45 minutes and then finally kicked everybody out. The next time that I saw Mykki perform was at another afterparty show a few weeks ago in Montreal. That was shut down, not by the police, but by the venue itself based on a number of noise complaints. Luckily enough, Mykki played her full set. Some friends of mine couldn’t play which was really unfortunate.
In some ways what we do is very different, because the attitude that goes into a performance—hip-hop has a very different feeling than the music that we make. But, I was super excited when I first saw Mykki perform and I think there’s a lot of common ground: The basis of a Mykki Blanco performance is kind of about the personality and the music, the DJ is playing and the music facilitates this communication between the audience and the performer; their default reaction to her performance is this awe-inspired expression and dancing, of course. The attitude being communicated and the exchange between the audiences is different, but I think that we both try to pursue a direct connection with the audience and the music facilitates the audience sort of taking cues from the performer. The exchange is a lot more fluid then when a band is onstage trying to play the music as accurately as possible.
“I DON’T BELIEVE IN ANYBODY… ONLY YOU”: “I Don’t Believe in Anybody” is a slightly older song that we just decided we wanted to rework. It’s about—and this not a space I’m in anymore and I’m very thankful for that—but it’s about not being very satisfied with yourself and not being very happy, but simultaneously being in love with someone and kind of feeling like the goodness of the world comes, not from yourself or anyone else, but from them.
“MOUNTAIN EYES” AND GRIMES: [“Mountain Eyes”] is, again, just about being desperately in love with somebody and feeling like it’s doomed. Is there any truth to the song being about [Claire Boucher of Grimes]? Yes, the song was written about her, that was a long time ago. I think she’s one of my best friends, we’ve known each other for a long time, and our relationship as people has gone through many phases.
MAJICAL CLOUDZ’S DEBUT EP, TURNS, TURNS, TURNS, COMES OUT TOMORROW, DECEMBER 4. THE BAND IS PLAYING AT GLASSLANDS IN BROOKLYN TOMORROW. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.