Young Magic’s Legends of the Fall

Published May 7, 2014

ABOVE: YOUNG MAGIC’S MELATI MALAY (LEFT) AND ISAAC EMMANUEL. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARRISON THANE

“Fall In,” the latest single from electronic duo Young Magic, is perhaps their finest to date. The single lures listeners into finding beauty in all corners of the world; the music video is as commanding as its title. Directed by Angus Borsos, it depicts an undisclosed paradise as beautiful and ethereal as Indonesian-born singer Melati Malay. Partner Isaac Emmanuel’s heady, horn-heavy production blends with Malay to create an all-engrossing sensuality. Magic, indeed.

The Brooklyn-bred duo has always been world travellers, which is perhaps why both their records—2012’s debut, Melt, and the just-released Breathing Statues, both on Carpark Records—are accessible without losing their playfully experimental tone. Young Magic recorded Breathing Statues across continents while touring. 

Manhattan’s McKittrick Hotel is host to Young Magic for a Breathing Statues record release show this Thursday, May 8 as part of its Sleep No More late-night concert series. In anticipation of the show, we spoke with Isaac Emmanuel about music-making while living a life in transit.  

BENJAMIN LINDSAY: In researching you guys, I found that you sat down with Interview in 2012 for your debut, Melt. Just looking over the past two years, what are some of the biggest things that’ve happened to Young Magic since?

ISAAC EMMANUEL: Probably making the record between touring dates was a highlight. We had a chance to stop over in Paris for a little bit and Morocco, and that was a really enjoyable experience getting the chance to record in so many places and then come back to New York and kind of piecing it all together. Yeah, touring’s fun like that.

LINDSAY: Yeah, of course. And what was it like touring with Purity Ring?

EMMANUEL: It was great. I mean, we had a lot of fun on that tour; it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

LINDSAY: And I hope I’m not striking a nerve here, but I understand that you used to have three members with Michael [Italia]. What happened?

EMMANUEL: Michael had a visa issue coming back into the country. So it was kind of a really shitty situation where, yeah, he was just stopped at the border and not allowed to come back in. It was unfortunate, but I guess that’s what happens when dealing with bureaucratic systems and all that kind of thing.

LINDSAY: Oh, yeah, that’s really unfortunate! I was thinking that it might have been a falling-out. In the time since, what has kept you and Melati working together?

EMMANUEL: I guess on this record, we wanted to feature Melati’s vocals a lot more, and we had a group of songs already that were really exciting to us and this new world and it felt right and it felt good, so we just kept on doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve been making music for a long time and I hope that we continue to do so.

LINDSAY: I did notice with Breathing Statues that the vocals are a lot more present, though not necessarily the focal point of each song. They sort of mix into the whole production really beautifully. That was a conscious decision to highlight Melati’s vocals?

EMMANUEL: Yeah, I guess we were more interested in trying some different techniques with recording where we kind of set up these little environments and, it’s hard to explain… I guess we’re trying to purposely capture these spontaneous moments. And Melati was drawing a lot from dream books and things, and writing down poetry. It just happened to work.

LINDSAY: Now you mention that you’re trying to capture these “spontaneous moments.” Do you think that traveling as much as you do and recording in transit is more conducive to creating that spontaneity?

EMMANUEL: I think we’ve always personally really enjoyed music that seems to be beyond time and space and location. Something that has a quality that’s beyond one place, where it seems like it kind of came from everywhere at once. And I think not being locked down gives us an opportunity to explore that. 

LINDSAY: Not being “locked down,” as you say—does it at all put a certain stress on your music making, or is does it provide a sort of beneficial urgency?

EMMANUEL: I think probably a little bit of both. There’s definitely some stressful moments in traveling, and there are definitely times which bring about these kind of crazy moments and these crazy things that happen in your life, but I think that’s all part of the fabric and I think those are the things that are most interesting to us. I think you can kind of find beauty in a lot of things, and often really bad and crazy things are as beautiful as the next moment.

LINDSAY: How do you alleviate the stress?

EMMANUEL: I guess through music making. Making music with Melati is a really enjoyable experience; that’s kind of the grounding factor.

LINDSAY: And before the two of you were making music together, you were both sort of world travelers from the very beginning, right?

EMMANUEL: Yeah, we were traveling independently before we all met each other, and I met Melati in New York, and we did a bit of more traveling together kind of just before the band started, so it was a little bit of an effort to get everybody in the same place and actually finish something because we’re constantly making. We have hundreds and hundreds of things that we’re constantly making, and I think it’s interesting trying to get everyone together in the same spot and actually finish something.

LINDSAY: Where is home for you?

EMMANUEL: At the moment, for the last nine months, we’ve been in upstate New York.

LINDSAY: Oh, whereabouts?

EMMANUEL: About 20 minutes from Woodstock.

LINDSAY: Okay, I actually grew up just outside of Albany.

EMMANUEL: Right in the Catskill Mountains, yeah.

LINDSAY: Oh, awesome. What brings you up that way?

EMMANUEL: Last summer, we were spending a lot of time at a friend’s place up there, and I think after that we just thought that might be a nice spot to retreat and finish the record. I think that probably had a big influence, just being out there having a lot of space. The house is very, very far up in the mountains, kind of removed from everything. So our contact was minimal. It was a nice thing to get really deep into it.

LINDSAY: Yeah, certainly. It’s a gorgeous area, especially in the fall. Through the winter it can get pretty harsh, but it maintains that serenity.

EMMANUEL: Yeah, the winter was a really, really long winter.

LINDSAY: With the recording of Breathing Statues, I find that every song is very different, but there’s still that common thread from beginning to end. How do you maintain that connective tissue throughout?

EMMANUEL: I think usually when we get to the point where we’re putting the album together, we have a whole lot of material, and a lot of it is from all different places sonically, too. So I guess when we’re piecing it all together, we’re looking for 10 or so that have a thread and that are cohesive to what we’re feeling at that moment. So we sit down, look at everything and feel it out and see what works. We’ll find these natural threads that pop up in these songs.

LINDSAY: What are you hoping fans take away from Breathing Statues?

EMMANUEL: I think it’s possibly a subtler album than the first. Each to their own as far as what they take away from it. As I said, we’re interested in this idea of beauty and finding that in every corner, so I guess we were exploring that on this album. So, yeah, whatever you’d like, man.

BREATHING STATUES IS OUT NOW ON CARPARK RECORDS. CATCH YOUNG MAGIC THIS THURSDAY, MAY 8 AT MCKITTRICK HOTEL. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON YOUNG MAGIC, VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.