Young Magic is All Over the Map
ABOVE: YOUNG MAGIC. PHOTO COURTESY OF BEK ANDERSON
Melt is a rhapsodic map of the globe as interpreted by Young Magic’s members—a sonic cartography drawn with peaks and valleys, quietly deep oceans and urgently moving streams, and little margin for error. Indonesian-born Melati Malay met members Isaac Emmanuel and Michael Italia in New York and revisited the potential for collaboration in hometown Australia. Ten countries later, Melt was created in a Brooklyn warehouse. Aptly titled, the band’s first album is a composite of individually collected sights and sounds that do not disintegrate and give way to one another, but adhere and integrate to produce a co-authored memoir on wanderlust, both physical and sensory.
With no discernible center of gravity, Young Magic still manages to establish connective tissue among the synth, hip-hop, and multiculturally-inspired sounds. Well aware Young Magic is demonstrably a flight risk, we caught up with them in a rare moment of inertia while driving through Ohio (or Indiana, they weren’t quite sure), as soon as we could.
AMANDA DUBERMAN: As a band, you have a very interesting, very transcontinental history. How did Melt come together?
MELATI MALAY: I was born in Indonesia and moved to Australia when I was 11, but I never actually met Michael and Isaac until ten years after. I moved to New York on a whim, believing that I would meet some people I needed to meet and be inspired by the streets and the culture. I met Michael and Isaac through mutual friends. After that first meeting we were just friends and didn’t really have the idea of coming together, we all kind of went separate ways, working on stuff and building on our own material. After Michael had been in Brazil and Isaac was traveling around and living in Berlin, we all met back in New York, joining forces and pulling all our sounds we had been making over the past year and seeing if we could bring some harmony to it and if we could meld it into one, cohesive work.
DUBERMAN: Can you tell me about the experience, any unique difficulties or privileges, of recording most of the music essentially in transit?
MICHAEL ITALIA: The thing that I’ve really enjoyed about that was the amount of different sounds, thoughts, ideas, textures, and also the amount of different equipment, and people, and inspiration and influences, just everything that comes with being in a different place at a different time. The inspiration is a privilege. On the flip side, creating in that environment can become a little bit unexpected. Sometimes you don’t have the comfort of being able to make a video or record things properly the way you would if you were at home. You find yourself hunched over a laptop with a microphone—sometimes that can get a little awkward. I think for me, the benefits far outweighed the limitations.
ISAAC EMMANUEL: There were a couple of really funny, challenging times. I got stuck between London and New York with a layover in Iceland. By the time I got to New York, all of my gear had been stolen. I couldn’t record for a couple months. We had a close call in the jungle with the Mexican authorities. Moments like that—when you get home at the end of the day and put that little red light onto record—somehow creep into the recordings in every little crevice.
DUBERMAN: Traveling like that can be unpredictable and disarming; did that bring a sense of urgency to the music?
ITALIA: When you’re traveling and making that type of music, you don’t have any goal or intention of what you’re making. I was just hitchhiking around South America. There wasn’t a sense of urgency at all, it was more recording because I was free and I was floating around and I really had nowhere to be and no one to see because I didn’t know anyone. It came out very organically because I wasn’t tied to a studio, I didn’t have to be in and out by a certain time. I was just doing it because I felt like doing for however long I wanted to do it.
DUBERMAN: Do the sounds recorded in more urban environments differ from those in more rural places?
ITALIA: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think that was a conscious decision; it was more just a product of the environment. If you’re in an open, vast place with trees and nature and fresh air, the sounds and the thoughts that go through you head than what comes out naturally, or in a tiny little apartment in the middle of Manhattan. Everything is different, the whole energy and headspace and also the resources you have available. Maybe that’s why in the record, you find so many different sounds.
EMMANUEL: In the urban environments, there is more of a chance to get into a routine. All the recording in Mexico and parts of the jungle, and even Australia, were very sporadic and all over the place. Then when we would get to the cities, I could finish them properly.
DUBERMAN: New York seems to be the center of gravity of this project, but it’s not a place that isolates you from the rest of the world; it exposes you to a lot of different cultures. How was the experience of settling down after months of travel?
ITALIA: When I came to New York, I thought about leaving straight away. I thought, “I shouldn’t be here, it’s not right.” It felt very constricted, mentally and physically. But once we all got together, that kind of faded. We had this little haven in this huge, amazing warehouse in Brooklyn. We were able to channel that free-spirited energy we had found in separate places in the place that we were living in. Still, some of the darker shades you hear in the album are from New York.
DUBERMAN: How do you establish continuity, or connective tissue throughout the record when bits and pieces come from so many places?
ITALIA: As we worked on it, we figured out what sonically worked and fit well together and what elements were needed to make it fit into something else. It was very organic and natural, nothing was really forced. Sometimes one of us would just pick up an instrument while someone was playing something they’d recorded and play something, and we’d record that and the song would take on a whole new life form. When we got together we just wanted to share our art and share our experiences and stories, put it all out onto the table and give it to the other person and say “Listen to it and have fun with it.”
DUBERMAN: After spending some time making and discussing music together, did the three of you keep each other apprised of the type and nature of what you were recording individually?
ITALIA: No, that wasn’t the original intention at all. We were all on separate journeys. It wasn’t until we all ended up back in New York that we started putting things together. We would just sit around and share our stories about our journeys in different countries and eventually that turned into “Have a listen to something I recorded here,” and then someone would get an idea through that and slowly the idea of Melt came together, and we realized we were making an album.
MALAY: We would sometimes send tracks and communicate over the time we were away. Sending music over email, things we had maybe given up on ourselves or needed a helping hand or a fresh idea. It was natural to stay connected and keep ideas flowing no matter how far away from each other we were.
EMMANUEL: I was just traveling to travel and happened to have some recording gear along the way. Until New York, it was almost just like documenting the experiences with the sounds they inspire, like writing a diary.
DUBERMAN: Did you ever think about how the songs would translate live?
MALAY: We did have the challenge of performing all this music that had been composed electronically into a live setting where it wasn’t the boring, just pushing buttons. We wanted to use our instruments and use our voices to make a performance piece as well, rather than just an electronic experience.
ITALIA: I didn’t think I thought about that at all. Not until we had an opportunity to play at SXSW and had to sit down and think “Okay, how are we going to replicate this live?” There was this old burlesque stage under our warehouse apartment, and we’d just set up there and tried different things.
DUBERMAN: Presumably you’ll be giving your passports an rest and staying stateside for a while. Will future recordings still have that wanderlust spirit?
EMMANUEL: I think naturally, it will sound slightly different. We are traveling all the time at the moment. I’m in Ohio now, we’re about to go to Europe for three months to tour. I think it will maintain that feel, though. We’re also influenced by music coming out of all kinds of places, everywhere. I think as producers, that’s something we’ve always been interested in.
DUBERMAN: So no putting yourself in precarious situations abroad for want of inspiration?
EMMANUEL: Maybe. I think we are all adventurous spirits, and anytime we go somewhere, we like to get a little crazy, so think that is still going to come through.
YOUNG MAGIC’S MELT IS OUT NOW ON CARPARK RECORDS AND THEY ARE PERFORMING TONIGHT, APRIL 6, AT CAMEO GALLERY IN BROOKLYN.