After a musical hiatus, Devon Welsh MAJICAL CLOUDZ vocalist, teamed up with fellow Canadian producer and musician, Matthew Otto. Ever since the duo has been working together they have strengthened their sound, shown on the critically acclaimed Turns Turns Turns EP. Welsh is know for his multiple collaborations with other renowned Canadian artists, such as Clair Boucher, better knows as GRIMES. According to both Welsh and Otto, MAJICAL CLOUDZ is a project focused on exploring the quieter, simpler side of music.
NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION caught up with Welsh and Otto after their show at Berghain Kantina this past weekend. We talked about everything from the Montreal music scene, to their relationship to music videos, to an in depth and rather biblical analysis of what “hope” and “passion” mean to them.
The Montreal music scene has gained some serious traction in recent years. Being from Montreal, what makes the music scene stand out for you?
Devon Welsh: I don’t know exactly how I have put it before, but Montreal and music was really cool for me because as I was stepping into a part of my life when I was getting really interested in music. I started making music with a friend of mine, Kyle, and we were working together in isolation. Right around the same time there were all these other people who were within a few years of us in age and were all kind of taking that interest as well. Over the course of a couple of years, we all started playing shows together and taking ourselves more seriously and improving, which was really good for me personally because I was able to be in a situation where it quickly became evident that a lot of these people were really talented and their music was destined to exist on a scale that was wider than just our group of friends. But since no one had really gotten there yet, there was a ceiling on the places it could expand. But regardless it was a period of great creativity.
So when the music scene in Montreal started to become recognized as something that was turning out a lot of great bands, how did you and your music evolve as a result of all of that attention?
DW: A lot of those people started to achieve levels of success that exceeded the city and that put them on tour. Once that happened a couple of people achieved some more international success and that basically cleared out a lot of the people I was previously talking about. Of course there are exceptions, but more people started touring a lot and moved on to different cities. The success of the scene necessitated the end of the scene and certainly a lot of those friendships.
Matthew Otto: It seems like people’s perception of the scene is like when you look at stars. You are looking back in time because it takes light years for the image of the stars to get to you. It’s like that, you know, the Montreal scene that everybody is speaking of now is actually something that happened a couple of years ago. What it actually happening is now is something that has really expanded to an international level.
Does it ever feel like in the midst of all this hype that people associate the music coming out of Montreal as just one big electronic explosion and as a result the nuances in the music are often overlooked?
Yeah, you mean that people would read crosspollination and specific influences in the music when it actually doesn’t exist?
Yeah. I think Majical Cloudz is sometimes lumped together with artists like GRIMES at times, but I know you have explicitly said that you are aiming to represent the “less intense” side of the electronic music scene.
DW: Yeah, true. The type of heavier electronic music that was being made, in terms of its goals and what it is supposed to achieve for a listener, was just not what I was interested in having our music achieve for the listener. Our music varies from that because it starts from conceptual principles that are a lead to choices that are ultimately distinct from that music. We aren’t making sounds as a direct response to maximalist dance or whatever it is you want to call it, but instead we are making music that comes from certain aesthetic principles and limitations that set for ourselves. We are interested in developing concepts so that the music results in being distinct in its intentions.
Can you give me an example of your musical intentions?
DW: We want things to be as simple as possible. If we can possibly say no to adding something we will. If we can accomplish something in a song as clear and simple as possible, we will. That is the concept that we use to structure who we are as a band, it’s like “oh, I added this crazy lightening bolt explosion to go off every ten seconds in the track,” and that’s no good because it serves no purpose aside from being sheer spectacle.
MW: Well, I was devastated because I thought it sounded awesome, but it is important that the lyrics and the stories of the songs take the foreground and that the music works as a structure for the words. That is another principle that couldn’t be more different than dance music, which moves your body and works on a physiological level where as music, which is more lyrics heavy, serves you in a different way. The narrative is in a sense more effective, and we are trying to have the music not distract from what it is trying to say. We are trying to have the sound be direct and accent certain parts of the lyrical content.
DW: We are working with a palette that is deliberately comprised of greys, whites and blacks so that the music becomes not about these radical explosive sounds, but focuses on the skeleton of a song and the basic needs that let the words and feeling delivered effectively.
How do you feel about visual accompaniment to your music? For example, the video for “Childhood’s End” is quite powerful and evokes a lot of emotion. Did you play a role in the production of video?
DW: In terms of visuals I feel constantly uncomfortable about it, since the songs we make exist entirely as they are as themselves. In my mind their primary existence is in the performance when we play them. So there is a live thing, and a recorded version, but then when you add a visual thing on top, which gives it an element “the songs now mean X, Y and Z” an image comes. Imagery reinterprets a lot of what is happening in a piece of music and how you perceive it. A video can turn a song into something you like, or completely turn you off. I don’t think that much in video, so I actually don’t find that much correlation between a video and the songs.
So, did you give the director, Emily Kai Bock, complete creative control?
DW: Yeah, I liked the treatment and I felt that there wasn’t so much interference, but more like an added layer of interpretation. I didn’t think that it would reorient people regarding the song in a negative way. She did the whole thing. I wasn’t even there. I didn’t have any active role and I enjoyed that because it almost feels uncomfortable for me to have agency over the details of a video being made, since I am not an expert in that medium.
MO: Yeah same for me. I am not a visual artist, so I think I just have an idea of how the songs should feel. When you see the video it is like a “yes” or “no” moment, and for me, it was just like “yeah, that works”.
DW: I think videos are used in a big way to promote music in this increasingly visual culture of television. Television works with images, so the song needs images and then the song sells to people watching TV. Music videos are marketing tools to increase awareness about music. They can be great art, but I think that is where a lot of my skepticism about music videos comes from.
So, one last question. Since we are NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION, we like to ask: what do those words mean to you?
DW: Well, maybe this is the stock answer, but “hope” and “passion” seems like passion in the sense of suffering, like passion in the sense of Passion of the Christ. So, it is like a struggle you are undertaking and hope is kind of like being in hell but climbing out. So you’re in purgatory, being whipped and quartered every few days and then being pieced back together by devils only to have hope help you out.
MO: Yeah. …Definitely a stock answer right there. Well, I actually saw a NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sticker in the bathroom last night! And it stuck with me because it is so expressive, as apposed to something small and catchy, it’s very direct. “Passion” specifically. I think you could apply that term to our general drive in life.
DW: In a way “hope” and “passion” sums up this degraded mortal body that is undergoing a kind of living decomposition with hope in the sense of faith in the spirit that dwells within you. It really is almost Christian in a way…it conveys suffering with a metaphysical point.
I think that is the most involved answer I’ve ever gotten out an interview concerning that question….
DW: Yeah “hope” and “passion”. Fact: You’re basically a bag of bones and you are already turning to dust. But good news! You have faith, so you better hold on, or else you will be in eternal hell. You are undergoing passion too. You are being stripped to the bone with the passage of time, but with a metaphysical purpose, which is to have a soul with which attain eternal life. So we are in a dark void and we hang by a string. Our metaphysical state is “passion” and our string is “hope”.