Get to Know the Spooky Electro Band That Opened for Lorde
In 2013, Majical Cloudz — a collaboration between Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto — released their first full length album, Impersonator: it was critically acclaimed, Pitchfork approved, and undeniably evocative. At the time the band was virtually unknown, coming from the Montreal loft scene that also helped form artists like Grimes, TOPS, and Sean Nicholas Savage. After two years, and a tour opening for Lorde, the band is back with their new album Are You Alone?. The album picks up where Impersonator left off, Welsh’s raw and emotive lyrics weaving through a simplistic soundscape created by Otto. It’s an album to listen to when you’re walking alone at night just as it starts to snow, it’s an album to listen to after getting your heart broken, it’s an album to listen to when you’re almost okay, but not quite there yet. Are You Alone? is for those beautiful, simple, sad moments that all of us feel.
We sat down with the Devon Welsh to talk about being alone, feeling inspired by Andy Warhol, and the difference between love songs and songs about love.
What would you say is the main inspiration for Are You Alone?
I don’t know. Tons of stuff, I guess. I wrote some of the songs a long time ago, even before Impersonator came out. I was writing it and we were recording it over such a long time that so much stuff happened. It’s hard to say that there’s a real, single inspiration there.
I know that you studied religion in college and recently mentioned opening for Pope Francis. Do you think that kind of spiritual mentality played into this album at all?
I don’t know. I’m not a Christian or anything like that. I think I want to feel connected to something and also that there’s spiritual values and non-spiritual values. And I’m always trying to connect with the spiritual values in life.
You were touring with Lorde for a while. What was it like to have an audience that wasn’t at all familiar with your music? Do you think that influences how you perform now?
Yeah, maybe. I think that most of the time we were touring as a band from when we began to doing the Lorde tour the audience didn’t know what to expect. We had not put out a record, so on tour was the first time anyone had seen us. Then we put out a record and there was a bunch more people who were like “I’ve heard of you but I’m here for the first time!” And then after that we did a lot of different festival shows and it was the same story, and we went on the Lorde tour and it was the same story just with a bigger audience.
After that point I think I had to do something different. When you do something for long enough it starts to feel like something that you’re putting on for a performance rather than something you actually are.
“When you do something for long enough it starts to feel like something that you’re putting on for a performance, rather than something you actually are.”
I know art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but do you feel like you’re particularly inspired by other artists?
Yeah, in certain ways. I’m not really a trained musician. I didn’t grow up doing covers or anything like that. I learned to play guitar by teaching myself and then building it up from there as much as I needed to. So, the way that certain people can be inspired by something can be like, listening to a song, and they really appreciate the chord changes or certain things that they have access to replicating for themselves. I can’t really engage with other pieces of music that way, so I’ll be more inspired by artistic choices or something — just the emotional content of the piece of music.
The album is called “Are You Alone?,” but many of the songs seem focused on interpersonal relationships. Did you try to juxtapose this sense of loneliness in the title with songs about connection?
I don’t know if it’s a juxtaposition exactly. We used that as the title because, for me, it related to all the songs in different ways. It’s asking a question about solitude. The title isn’t like “you are alone” with an album all about connections. I probably overthink titles but just asking a question involves an exchange in the first place. The title works for me on different levels because different songs engage with those words in different ways. It’s like an invitation as well as a gesture of concern, but it also feels like a spiritual question in some ways. It sums up the content of the album more than really juxtaposing it.
You reference some pieces of art throughout the album — the title track, ‘Are You Alone?,’ features Radiohead lyrics, and the song Silver Car Crash is named after an Andy Warhol painting. How did you choose to reference those specific things?
It just totally, intuitively happened. With “Are You Alone?” I wasn’t like “Okay, I want to reference this Radiohead song,” it was more just me writing songs. Songs get written by kinda messing around, and I was messing around. I really liked that song at the time and I took those lines as a starting point and ended up building something out of it. I wrote a song about how that song resonated with me, and what it made me think about. It was a jumping off point for me to have new ideas. And also with “Silver Car Crash,” it was just being enthralled with Andy Warhol. His stuff is a launching pad for me to have my own thoughts.
“I’m always trying to connect with the spiritual values in life.
Do you feel more pressure during performances now because there’s something that people expect from you?
I feel way less pressure because people know what to expect. When people come to shows, the likelihood that they’re familiar with what we do is so high. In the past coming into a show we almost had something to prove to people. Now coming into a show it’s people that like what we do. So there’s a lot less pressure as an artist, you feel like you can be whoever you want to be.
I feel like every time you perform you perform in this kind of uniform: the white shirt, the black pants, the shaved head. Do you find some comfort in that?
I actually stopped doing that recently. For a long time it was a comfort thing, it was sort of a way to lift myself up from being just me to being something more powerful. And then as it went on, it became part of an identity I could just step into. But then, once we were releasing this new music, it felt dead to me or something.
You write a lot of songs about love. Do you consider them love songs?
I think they’re songs about love. There’s probably a lot of songs like that on our new album — more so than really love songs. I think that if I’m making songs that are actually love songs, I probably wouldn’t be performing them with this band. I think that with songs about love there’s more of a complication, more of a twist. Love songs seem better to share with somebody, like you’d share a love note. You wouldn’t just share a love note with the public.
Download ‘Are You Alone?’ here.
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