Last week, Montreal's Majical Cloudz, the electronic music duo of singer Devon Welsh and instrumentalist Matthew Otto, released their third full-length album, Are You Alone? – their first to be released in Canada by stalwart indie label Arts & Crafts (in the United States, the band is signed to the venerable Matador Records). It is a haunting, ethereal and intense listening experience, at once raw and polished, intimate and yet somehow unknowable. Welsh spoke with The Globe and Mail about that new record, growing into his unique voice and how he hopes their new album will make people feel less alone.
I think of your songs as being such soundscapes. How do you decide what a certain song is going to sound like when you go to set a lyric to music?
These new songs were all written on a Yamaha organ, whereas songs in the past were written in all kinds of different ways. So when we sat down to make this record there was more of a homogeneous texture to it. But still, with a lot of these songs it was about being spontaneous. I would come with ideas on top of whatever was in our demo, and in conversation with Matt we would arrive at something that makes sense.
Has that gotten easier for you, over the years?
I feel like the process has always changed. It's never stayed the same. I've played and written and recorded music in a lot of different circumstances – on my own, and in bands where everyone is giving input, and working with Matt, where our relationship has been, since the beginning, premised on a certain set of shared ideas and aesthetics.
Do you consider writing songs to be a psychological inquiry?
There may have been times when I thought of songwriting that way, as a personal psychological exercise. I feel a bit less like that now. I feel like my interest in making music has more to do with taking something personal to me and abstracting it a bit, and turning it into something that's more than a diary entry.
Do you think that comes from getting older?
Yeah, maybe. Maybe just writing enough songs. At the same time, I don't feel like I'm doing songwriting as a totally fictional exercise, deciding on a theme and a certain thing that you want to say.
David Foster Wallace famously talked about how fiction can make people feel less alone – it's a connection with another person through the pages. I was thinking of that a lot while listening to this record. There's such a pronounced voice – a physical voice, but more than that, an authorial voice, that of the writer, speaking to the listener through these songs. Which resonated for me with the title of the record – Are You Alone? Is that connection with the listener something you hope for? In asking them, 'Are you alone?', do you hope to make them feel less alone?
With music in general, I am interested in that more than anything. Just having that connection with the listener – making songs that speak directly to someone who is listening. I value that over anything else in music. As opposed to making music that is really all about the sound and texture and the subtleties, the skill and cleverness that can go into song construction of that kind.
Less cleverness and more connection?
I've never really had an intuitive sense of making music in that way, where it's about the music itself, or a song written in a way that is not necessarily reaching out to a listener. I've always connected to the idea that you can communicate something directly to the listener.
And the way this record is built, with your voice so prominent and sonorous, really reinforces that.
That's something Matt and I have been interested in – making music that is electronic, but isn't electronic dance music or that doesn't have a sense of a full band behind it. The division is the voice and the instrumentals.
Do you feel like you've changed as a singer over the years?
Definitely. When we started playing I was just becoming comfortable as a singer, finding a way I could sing where I wasn't straining myself, and where I felt it was possible to connect with an audience. The recording of [our previous record] Impersonator was the culmination of that. What we were making crystallized by the time we made it, but looking back, it seems like I was just learning to sing.
So would you rather people listen to your new record instead of the last one?
Oh no, listen to both.
Are You Alone? is available now.