As singer and lyricist of Montreal duo Majical Cloudz, Devon Welsh's deep and rich vocals bellow the frank details of his personal ruminations on death, confusion, and innocence lost. Majical Cloudz aesthetic is vulnerability.: above minimal rhythm loops and sparse keyboard melodies, Welsh's vocals are completely clear and exposed. He deals in the sort of emotional honesty that makes listeners uncomfortable at first -- until they give in and identify with Welsh's creative illustrations of the downtrodden and conflicted states we all reckon with.
Born out of the innovative Montreal music scene that brought us Grimes, Majical Cloudz's debut album Impersonator appeared on venerable imprint Matador earlier this year. We caught up with Welsh to discuss adapting Majical Cloudz to a live performance, the roles of confessional songwriting, and making people cry. Majical Cloudz perform at Rickshaw Stop this Saturday, Aug. 24, with Some Ember and Moon King.
I saw you play an in-store at Aquarius Records in San Francisco last month and you mentioned playing across in Oakland in the past. What was your experience with the Bay Area like before your debut album, Impersonator?
Basically, Majical Cloudz was first a solo project. I only played two shows. One was in Montreal for the release of a tape, where Matt [Otto, Majical Cloudz instrumentalist] was playing with me, but we weren't actually a band yet. It was the first time the two of us had played together. Then I moved to the Bay Area to work for a friend of mine. I was writing music but I wasn't playing. Right before I left, I played one show with just a Boss pedal and sang over some basic loops. It was at my friend Dylan [Travis'] house, who plays in Some Ember. We organized the show because his band was going to SXSW and I was leaving. When I was getting ready to leave Oakland, I was already communicating with Matt about playing together back in Montreal.
After honing your performance skills in unconventional venues like warehouses and lofts, what was it like transferring Majical Cloudz to higher stages in bigger rooms?
Starting off in smaller unconventional spaces let us have a set up that is minimal and straightforward. We've tried to keep it as simple as possible so that it works on any system. Even if it's a bad PA, it doesn't really matter because I only have a mic. The sound can still be bad and it can still be an engaging performance. On bigger stages, it's worked out because we have so few elements to transfer. There aren't any adjustments to be made. The fact that we have a simpler set up has paradoxically made it easier to play bigger rooms.
Do you find that larger venues make it more difficult to connect with the audience?
There are different goals for performers, and audiences come with different expectations, too. It's harder to connect with people, but people are also looking for a different experience, which I can't really quantify.
Your writing insists on honest and direct communication of personal experiences that are often traumatic. Is writing songs therapeutic?
My approach is to write about things that mean something to me on a personal level. The writing of the song and performing of the song transforms my thoughts on that level. The way I interact with music is being able to connect with the subjects of the song through the writer's perspective. So, that's what I try to do.
Let's say you've written a song about a particularly difficult and sad experience. Let's say it happened a long time ago and you've bounced back. I'm wondering how it feels to still perform that song after you've recovered from the trauma of the event?
On one level, it's comparable to making another form of art, like writing a novel or making a painting about something personal that the creator has gotten over. That art is out in the world, so it becomes something distinctly different from what it was when they were creating it. It's no longer this vessel of discovery or self-reflection. Now it's a piece of evidence of a time in their life. It becomes an artifact. What's different about playing music is that you're performing it on a tour. You're the subject of that narrative, even if you're not in the midst of that thought process. So, on the one level, the song is an artifact of something I experienced.
On another level, singing it is a performance of it as an artifact. It's a way of saying it's a part of me but I'm no longer speaking from that place. It's part of my identity but it's no longer a place that I'm in right now. Some songs take on a life of their own as people know the lyrics to them. The meaning of what I'm doing changes as a result. Like it or not, when people are singing the same song as me, the meaning is not necessarily about the original subject because it belongs as much to these people as it does to me.
Audiences are known to respond very strongly to your music live. How does it make you feel to see people crying at your shows?
It's funny, there was a period in this band's life where there was a kind of seriousness that made that possible, where people would have emotional reactions of that nature. I think that still happens, but I'm not interested in perpetuating a single emotional state where we're just about this heavy emotional vibe and if you come to the show that's what's going to be laid on you. I'm not really interested in perpetuating that, just like I'm not really intrigued by music that only offers the emotional experience of partying and getting drunk. That period of the band has passed, especially on this tour. The songs are serious, but they can be funny as well. I have a sense of humor that I try to bring into the set. People can react however they want to, but I'm not interested in being a band that's solely focused on cultivating one thing.