To call Majical Cloudz’s new record Are You Alone? a religious experience, though clichéd, wouldn’t be far from accurate. The title track opens with an organ-like synth, while simple, repeated lyrics act almost as mantras, guiding the listener on a metaphysical journey to the darker reaches of frontman and songwriter Devon Welsh’s soul. The spare intimacy of Welsh’s text and dusty expansiveness of multi-instrumentalist Matthew Otto’s arrangements lend the album a near-Biblical gravitas: Welsh comes off as a lonesome prophet, declaiming his tales of love and loss in the center of his native Montreal. A curmudgeonly figure offstage, Welsh has equally become known for his conflicted relationship with the Internet, one that he has paradoxically documented on Twitter over the past few months. We caught up with him to discuss being an artist in what he refers to as a "world of personas and camouflage."
The new record feels a lot more stripped-back than Impersonator. Was that intentional?
It’s interesting because some other people say it’s more fully arranged or something like that. It wasn’t really a conscious choice either way to make it more stripped-back or more fully arranged. A lot of the songs were written with the same equipment, whereas a lot of the stuff on Impersonator was a lot more all over the place. Some of the songs were based on samples and I used all kinds of different instruments and gear when I was writing those songs. When we recorded them, we basically just stuck to the sounds that were there, but a lot the songs on Are You Alone? were written on a synthesizer. We sort of kept it in the box, working with the things we had around. We wanted to have the sounds of the songs not too different from one to the next.
A lot of songs on the record have these sparse, repeated lyrics. Was that a part of keeping the sounds similar?
I think that’s kind of how I write songs. I like things to repeat and have signatures. I write simple songs and I also like simple songs. When a lot of songs get written over a short period of time, they end up having common threads.
“Are You Alone?” interpolates lyrics from Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and almost seems like a love letter to the band. Is that accurate?
At the time I wrote the song, I was really into that song by Radiohead specifically. It was inspiring to me. Something about the tone of the song was a little bit detached, like the whole feeling is really aloof. I was just inspired to take those weird feelings as a starting point and build out and use the lyrics as a way to take them back down to earth, to a world that’s like images of my own.
Speaking of images of your own, you filmed your own video for "Silver Car Crash" in Montreal. Had you directed and filmed a video before?
I’ve shot videos way back for songs that I had made in 2011 or so. There’s a couple videos that accompanied a Majical Cloudz release that was from before me and Matt started working together called II. I put out a record last year, a collaboration with Matthew Duffy, and we made a few videos for that project with Neil Corcoran. Personally for me, working with lots of collaborators can easily make me feel overwhelmed. It’s harder to improvise and stay in control of what’s going on. If it’s a big-budget video that I don’t have complete control over, there’s probably an aspect I don’t really like. Shooting my own stuff is an attempt to stay happier with the final product.
Was it stressful for you this summer when Mitch Moore posted an unreleased treatment of a Majical Cloudz video on Instagram claiming that The Weeknd ripped it off?
I just thought it was funny. He didn’t really claim anything for me or for the band, just posted it on his Instagram to say, “Oh, I think this.” The media took it and twisted it and put the band’s name in there and turned it into a big deal. What he posted on Instagram was fine—it didn’t have anything to do with me.
Do you feel like the current click bait-heavy climate of music journalism makes life harder for you as an artist?
I don’t think it makes it harder. It doesn’t really impact my life in any way. If you don’t look at it, you don’t see it and it’s not real. If a person doesn’t give it importance, it won’t really affect them.
On Twitter, you spoke about your discomfort with having to maintain an online presence.
It’s definitely strange. I’ve gone through periods of excitement about the Internet and social media because it gives you positive stimulation, but it does get to a point where there are topics of conversation that exist only on social media, and there’s this pressure to comment and engage in dialogue that ultimately started to feel personally unhealthy for me. It’s been healthy to step back and see it for what it is: a world of personas and camouflage.