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In Part 1 of my interview with Danny Todd and James Smith of exmagician, we discussed the pair’s new album ‘Scan the Blue’, which was released in March on Bella Union.
Following the late March release of their debut LP ‘Scan the Blue’, Belfast alt-rock duo exmagician have planned a full summer of live appearances to promote the album. They recently played at Festival SOS in Murcia, Spain as well as making a stop this past weekend at The Great Escape 2016 in Brighton. Following The Great Escape, exmagician headed to continental Europe to play in Amsterdam, supporting Australian surf rockers Hockey Dad. Looking ahead to the middle of summer, the band are scheduled to play at Sheffield’s Tramlines Festival and the exclusive Tunbridge Wells festival LeeFest Presents: The Neverland in July. “We really love playing festivals,” said band member James Smith. “Certainly my favourite type of gig is a really good festival. July is a lot of festivals, the sort of smaller, boutique festivals in England, which look really good fun. We’re looking forward to them.”
Between those festival appearances and a handful of upcoming UK and Irish headline dates that are still to be announced, Smith and bandmate Danny Todd are currently working on a complete remixing of ‘Scan the Blue’. The new versions of the songs will be pared back performances of the tracks on the album, similar to the ones they recently performed in this live studio session with Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music.
The next official single from the album proper will be ‘Bend With the Wind’, which our own editor Mary remarked upon as a standout track, and Todd revealed plans for a new video to accompany its release. “It’s an animated video by an Irish artist called Eat the Danger. That should be coming out in the next month, maybe, or so. So we’re really excited about that track.” Asked which other songs from the album the band are eager to share, Todd continued, “I think they’re all quite different in their own way, which is what we try to do. But we’ve just come off tour, and it’s been nice to play ‘Smile to the Gallery’, because we’ve only really started playing it in the last 3 weeks. So we’re doing that one and ‘Feet Don’t Fail’, James’ one. It’s really nice to play that.”
Songs from ‘Scan the Blue’ have been receiving radio play on the American side of the pond as well as in the UK. Seattle public radio station KEXP featured the album track ‘Job Done’ as its Song of the Day back on the 17th of February, before the full album was even released. In the same blog entry, KEXP also shared the official video for ‘Place Your Bets’, which you can view just below.
Todd hinted that exmagician might be considering a run of tour dates in America to support the album, though he also remarked that the outcome of the American presidential election might preclude a visit to the United States. “If Trump’s president,” he said, “I don’t know if we’re going to come out.” Though I’ve spent some time pondering the state of the current American presidential contest myself, I hadn’t previously thought about how the election might affect tour plans for artists from abroad, and I wondered aloud about the possibility of bands boycotting America entirely, refusing to tour here. Smith sadly concurred with his bandmate on that point. “Yeah, that’s a possibility. I think a lot of people are very scared. But that’s one of the things, to get over there, because our album is out in the States, and we’d like to get over and support it and tour a bit over there.”
Keep your eye on exmagician’s official Web site and Facebook page for updates on live show announcements and festival appearances. (And if you’re in the United States, keep your fingers crossed for that American tour!) TGTF’s preview of LeeFest: The Neverland, which included a mention of exmagician, posted earlier this week; if you missed it, you can read it right back here. Our full collection of coverage on exmagician is back this way.
Special thanks to Jamie and Luke for kindly arranging this interview.
Last week, Belfast alt-rock duo exmagician took time for a quick interview with TGTF ahead of their scheduled appearance at LeeFest Presents: The Neverland at the end of July. exmagician are still rather new on the UK music scene, at least in their current context, but bandmates Danny Todd and James Smith have some relevant past experience to draw upon in getting their new project started.
Todd and Smith were formerly members of one of Northern Ireland’s most buzzed-about bands, Cashier No. 9, who hit the #7 spot on our 10 for 2012 countdown back in December 2011. I happened to see Cashier No. 9 myself way back in 2010 at Northern Ireland’s Ward Park, where they played support for Snow Patrol, although it might be somewhat more accurate to say that Snow Patrol supported them. The ‘Chasing Cars’ hitmakers hosted a long list of bands for a one-day mini-festival in Bangor that year, including Cashier No. 9 and fellow Irish acts General Fiasco and Lisa Hannigan, providing an ideal venue in what would turn out to be the largest concert in Northern Irish history.
Cashier No. 9 have since dissolved as a band, with Smith and Todd citing both personal and artistic differences for the split. But the pair were “still feeling creative”, as Todd explained it, and so they decided to continue making music under a new name, with a slightly different sound to accompany the exmagician moniker. Smith describes exmagician’s work as “maybe a bit heavier, a bit darker, a bit more rough around the edges, not as shiny and sort of West Coast pop as Cashier was.”
Todd and Smith seem to have a congenial working relationship, each “chipping in” on the other’s songwriting and providing reciprocal editorial input as they worked on their debut album ‘Scan the Blue’, which was released back in March on Bella Union Records. They share the philosophy that “The song is king”, as Smith wrote in the liner notes for the album. He elaborated in our interview, “The song has to be amazing, in our own heads, before we start messing around with everything. So yeah, there’s a lot of work goes into that, before anything else happens.”
According to Smith, the pair took a very hands-on approach to recording and producing the new album as well. “We do a lot of the writing, and even a lot of the pre-production at home, in our own home studios, so a lot of it was prepared at home and brought into the studio to add to and to fix up. We knew we had enough skills of our own to kind of do it, maybe not do the whole thing on our own, which is why we got Rocky in. But it was a kind of effort to put things all on ourselves a bit more.”
Their co-producer on ‘Scan the Blue’ was Rocky O’Reilly, who has worked in the past with Northern Irish acts including And So I Watch You From Afar, General Fiasco, and Wonder Villains. Smith describes their relationship with O’Reilly as collaborative: “He knew that we had a lot of our own ideas and he would just be kind of the facilitator. That’s not to say that he didn’t have a lot of input. But he just kind of let us mess around a lot in the studio and try out all our own kind of silly ideas, and some of them worked and some of them didn’t. But he was the one who kind of made it all cohesive and brought it all together.”
exmagician have just finished touring the new album in the UK and are gearing up for performances on the summer festival circuit. They talked rather extensively in our interview about the challenges of playing the new songs live. “These songs were recorded first, and then we figured out how to play them live afterwards, which is always a bit of a struggle,” said Todd. “There’s so much going on in them, and we feel so attached to those recordings that we want to replicate them live as well. I think we do justice to it at the moment, which is great.”
Though he and Todd are the core members of exmagician, Smith clarified that “when we perform live, we’re still performing as a four-piece band. We have a bass player and a drummer. I think people get the misconception that we are just this kind of duo that plays, but no, we need a full band to kind of create the sound that we want and re-create the sound of the album, obviously.” Some of the songs on the album presented a difficult task in that regard, particularly title track ‘Scan the Blue’. Though it’s Smith’s professed favourite track, the band aren’t currently performing it on live set lists. “We’d probably need about 20 keyboard players to pull that off live,” Todd said. “We’ll probably do a version of it [eventually], but at the moment we just need to figure things out and make it sound good live before we play it, you know?”
As a sneak peek at Part 2 of our interview, have a listen below to exmagician’s remixed version of another track from ‘Scan the Blue’.
Stay tuned to TGTF for Part 2 of our interview with exmagician, which will post next week. In the meantime, have a look back at our preview of LeeFest Presents: The Neverland right back here and catch up on our previous coverage of exmagician back this way.
By Mary Chang
on Wednesday, 11th May 2016 at 11:00 am
Across Europe and the UK, electronic music has become a mainstay. Electropop in particular has become part of the fabric, if you will, of the music landscape and history for that part of the world. Originally from Berlin, musician NINA now calls London home. She’s working hard to make her mark as an up-and-coming electropop artist in this always busy part of the music market. She showcased last week at Canadian Music Week (CMW) 2016, playing two shows in Toronto during the festival. Ahead of the event in the Great White North, NINA kindly answered our Quickfire Questions tailored just for this year’s CMW, and you can read her answers back here.
In the below interview, she tells me about the supportive synthwave community she finds herself in and whose fans have kept her going. We also chat about a tour in North America she went on as support for Erasure. She’s maintained a friendship with them and managed a very useful connection production-wise that will likely prove priceless in the future of her music. Have a listen to our conversation and be a fly on the wall below. I’ve also embedded below the interview a stream of her self-described dream pop cover of Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. She performed it at The (Dance) Cave Thursday night during CMW and it blew me away, so I wanted to share it with all of you.
By Mary Chang
on Tuesday, 10th May 2016 at 11:00 am
Canadian Music Week (CMW) 2016 turned out to be the location of, or at least played a part in facilitating many firsts of the artists coming out for the week of activities. Cut Ribbons from Llanelli, South Wales, played their first North American shows during their time in the Great White North when they were here on our continent last week. Prior to coming out to Toronto, they played two warm up shows in Guelph, another town in the Province of Ontario. The morning of this interview, the band also made it out to Niagara Falls, which along with the CN Tower, proved to be one of the most popular tourist sightseeing spots that bands I ran into during CMW reported as wanting to visit.
Listen below to my interview with the entire group – Aled on vocals and acoustic guitar, Lluan on vocals and synth, Chloe on bass, Christian on lead guitar and Ray on drums – in which we talk about the Canadian acts they find inspiring, as well as what sounds like a new direction for the band in new material they’re working on as we speak for their next Cut Ribbons album. Also included under the embedded interview stream is their promo video for ‘In the Rain’, one of the tracks they did play at the Studio Bar show I managed to catch during CMW.
The Magic Gang have steadily been increasing their profile – not to mention their UK fan base – since we caught them live at Live at Leeds 2015. They self-released an EP in December 2015 (appropriately titled ‘EP’) and have been most recently selling out venues on a recent UK tour in support of the new available material.
The Brighton band’s relative success has come as a bit of a shock to bespectacled co-frontman Jack Kaye, who related a story to me about selling out a venue in Newcastle and having all the young kids singing along to every word of their songs. (Kaye kindly answered our back here.) After their first North American live show ever at The 300 Club in Toronto last Wednesday, I was pleased to be joined by Kaye and bassist Angus Young (second from the far right and far right, respectively) for a nice chat. Being from Brighton, it seemed natural to ask The Magic Gang for hints on how to survive – and win! – The Great Escape 2016 (it’s next weekend, folks, so step lively!) and we chat about pop songwriting. Have a listen below.
Irish musician Daithí (pronounced inexplicably as “DAUGH-hee”) can’t be put in one box musically, and that’s perfectly fine with him. From the west coast of Ireland and the famed city of Galway, it isn’t hard to conjure up Daithí’s backyard as huge tracts of land that are beautifully desolate and emerald green, hearing the roar of the Atlantic Ocean. (If you follow him on Facebook, you will be treated to photos of such scenes that he’s taken himself, such as this one from Monday.) But what kind of music does a storybook town in the West of Ireland inspire?
For Daithí, it isn’t just one type or style of music that moves him. One might think that growing up around family members well versed in traditional Irish music (his grandfather is a keen concertina player) and he himself having the fiddle as the first instrument he ever learned how to play, he’d have just become a trad musician himself and be done with it. Or left for the bright lights of Dublin – or emigrated to Canada, I suppose, as I’ve learned there are MANY Irish people who have done just that! – and never looked back.
In this interview with me Wednesday before his two live performances Thursday night at Canadian Music Week 2016, Daithí explains how he has come to a deeper love and appreciation for his hometown and how important it is to him to keep ties to the city. He also stressed the importance of pushing boundaries with his music and trying new ways to engage the listener, while connecting himself to the art itself through the process of making it (like Stornoway and Glass Animals, he favours a good field recording!). This is a musician who has a lot of say and with his ambition and drive to make music not only enjoyable to listen to but also makes you think, he’s a great example of what makes the new music coming out of Ireland exciting and vital. Have a listen to our chat from CMW below.
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