Amidst swirling synths, processed drumbeats and psychedelic bass loops, it’s easy to forget that bands like Young Magic are human after all. Equal parts Tycho and Purity Ring, Young Magic’s new album Breathing Statues is as hypnotic as its cover art. However easy it is to get lost in these new tracks, deep beneath the breathy vocals and layers of “Fall In” or “Holographic” lies a story of worldwide travel and an inability to settle down.
Recorded in Morocco, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland and upstate New York, Breathing Statues is a testament to the restlessness of lead singer Melati Melay and multi-instrumentalist Isaac Emmanuel, hailing from Indonesia and Australia respectively. Written and recorded at night while hiking and exploring during the day, Young Magic’s sophomore album is deeper and more personal than their great debut Melt. I recently had the chance to chat with producer Isaac Emmanuel about the recording of the new record, their upcoming tour and everything in between.
Steven: I’m incredibly interested about Young Magic’s background since you’re from all over the world. How did you guys actually end up together?
Isaac: I met Melati in New York. I was doing some traveling and around that time we were all doing our own thing in different parts of the world, so we were keeping in touch. We had all been recording and were in New York at the same time and started to share more music that we had been making. Originally we hadn’t thought of it as something would exist outside of session environment, but after we started to show each other what we had been doing and collaborate, we realized that it was all coming from a similar place and we started to play some shows.
Steven: How long have you been in Brooklyn or some part of New York state?
Isaac: I’ve been there for four years now with a year or so upstate.
Steven: Do you finally feel settled down? I know you guys are always touring and recording all over the world. Do you finally feel like this is home or is it just another stop for Young Magic?
Isaac: There’s always an urge to be in transit. Although being up in the woods and having a chance to record in the mountains has definitely been the most settled we’ve been in a while.
Steven: Seeing as you’re always in transit then, does touring come more naturally for you guys?
Isaac: I think why we left everything to do this was to visit new places and share what we’ve been doing. Traveling is something that we really enjoy doing whether on long train rides or buses and being able to be together and recording as we go. That’s how we started, so we’ve continued that way.
Steven: I have a very romantic view of what touring is actually like thanks to Almost Famous and I just imagine that you and Melati just sing “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John all day. What’s your day-to-day schedule actually like while on these world-spanning tours?
Isaac: You get into kind of a routine and it gets little more Groundhog Day than Almost Famous sometimes. For us, it’s seeing a lot of people and places and since Melati and my family lives all over the world so I can’t really complain.
Steven: Congrats on the new album by the way! I’m curious since I noticed that you’ve recorded it in Morocco, France, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Australia and upstate New York. Did your writing change based off of your setting? Was the stuff that came out of each place influenced by where you were?
Isaac: Yeah I think so. I think that when you’re writing in a city it has a different energy than when you’re writing in an isolated place and I think this time around, finishing this album upstate after travelling a lot again all creeps in even if it’s not something we consciously recognize whilst you’re in the process. It’s something that when we get back home and look at everything we can really feel that presence in each track. In Iceland, we spent the days visiting these glaciers and absorbing this amazing environment and going back in this little hotel at night and recording. There’s a kind of vastness and clarity to certain things that happen when you record in a certain place. Even the samples that you record in that place always make their way into the recordings. We’re always making field recordings too in a more literal sense and using a lot of them to begin samples, which turn into loops, which in turn become the basis of the songs.
Steven: Had you been to these places before? How did you choose these places?
Isaac: It was very sporadic and very unplanned!
Steven: So when you were at these places, what percentage of the time were you actually recording and writing as opposed to being to be a tourist?
Isaac: It depends. We’d usually spend the days out, then spend the nights somewhere looking through the field recordings or just recording. A lot of the places we visited were small towns, often without electricity or running water.
Steven: So how do you think that your first record, Melt, is different than Breathing Statues?
Isaac: I think Breathing Statues had a subtler approach. I think we went in with a more definite idea with what we were trying to achieve with it. There was a deeply personal experience whilst making the album with a loss of someone very close to us and that was something that really affected the album. Melt was very much about birth and us coming together and all of these ideas from lots of different places, so in a way it was almost like two or three solo projects coming together. On this one, we were writing much more from the ground up about our recent experience.
Steven: If this is such a deeply personal album, how do you think you’ll be able to play it night after night? Will the meaning change over time after you’ve played them hundreds of times?
Isaac: I think it’s really hard when you’re making something to not let those things affect you. I think playing them every night in a way has an opportunity to be therapeutic.
Steven: So is this reflected in the lyrics on the album? A lot of the time, it’s hard to really pay attention to exactly what you guys are singing about because it’s so easy to get lost in your music. Do you do that on purpose?
Isaac: In some regards, when we’re actually mixing, there is the decision to not give priority to certain things in the mix. I think that whilst writing some of the lyrics there was an element of being delicate with it; so that everything in not so overt or in your face.
Steven: So you guys are just about to start a tour in support of this album. How do you think this album will translate live?
Isaac: This time we’ve introduced a new visual component so we’re triggering projections live. It’s definitely more of a live experience than before. I think on the first record we weren’t sure exactly how it was all going to translate in a live context, but this time around its been a smoother process to adapt.
Steven: You guys have played all over the world, from small shows to festivals. Since you guys play everything live, how does playing in a festival differ than playing at a one-off show?
Isaac: I think in a club environment, you have more of an opportunity to build a set and even improvise because you can start slower and work up into something. At festivals, it’s a different beast entirely.
Steven: So for my last question – and I ask every musician this question – I’m going to admit that I’m way too obsessed with High Fidelity. So I have to ask, what are your top 5 records?
Isaac: Ahhhhh. Off the top of my head?
• The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby by Dorothy Ashby – She’s a Chicago based harpist on Chess. It’s beautiful music in the same world as Alice Coltrane but she did some stuff with some traditional Japanese instruments and it’s a weird and eclectic album.
• Ege Bamyasi by Can – This is something that I discovered as a teenager and I still listen to it so much today. It never gets old.
Isaac: Ummmmm, I’m actually flipping through my record collection right now. Can I just give you two?
[About a minute of silence]
• Utakata no Hibi by Mariah – I thought of another one! It’s from 1983 and that’s up there for sure. Top three, how about that?
Make sure you catch Young Magic on tour this Thursday, June 26th in Washington DC at DC9 or in Brooklyn at Rough Trade on Saturday, June 28th.Their sophomore release, Breathing Statues, is out now via DC’s own Carpark Records and you can buy it here.