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You Are Accepted: From Majical Cloudz to ‘Dream Songs,’ Devon Welsh Loves More, Fears Less

Music InterviewWeston PaganoComment

“I remember how it ends / We survive,” crooned Devon Welsh at the close of his previous band’s final album. Majical Cloudz may have dissipated in 2016, but its Montreal-based frontman has done more than just survive - On his first proper solo release, Dream Songs, he thrives.

As gentle as he is unwaveringly earnest, Welsh’s signature style still remains. Projecting his uniquely evocative voice in a way that matches the intensity of his gaze, he casts sentiments of naked vulnerability over meditative minimalism. Few can land such simple candor with real weight, but on Dream Songs, Welsh has the patience to get it right.

Now free from both past partnerships and label obligations, Welsh is feeling freer. We hear the dark, pulsating ebb and flow of synth slowly start to be stripped away by the swirling of strings. Color is introduced, both metaphorically and literally. There is hope.

Whether selecting venues of open spaces or just stepping down to the floor, Welsh does not perform on a stage. Just as his lyrics bear the honesty of confessional consciousness, the breaking down of this final barrier makes the pleading in his poetry that much more piercing.

Transverso sat down with Welsh before one such live show at Chicago’s Constellation to discuss Dream Songs, and the making of a man ready to love more and fear less.

TRANSVERSO: You've just put your first official solo record out into the world and you created your own label to release it. What can you tell us about getting to this point and how it’s gone for you so far?

DEVON WELSH: It's hard to explain exactly why this is the case, but I kind of feel like after Majical Cloudz I went down to zero in terms of my sense of making music as a career. Even thinking about it, having any kind of relationship with that identity, I just dis-identified with it completely. So getting this album released has been this gradual uphill slope towards being like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do this, I can make music and put it out and play shows.’

It's kind of been a big growing experience. It felt like I shed a skin at a certain point in my life, and making this album and everything around it was sort of a process of figuring out what music meant to me now, what it's purpose was, how it fit into my world, and how it would all work. There were challenges there and good things, and just getting the album released is a victory in and of itself. It feels really good as a personal landmark in my life.

I feel able to be present for reflecting on what people have to say about the music that I'm making, whereas maybe in the past it was not something that I, I don't know… I just have a different relationship with hearing people say, ‘Oh, I like your music, this is why it's valuable to me.’ I think I can appreciate it more. I think I can appreciate most of the parts of making and releasing music more now, and I've sort of figured out a way to not have [the things I didn’t like] involved as much. Self-releasing has been a big part of that, sort of setting the stakes for myself and setting the terms and feeling like when I sell a record I'm handing it to that person. It feels good.

You named your new label You Are Accepted, the name itself evoking a sense of comforting freedom. It sounds like setting out on your own has been very fulfilling thus far – Would you consider expanding to releasing other artist’s work in the future, or is part of why it's special that it's so personal to you?

I can't say what will happen in the future, but right now it seems like my understanding of the identity of it is I'll put my own stuff out or something that I'm involved in. I have this other project that I just make for fun with my friend Matthew Duffy called Belave, and maybe the next time we make something I could see how he feels about it. I’ve been talking with Nick [Schofield], who's playing in my band tonight, about making a spoken word / ambient album together, and maybe we would release it under that label as well. But I'm not sure, I'm just kind of taking it one step at a time.

One immediate signifier of this shift in your career is Dream Songs’ album art. Majical Cloudz’ records traditionally had starkly minimalist, colorless covers, and a lot of your portraits can seem intensely serious. Now we’re greeted by a candid shot of you, wearing red and smiling. Having read that you even refused Matador Records’ push to put you on the front of Are You Alone?, I’m curious what’s behind the way you choose to represent your music visually.

It’s just a different attitude about what the music is. The music has a different purpose. With Majical Cloudz there was a defined aesthetic that I thought was important to what the project was for me. It was not having me on the cover. Me and Matt [Otto] were both in the band – I didn't want just myself to be on the cover, and I didn't think it made sense for us to be on the cover, either. For whatever idiosyncratic reason I just felt that the identity of that project [called for] a text-based, textural thing be on the cover, and that there not be a lot of real color associated with it. Just black and white. I felt strongly that that was the association with that music. It was addressing painful things and subjects that were intense, and there was a sort of rawness to what I thought the identity of that project was. From the beginning it was kind of confrontational – my desire was to play shows and to really look people in the eye, and really give them this music that was about parts of my interior life and memories.

I felt that that aesthetic and set of intentions couldn’t fit making [Dream Songs]. It was about something totally different – I was writing it wanting there to be positivity and love and openness in my life, and I think the songs kind of reflect that. When someone picks up the album or listens to it or engages with the project, I want that feeling to be communicated. It should be freeing and positive. I don't want to send someone on a heavy trip like, ‘Oh, this is scary.’ I wanted [them to] pick up the record [and think] ‘Oh, it looks nice, it looks comforting. It feels inviting, it feels positive. I feel heard by this music or understood by this music.’ I wanted it to be lighter, and so I felt that that image kind of reflects that. I think it reflects where I was at when I was making the music, what I wanted my life to be like.

In between your old band and this first official solo album you released a collection of songs called Down the Mountain and a single, ‘Go Go.’ Both had space-related imagery, and you tweeted around that time, “I hope I'm alive to see close-up images of other habitable planets, or even any planets outside our solar system...” I thought that was interesting, especially because your music so beautifully balances being grounded but also ethereal at the same time. What about space attracts you?

[Laughs] Well, the Earthrise photo, you know that first picture where it's over the crest of the moon, but we see Earth, and it's really far away, this little tiny dot? That's just incredible. Anytime you can think about that it really takes a load off of our existence here on Earth and what it means, and it really puts it in a certain perspective.

Astronauts talk about this – they go back to Earth and they have this realization, like wow, we're all connected. We really need to be thinking about things in a way where we're all part of the same project. We're on Spaceship Earth,' and we really are just this fragile little thing in the middle of this incredibly vast, mysterious universe that we really don't know anything about, we haven't explored it. It's just this endless source of sublimity and beauty.

So I think I'm just interested in space for those reasons. It's really inspiring, it's beautiful, it's a broader context for understanding life that puts the emphasis on embracing the mystery of existence, which I think is just so quickly tangible. As soon as you think about space or you reflect on space at all you realize how mysterious everything of existence really is, and how important love is and embodying as much of a zoomed-out perspective on what we're doing here, what our purpose on this planet is. It renders any problems to seem utterly immaterial in comparison to the fact that we're on this spinning rock.

Maybe next time someone launches a car into space they should play your music instead.

[Laughs] Yeah, sure.

Another big shift evident in Dream Songs is a move away from the synthetic sounds of Majical Cloudz to more organic instrumentation, like string arrangements. What can you tell us about that?

Majical Cloudz, again, had a very defined aesthetic. It was something that I was interested in maintaining – we found this thing, this is how the project works, and I really like that aesthetic. But then, making music on under my own name for the first time, I had the feeling, ‘Oh, I can do whatever I want.’ This is what I wanted. I wanted to feel a bit freed from the confines of Majical Cloudz as a project. I didn't really want to just make a record that was repeating the choices of the Majical Cloudz records because it just seemed boring to me.

Also, I was writing songs on guitar more, just because I could. So rather than transcribe them and turn them into something else I just went with that, and built the songs around guitar. I'm working with Austin Tufts, and he’s a classically trained musician. I had the idea of wanting strings – I had for a long time wanted to have strings on a recording – and then he was able to get it done in a legitimate way. So yeah, why not? Let's try it.

In Majical Cloudz you were the vocalist/frontman in a duo, and in Belave you hold the opposite role in a different duo. Of course this solo record is still collaborative, but now you alone have complete control. Did that change in dynamic alter your process at all?

Well the first Majical Cloudz record was really me having control over that process. It was like, this is my idea and this is what I want to do. It wasn't as much of a collaboration as the Majical Cloudz records where Matt was bringing his energy to it and to the production sides of things. For example, some of the stuff on Impersonator uses the Logic preset synths that were in the demos of the tracks. We did a lot to transform them, but it's not the same as a collaboration like Belave, where I’ll make a thing, and then Duffy will just do whatever he's going to do, and then that's that. So it's like a 50/50 process.

 With some of the Majical Cloudz stuff it was sort of like, here's the demo, here's the ideas, this is what I want to do with it. It felt similar to making Dream Songs, where I have the songs, I know what I want to do, but it's not 100 percent of the vision, and I'm working with somebody who's producing it. We can bounce ideas off each other and come to something that sounds good.

Lyrically, throughout your whole discography, I've noticed there's a reoccurrence of clown and comedian characters, and laughter being used in various contexts from performing to dying. Your music can be more on the serious side at times, so I’m intrigued by this apparent relationship between severity and levity, the musician and the jester.

Yeah, I think I can have a dark of humor. Also I think that it's important to laugh in the painful moments of life, and also just to laugh about as much as you can in life. I think it's a very healing, very important thing to do. I love comedy, and I love comedians and clowns. To me it's a symbol that I think represents something about life. The tragedy of life is not feasible without laughter, and it’s a way of overcoming anything. I think a clown is this figure that is kind of tragic, because they're the object of ridicule. People don't take them seriously, but also they bring people joy and, I don't know, something about that has always repeated to me. Something about a sad clown is a very potent image for me.

One of the most stunning aspects of your music is the honest vulnerability that you convey. The first single and the album as a whole open up with the line, ‘Things more powerful than you control the actions in your life.’ And, in announcing the record, you said you want to ‘love more,’ ‘surrender more,’ and fear less. Are there any particular things that you feel controlled by, or that you fear?

It’s more the idea that there are things in life that are out of your control. That’s a lesson that I have been slow to learn, or slow to accept. Someone that struggles with anxiety probably struggles with that piece of wisdom, which is like, ‘Hey, you can't control everything that happens in life, and you kind of need to just let it go.’ I guess that's sort of part of what that lyric means for me.

In terms of what I fear, it's about like fearing rejection from people, fearing that somebody doesn't like you, or you're not good enough, or you're going to fail, you're not going to be able to do it right. Those are the things that I fear. I don't fear monsters or other people or whatever. It's more just a fear of letting people down, letting yourself down, of what's going to happen, being unconfident moving through situations in life. That's what I meant when I said that I want to fear less.

And also just fear in terms of the opposite of love, I guess. You want to connect with people and you want to open yourself to people. You want to just live as much as possible in a space of being open, of being loving to people, of being kind. When you have something nice to say, communicate it. When you have love to give, give it. I think being afraid gets in the way of that. The fear of, ‘Oh, I don't know, I shouldn't. I feel self-conscious, I feel insecure.’ The fear makes you disconnected from other people.

Dream Songs is out now via You Are Accepted and you can buy it here. Photos by Andrea Calvetti

Arcade Fire Are Back with a New Album & Tour: Watch the Music Video for Title Track "Everything Now"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Arcade Fire have announced their major label debut with “Everything Now,” the title track from their forthcoming 5th record due out July 28 via Columbia Records.

Everything Now follows their one-off with Mavis Staples earlier this year and 2013’s Reflektor as Arcade Fire joins LCD Soundsystem and Grizzly Bear in announcing a debut album for Sony Music this year as the major seems intent to absorb every 2000s indie darling. All of this was, naturally, rolled out through a Twitter account disguised as a Russian bot.

Immediately launching into an ABBA style swing and sway, the piano led single is relatively straightforward pop for an Arcade Fire song accented by a crowd-sung chorus from their VooDoo Festival set last year and production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter.

Lyrically “Everything Now” targets the obsessive hyperactivity of modern life. “There’s sort of an everything-nowness to life. I feel like almost every event and everything that happens surrounds you on all sides,” Win Butler explained to BBC Radio 1. “It’s trying to capture some of the experiences of being alive now in all its flaws and all its glory.

The cover art, which you can see below, will have 20 different variants in 20 different languages over the LP's vinyl, CD, and cassette sales. The 13 track record is accompanied by an extensive tour, the details of which you can see below as well.

The Emerging Place of Hip-Hop in the Culinary Sphere

EditorialEzra CarpenterComment
Eddie Huang - host of Viceland's  Huang's World  and owner of East Village restaurant BaoHaus. (Photo:  Huang's World  - Vice Media LLC)

Eddie Huang - host of Viceland's Huang's World and owner of East Village restaurant BaoHaus. (Photo: Huang's World - Vice Media LLC)

This past year, two unique television programs under the same network rocked food television with their immense popularity as Viceland’s Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious built upon the successful template established by the contemporary icon of food TV, Anthony Bourdain. The punk rock, culturally adventurous, and politically daring culinary bad-boy earned the Travel Channel degrees of edge and grit previously perceived as unattainable for the network, an especially notable feat for Bourdain’s No Reservations considering its adjacent air time to the program of lame-dad, defiler of the King’s English Andrew Zimmern. Eventually moving to CNN, who realized Bourdain’s ambitions to film more dangerous locations, Bourdain saw continued success as the host of Parts Unknown, winning four Emmys while redefining the palate for televised food and travel culture.

Both Eddie Huang of Huang's World and rapper Action Bronson of Fuck, That's Delicious have adopted Bourdain's persona as the anti-establishment host with tactful yet unembellished diction. What Huang and Bronson have revamped, to their advantage, is the aesthetic, exchanging Bourdain’s literary punk appeal for a hip-hop oriented experience with an accessible level of sophistication. This immigrant American, hip-hop devotional, and most of all, understated appeal is the primary difference between Bourdain and the two aforementioned personalities. Whereas Bourdain’s shows could easily rely on the chef’s French-style culinary training, Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious treat their hosts’ formal culinary backgrounds with subtle acknowledgement, presenting Huang and Bronson mostly as home-trained cooks/hip-hop fanatics instead.

Anthony Bourdain (Photo:  Parts Unknown -  CNN)

Anthony Bourdain (Photo: Parts Unknown - CNN)

Where Bourdain, Huang, and Bronson’s shows win with audiences lies in the authenticity of the hosts. Regardless of punk or hip-hop sensibilities, the congruency between hosts’ televised and real-life personalities has risen in value as a commodity in food television. It is this element of the true-to-form host that has won Huang’s World and Fuck, That’s Delicious Anthony Bourdain’s approval. Though Bourdain’s praise does not reference either host’s character as a hip-hop aficionado, the transitioning popularity from Bourdain’s punk-framed socio-political interrogation of cuisine to the new frontier of hip-hop contextualized cuisine/culture is a trend that is difficult to overlook. And yet, the hip-hop approach to cuisine and culture makes so much sense, as much, if not more sense, than Bourdain’s brand of punk.

As Americans of Albanian-Jewish (Bronson) and Taiwanese (Huang) heritage who embrace hip-hop, the two not only attest to the cultural intermingling which occurs within hip-hop, but manifest it in their shows, and do so shamelessly. Never is there an episode in which Huang isn’t walking the streets of a Eurocentric town dressed in an oversized jersey and Jordans. Similarly, cameras follow both Bronson and his Mr. Wonderful tour supporting posse: the Alchemist, Big Body Bes, and Meyhem Lauren – a multicultural collective who accompany Bronson at all times, even if they sometimes contribute absolutely nothing to the culinary conversation. Through their shows, these hosts advocate the embrace of cultural diversity as experienced through the enjoyment of food. Their outlook exploits the parallels between hip-hop’s transcendence of racial barriers and the expansion of cultural insight afforded by travel-dining. Understanding where these two shows have placed hip-hop in relation to cuisine is best accessed through Huang’s assimilation of the two – food, like hip-hop, is a culture for outsiders who inevitably find a commonality with the broader community.

Action Bronson - rapper and host of Viceland's  Fuck, That's Delicious . (Photo: VICE Eats - Vice Media LLC)

Action Bronson - rapper and host of Viceland's Fuck, That's Delicious. (Photo: VICE Eats - Vice Media LLC)

My own realization of the appropriateness of hip-hop as a platform for cultural exploration through food struck me, ironically enough, as I followed a destination-dining rabbit hole I discovered in the Montreal episode of Parts Unknown. Near the culmination of my tour de Montréal, I took a cab from the Gay Village to Little Burgundy for my second service reservation at Joe Beef, the highly esteemed feeding ground of choice for Montréalais omnivores, regarded as one of the one hundred best restaurants in the world. I read the dimly lit menu written in cursive French on the chalkboard spanning the entire left wall, extracting what the three years of French I had taken in college thus far allowed me to. I curated my choices with wild game and gluttonous excess in mind, invoking scenes of seared foie gras and copious helpings of black truffles on a table set before Anthony Bourdain and Joe Beef owners David McMillan and Fédéric Morin.

Awaiting my meal at the bar, the ambience of the bistro did its part in stimulating my anticipation. Deep cuts by Mos Def and the Roots played over table conversation, consistent with jazz-based instrumentals accented with boom bap percussion and intricate rhymes by Yasiin Bey and Black Thought. Theirs was the socially conscious and introspective lyrical matter which primed my appetite for true discovery, in this case, the best of French-Canadian cuisine as served by the most famous restaurant in Canada. The intended effect achieved, it was the best meal I’d ever had in my entire life thus far.

I began with oysters from Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. My waitress Sarah, a fun, helpful, mildly flirtatious Montréalaise girl, then served an expectation-exceeding homemade spinach pappardelle with a red wine ragù and escargot. The broad pappardelle noodle attained a perfect balance between the heartiness of the pasta and the richness of the escargot ragù. “Stop trying to hide it,” Sarah told me as I twirled speckled green noodles around the prongs of my fork, “your smile is from cheek to cheek.” Next I had a venison torte whose layers of venison, foie gras, onions, and a braised anna potato fanned atop the dish were succulent in each bite, melting in my mouth with savory excess.

Anthony Bourdain with Joe Beef owners Fred Morin (center) and Dave McMillan (right). (Photo:  Parts Unknown  - CNN)

Anthony Bourdain with Joe Beef owners Fred Morin (center) and Dave McMillan (right). (Photo: Parts Unknown - CNN)

Joe Beef had won me over with the pappardelle, but it was the venison torte which compelled me to commit to what was unraveling as the best meal I’d ever had. Fittingly, “Juicy” began to play on the speakers, imparting a celebratory sense of triumph that could only be experienced through Biggie’s boastful assertions and confident command of cadence on the song. With my bill already nearing 100 Canadian dollars, I ordered a panko-crusted head cheese croquette with a mustard seed dijon, because (in a matter-of-fact way of phrasing it and in homage to a rap legend of my native Bay Area) I was “feelin’ myself.”

I’ve expended all words that could possibly be used to describe the head cheese croquette, mainly because it is hard to describe the denouement of a meal when the last entry isn’t quite a dessert. “I always love a bit of head cheese for dessert” Sarah joked. Fuck it, I knew what I wanted and while I’m speaking bluntly, the head cheese was damn good and didn’t disappoint.

After the meal I had an over-the-bar conversation with the host that received me at the door on who was the best rapper currently active: Drake or Kendrick Lamar. I argued for my West Coast compatriot while my counterpart presented a case for Drizzy. I was surprised that anyone would try to match Drake’s lyricism to Kendrick Lamar’s rhetoric; however, in a testimony to hip-hop’s seamless cultural fusion, I had completely forgotten that I was speaking to a Canadian. Perhaps the ambiguity of national identification would not have been the same had I been speaking to a national of a country across waters, but French-Canada was a particularly striking cultural anomaly not only for Canada but for all of North America.

I learned many things from the meal. Where politics is in some cultures considered to be a topic unsuitable for dinner table conversation, hip-hop, more than other genres of music due to its inherent accommodation of debate, can serve well as a mealtime topic of conversation. To a larger degree, hip-hop has the potential to invite people into culinary exchange the same way it has ushered outsiders into a historically African-American culture. From a music perspective, my meal at Joe Beef demonstrated the ability of hip-hop to prepare an appetite and celebrate the universal satisfaction of a good meal. Whether or not hip-hop can establish a reputation as a genre fit for curating a fine meal is left to restaurateurs across the world to determine, but I know that its potential to establish a dining ambiance is not accidental, nor is it some unnaturally-forced experimentation. I know, from passing the kitchen hallway on my way out of Joe Beef and seeing the words “CD playing” on the soundsystem monitors.

See trailers for both Huang's World and Fuck, That's Delicious below