Published on April 16th, 2012 | by Randall Castillo0
Q&A With Slow Magic
Let’s get one thing out of the way: we have no idea how to describe Slow Magic in practically any sense. Genre? Uncertain. Where they’re based? No idea. Lyrics? There are none. We don’t even know how to describe the musician(s) behind the music because that remains a mystery too. No, really. Google it. You won’t find anything about who Slow Magic even is because nobody actually knows. The official website simply says that “Slow Magic is the sound made by an unknown imaginary friend.”
(Okay, so that’s a lie — I actually know exactly who Slow Magic is, but my lips are sealed. More on that later.)
For our own purposes, we will refer to Slow Magic as a “he,” but this is merely for the sake of convenience, and could mean anything. It could mean it’s just one guy, or just one girl. Slow Magic could be a duo, a trio, a group or a really talented house pet with a synthesizer. Just know that we aren’t giving a thing away with that title. (And the intrigue continues)
While background facts about the band may be in short supply, there remains plenty to be said about the music itself, which fits somewhere in the broad expanse of the “electronic” genre. Tracks come dressed heavily in hazy, atmospheric bliss, with overarching themes ranging from wistful and hypnotic to inspired and downright happy. Regardless of your thoughts on this particular brand of music, Slow Magic is absolutely worth a listen. Whether it’s accompanying a late night drive, playing on a quiet night of studying or helping you capture that elusive 16-minute mile you’ve been building up to on the treadmill, the selected works of the enigmatic artist(s) known as Slow Magic should find a place on your hard drive.
A few weeks back, I caught up with Slow Magic in Brooklyn at what would be his last show before embarking on a 16-country European tour. The performance, which featured a lone individual donning an edge-lit, African tribal-inspired animal mask with a Macbook and drum, featured the musician drumming rhythmically to his own pre-recorded tracks, while images from the music video for ”Sorry Safari” played on the projector behind him. The atmosphere of the small Williamsburg venue became instantly charged with a smoky, slow-motion electricity that had the crowd dancing and singing — an extraordinarily odd sensation given that none of the tracks actually contained any words.
I sat down with the person behind it all to get his thoughts on touring, learn about his background in music and, most importantly, the motivations behind the mask:
SOUND: When do you leave for Europe?
SLOW MAGIC: Tomorrow at 7.
Have you been there before?
To Europe? Never.
And this is your first tour?
As Slow Magic it is. I’ve done a few of those DIY, book-it-yourself tours, but nothing like this one.
So judging by the way you were hammering that drum up there, I’m guessing you have some kind of background in percussion?
Yeah, definitely. Drums were my first instrument. I started that when I was in school — like jazz band and marching band, and like drumline and stuff. So yeah, percussion was a big part of music for me. In the music I make today, even.
And to do synth you’ve obviously gotta be able to play keyboard and the like.
Yeah, I played piano for a while and then just kind of tried everything.
How long have you been playing?
I dunno. I mean, as long as I can remember so … 15 years or something?
Oh wow. See, I can’t even place you on the age scale. That’s just a part of the mystery I guess?
So we were talking about that earlier, how — aside from the music, obviously — this mystery is probably one of the most appealing angles about your story. Does the hidden identity do anything for you artistically or musically?
Yeah, I’ve made a lot of music under different names, even starting when I was really young and in high school. But I feel like I had all of these little ideas that weren’t really related to anything else and I didn’t want to keep telling my friends, “Hey this is a new thing I started!”
I just wanted it to be about the music instead of it being about my face, or where I lived or any of those things people look at first when someone writes a blog post about them. They focus so much more on the person, which is cool and all, like, “we wanna know who’s behind it,” but sometimes it’s fun just to put the art first and then hide in the shadows, I guess.
So does that help you let loose at all? Or change how you perform in any way?
I think it does. When I have the mask on and I’m on stage, I really can’t talk to the crowd or communicate any problems or anything, and those types of issues happen for everyone. I kind of just have to go and try my best and convey it all without words. I guess I feel a bit more free and honest that way.
It’s the one question that everyone asks, which pretty much means I have to ask it as well: your inspirations?
That’s always a tough one. But growing up — and even now still — The Beach Boys have been super big in my life and are really great. They’ve had some rough moments but it’s really them that have defined me I think.
The Beach Boys? I wouldn’t have guessed.
Yeah, and I mean there’s other, newer things I’ve been interested in like Sunglitter, which is more electronic stuff. Goldpanda, Baths, that kind of stuff. I’ve also been really influenced by Icelandic music. I don’t know, there’s so much music to be inspired by, really.
It’s just always interesting to hear where people get their start — their origins, so to speak.
Yeah, I’ve also really been liking Beef Lagoon, which is a band that’s really emotional and very straightforward. And I dunno, stuff like that is exciting for me.
So, since it’s all about the music, how would you describe your own? I have trouble placing it anywhere, in terms of genre.
Like with any kind of music there’s always trouble with genres, especially electronic music I think. People get a little … “genre-happy,” so there are some things that might be seen as a compliment for some and yet a put down for others, like “ambient,” “chill wave” and stuff like that. I try to hide away from that stuff. That’s another long conversation, but basically I wouldn’t put it in any genre. I just kind of want to make music that embodies this playful, crazy thing that nobody really understands. That’s what I think music is: it’s really this unknown that you can try to figure out but can’t explain. There are just too many emotions that are conveyed through it in a really awesome and amazing way to be able to put it into words.
That’s just human nature though, isn’t it? Categorizing everything?
People really like to put things in a place, label them — we even do that with other people too and that’s the worst thing to do. I mean, I’m not trying to compare them in that way, but I just want to separate the music from the way things are supposed to be done — in any sense, really.
You mentioned earlier you were inspired by some bands whose music carries a lot of emotion, and I’ve noticed that you put a lot behind yours. Do you feel that way when you’re creating it?
I do. It can sometimes be difficult to speak through music without words. The whole music-making process for me is to just hang out at this warehouse studio that I mostly record in and just … be there. I play keys and play the drum pats and just kind of hear and feel the music. I never really write anything down or think of the theory really — I’ve been formally trained but I mostly do things by ear. So I think it’s just something I like hearing or feeling, and the way I can get it out there is through music.
I’ve written music before with words but that’s kind of specifically relatable for some people. You write a song about something and it ends up being pretty narrow, but with Slow Magic I think I wanted to do something that was a little more universal — anyone who speaks any language can relate. And I feel like some people can still sing along because there are some vocals but not very many words. I hope that’s something they can do. ♦ ♦ ♦
Slow Magic has wrapped up its European tour and is now working on new music. Its digital EP, ▲, can be listened to and purchased digitally at slowmagic.bandcamp.com