Interview Young Magic: ‘We Love Spending Time In The Studio Cocoon’

A sprawling pastiche of genres, influences and instruments, Issac Emmanuel talks us through ‘Melt’.

It would be wholly understandable why one would overlook Young Magic. Their name, comprised of two words very “in” and generic right now in terms of the current musical climate, could so easily shroud the band into with the flurries of Younghusbands and Gross Magics out there.

However, it would be a mighty shame if it did as ‘Melt’ - the group’s premiere full-length release - is enthralling enough to set the band apart from almost all peers if you even just give it the faintest of attention.

A sprawling pastiche of genres, influences and instruments born from frontman Issac Emmanuel’s globe-trotting travels, the album - recorded in over ten countries - is one of the most original heard all year. Just ignore that it’s only February, as we’re sure we’ll be saying the same further down the calendar.

Young Magic’s Issac Emmanuel talks us through the making of ‘Melt’.

As people you’ve travelled around a fair bit, why did you decide to finally settle down in New York?
Well, Melati was already out here, she’d been in New York for a few years and when I got here found it a hard place to leave. At the same time the Carpark family offered to put out some music and started getting some show offers, so it made sense to stay in the US and be based out East. We just about convinced Michael to come out of the jungle in Brazil too.

How do you think New York has influenced your sound, as well as all the other places you’ve lived prior?
It all creeps in, definitely. I doubt the record would be the same without the last few years of wandering around all these different places. I spent a few months house sitting a property called La Casa En Las Nubes or “House In the Clouds”, which turned out to be a beautiful secluded property high in the mountains in Tepoztlán, Mexico - a place the locals actually call magic town. This time in Central America seem to push the record even further down these percussive and textural paths. The area is steeped in history and mythology with an Aztec Temple overlooking from the mountains near our house and hard-to-believe tales from the locals everyday, and I spent my time there working on the record and working on the farm in exchange for a place to live. I met some of the most beautifully strange characters one could ever expect to meet in a lifetime.

When did you start working on this record?
It was during the summer of 2010, but it wasn’t as if I started work on a ‘record’. I just bought a computer for the first time that summer and started playing around, learning how to make sounds. The first song I ever recorded was ‘Sparkly’, when Melati was out in Melbourne traveling. Our friend T. Gill helped give it legs, sonically, and encouraged us to push the sounds even further.

What was the recording process like? It’s interesting that this record was recorded in ten different countries. Do you tend to dislike being cooped up in the studio for a long period of time?
Actually I love spending time in the studio cocoon. One of my favourite places in the world to be is in that recording bubble when 12 hours goes missing. It was more just a matter of what we had to work with: no money, no gear, traveling with no home and no idea where I was heading next. Just recording along the way, and working with what was available. I literally packed a mic and a laptop into my bag and booked a one way ticket. Michael was doing the same in the southern hemisphere. Whenever I’d get the chance to record in someone’s lounge room or on the street or a long train trip I’d just be playing around, learning how to use this new instrument, or any other instruments friends had around.
Depending on what’s available, it definitely shaped what happens when. I’ll get hyped on something and just go for it in a moment. For instance I was staying with Melati’s brother over there in Bristol and he lived with some professors who collected West African instruments. It was rainy and cold out so I spent the whole time recording hours of tapes, playing over songs I’d already recorded, integrating new parts into old ones, or sampling them to flip later. I’ll occasionally sample old records too, grab a nice kick or snare or loop, or work street recordings into mixes that I collect from sounds recorded on my phone. I’m writing a song at the moment from the sound of a door closing in Reykjavik. In the end it doesn’t really matter to me as long as the song has some kind of organic intent or feels good.

Had you written all the tracks before you set off to record? Are these songs all products of your dwellings in New York or did you write them in the different countries that you recorded them?
In different countries, all over the place. It was rare to have any songs written before it was recorded - the recording and writing happened simultaneously. We only sat down in New York recently when we were all finally in the same place and sifted through everything we’d done, seeing if there were any diamonds.

Was it your own decision to include not only your first handful of single on the debut but also their b-sides? Did you ever worry that you may alienate fans who had already heard the tracks or were you instead solely focusing on assembling the strongest arrangement of songs possible?
At that point I was purely just thinking about the singles, without any defined idea of what the album was going to look like. ‘Melt’ kind of took shape on it’s own accord. We’re putting out a cassette mixtape to accompany the record too, with another 16 or so cuts on there from the same period ~ tracks that didn’t fit on ‘Melt’, songs we’d half written and forgotten about, b-sides, demos, remixes, flips, beats and whatever the hell else we made on the road over that year. I guess if you heard the LP together with this 45 minute mixtape it paints a pretty encompassing picture of how the record actually came together, how we work. It was a collection of sketches and field recordings that turned into something else.

Did you ever think of just releasing an EP of new material instead - or did you want to release everything you’ve done so far to draw a line under the first part of your career?
I was down with an LP. Mostly from a personal place of wanting to drop a needle on that 12” for the first time! I mean, there were already too many sounds for one record so it made sense to put it all out to date, including the extended mixtape, draw a line and just keep moving. I can get sick of what I’ve just made sometimes pretty quickly so it feels good to put it out and keep moving into the next chapter.

The cover art is quite intriguing and fits in with the title ‘Melt’ - what was the idea behind both the sleeve and the title?
Originally our friend Leif Podhajsky had send me a handful of new work for this other weirdo R&B project I was working on the side. This image just jumped off the screen, and I immediately thought of it as a Young Magic cover. It felt like a perfect summary of the ideas we’d been exploring, so many of the same ideas Leif explores in his work. So it felt very natural. I imagine this portrait of sorts as an image of the world as it really exists beneath the surface - as if you could see through the day to day concrete reality of rigid greys and defined outlines and peep through into another dimensional space. It felt like a photograph that could be taken if you could peel back the physical world, if it could melt away a few layers. There was an essence to this image, like most of Leif’s work, in which color and spirit seemed to bleed off the print and back into the real world, like an endless cycle, an endless feedback loop.

Have you played the new tracks live yet? How has audience reaction been so far?
We just did some shows in Iceland and a tour in North America, people seemed to dig it, lots of intrigued faces in the south. So far it’s been a good experience, but we haven’t had much time to get in the same space to play and rehearse, so it developing pretty fast.

You must be looking forward to touring on the back of this record, no? Are you eager to get back on the road?
Most definitely, I love the feeling of movement. If things get dishwater or stagnant too long it starts getting weird for me.

Young Magic’s debut album ‘Melt’ is out now via Carpark Records.

Read More

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Stay Updated!

Get the best of DIY to your inbox each week.

Latest Issue

February 2024

Featuring The Last Dinner Party, IDLES, Yard Act, Crawlers, Remi Wolf and more.

Read Now Buy Now Subscribe to DIY