The Naked Clarity of
The more things change, the more they stay the same for Devon Welsh. Following the release of their superlatively beautiful debut album Impersonator in 2013, Majical Cloudz became a cultish outfit; admired but adrift. Within the space of a year, Welsh and bandmate Matthew Otto were up on stage in front of enormous crowds supporting Lorde on her world tour.
But the unlikely progression from the bedroom to the stadium has only encouraged Welsh to continue doing what Majical Cloudz do best: confronting the most tender human emotions with startling sincerity. “If anything, [playing stadium gigs] just made me feel less concerned about performing in a certain way or presenting myself in a certain way,” Welsh says on the phone from Germany, mid-way through headlining a tour of his own. “It made me comfortable just being myself on stage.”
In other interviews, Welsh has made it clear that the Lorde tour came about not through record company lobbying or PR hucksterism but artistic happenstance, owing to a connection with fellow Montrealer Grimes. Back in 2007, Welsh met Claire Boucher at a first-year dorm party at McGill University. The pair kicked off an artistic and romantic relationship that lasted, on-and-off, for the next three years. In January last year, Boucher got in touch and asked if Majical Cloudz could support her at a Grammys pre-party in Los Angeles. Welsh readily obliged, and right there amidst the spellbound audience was one Ella Yelich-O’Connor.
Lorde was rightly enraptured by the performance, but it could be fair to say that some listeners would be almost intimidated by Majical Cloudz’ emotional intensity. Stories abound of fans openly weeping at gigs, while on record Welsh is almost confrontationally open with his feelings; listening can at times feel like a voyeuristic experience. In the past, some gigs saw him strip almost naked, or hide behind bits of the stage – just to lighten the mood.
Nowadays though, Majical Cloudz operate with the benefit of a loyal, ever-growing fan base. “It feels less like you’re having to prove yourself to people and more like you’re sharing,” he says of the current tour, which snaked through London last month. “Everybody’s interested in the music and we want to play it – it’s more of a happy experience for us.” Welsh and Otto also now have the advantage of another 12 spectral and beautifully unadorned songs with which to beguile their audience – their second LP Are You Alone?, which was released in October via Matador.
At the core of the music, Welsh’s fragile voice is again paired with minimal, minor-key electronics, and this time, long-time Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett was recruited to add strings and minimal percussive touches.
Where Impersonator seemed to focus on the exploration of identity – an internal monologue that perhaps reflected an ongoing struggle for Welsh to find his place and purpose in the world – Are You Alone? represents one side of a two-way conversation. We’re still not sure with whom that conversation is taking place, or whether lyrics like “All I want is for you to talk to me” (on Disappeared) are directly relatable to Welsh’s life, or simply meant as a relatable portrait of any lovelorn ex. That’s sort of the point though, says the man himself.
“I think there is some of me in the music inevitably, in writing the songs and writing from personal experience, but I think I always try to abstract things to a point that feels natural,” Welsh explains with playful evasiveness. “I think I try more to create a feeling and just stay closer to the overall emotional experience of life. It’s important sometimes to build up a moment, or emotion, then inject that with an element of the theatrical maybe… An element of fantasy is good for art.”
Are You Alone? is out now via Matador