Interview: Slow Magic on Identity and Spirituality in Music

Kiva Ramundo / April 23, 2013
Photo by Kiva Ramundo
Photo by Kiva Ramundo

Though the music community was first made aware of music made by an “unknown, imaginary friend” two years ago, the auditory phantasm best known as Slow Magic has since made music that predates its own origins. SSG Music was fortunate to speak with the artist following a devastating display of percussive virtuosity layered with the ethereal melodies of downtempo electronic music on the second night of Boise’s Treefort Music Festival. It is a singular experience to discover music delivered from behind an anagogic, tribal mask curated by an entity of secretive providence, and our conversation occurs from inside the shadows of a coffeeshop that will not be open for a few hours time…

SSG: Would you ever consider exploring multi-media collaborations with anyone?

Slow Magic: Yeah, definately. Some of the videos I have had have been collaborative. I really like working with other people and bringing people together to work on one thing. I have always wanted to score a film. Some of my favorite directors have been Michel Gondry and Wes Anderson. That is such a dream. Perhaps it would fit, but who knows. There are a few photographers that are friends of mine through the internet or that I have worked with on new artwork. One in particular, Luca Vinter, he is a really young photographer that’s doing some really good stuff. He is helping me with the new artwork that I am excited to release.

SSG: Is your new album anything you can talk currently about?

SM: Yeah. No set date right now but I have basically finished it as much as I can. Might tweak it a bit but just finished it this month and am looking for a label to release it on. I am really excited about that. I am hoping to release it soon but you know how the process works. I am really eager to share it with everyone. Many of the new songs I have been playing live, and it is really fun to test them out. It has been good responses.

SSG: Your set last night was literally the most energetic and involved I have seen any audience get at the festival; it was just waves of bodies and limbs moving through the music. Certainly more than few pupils artificially dilated past where they ought to be…I should say it was a good response.

SM: [laughs] That was a really fun crowd for me. Being right on the floor and having everyone crowd around was kinda cool. 

SSG: There are a few artists that share a similar genre such as Boards of Canada who never give concerts. How would your relationship to an audience change without live performances? What would be lost?

SM: I think that I have to do that because it is the most exciting thing I can do. Just playing and performing is something that I am really excited and nervous about. No offense to anyone that doesn’t, but if I just made the music and stayed in my bedroom I would not feel as if I am connecting as much to people. I get to meet people, talk with people after the shows sometime and that is when I feel the most encouraged about sharing art. It is cool to connect on this level where everyone is dancing, and it is cool to be the one who is playing the music.

SSG: It is for you as much as it is for us?

SM: Totally. It is really fun, hopefully for everyone. So it is really important for me. If I did not have an exciting or interesting show, which I hope I do, I would not feel like I was doing it right.

SSG: Why do you feel there is an increasing trend for artists to embrace anonymity? There is another artist here at Treefort, Delicate Steve, who enjoys multiple conflicting and increasingly exotic origin stories and SBTRKT is a better known example that also holds a similar masked appearance and personal ethos as yourself. What has driven the collective shift in mentality?

SM: I do not know exactly. I can only speak for myself that it is a way to shift focus onto music, to say, ‘don’t look at me, look at the music.’ For me, it was fun because I place ownership on people saying it was their imaginary friend or their music. I saw a response that I did not expect early on of people claiming that ownership. My Facebook page was made by two guys I do not know and I eventually took it over but I feel like people can feel like they are a part of it more when it is not alienating at all. For other artists, I have always been intrigued by stuff like that growing up. It makes it more theatrical like a movie or a character that you get to develop that does not affect you as a person. I am glad at the end of the day that it is not taking over every part of my life. I am not telling people to check out my music on personal social media; I do not have to bombard people, which is great. If someone bad mouths my music or project it is not as personal. Well, it is still personal but it does not affect me as much as a person. They can’t really say ‘you have a dumb face’ [laughs]. I guess I am sort of figuring it out but it has been really fun. I did not know exactly what it would be like but in a lot of ways it has been the best way for me to do it.

SSG: Would you say there is an obsession with identity in art? Why does a sound have to have a genre, a song have a title rather than a symbol or an artist have a name?

SM: I would definitely say that is true and it is something that I am trying to challenge I think. I will admit that I still enjoy researching people that make music and finding out about them but I also just enjoy challenging the way it should be done. Everyone that makes music has a label they don’t agree with. Identity is an important thing. People want to identify everything. It is hard to not have a song title but it is fun to try and say ‘what if this wasn’t the case.’

SSG: You have mentioned that the songs from your debut ▲ relate to the children on the album cover. Could you elaborate on the unity of the theme? Were the alliterative titles intentional to that end?

SM: Originally, the Triangle EP was just three songs, so the photo of the three kids was something I felt matched all that. It was sort of a balance. The first three songs you could choose which kid you thought was which. I like how they posed, dancing on the beach and that they each have a different story. I was trying to do double rhyme alliterations, and some of them may be a stretch but with instrumental music sometimes it is harder to name songs. Sometimes it is easy because you can pick anything. I just liked the pictures that those titles made and the restraint of rhyming and alliteration. When I am not writing lyrics it is fun to restrain the choices you have. But I ran out of those pretty early. There are none on the next record.

SSG: Did or do you have an imaginary friend?

SM: Yeah. I don’t know if I had any typical imaginary friends. I know I had a lot of stuffed animals that I named…probably just them [laughs].

SSG: Do you think it is by accident that music has the ability to begin to bridge identity and that every culture independently discovers music? Is there something especially significant or even spiritual about it?

SM: Yeah, I do think that…well, even part of the name of the project, the ‘magic’ part, is explaining at the end of the day that music is not something we can really pinpoint. Maybe some scientist can, but I feel like it is a magical thing. For me, music can be such an emotional experience. It can bring people together that would never normally come together. I do think it is something spiritual that highlights the beauty that exists in and out of this world. That is kind of my goal with music, if I can highlight something good or something people can relate to. It sounds kind of weird. It’s not something I can explain really but it is exciting to be a part of music in a small way. The best thing that can happen to me or that has happened is when someone comes up to me or writes an email and says what my music has done for them, shown them. It’s crazy. I feel like I can’t take responsibility for it, that it is this thing that exists spiritually.

SSG: Sure. John Locke said that ‘the self depends on consciousness rather than substance. We are the same person to the extent we share awareness of past and future thought in the same way.’ Perhaps music is something that speaks more to that connection.

SM: That is really nice. I think that is something that anyone that makes music wants, that the idea or the art or whatever it is they make they want to outlive them. The music I am making is separate from me in the way- and this is wishful thinking- that someday someone will find it and it will live on. People discover my art totally separate from myself as an individual.

SSG: My favorite track from your debut, “Music”, uses a sample that speaks of how we are different after having heard certain sounds and that it is more the case with sounds organized by other humans. Do you ever consider how the world would be without music?

SM: I don’t think it’s possible. You could go up to anyone and they have a favorite song or band. It is sort of a universal language. It is interesting to think about… It is depressing to think about. Something has to be there.

Photo Courtesy of Slow Magic
Photo Courtesy of Slow Magic