Interview: Danny Todd and James Smith of exmagician (Part 1)

By on Friday, 20th May 2016 at 1:00 pm
 

Last week, Belfast alt-rock duo exmagician took time for a quick interview with TGTF ahead of their scheduled appearance at LeeFest Presents: The Neverland at the end of July. exmagician are still rather new on the UK music scene, at least in their current context, but bandmates Danny Todd and James Smith have some relevant past experience to draw upon in getting their new project started.

Todd and Smith were formerly members of one of Northern Ireland’s most buzzed-about bands, Cashier No. 9, who hit the #7 spot on our 10 for 2012 countdown back in December 2011. I happened to see Cashier No. 9 myself way back in 2010 at Northern Ireland’s Ward Park, where they played support for Snow Patrol, although it might be somewhat more accurate to say that Snow Patrol supported them. The ‘Chasing Cars’ hitmakers hosted a long list of bands for a one-day mini-festival in Bangor that year, including Cashier No. 9 and fellow Irish acts General Fiasco and Lisa Hannigan, providing an ideal venue in what would turn out to be the largest concert in Northern Irish history.

Cashier No. 9 have since dissolved as a band, with Smith and Todd citing both personal and artistic differences for the split. But the pair were “still feeling creative”, as Todd explained it, and so they decided to continue making music under a new name, with a slightly different sound to accompany the exmagician moniker. Smith describes exmagician’s work as “maybe a bit heavier, a bit darker, a bit more rough around the edges, not as shiny and sort of West Coast pop as Cashier was.”

Todd and Smith seem to have a congenial working relationship, each “chipping in” on the other’s songwriting and providing reciprocal editorial input as they worked on their debut album ‘Scan the Blue’, which was released back in March on Bella Union Records. They share the philosophy that “The song is king”, as Smith wrote in the liner notes for the album. He elaborated in our interview, “The song has to be amazing, in our own heads, before we start messing around with everything. So yeah, there’s a lot of work goes into that, before anything else happens.”

According to Smith, the pair took a very hands-on approach to recording and producing the new album as well. “We do a lot of the writing, and even a lot of the pre-production at home, in our own home studios, so a lot of it was prepared at home and brought into the studio to add to and to fix up. We knew we had enough skills of our own to kind of do it, maybe not do the whole thing on our own, which is why we got Rocky in. But it was a kind of effort to put things all on ourselves a bit more.”

Their co-producer on ‘Scan the Blue’ was Rocky O’Reilly, who has worked in the past with Northern Irish acts including And So I Watch You From Afar, General Fiasco, and Wonder Villains. Smith describes their relationship with O’Reilly as collaborative: “He knew that we had a lot of our own ideas and he would just be kind of the facilitator. That’s not to say that he didn’t have a lot of input. But he just kind of let us mess around a lot in the studio and try out all our own kind of silly ideas, and some of them worked and some of them didn’t. But he was the one who kind of made it all cohesive and brought it all together.”

exmagician have just finished touring the new album in the UK and are gearing up for performances on the summer festival circuit. They talked rather extensively in our interview about the challenges of playing the new songs live. “These songs were recorded first, and then we figured out how to play them live afterwards, which is always a bit of a struggle,” said Todd. “There’s so much going on in them, and we feel so attached to those recordings that we want to replicate them live as well. I think we do justice to it at the moment, which is great.”

Though he and Todd are the core members of exmagician, Smith clarified that “when we perform live, we’re still performing as a four-piece band. We have a bass player and a drummer. I think people get the misconception that we are just this kind of duo that plays, but no, we need a full band to kind of create the sound that we want and re-create the sound of the album, obviously.” Some of the songs on the album presented a difficult task in that regard, particularly title track ‘Scan the Blue’. Though it’s Smith’s professed favourite track, the band aren’t currently performing it on live set lists. “We’d probably need about 20 keyboard players to pull that off live,” Todd said. “We’ll probably do a version of it [eventually], but at the moment we just need to figure things out and make it sound good live before we play it, you know?”

As a sneak peek at Part 2 of our interview, have a listen below to exmagician’s remixed version of another track from ‘Scan the Blue’.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/Wc3dnVdXBes[/youtube]

Stay tuned to TGTF for Part 2 of our interview with exmagician, which will post next week. In the meantime, have a look back at our preview of LeeFest Presents: The Neverland right back here and catch up on our previous coverage of exmagician back this way.

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