Music lovers around the world are familiar with the legendary Colorado venue Red Rocks. Artists dream of playing the world-class outdoor venue for sometimes their entire careers.
Slow Magic is one of the lucky ones chosen to share his music there as an opening act for ODESZA, and he vivdly recalls the myriad of emotions coursing through him as he stepped up to the stage amidst a sold-out crowd.
“I was actually just telling myself throughout the set, ‘This is really scary, and crazy, don’t mess up,'” he announced in a conversation a few days ago.
The clean, crisp elevation air chilled the audience’s skin, as the Mile High sun set over the Rockies. That’s when Slow Magic stole the show last May with his energetic showmanship and impeccable production skills, balancing live and electronic instrumentation.
“It was an incredible experience,” continues the enigmatic producer, “and after the show it kind of all sunk in.”
It wasn’t always this way. Before the young musician was playing Red Rocks, Slow Magic was still learning his instruments of choice back in 2011.
“On my third [ever] show, my laptop completely fried just before my set so I handed an iPod with all my tracks to the sound guy and borrowed a drum from my friends who were also playing that night. I had played drums for a really long time but never connected the dots until that moment. I played the drum in the center of the crowd for the whole set and by the end my hands were a bit bloody.”
Armed with his instruments of choice — a computer, a MIDI keyboard, and a couple of drums — Slow Magic has become known for his unmistakable sound and his imaginative, animalistic persona. “Music by your imaginary friend,” reads his Twitter bio.
His image, a tribal-inspired live ethos, has become synonymous with his sonic identity, with its ethereal mix of distorted vocals, swirling synths, and light jazz.
Yet, it has been three years since the release of his sophomore project, How To Run Away, which the producer says was focused around themes of escapism, and of disconnecting from a sense of place.
October 4 marked another milestone in Slow Magic’s career as he releases his third studio album, Float, on the Sony-distributed imprint Downtown Records. And, while he’s far past the point in his career of having to explain why he chooses to stay hidden beneath the neon zebra mask, the 13-track LP lays out his innate, authentic sound while asserting a clear artistic vision for where he’s been (and where he’s going).
Work for Float began during Slow Magic’s time in Iceland. Referring to the album’s major underlying message, Slow Magic points a similar theme of his last album: “To me its about escapism, wanting to float away. Not exactly to disconnect but to float above.” Yet, on Float, Slow Magic refers to his newly-minted vision of ‘escapism’ in the transcendental sense. It is about transcending physical place, rather than a need to disconnect from it.
Once the instrumentals began to take shape, Slow Magic turned to vocalists Peter Silberman (from The Antlers), Kate Boy, Tropics, Toulouse, and MNDR to add more layers to Float.
Speaking to his vocalists, which he alluded to as a completely new challenge, Slow Magic lightly quips about his collaborators never having met him in person.
“Funny enough I realized that I never was in the same room with any of the collaborators, which is fitting as no one knows who I am anyway.”
One artist Slow Magic lamented on not being able to work with in person was MNDR, who’s laid down vocals for the likes of Feed Me and Flume. “MNDR is amazing, and her vocals have a lot of depth to them. The song really came together naturally, and I think it’s because her vocals were so strong from the start.” Standing as the album’s fourth track, “Shivers” spotlights MNDR’s Grammy-winning vocals, with it’s airy, narcotic allure, pulling them together into a distinctly chill track with distorted synths and Slow’s signature budding drum work.
When one thinks to Slow Magic’s theme of escapism, and how it resonates across multiple albums, it speaks volumes to the spaces with which Slow Magic lives and inhabits. Elaborating on the Float‘s theme further, Slow Magic mentions how “its also an album about Love, in a happy and a realistic sense, even sometimes in a dark sense.”
He elaborates, “It’s kind of a balance on the whole album between happy and sad or dark emotions.”
One track he cites at the center of this thematic is the Peter Silberman-assisted ballad, “Belong 2 Me.” The album’s centerpiece track is haunting and mysterious, yet relaxed and unrestrained, speaking to the yin-and-yang duality in which Slow Magic calls attention to. “Love is something powerful and sometimes uncontrollable,” he finally reveals.
Looking to the future, Slow Magic says he would love to see himself working with a distinctly eminent type of artist – from DNTEL and Ben Gibbard to Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Ros, and Yung Lean.
As for the extremely well-rounded vocal talent on Float, Slow Magic seems drawn to certain type of vocal quality — airy and atmospheric, bright and elegant — for which the producer says adds to the particular kind of aesthetic he’s working to create.
“Since it [Float] was my first time working with vocalists for features, I approached it very carefully. I think the challenge is to bring a lot of people in on the project but still to keep it cohesive sonically, and I think it ended up working very well. All of the vocalists compliment a each other in some ways.”
From the sprawling warmth of “Light,” featuring Tropics, to the 80s indie-pop throwback style of “Mind,” featuring Kate Boy, Slow Magic’s thoughtfulness to vocals really shines. There is a keen balance between his erratic, raw sounds and what each vocalist brings to the track.
Take, for instance, Kate Boy’s energetic pop-sensible style that calls on the “shoegaze” style of late 80s/early 90s British indie-rock. One almost feels as if they’re center stage in an angsty John Hughes teen movie. For “Mind,” Slow Magic wanted to take a step back from the original sound of his debut album, Triangle, while still doing something new.
Perhaps what makes the entire Float LP come together so coherently are the album’s instrumental tracks. The album’s first couple of instrumental tracks — “Valhalla,” “Skeleton Pink,” and the previously released “Drums” — string together the entire first half of the album so seamlessly that the tracks begin to take on a quality of their vocally mastered counterparts.
Yet, the album’s twelfth track, “Midnight Sun,” may just be the standout instrumental track of the album. Equipped with quirky synths, changing tempos, and a fun and elegant song structure, the track is light-hearted and laid-back. Its the type of piece one would find themselves chilling out to in a hammock down by the creek or gearing up for a night of partying with the friends.
One cannot speak about the musicality of Slow Magic’s third studio album, Float, without speaking about his visceral live production. The experience is so authentic and imaginative, so ethereal and raw, that one is transported to another time and space. Perhaps that is the kind of full circle experience of his cross-dimensional appeal. To listen to the Float LP in full is to be certain of an eventuality that one will see the songs performed live somehow, someday soon.
As an artist, though, the break-out producer says he’s always looking for new ways to grow his live production set-up. “The more I think of expanding the more and more i feel like I can do with the simple set up and the more I want to challenge myself.”
Watching Slow Magic on stage, as he balances the many moving parts of multiple instruments, is as intimidating to think about doing as it is an impressive sight to behold. “I am working on a ton of new things for my upcoming tour though, things I can’t say at the moment. So I’m always thinking of ways I can make the show a better experience.”
Above all, Float is transcendental, creative, and other-worldly. It is at times soothing and melodic, while, at others, staccato and upbeat. What stands out most about the album, however, is how it stands in complete opposition to itself. Like the yin-and-yang, the album reminds us of the duality of the human experience. It is both light and dark, gritty and soft, imaginative and real, both deeply conflicted and profoundly enlightened – and, ultimately, Slow Magic’s message is about learning to love ourselves in all those spaces.
Slow Magic will embark on a world tour in support of Float this fall. Stream the full Float LP below.