Interview: Isaac Emmanuel of Young Magic


I discovered Young Magic almost one year ago when the collective’s first single, “You With Air/Sparkly” fatefully landed in my inbox. Needless to say, it was love at first listen. At the time, the only information I knew about this new music was that it was the brainchild of an enigmatic Australian native by the name of Isaac (I didn’t even know his last name), and he recorded the singles in a six-month span with a portable studio while traveling through Germany, Iceland and Australia. I also knew that soon, I would learn a whole hell of a lot more about this mysterious artist—his synthetic electronic music was so compelling, I was convinced he would catch the eyes (and ears) of the music world instantaneously. But the now New York-based trio laid low, and it wasn’t until October of this year that the band released its second single, “Night in the Ocean/Slip Time.” Since then, Young Magic has been on the road with lo-fi darling Youth Lagoon and is set to (finally) release its debut LP, Melt, in February of 2012. Amidst the commotion of life on the road, Isaac was kind enough to talk with me about his first touring experience, why he loves NYC, and how he went from imitating Fugazi and Talking Heads to producing mystic electro pop.

Katrina Nattress: I saw you play at The Echo in November. At the show, you mentioned it being your first show in LA; is this first tour Young Magic has been on

Isaac Emmanuel: Yeah first one. LA was fun.

KN: How do you enjoy life on the road?

IE: It’s been good to us so far. Long drives dreaming out the window to new scenes.

KN: Any interesting stories?

IE: Hearing Mormons in SLC talk about interplanetary gods was pretty interesting. Being pranked in Philly by Youth Lagoon’s tour manager. Driving through a snowstorm in Colorado with bald tires – like ice-skating with blood on your hands. Making it down to Low End Theory. It’s been an experience.

KN: What’s been your favorite place to play so far?

IE: Probably NASA in Reykjavik last month. The sound system in the venue was so nice. Iceland is such an amazing place.


KN: You’re originally from Australia, what brought you to New York?

IE: It’s a place I’d always wanted to spend some time in, and when I arrived I found it hard to leave. [It’s] an entire world of people from every corner in one place. Sometime it feels as if you live a week of experience in a single day. Time expands. You can roam the streets or get something to eat 24 hours a day—run on your own alternate schedule without being a weirdo. My imagination runs pretty wild.

KN: How long have you been making music?

IE: Probably for about ten years in some way or another, since early high school. We’d start a new band every week and make as much noise as possible, imitating bands like Fugazi or Talking Heads. It was more of a weekend thing at a time when I was studying visual art—a release—but at some point my head switched in college, and music started taking up most of my time. I jumped in the deep end. Every weekend we’d rehearse in friends’ garages without really knowing how to play our instruments, but just feeling it out. That’s how we learned. We’d put on our own shows in empty warehouses before anyone would book us at a proper venue. We’d borrow cars and drive around Australia, trying to tour, playing to ten people. I did this for a while, and then in the summer of 2009 I bought a computer for the first time and really started to get into producing and recording this music myself. It opened up a new world for me.

KN: Where do you pull inspiration?

IE: The unknown. It may just come from infinite ether slightly beyond our field of vision. Who knows? Sometimes you just sink into it for a moment, like dipping your head into a cold stream, and everything comes out naturally in these little bursts. I can’t really take credit; it feels more like allowing yourself to be in a space to catch it, so to speak. Friends and their own creative process also inspire me. [Also], the people around me; a good conversation or book; old LPs that really connect, and were somehow lost to history; a collective subconscious is always at work.

KN: I love the concept behind each of your singles.  What gave you the idea for portable recording?

IE: I wanted to travel but didn’t want to stop making music, so I packed a [microphone] and laptop and just went for it without any real plans except to see where the road took me. I often like the feeling when the world isn’t stable at your feet—you step off a train or flight in an entirely new place and smell some new air. Anything could happen.

At the time I was also ready to escape any format like having carloads of band gear or material possessions or being tied to one location. However, It was definitely harder than I imagined recording in movement—things like stolen gear, border security, having no money or being lost in a place with no language and no place to sleep. There were so many crazy moments where I thought I’d lose it. Even now just not having a space to call yours is a strange feeling. But in some way I feel like all these things have really shaped the recordings too.

KN: In what countries have you recorded?

IE: The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, England, Iceland, US, Mexico, Australia. Michael was doing the same in Italy, Spain, Argentina and Brazil. We’d meet up in New York with Melati and trade sounds, sift through hours of music and see how it came together.

KN: What countries do you plan on recording in?

IE: Wherever we happen to be next. I’d like to visit Japan again, Morocco, even India or Indonesia if we get the chance next year.

KN: How many more do you plan on releasing before an LP?

IE: Just the 2 singles so far, the LP drops in February 2012. It’s called Melt.