New Music Friday: The nomadic experimental soul of Young Magic

Young Magic has a little something riiiiiiiiiiiight there. Photo by Harrison Thane.

Young Magic has a little something riiiiiiiiiiiight there. Photo by Harrison Thane.

Travel is second nature for experimental soul project Young Magic. Though they’re currently based out of Brooklyn, they just set out on a U.S. tour with fellow Brooklyn darlings Yeasayer and their music has been written and produced in locations around the globe. Their newest album, Still Life, out today via Carpark records, was largely inspired by songstress Melati Malay’s most recent visit to her childhood home of Jakarta, Indonesia. Malay took a moment out from her travels (she was literally on the road when we spoke via telephone) to talk to me about writing from the heart, keeping it moving, and her ideal suitcase.

Malay, 31, is a self-described nomad. I asked her what neighborhood she lives in, and she wasn’t able to give me a straight answer.

“We’re hitting the road for tour right now — right now we’re en route to Portland, Maine,” she said. “This year is a whole lot of traveling and touring, so right now I’ve got no fixed address. It’s a really nice feeling. My home is my backpack and my suitcase.”

Since I ask the tough, hard hitting, investigative journalist questions around here, I asked Malay to describe her ideal suitcase.

“It would definitely be one that could fly, so that I wouldn’t have to carry it around,” she said. “Maybe something that hovers. It would probably be silver, maybe with little flames on the side.”

I feel like if this whole music thing doesn’t work out, Malay could make the next logical jump to futuristic travel accessory designer. But don’t look out for that just yet: Young Magic, in which Malay collaborates with Isaac Emmanuel, is getting lots of attention from cool publications like Interview (and, well, us). Their unique brand of experimental soul weaves through space and time, blending influences from all over the world, to create a hypnotic, ethereal sound. Check out their stunning video below.

Travel seems to come naturally to Malay: she grew up in Jakarta, moved to Australia at 11, and moved to New York City after finishing university. She met Emmanuel while tending bar on the Lower East Side, and they met Yeasayer through mutual friends, but she says that she first fell in love with music as a kid in Indonesia.

“We used a lot of different samples on this album, and one of them was of a gamelan: that’s a type of Indonesian orchestra,” she said. “It’s mostly different percussion instruments, and it’s this really beautiful thing. When I was a kid, we got to play in a gamelan in school. We would switch from instrument to instrument, so everybody got to learn everything. My favorite was the giant gong.”

Including this sound of her childhood on the album is something that seems appropriate. Malay started writing the album in Indonesia while visiting family, just after her father passed away.

“My dad passed away right before I started writing the album, so that kind of kicks in throughout the record. It’s honestly the best way I could think of to process his death. Plus, it really helps me stay connected to the memories of him.”

While she hangs on to the memory of her dad, Malay’s general philosophy towards life is to keep it moving and live in the moment. That’s probably why she’s so happy to be a nomad at present. It shows up in her band itself, too: though Malay and Emmanuel are the project’s principal collaborators, she describes it as a “shape shifting” band. They’re touring with Daniel Siles on drums and Kelsey Lu McJunkins on cello, and the record was co-produced with Erin Rioux.

Since they are based in Brooklyn, I asked Malay what she missed about Brooklyn when she’s on the road.

“The last neighborhood I lived in for reals was Williamsburg,” she said. “I guess when I’m away, I miss the community, I miss going to shows. Something strange is always happening, and there’s that serendipity/surprise of what’s going to happen next. But I also like to keep it moving, enjoy where I am, and try not to think too much about where I was.”

Still Life is available on cassette, vinyl, CD and digital download. Be sure to check out their website for tour dates, and catch them when they touch back down in New York next month.

Lilly Vanek covers music stuff for Brokelyn. To read more about local music, and to find out about her ideal suitcase (I like Melati’s hovering idea, but mine would be shiny red and have tiny fluttering wings), follow Lilly on Twitter. And to pitch her for New Music Friday, email Lilly at lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com.

Catch up on other Brooklyn artists in previous installments of New Music Friday.