Danz Johnson, aka Computer Magic, is by no means a tyro when it comes to navigating the music scene. In just 6 years, the Brooklyn-based synth-pop artist amassed 10+ releases, became something of a sensation in Japan, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Her latest EP, Obscure But Visible, smacks of a more mature artist capable of fully flexing her songwriting abilities, but has the same fresh feel and innovative vibes that her fans have come to love her for. Recently, the artist agreed to give us a glimpse into the magic that happens behind her computer and talk about her songwriting processes and experiences performing.
Did a love for computers inform a musical background, or the other way around?
I originally learned to make music via my laptop, so I would say my love for computers came first! After all, I’ve learned how to produce music by watching YouTube videos, which definitely requires some form of technology.
What was exciting about making music electronically that pushed you to do it for so long?
I can’t image doing anything else besides making music, whether it be electronic music or any other genre. Actually, I wouldn’t define my music solely as electronic because I incorporate a lot of live instruments as well, like live percussion, guitar, etc. There are always new synths coming out, so that’s exciting too.
What’s your songwriting process like? Do you find yourself initially working from a loop, sound, or lyrics first? Or is the process much less structured?
Sometimes I’ll start out with creating a drum pattern, then adding bass and all of the other necessary elements. Other times I’ll be walking down the street and come up with a melody and hum it into my voice memo on my phone, then get it down later in the studio and come up with lyrics, etc. The beginnings of a song definitely vary, each one starts out differently.Are there any electronic instruments that you used on your latest release, Obscure But Visible, that you think really defined the EP?
Have you made any recent weird-but-wonderful gear discoveries?
Yes! I bought an Omnichord off eBay last year. It’s an electronic harp from the late 80’s / 90’s. The producer I worked with on Davos, Claudius, had one and I fell in love with it. I ended up getting one for myself.
What are your favorite analog synths?
My favorite analog synth is probably the MemoryMoog, it’s one of Moog’s early polyphonic analog synthesizers. I’ve played with them before and would love to get one (they are pretty expensive, I’m saving!). I’m really itching to get the Linn Drum LM-1. It’s a classic analog drum machine that was used by so many acts- Human League, Devo, Gary Numan, almost all of Prince’s hit songs.
Your music has made inroads in Japan. What do you think it is about your music that allows for such a positive reception there?
I get asked this question a lot and I’ve been trying to figure that out for myself! American music is very popular there. In a cab in Tokyo I remember being introduced to a new Empress Of song on the radio. A lot of the radio stations play American music from non-commercial bands, which I think is pretty awesome. I’m glad I’ve been successful over there because it’s an amazing country.
What’s the most challenging part of bringing Computer Magic in front of a live audience?
I think initially getting over my stage fright. A few years ago I absolutely dreaded getting in front of any audience. Instead of being in the moment and having fun, I was thinking of everything that could potentially go wrong. For instance, I would think of a synth part I had to play on the next song as oppose to being in the moment of the song we were currently playing. I’ve gotten over that with touring so much. When you tour the whole country and drive 4-10 hours every single day to play a show, you realize you have to make the best of it.
What are your thoughts about the state of the NYC scene, and are there any local artists you’re currently excited about?
There is always an influx of interesting artists in NYC, so I would say the music scene is alive and well. As for local artists, there is a cellist Kelsey Lu who is really amazing and a band called Corbu I would highly recommend.