They know their tricks.
Somewhere amid the busy Friday lineup at Leefest, The Verse were lucky enough to catch Belfast duo and ex-Cashier No. 9 members Danny Todd and James Smith for a chat before their mid-afternoon set. Now performing as exmagician, the pair tell Nammie Matthews what they think about festivals, the music industry, and what lies in store for the future…
Hi guys, how’s it going?
Danny: Trying to keep it together. We flew in from Belfast this morning – we had some shows last weekend so then we came here. We’re staying tonight and then we’re off tomorrow for a show. It’s been really busy.
How long have the two of you known each other?
D: So James and I have known each other since… Probably about ten years?
James: Maybe even a bit longer… I think I was about 18? We’ve been playing in bands together since around 2006 – we were in different bands together and started Cashier No.9 and now this. So yeah, it’s been quite a while.
When did you decide to just go out on your own?
D: Well, we kind of did the Cashier No.9 thing and put a record out around 2011… And then we all just fell out, but James and I didn’t, so we just put this together. The label put out a record and here we are.
So, the album is great (exmagician released their debut, Scan the Blue in March). How has it been since the release?
D: Yeah, it’s been fun. We only did a little bit of touring around the UK – some stuff in Spain, gigs and festivals, like. It’s better doing our own shows though because you’re playing to people that have actually bought your record and listened to it. At festivals you’ve got to work harder to grasp people’s attention, especially as most people are pretty off their faces on drugs.
Do you find there’s a huge difference then, between festival crowds and those at your own shows?
D: Yeah… I mean, festivals are always fun and there’s a good atmosphere, but I prefer to be playing in city centres or back home or something. With good food, and nice toilets. We played Secret Garden Party last week, which was really nice.
J: It was pretty huge actually…
D: Yeah, it was good fun. We didn’t really see any other bands. You always set out to, but usually they’re playing other days and you don’t quite manage to.
Are you catching any bands here at LeeFest?
J: Well, we’re here just for tonight, so… Roots Manuva is more or less the only thing.
Where’s been your favourite place to play so far?
D: Hmm, Brighton has always been a great place. There’s this great pub – the Hope and Anchor…
J: You mean the Hope and Ruin.
D: Yeah, the Hope and Ruin sorry, that’s a good spot. The Hug and Pint up in Glasgow is also good fun.
D: Dublin’s also really good; we always have a lot of people come to our shows in Dublin. Belfast is good too but it’s always family and friends. Spain was great fun.
J: Actually, yeah, that would be my favourite. We played a festival down in Murcia and it was hot, they treat you really well over there and it’s really well organized…
D: Yeah, it’s nice to be able to travel with the band.
Didn’t you play Great Escape festival earlier this year? How was that?
D: Yeah, Brighton’s always great fun – we played a couple of shows there and had a great time. It’s a lot more fun when there are less bands though. Like, there it was a hundred bands – 500 pairs of skinny jeans…
J: We still had a great time though.
So what are your influences when writing?
D: I don’t think we really have a huge amount of definitive influences
J: Yeah, they’re really too broad… To start listening… You could say certain bands but there’s really so much more as well.
D: What do you hear? We’re fans of songwriting, I think. That really comes across in the record, so experimental sounds. I think the start of a song comes from having a weird rhythm or keyboard sound that sparks something new. Rather than say, sit with a guitar and have an emotional idea for a song, or try to sound original or whatever. It just pops up and you go “well that’s not so bad”
J: We like a lot of different music really.
D: We bonded a lot over early Beck, Pavement… A lot of American indie music.
J: The name comes from a Pavement song actually – “exmagician” – it’s one of their lyrics, “exmagician still knows his tricks”. It’s always a hard question that one. Currently the bands we like are like… Kind Izzard and the Wizzard Lizard. They’re pretty amazing. BC Camplight. They’re both pretty great.
What do you think about the music scene at the moment?
D: Hmm… I don’t really know what’s going on in the mainstream at the moment.
J: There’s too much alternative music in mainstream music now – there’s become this very blurred line… But in terms of chart/pop, there’s some good stuff, but it’s never really been my bag. I don’t know about the state of the industry at the moment…
D: Small festivals like this are great places to check out what’s new, what’s happening in the industry. What would you listen to? On the radio, I listen to U105 which is like an oldies station (laughs). Scott Walker – it’s brilliant. It’s where all the best stuff is, from the 60s and 70s.
J: I think you get to a point where you stop listening to Radio 1 and stop knowing what’s going on in music lately.
D: I listen to 6Music a little, that’s good. Radio 1 gives me a bit of a headache – it’s all the same frequencies and the same volumes…
How would you describe your music to someone new to it?
D: Cool. (laughs) No, like… Loud, fast, quiet, slow… It’s kind of all in there. People kind of say it’s psychedelic, but…
J: It seems like a bit of a trend at the minute. But I don’t know, our music, it’s just vibrant.
How about any more material – what can we expect from the future?
D: Well, we just put out a video yesterday for Bend with the Wind. We’ve also done a video for Courtney Barnett and are doing a lot of remixes of the record… We’re going to try to put out an alternative version of the album as well. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
When do you think that will come out?
J: Well, two of them are coming out with the next single that’s coming out. So that’ll be a three-track package with two remixes. Desperado and Plan Retrieval. They’re going to be totally different versions that we did ourselves. And then we’ll see how much of the rest of the album we get done, and see what the label want to do with it.
D: We’re kind of spinning all these plates as we’re writing all of a new record at the moment… We just hope they don’t come crashing down.
How do you find it – just being the two of you?
D: It’s a lot easier.
J: In terms of writing and recording, yeah, it’s a lot easier. When you’ve got these two legends with us (he gestures to the band’s touring members)… We’ve got them live. I don’t think we could do it just ourselves as there are too many sounds. But yeah, it seems to have worked well so far.
D: Yeah, it’s been great. Let’s just hope we don’t fall out! Maybe we’ll start Cashier No.10!
Have you had any struggles along the way?
D: (under his breath) Every day… Every minute. I think every artist and musician these days is just… It’s a constant struggle. No, no, it’s good fun.
J: Money struggles, maybe.
D: Do you know, it’s that damn ferry over from Ireland… It’s like £400 each time.
J: So for us to even get down here, it’s like £600.
But hey, it’s worth it, right?
J: Of course.
D: We should be selling ourselves or something…
(Danny asks if I buy music. I’m chastised for not paying to get into gigs, buying merch or buying records regularly [hey, we’re students, right? The money’s tight –Ed])
D: Get out! Close the door!
J: It’s the way it is these days… (turns to Danny) Do you buy music?
D: No (laughs). It’s like £20 a record now.
exmagician close their UK tour at Moira Calling in Northern Ireland on September 10 2016. With new material in the works, we can only hope to see the duo back on our shores in 2017. For all updates, visit www.exmagician.com