Computer Magic is Brooklyn’s Danielle “Danz” Johnson—producer, DJ, and creator of superb electro-pop. We were immediately hooked by her keyboard-driven sound and wryly deadpan singing when we first heard Johnson’s songs through Oh My Rockness a few years back. With countless EPs and digitally released singles under her belt, she’s now hard at work on a debut full-length which we’re sure will prove wildly successful.
We got a chance to catch up Danz to talk about her musical career, making it in NYC, and being big in Japan. Give it a read and listen to her most recent release, Extra Stuff EP, below. We’re fans of “Time to Decide” + “Summer Vacation” especially.
raven + crow: First off, are you at all affiliated with Computer Magic Training in San Jose, California?
Danielle “Danz” Johnson: Unfortunately, I’m not!
Fuck. Guess I have to trash all my questions then.
Can you tell us about your name? We’re always interested in that kinda thing, being in the branding business. Were you just like ‘It’s boring to go by Danielle Johnson and I like computers and this sounds cool”?
The name comes from a quote in Spinal Tap from Viv Savage: “Quite exciting this computer magic!”.
See, I need to re-watch that movie. So rich with quotable material.
I think I first heard you through Claire + Patrick over at Oh My Rockness way back in 2010, at which point you just had a few songs floating around the interwebs. I think the conventional thinking back then was still ‘get heard, play shows, record a full-length’, but in the years since, full-lengths seem to be less and less important. Do you feel like putting out an LP is a necessary or expected step in a musician’s evolution still?
I definitely think it’s still necessary to put out full-length albums. I think what happened is, music just became easier to put out for unsigned artists. A full length is a delicate thing, it takes time to perfect, it usually takes money, one song you just upload.
Well-said. In addition to the, what, 23 EPs you’ve put out, I read that you put out a couple full-lengths in Japan. Any plans for a full-length stateside?
In Japan I’ve been fortunate enough to have a label that supports putting out the music I’ve already made available online, press it onto CDs, promote it, etc.
Over here it’s a bit different, I’ve been releasing everything basically by myself. Over the next few months though, I plan to go into the studio with Claudius Mittendorfer (Neon Indian, Bloc Party, Interpol) and make my first full length record. I wanted to wait until I had the funds to work with a proper producer and record in a proper studio, wanted to wait until things were just right to start recording my debut full length.
So you’re totally big in Japan.
There is a big audience for Computer Magic in Japan, the music has really caught on over there, it’s amazing. It helps that I’m in love the culture. Definitely one of my favorite places to be and tour for sure.
I’ve always wanted to visit. The language-based + cultural barriers seem so scarily insurmountable, but I’ll have to do it one day. Seems like a shame not to.
So, with the exception of a few EPs, most everything you’ve put out has been free of charge. Do you feel like that’s the best way to get your music out to the most people or do you just think it’s not possible anymore to make money off of song sales? Or are you just getting us all hooked on your mad beatz and before raising your prices dramatically, thus triggering the coming Computer Magic Crack Epidemic of 2014?
I don’t think any artist can avoid getting torrented and I’d rather have direct traffic to my site rather than thepiratebay, so I put up my stuff for free, at least for a little while. It’s a tough subject because I obviously want to get paid for the work I do, but on the other hand, free stuff is just so cool for fans. The more people that have your music and enjoy it the better, in my opinion.
That totally makes sense. It just must be so hard to survive—literally—as a musical artist these days.
I know you started making your own music after moving away from New York and spending some time in Tampa. We just moved from Brooklyn to LA ourselves. Did you feel like you just needed a break from the non-stop-ness of NYC for a while or what brought on the move?
I went through a period where I would literally never see sunlight. I dropped out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was DJing full time which was fun, but needed something different so I moved to Florida to get away. I feel like that was the best thing that could’ve happened because I discovered something new about myself (i.e. music making). Good things come out of change, when things are stagnant you can’t move forward or realize where you’re at.
Amen to that, sister. What’s you take on NYC today? It’s changed so much over the past 10 or so years.
I love New York. It’s my favorite city. It breaks you down and builds you back up. The rent is too expensive, everybody complains, the subways are dirty. But as a true New Yorker would say “ey, whaddya gonna do?” As for it changing, it always has been, but I can see how it’s sped up in the last decade.
True. Did you read that piece David Byrne put out a while back about the 1% killing New York’s creative community?
Yeah. It’s hard for creatives to live in New York. It’s just too expensive.
Do you feel like you’d ever move away from New York?
I’ve thought about Amsterdam. If I knew more Japanese maybe I’d consider Tokyo. Sometimes I think about moving to the middle of the country into total seclusion, but then I worry that I’d drive myself crazy. I don’t have an allegiance to New York. My dad lives here (upstate) so I’d always come visit. I guess overall a complete different country really interests me, of course first I’d need the money.
Which brings us back to making money off music. How’d you originally get hooked up with White Iris Records?
Daron Hollowell found this article “Band To Watch” on Stereogum about Compute Magic. He emailed me and we hit it off and I flew to LA to make the Electronic Fences EP. Those guys are great.
Totally. Started by some ex-Duke-Dogs (our college mascot). Now that we’re Southern Californians—any plans to play LA soon?
Yes. I’d say more but I don’t know the details yet.
Fair, fair. Was it awesome to walk around NYC in a spacesuit for your 2011 video for “The End of Time”?
It was weird but I felt awesome and invincible. Also, if you watch the people’s reactions in the video, no one even notices.
So New York. We like your recent Sun Ra cover—any other fun covers planned in the near future?
I sort of just decide to cover songs on a whim. It’s a mixture of being both obsessed with a specific song and bored. I plan to make more in the future. Recently I’ve been listening to Nine Inch Nails’ Wish on repeat, so who knows.
Oh, a cover from Wish would rule. I feel like ‘Happiness in Slavery’ would be an oddly good fit.
Lightening round—Dream show line-up you’d like to play?
Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Pavement, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Nine Inch Nails, Nas, Frank Zappa (because this is a dream line-up), Beck, Serge Gainsbourg, The Who (with Kieth Moon) and William Shatner as host and covering “Rocket Man”.
It could happen. Predicted winner of the coming World Cup?
You come off as quite the synth buff—favorite/dream snyth?
I have the Moog Voyager which I love, although I really want a polyphonic synth, so I’d say maybe the MemoryMoog, PolyMoog, or the colorful, amazing looking EMS PolySynthi (pictured right).
Whoa, that looks like it was designed for a Sesame Street character. Go with that one. Favorite Downton character?
I’ve only seen the first few episodes, but I remember I liked the guy with the cane.
Daredevil? Best video game ever?
Super Mario 64, Wave Race, Banjo-Kazooie, Rayman. (Galaga, if we’re at a bar).
Band you’ve been extra-keen on of late?
I haven’t been listening to anything new recently, just a lot of Gary Numan’s Replicas album and Pavement.
I heard Numan do a live set for KCRW last year. He still holds up live. Most amazing animated GIF?
The one of Andrew WK’s interview on Fox.
Related—do you fall in the ‘jiff’ GIF camp or the hard G GIF camp?
G camp. I only think of peanut butter otherwise.
THANK YOU. Finally, and most importantly, if you were a mythical beast, you’d be…?
LA-based label Kill/Hurt will be pressing limited edition 180 gram vinyl (500) + colored cassettes (250) of the Extra Stuff EP April 2. You can order both via Danz’ site. If you can’t wait until then, buy it via iTunes. And keep an eye on Computer Magic’s tour page for coming 2014 dates.