The Many Sides of Computer Magic

Computer Magic interview with Northern Transmissions
Computer Magic by Chad Kamenshine

While she’s still running her own solo act, Danielle Johnson (aka Computer Magic) is still a woman of many, many hats. Though her latest record Danz is only her second official LP, Johnson has enjoyed a whole side-career in Japan. Danz finds her mixing the worlds of sci-fi and our strange new world in surprising and surreal ways. We caught up with Johnson ahead of her April 12 Montreal show w/Le Matos at Le Ministère to talk about her label, radio show and exactly how to follow her winding road of releases.

Northern Transmission: Looking at Danz, do you feel this is truly a follow up to Davos or more something that fits in the lineage of your EPs and Japanese releases?

Danielle Johnson: I think Danz is definitely more experimental than my other records. Davos was the first record where I made all the songs fairly consecutively and they were placed in a certain order. A lot of my other EPs I look at as compilation records. Davos was definitely more of an album, so Danz follows it because it’s doing that too. Dreams of Better Days EP was also like that, but Danz really was more of a follow-up.

NT: Considering you’ve maintained the self-produced side of your music, how do you feel you’ve evolved on this side from Davos and have your reasons for self-producing changed?
DJ: Every time I make a record, I just learn more, so as I’m learning to song-write I’m simultaneously learning how to produce. I definitely learn more. In Danz I was learning a lot about sequencing synths, so on a song like “Amnesia” there’s a lot of sequencing because I’d recently learned it. I think the songs get to sound better because I’m learning more. With Danz I wanted to have a grittier more old school sound than Davos.

NT: How did your collaboration with Cody Crump come about and what was that process like?

DJ: We both have the same publishing company and they got us together a couple years ago for a writing session. We both work alone for the most part, and I’m very particular about how things sound. Because of that we actually kind of work pretty well together. So we ended up making a song for fun and decided to make a couple more, and then do an EP. We actually finished up a whole record recently, so we’re putting a record out eventually. We’re both very stubborn but I think it makes for better songs.

NT: How did your Japanese exclusive records come about and what was that experience of being big in Japan like now?

DJ: I started releasing music around 2011, and I would just make songs and put them up online as soon as they were finished. Once I had a few songs I would put them in a zip file EP and people could download them. In 2012 I was contacted by this Japanese label Tugboat Records, and they said they wanted to put out these EPs you’ve been putting out and compile them into records for Japan. They put out the record, I toured there, and it just kind of took off. The records in Japan are kind of like compilations of EPs from here, but some have bonus tracks or something special for the audience there. Since the first record, I’ve put out a bunch of music and toured there every year. I’ve basically made a record every year since I started making music. The food in Japan is amazing and the people are amazing, and it’s a real trip because here in the U.S. no one really knows me very well. It’s pretty neat to go there and have people say “Oh Danzy, sign my record!”

Computer Magic by Chad Kamenshine

NT: How has it been developing Channel 9 records since you started it a few years ago and what’s been the most inspiring development from that?

DJ: I started Channel 9 because I wanted to put out physical releases, and I found that blogs and publications took you more seriously if you were on a record label, so I made my own. One of my songs was licensed for a commercial, so I just invested that money back into pressing vinyl and t-shirts. I have a digital music distributor that lets me put out music under the Channel 9 name. It’s also very time consuming because I’m making the shirts, sending off designs, finding someone to print and distribute them. It’s like its own job, but I’ve only released Computer Magic on it so it’s fairly easy for now. I made an enamel pin for Channel 9 and I give it to people and say “That’s my label.” People ask “Who runs it?” and I say “It’s my label!”

NT: Where did your concept for ‘Delirium (Don’t Follow The Sheep)’ come from and why do you think people get lost in this pack mentality?

DJ: It’s about how there’s some people that go their own path and there are others who are more comfortable following the path that they see other people doing. There was this huge line at the movies in front of this kiosk and there were others next to, and my boyfriend and I found out the other kiosks worked and wondered why no one else was using them. It was also around the time of the last election so the song to me is a bit political. It’s about how people will just vote for someone because they say they’ll do something and people just believe it instead of doing research. It was a song for me to just deal with everything that was going on, and wonder why people just follow what others do. The bass and drums drive that song and I wanted that bass to sound really gritty because I don’t write many angry songs.

NT: How did your radio show Outerspace start, what’s changed and how do you manage it while on the road?

DJ: Outerspace I started because I wanted to play songs that I was into when I was a kid. So it was easier for me than writing a blog as a teenager. I’m also bad at public speaking, when I perform I’m very awkward talking to the crowd. I thought if I had a live radio show, maybe my public speaking would get better. I have my friends come on randomly, like Har Mar Superstar and a friend from NASA. It’s supposed to be every other Tuesday but it’s been the last Tuesday of every month, so it’s pretty lenient.

Words by Owen Maxwell