Computer Magic (Danielle “Danz” Johnson) dropped what’s being hailed as her sophomore full-length today (though she’s had several additional LP releases exclusive to Japan), and it’s so so SO good. Danz features ten shimmering, synth-laden tracks, and while it’s certainly a departure from Davos, the catalog still sounds like the Computer Magic we know and love. (I would highly recommend grabbing a copy for your listening enjoyment ASAP.) She’ll be in Brooklyn at the Knitting Factory this Saturday March 3rd, and will be in the DMV at Baltimore’s Metro Gallery on March 25th, too, so you’ll be able to experience all of the Danz goodness IRL v. soon!
You can also reminisce about a time when the world felt right by browsing through these photos of when Computer Magic played the BYT Inauguration Spectacular back in 2013:
I caught up with Danielle two Fridays ago in NYC to talk about the record, her creative process, outer space (and OUTERSPACE, her show on Newtown Radio) plus a whole lot more, and you can internet eavesdrop on all of that RIGHT NOW:
First off, congratulations on the new record! Does it feel strange having people refer to it as a sophomore album? Because it’s not, really, except for in the technically-speaking sense. You’ve just had some stuff that was exclusive to Japan, right?
Yeah, I’ve put a bunch of stuff out in Japan. It’s kind of weird, because I’ve been making music for a while now, and this is probably my fifth in Japan. But it’s the follow-up to Davos, I guess.
I really like the eighth track, “Space and Time / Pale Blue Dot”…
Yeah, a lot of people like that one! It’s very minimal.
It is! Is there a back story to that one?
That one is about floating around the Earth like a satellite. I had a dream where I was doing that, so I thought maybe I should try and write about what I was feeling in the dream – floating around the Earth, realizing how small you are, and eventually just drifting off into space. It was supposed to make you feel like that’s what you’re doing.
Do you typically remember your dreams?
I do sometimes. I’ve found that when I eat right before I go to sleep, or when I take Nyquil, I have the craziest dreams! [Laughs] I kind of like remembering my dreams, but sometimes I’ll have nightmares, like, really scary, that I’d rather not remember. I started watching Homeland (I’m pretty late to it), and that’s pretty intense. So I’ve had bad dreams about that, and I’m like, “I need to not watch this stuff right before I go to bed!”
Yeah, I’ve been giving myself a free pass to eat all of the Korean food the past week while I watch the Olympics, and I’ve been having bonkers dreams. I think it’s the capsaicin in the gochujang.
Oh yeah, spicy stuff will definitely do that.
Yeah, that and red wine is not good for me before bed re: nightmares.
A recurring dream theme I always have is that I’m driving off a cliff or something, and after I go off the cliff, I just kind of hover there and don’t go anywhere. I’m like, “What’s going on?!” and then I wake up. It’s really scary! And I also have dreams about teeth falling out, which apparently means you’re afraid of losing control or something. I definitely look up my dreams to find out why I dream these crazy things.
Oh, same. My recurring ones are almost always about tornadoes and tsunamis, which apparently has to do with like, embracing change or rejecting it. Who knows! But back to the calming topic of floating in space, I feel like just the entire concept of the cosmos has been so important for my morale and sanity post-election. I’ve spent a lot of time watching those live streams of NASA satellites looking down on Earth from space, and it’s been SUPER helpful to just remember how small we are in the grand scheme of things.
Did you see Elon Musk with the car he put into space? That was kind of neat. It’s pretty insane. [Laughs]
Right?! Well, I also loved that you had Joel [Green, astronomer] on your radio show (OUTERSPACE) as a guest.
And how do you know him? Through Adam [Green, of The Moldy Peaches] I’m assuming?
My ex-boyfriend used to be the drummer for Adam, and I met Joel at SXSW a while ago. I just thought he was so cool, because he’s got so many facts about space! The radio show is called “OUTERSPACE”, so I said, “I’ve gotta have you on to teach people stuff!”
Yeah, that’s what I liked most – I’m not a math or science person, but if someone can break these concepts down for me with good examples in plain English, my mind is totally blown. And he seems very good at explaining things in a very accessible way.
Totally! I feel like he’s similar to Neil deGrasse Tyson in terms of being able to bridge the gap. I definitely learned a lot from watching Neil deGrasse Tyson stuff.
Right, same. Listening to Joel talking about how new stars form and things like that was pretty crazy. And I’m sure you’ve heard the theories that all of this is potentially a giant simulation, right?
Oh, yeah! I just watched a YouTube video on the simulation theory, which is like, really kind of scary. It’s just crazy because I feel like there’s so much of the universe that people don’t really know yet. I find all that stuff really interesting. There’s so much out there; we’re so insignificant compared to what’s out in space.
How do you feel about the whole SETI thing? Where they’re trying to send out signals to contact extraterrestrials? I read something that was going through the pros and cons, like if an alien civilization meant us harm and were advanced enough to do something, they’d have done it by now, but people also think there’s a possibility that we may not have been detected yet, and by sending out signals we’re making ourselves vulnerable.
I don’t know. I just hope I’m alive when they do find something else. I mean, there has to be other life – there are so many galaxies with so many stars and planets. I think it’s cool. I think it’d be awesome if there were aliens.
I feel like I’m totally going to miss the cutoff for all of the best scientific developments. Like a day after I die they’ll figure out how to upload consciousness to the cloud. Although I guess immortality via the cloud might have its drawbacks, too.
I definitely want to be alive long enough to where I could buy a ticket to travel via SpaceX or something. In twenty years, I feel like space travel (at least around the Earth) is going to be…not affordable for everybody, necessarily, but maybe if you saved up your money you could get a ticket. I really hope I’m alive for that. We’ll see!
Well, back on good old Earth, if you had the ability to pick and choose when and where inspiration were to hit you, what would be the ideal environment for that to happen, and for you to be able to immediately get to work on fleshing out an idea?
Last year we went on tour, and I feel like I wrote a lot of the beginnings of stuff from DANZ in the van. I think leaving an environment you’re used to is good for external inspiration, because otherwise you’re just doing the same thing in the same place, seeing the same people every day. I think it’s important to change things up.
Totally. Now, on the same OUTERSPACE episode where Joel was a guest, you were speaking with Ignacio at the beginning, and you were asking him about his process. What’s yours? You mentioned during that chat that you tend to write down a bunch of different ideas, and then pick the best ones. Is that the norm?
It’s always kind of different, actually. With DANZ, for instance, I had more songs to put on it, but I’d just pick my favorites and figure out the track list. The way I start making a song varies. Sometimes I’ll think of a melody and lyrics, or other times I’ll sit down and force myself to come up with a beat. It’s always changing.
Cool. And what’s going to happen with the radio show while you’re on the road? I know it’s not every week that it’s on, but will anything change with the scheduling?
It’s just the last Tuesday of every month, so what I did last time I was on tour was I just did it on the road. I can record it on my phone and upload it to my computer. But on the Newtown Radio site, there are tour editions where we’re just in the van like, “So, we’re still driving through California for the fourth hour now. It’s taking forever.” [Laughs] Yeah, the radio show is fun. I just kind of started doing it as a different outlet, and the intention was to play music that I was into, but I didn’t really want to do it by myself all the time, because I didn’t know if I’d have enough to talk about. [Laughs] And so I’d get my friends on sometimes. There are episodes where it’s just me, which I feel like are pretty awkward!
What are you listening to now that’s exciting to you, and that we might hear on future episodes of OUTERSPACE? And when you’re on the road or writing new music, do you still listen to outside influences as much? Or do you try to tune that stuff out?
It always changes. I feel like I’m really behind with new music, just because I feel like I don’t have that much time. But I recently discovered this band L’Impératrice after I checked out a Spotify playlist where “Ordinary Life” was featured, and their song “Matahari” was on it, and it’s cool. I’ve been listening to a lot of older sixties bossa nova stuff recently, too. Astrud Gilberto, things like that. But it always changes, and I feel like whatever I’m listening to will subconsciously inspire my writing. For Davos, I was listening to a lot of Gary Numan, and my song “Bionic Man” is very Gary Numan-inspired. I’m also a big Radiohead fan, and I was listening to a lot of Hail To The Thief when I was writing “Amnesia” on this record. It’s usually always older stuff that I listen to, though. I’m slower with newer bands.
I mean, there’s really just such an influx these days, though.
Oh, there’s so much music. I mean, I feel that as an artist. I’m like, “Is anybody going to know that I’m putting something new out?” You don’t need to find a label. I don’t even have a label here, really, just besides my own. But you can make your own label, put it online and find a way to do it. I feel like it’s good for fans, because there’s so much more music to choose from, but as an artist, it’s like, “How do I stand out?” It’s hard.
Speaking of running your own label, what does it feel like to wear so many different hats on a daily basis?
Sometimes it’s pretty overwhelming, just because I feel like I’m always doing a lot of emails. With the label stuff, it’s figuring out the artwork for the vinyl, finding the best price for where to get it printed, finding a physical distributor to bring it to record stores, sometimes emailing places like Rough Trade to tell them I’ll be coming in with some vinyl myself. And on top of that, I’m also trying to write music and be creative. That’s what I wish I could only do. I mean, I enjoy doing all that stuff, and right now my only job is Computer Magic and Channel 9. Most times it’s okay, but there are some days where it’s super overwhelming, and I’m like, “I need a manager! I need somebody to help me out!”
Totally. And then of course I’m sure that can be compounded when you’re on the road touring. Are you more of a homebody?
I like playing shows, but I think if I had to pick between being in the process of making music or playing a show, I’d feel more comfortable being in my home and my studio. But, the process of touring, getting all your stuff in the van and seeing all these new places and meeting all the people that have bought your record…I love that. I love touring. I’ve seen so many places that I probably never would have been able to. Last year we went on tour in the US, and we make it a point to go to different landmarks, even if it’s a really quick visit. I remember we went to the Grand Canyon for like, a half hour in between Phoenix and San Diego, even though it was way out of the way. We also went to see the Redwoods, the Arches…we’ve been to a lot of random places. It’s also crazy when you play a city and people know your stuff. I’m like, “You live so far away! How do you know this?” I guess that’s the internet, though, bringing everybody together!
So was this a career path that you’d sort of dreamed of since you were a little kid? I mean, when I was small I wanted to be a farmer, and now, I mean, that’s probably the last thing I’d ever want to do.
No, I had no idea. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a music writer when I was in middle school, for like, Rolling Stone or SPIN and review records, because I love music, but I never knew I could make music. I never had dreams of being a rock star or anything like that. I just figured I’d get a regular job. I knew I never wanted to wake up really early, though. I did want to be a vet when I was younger, and an astronaut. I tried to get my parents to send me to Space Camp when I was little.
God, I was always so envious of the kids on Nickelodeon game shows who’d win trips to Space Camp.
Oh yeah! Yeah, I watched so much Nickelodeon. I did get Space Camp to send my parents brochures and everything, but I ended up going to a regular summer camp. I really wanted to go, though. Maybe they have Space Camp for adults. Probably, right? They have to.
They must. (I hope so, anyway.) Alright, finally, what else besides these show dates and the record release are you amped on with regards to 2018?
My booking agent’s putting together an East Coast tour in April, so that will happen. I’m finishing a record for my side project with my friend Cody (Cody & Danz), and I’m also working on a record that…I don’t know if it’s just going to be called Music for Video Games or something, but it’s just going to be instrumental, really ethereal synth stuff. But yeah, mainly just going to keep on making music!