One of the several acts playing BYT’s 15-hour 2013 Inauguration Spectacular is New York’s Computer Magic, the bedroom project of electronic musician Danielle “Danz” Johnson. I had the pleasure of interviewing Johnson (no relation) about a myriad of fun subjects, including the Inauguration, her creative process, her 2013 plans, the relief in surviving the end of the world, and, of course, The Simpsons. She laughs a lot and makes great dance music with charming lyrics. We’re lucky to book her now, because we won’t be able to afford her during the next inauguration.
What have you been up to today?
Well, I did my laundry, drank some coffee, made a peanut butter-and-Nutella sandwich… and that’s about it. I woke up pretty late today.
You’re playing our Inauguration party. Are you excited about that?
Yes I am–super excited. I’ve never been in DC for the inauguration, so I’m really excited.
Do you plan to go to the National Mall and watch the president speak?
I don’t know. What time does that happen?
I went to it in 2009, and I’ve been to music festivals and other very crowded environments, and it was the most crowded experience of my life. It’s crazy. I don’t think this year is going to be as crowded as in 2009, but I think he speaks at about 11 in the morning. Maybe noon. It’s not going to be as full of people this time, but it’s going to have a good vibe. It’s fun to be a part of history, if that’s what you’re looking for.
Totally. I hope we make it down in time. We’re renting a car to get all of our gear down there, so hopefully we can make it in time. I think our soundcheck is at 2, so maybe right before.
I will tell you this, the roads are going to be a shitshow. It’s so weird to be walking around a city where you go to concerts at, you work at, you go drinking at, and then one day you see a tank on the street. It’s a surreal feeling.
That’s pretty cool. I’m pretty excited. Chris [Egan], the drummer in Computer Magic, grew up in DC, and I guess he’s been to the Clinton and Reagan inaugurations.
The Reagan one? Wow.
That’s how old he is. He’s 33, so I guess he was very young when that happened. He grew up in Prince George’s County. So he’s excited. I’m excited. I’ve never been for the inauguration.
Do you make it down to DC that often?
No… I guess the last time we were down there was the show with Ladyhawke.
I was at that show, and if I can be fully honest, I thought you were better than Ladyhawke.
Aww, thank you! I think I read your review. That was really an awesome review, thanks.
I’m just trying to keep it real.
[Laughs] I liked it there. I wish we had more time, actually. We were only there for a day. Maybe we
can stay longer this time, depending on when we need to get our rental car back to the city.
I’ve been a fan of your music for a year or so, and I’ve noticed you have put out a couple of EPs. When are you going to release a full album?
Well, I’m gonna release a full album this year. The trouble I’ve had is that when I get a couple of songs together, I just want to put them out online, and I think the trouble that I’ve had is just keeping ten songs that I don’t put up somewhere. Right now, I’m at about… six? So I only need to make four more and then I will have an album to put out.
It’s funny that you bring that up, because the era that we’re living in, you don’t have to put out a full album anymore, one consisting of 11 or 12 songs. In some ways, the EP format is perfect for the sort of quick culture that we live in now.
It’s easily consumable if you have four or five songs ready, so you can get people’s attention and get them hyped.
Yeah, I’m so used to putting out EPs that I want to put out an album. And something that’s tangible, like a 12-inch vinyl album. That’d be nice to put out. We don’t have a label or anything, so we’d have to figure that part out.
I don’t think not having a label will stop you from that. In many ways, not having a label is more liberating.
Yeah, yeah. I kind of like not having a label, but at the same time it would kind of be nice to have one. Obviously, if you’re an artist without a label’s support, you don’t have the money to back you up on tours and pressing albums and all that. It’s easy for me to put up songs online, but it’s harder for me to… even though I would like to have vinyl and CDs, but without a label I can’t afford to make that happen. So that’s one thing a label is good for: monetary support. But it’s not necessary.
Are you planning on doing anymore touring this year?
Yeah, I think so. After SXSW. After we release the full length record. We also have a new single coming out called “A Million Years” that will be out in February.
Will you be performing “A Million Years” on Monday?
Mayyyyyybe. [Laughs] Maybe. I hope so. We’re practicing it. We’ll see.
How big is your touring band? At the Ladyhawke show, it was just you and a drummer.
It’s just me and a drummer. Right now, that’s it. There used to be a guitarist and a bassist, but I don’t have guitar on my songs. It was added live, just ‘cause I think it’s fun to watch people play guitar live. But then it also sounded a little off, so I think it sounds better with just a drummer now. I also recently just got a Moog Voyager, so I’ve been using that these days. I can send a MIDI through it, so it can play the bass lines while I’m playing my other keyboards. It’s pretty cool. It’s like an invisible bass player.
It’s interesting that you mention that you’ve downsized your band. One of the things I’m interested in is because there’s less money to go around in the music industry, due to piracy and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora–which are legal but the monetary compensation is not fantastic–when you’re in a band, you have to divide the money more ways.
And because there’s less money, bands have less voices, which seems to now effect how music sounds or is created. If you only have one or two people in a band, they will rely more on synthesized accompaniment. As you said, you use loops for your bass. What is your experience like from that perspective: touring, your creative process, etc.?
With music writing and composing. I’ve always done it by myself. And then Chris does some of the percussion stuff. But I’ve never really had to worry about anybody else’s input, so I’m a solo artist from that point of view. But when I did have more people in my band, it was kind of difficult: four different people trying to figure out when we’re going to practice and how we’re going to get to a gig and how everybody will be paid out. And if everybody is available on the same day or to tour or whatever. But I definitely think with touring, the less people the easier. Especially if you’re in a situation where you don’t have money to really fly people out if were to have a show in LA. If we have four people in a band, we have to worry about those plane tickets and everything. That’s kind of a bummer, but I guess there’s nothing you can really do. But I like being a solo artist—writing music. I always like to work by myself.
What is your writing process like? Are you an artist who likes to come up with lyrics and then create a melody around it or vice versa or simultaneously?
It kind of depends. Usually, I write the music first and the lyrics come last. But sometimes I’ll be not in the studio writing music and then I’ll have lyrics in my head that I have to write down. But usually they come last. Sometimes I have an idea of what the song will be about and I just keep that in my head while writing the song and put the lyrics in whenever they come. But yeah, it kind of depends. It’s different for every song.
What albums or songs have you been enjoying recently?
Hmm… I have been listening to Tame Impala’s “Lonerism” a lot. I’ve been enjoying that for the past couple of months. The Solange Knowles stuff, her single “Losing You” is really cool.
That’s a wonderful song.
I don’t keep in touch with what’s going on as much as I should as far as new music goes. But when I do find something I like, I’ll listen to it a lot. I feel like I’m out of touch [laughs].
Most of my friends are either in two camps. There are some who are like yourself, who float along until they find something they really like, and they listen to it a lot and it lasts. And there are those who kind of download everything and they’re really up to date, but everything becomes kind of disposable. This is not necessarily the best thing… being knowledgeable doesn’t always mean you find something you love.
Yeah. Oh, I’ve also been listening to a lot of Thomas Dolby. Do you know who that is?
The “Blinded Me With Science” guy?
Yeah! [Laughs.] I’ve been listening to a lot of him. We were actually going to cover that song in DC. I don’t know if we will…
Just so you know, that would kill it.
I know! It would be really cool. We’ll see. I try to find a song I want to cover and then while I’m working on it, I’m like “Ehh… I don’t know if I want to do this one.” [Laughs.]
I remember a while back you did a song for the Stereogum compilation of Strokes songs. Your cover of “Take It or Leave It” was really good.
Oh, thanks! I like doing that because it was kind of different. Julian’s vocals in the song are kind of…screaming. And for me, I’m usually doing more soft spoken vocals, so it was cool for me to do that. I enjoyed it.
In addition to your illustrious music career, you also maintain a blog that you used to post a lot on, but you’ve been kind of slacking.
Yeah, I kind of stopped posting stuff. [Laughs.] When I was in high school, I used to post a lot. I was always on the internet posting about music and stuff. Once I moved down to the city I started posting less and less. Once I started Computer Magic I stopped posting other people’s music and then began posting Computer Magic stuff. Just weird videos I like. But the blog has shied away from me posting music to stuff like weird YouTube videos. Weird stuff.
What are some of your favorite weird YouTube videos?
I like old VHS stuff. Have you ever heard of a site called Found Footage Festival?
No, I haven’t.
They just find these old VHS tapes at thrift stores and stuff like that. It’s these really bad old ‘80s videos. Like weird employee training videos from Wendy’s.
I’ve seen that video! Is that the one about hot drinks?
Yeah! It’s so silly. [Laughs.] Just stuff like that. I enjoy watching stuff like that.
I have old VHS tapes at my parent’s house from old crap I recorded. What I find interesting is not programs but the dated commercials. You could get away with stuff in advertising back then that no way you could get away with now. Like, blatant sexism and other weird shit.
Also, you mentioned you’re playing SXSW?
Yes. I don’t know what showcase we’re going to do. Probably one for [French electronic music label] Kitsuné and our booking agency, Bond. I don’t what else. We’ll probably find out as we get closer to SXSW.
You’re gonna build the Computer Magic brand?
I hope so! Gotta do that sort of thing.
I have a feeling that 2013 is going to be a big year for your band.
I hope it is. I hope it is. We’ll see. We’re lucky the world hasn’t ended.
Oh man, such a relief, isn’t it?
It’s so funny. All the build up and then the day of in December, the day the world was supposed to end, it was like everybody forgot. [Laughs.] There was the movie, the 2012 movie that came out in 2010…
The one with John Cusack?
Yeah. [Laughs.] None of that happened.
There’s always some religious zealot or whoever who is like “The world is going to end today!” But it doesn’t. Whatever. The world’s not going to end.
I know. It’s always something.
Well, it was nice talking to you.
It was nice talking to you too. Are you going to come to the show?
Yes. I’m going to one of the Inauguration balls, but I plan on being there. I’m looking forward your Thomas Dolby cover.
Hopefully! [Laughs.] I don’t know.
Well I’ll let you get back to your laundry or whatever it is you’re up to.
Well, I’m playing “The Simpsons: Tapped Out” right now.
Have you ever played that?
No, what is it? I’m a big “Simpsons” fan…
Oh man! It’s an app. I got an iPad Mini for Christmas from my Dad and the only thing I’ve been using it for besides this app called Animoog, which is this cool keyboard synthesizer that I downloaded, is this game The Simpsons: Tapped Out. It’s pretty much The Sims but paired with Rollercoaster Tycoon.
Yeah, man! It’s really neat. You can build all of The Simpsons’ houses.
You build stuff in Springfield? Like Moe’s Tavern?
Yeah, yeah. You build Springfield and your friends also build Springfield and you can visit each other’s Springfields. It’s pretty funny. [Laughs.] It takes a little bit to get into because the introduction to the game is kind of annoying but once you get past the introduction, it’s a fun game. You should play it…and then you can visit my Springfield!
[Laughs.] Maybe. It’s funny that you mention The Simpsons because recently I found this web feed that does a loop of The Simpsons episodes constantly and sometimes when I’m really bored I watch that. I watched The Simpsons growing up and I’m familiar with at least the first ten seasons, and the show is excellent. I mean, I knew back then the show was good, but the jokes are still great, I still laugh.
Yeah, I love “The Simpsons.”
Generally if someone doesn’t like “The Simpsons,” they’re probably an asshole.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Agreed.
What’s your screen name for the game?
You might be getting some new followers in the next few days.
[Laughs.] All right.
Well, DC is looking forward to having you.
And I’m looking forward to going to DC. And hopefully see you at the show.
Anything else you want to say? In case Obama reads this?
Oh… Go Obama!
We’ll be sure to pass the message along to him then.
Okay. Tell him I said hi.
Ok, I will.
He knows me. It’s fine. [Laughs.]