Features - Interviews

Inbound: exmagician


Cashier No. 9’s debut album To the Death of Fun was a quiet triumph for the Northern Irish music scene; a record that showed off the quartet’s songwriting imagination whilst still being respectful to their heroes – thanks in no small part to David Holmes’ lightness of touch on production duties. Whilst Cashier officially became defunct earlier this year, creative duo Danny Todd and James Smith have returned with a new EP under the exmagician moniker.

Lead single ‘Kiss That Wealth Goodbye’ feels instantly more urgent than the pair’s previous output, who liken their latest material to “…the dirt under the fingernails”. With the EP of the same name due for release on Bella Union on November 20 – and with a first live performance in Lavery’s this Friday – we thought it prudent to ask the pair about their latest venture.

How did exmagician come about? What was the impetus for getting behind a new project?

“We just wanted a fresh start. Cashier No.9 had run its course and it felt right to put a big full stop after it. The new material we’d written seemed like it needed a new identity, and that’s when we came up with exmagician.”

You’ve both displayed a wide range of influences in your musical careers to date – which of those do you think are most apparent on To the Death of Fun?

“There are bits of Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd, Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg, The Byrds, Beach Boys etc.  It definitely has a West Coast vibe to it.”

Cashier No.9’s To the Death of Fun was produced by David Holmes, and carried a lush sheen throughout; exmagician’s debut EP was produced by Rocky O’Reilly, and the title track certainly feels more urgent and threatening. To what extent did Rocky have an influence on the new material, or was it a case of the material influencing the choice of producer?

“We had wanted to regain a bit more control over production after To The Death Of Fun, so we thought we’d try and co-produce this new record. Rocky was amazing to work with – bringing all his skills to help get these songs to where we wanted them to go. He had a big influence in the end and he did a brilliant job.”

What acts – local or otherwise – are you guys enjoying at the moment?

“Locally – Robyn G Shiels, Sea Pinks, Waldorf & Cannon.

Otherwise – BC Camplight, Deerhunter, Panda Bear.”

What’s the process of writing lyrics like for you?

“It’s pretty tricky. I’ll often have the music side of a song totally finished, then it’s a case of squeezing out the best words and narrative I can. A bit of a blood/stone scenario.”

Belfast recently said goodbye to Radar, a night in Queen’s Students’ Union which developed into a local institution. As musicians who played at Radar in its pomp, what do you think of the local music scene right now?

“It certainly felt much more driven and galvanised five or six years ago. We haven’t really been keeping our eye on things lately, so we couldn’t really comment. Radar was a really necessary night though – it’s sad to see it go.”

Cashier No.9’s material was generally well-received critically. Is that sort of acknowledgement important to you?

“It obviously helps when people get it and dig it and say or write nice things about it.”

Are you conscious at all of being a local act born out of the embers of another, much-loved local band?

“We’re trying to work that to our advantage, we’re not hiding the fact that we were once Cashier No.9. It’s helped get our foot in the door in areas where we would struggle if we were a completely unknown new band.”

You play Lavery’s in Belfast this Friday. Have you found any particular challenges in translating the new material to a live setting as a duo? How has the dynamic changed?

“We play as a four piece – the legends that are Jonny Black and Stephen Leacock provide the rhythm section. In that sense, the dynamic is much the same: a four piece rock band. So, the songs are played as they were written and performed on the recordings, or as close as possible. We have to cheat a little to get all the sounds we want into the live performance, but we always did that.”

How does the songwriting process for the two of you usually go?

“We’ll start songs individually and once there is something of substance we’ll send files back and forth and get each other’s contributions until we have a finished piece. We live about two miles from one another but a lot of our collaboration happens through email.”

The new EP is released on 20th November, you’re playing a gig to promote the new material this Friday – does the whole process bring back any particular memories from your days in Cashier No.9, and do you feel you’ve learned any useful lessons from those days?

“We’re learning all the time. Yes, there are things that we’re a bit wiser to now and hopefully we can avoid making the same mistakes again. Starting afresh feels really good though, knowing we have all this material that people are yet to hear, and we can present it in a way that we have total control over.”

Lastly: are there any plans for an LP which you feel like telling us about?

“Yes, our album Scan The Blue will be out in March on Bella Union.”