Naming your album True Love is like a gut punch. For Devon Welsh, who used to front the band Majical Cloudz, the name gestures at an exploration of both the joys and deep discomforts involved in developing intense feelings for another person. The record is anchored in what it means to feel deeply for someone, what it means to exist, and what it means to search for happiness under every rock and deep within the stars.
Subtle in its composition but huge in its delivery, the record offers gorgeously candid music. It’s a linear progression from Welsh’s equally confessional debut, Dream Songs, under his own name. The record is a little more confident than its predecessor; it’s warm like putting on an old sweater on the first cold day of fall. It’s the kind of music that envelops you from first blush. These songs are deceptively easy to listen to, but the more time you spend listening, the more the lyrics seem to grow in complexity and in weight. Vogue phoned Welsh, who lives with his girlfriend in rural Wisconsin, to discuss the strangeness of writing songs, trying to articulate what beauty looks like, and the difficulty involved in describing one’s process.
The two things that stick out to me about this album are that there’s a lot about beauty and a lot about love. What kinds of things are you finding beauty in?
It’s a hard question. I write about those things a lot in general because I feel like those are things that are really worth making art about. These are the kinds of things that are really hard to come up with a good answer for, where it doesn’t sound like a total cliché. I recently read this book by Michael Pollan that’s called How to Change Your Mind—it’s about the history of psychedelic drugs. In the book he mentions that when someone takes a psychedelic drug and they are in the midst of the experience, they might have a thought like, ‘Everything is love.’ Clearly the most important aspect of reality and of existence is love. But when you say to someone, ‘Love is all,’ it’s just such a cliché. There are all kinds of things that you can’t really describe in a direct way.
I really like the idea you just brought up, about how talking about these things can feel goofy and clichéd. Do you find that making art is a good way to explore those feelings unselfconsciously?
I think so. That’s the thing about poetry. You say ‘I love you’ to somebody, which on its own, it’s a little bit unoriginal, but if you say it in 200 words with all of these images and ideas and all these clever ways of expressing that indirectly, that’s when you really get to get closer to what the experience of actually loving somebody is. To be able to write something down and use language to sort of set the stage can be very revealing, and that’s something I really like about making music just for my own sake. With music, it’s the same thing. You can express the intricacies of a feeling so much better than you can by just saying it. Oftentimes you can feel it so much more than by actually putting it into words.
How did you arrive at the sound for this album? What were you pulling from sonically and conceptually? What kinds of things were running through your head?
Some number of the songs are the product of going into old sessions that I had on my hard drive and finding things that I had started in maybe 2015 or 2016. I like doing that because I think anyone who is creative would agree that it’s always easier to start from something rather than start from nothing. I’d find there would be a little loop or something saved, and I would start to build around that.
What about with the lyrics?
I just try to have the first thing that comes into my head as the starting point and then build from there without really thinking about what the song is. It sort of comes together as something that has been on my mind. It’s kind of a way to shape or release some feelings that I’ve been having recently.
For a couple of the songs, the lyrics were written a few years ago, but then they kind of fit with the themes of the rest of the songs. Maybe this is the same for a lot of people where you make something, then you’re not really calculating, like, ‘Oh, this song is about this.’ You kind of flow-write something and six months later, or even six months after it’s been released, you’re able to look back at it, and be like, ‘This is what it was about,’ and I can see what was going on in my life at the time.
The same can be true of writing, I think. It can be really hard to describe one’s process.
And it’s hard to see yourself from a distance at the current moment. It’s easy to do that when you look back, so I feel like with this album, I’m still somewhat too close to it to really understand what it’s all about.
Can you tell me what you want your audience to get out of your music?
I hope my music is the experience of being alive and being a human being—all of the complications that come out of that. It’s not really trying to sell anything other than wanting to sort of heighten the degree of connectedness, acceptance, and understanding among people.
How has your relationship with love and being alive shifted over the years that you’ve spent on this record?
I’m in a relationship that’s really been feeding me and made me feel more positive about life, but otherwise I’m always going back and forth. It’s always possible to slip into hopelessness and despair—there’s so many things to despair about today, and I’m not immune from getting depressed sometimes, but I get a lot out of the relationships in my life, the friendships, and hopefully the momentum is swinging in the direction of happiness and fulfillment, but I’ll see.
That’s all you can ever want out of life.
At least to feel like there’s an upside and there’s room to grow and places to go.
Originally Appeared on Vogue