Ep35: Danz CM on having fun and being weird – Transcript

Ep35: Danz CM on having fun and being weird – Transcript

Podscripts

SPEAKERS

Laura Kidd, Danz CM


Danz CM  

I think, you know, everybody goes through ups and downs about their work. But what has helped me is just trying to accept those thoughts, know that they’ll be there but trying to just choose to focus on the better thoughts instead of focusing on the bad ones, I guess.


Laura Kidd  

Hello and welcome to Episode 35 of Attention Engineer. I’m Laura Kidd, a music producer, songwriter and solo artist making music as Penfriend and beaming into your ears from my studio, The Launchpad in Bristol. Find me around the internet @penfriendrocks. Thanks for joining me today as I continue my mission to encourage creativity in every listener by sharing conversations with some of the artists I admire the most.

It’s music video time again here in The Launchpad. After taking delivery of our new drone friend early last week, Tim and I have been practising cinematic shots after individually crashing the poor thing into a piano (me) and a plant (Tim). It works a lot better outside. Yesterday I packed up the drone and my posh camcorder to spend a few hours by the River Avon up in the northwest part of Bristol singing to myself and enjoying the peace and quiet. It was lush and I only lost the drone for a few minutes.

The next stage is editing – which I love, and then the video will be ready to share with you at the end of next week. I checked my calendar today and it’s just nine and a bit weeks till my new album Exotic Monsters is released into the world, which is scary and exciting all at once. Thank you so much to everyone who’s pre-ordered it so far. It’s very much appreciated. You can watch a teaser video and browse the limited edition bundles at http://penfriend.rocks/newalbum if you like.

Today’s guest has a brand new album out right this moment. It was released last Friday and it’s my favourite of the year so far. If you listened to my conversation last year with Sadie Dupuis of Sad 13 and Speedy Ortiz, you might remember that Danz’s name came up then. She and Sadie worked together on a track with Lizzo, and although I’ve been listening to Danz’s Computer Magic project for years, I’d managed to miss a couple of albums somewhere along the way. So I got all caught up, sent out a friendly invite and was really delighted that she accepted.


Danielle ‘Danz’ Johnson is a songwriter, composer and producer. Since 2010 she’s been making music; formerly under the moniker of Computer Magic, and currently under Danz CM. Danz’s influences include New Wave, Italo Disco, Krautrock, New Order, Giorgio Moroder, Gary Numan, Stereolab, Belle and Sebastian and Radiohead. Her visual aesthetics are influenced by sci-fi films like Barbarella, Logan’s Run, and 2001 A Space Odyssey.

In 2019, Danz founded Synth History, a media site featuring musicians who embrace synthesizers. She’s interviewed artists like Pete Townshend, Suzanne Ciani, James Murphy, Rick Wakeman, Oneohtrix Point Never and Vince Clarke. The first Synth History podcast episode on Wendy Carlos, written, recorded, scored and produced by Danz, was released in August 2020 and her new record The Absurdity of Human Existence came out last Friday the 12th of March 2021 on her own label, Channel 9 Records.

In this conversation we discussed digging deeper to make the most meaningful music you can, why your creative ideas have to light you up, the whys and wherefores of changing a project name as a solo artist; how reinventing yourself is a way to grow artistically, and using the internet to learn how to do the things we want to do – then doing them. Let’s get into it. 


Laura Kidd  

It’s just super cool to talk to you because I’ve been listening to your music for years now. I don’t know how I came across Computer Magic, but I’m really glad I did.

Danz CM  

Oh, wow. That’s awesome.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah and it’s really great to hear obviously, one – you’re still going and two – that there’s this whole new era for you. So it’d be cool to talk about a bit of that. But I know some people don’t want to talk about old things and some people just want to talk about the new thing. So that’s totally up to you.

Danz CM  

Yeah, I mean, I’m down to talk about whatever you want to talk about. 

Laura Kidd  

Okay!

Danz CM  

Whatever you want.

Laura Kidd  

So just at the start, could you please introduce yourself to the listeners? 

Danz CM  

Sure. My name is Danz and I am a musician, composer, producer, record label owner and podcast maker. 

Laura Kidd  

All the things. 

Danz CM  

Bunch of different stuff.

Laura Kidd  

How has that come about for you? All the different things?

Danz CM  

I don’t know. I started with doing music, career wise, but before that when I was in high school I dabbled in graphic design and then that’s helped me along the way with music, and I think whenever I become interested in something I just kind of figure out how to do it and then it goes from there. I mean, that’s true for the record label and the podcast and whatever I decided to do, but whenever I want to do something I just kind of research how to do it and try and make it happen. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. I’m smiling and nodding because I’m exactly the same. I’ve just been learning a lot of stuff about green screen because I just did a new video and obviously we’re a bit restricted with what we can do in the UK still on lockdown. But I was probably gonna do some weird green screen at some point anyway, it’s just so brilliant. Like you really can just decide to do whatever and do it.

Danz CM  

Yeah totally. You know, that’s a great example.

Laura Kidd  

There’s not really any excuses anymore for not doing things I think.

Danz CM  

Yeah especially with how much you can learn on the internet and how many How To videos there are on YouTube and stuff, you just type whatever in and there’s a How To video.

Laura Kidd  

Exactly. So talking about your album – that’s coming out really soon, isn’t it?

Danz CM  

Yeah, that’s coming out in a little over a week, in nine days, March 12th. I’m really excited for it to finally come out. I actually finished all the songs at the end of 2019 and wanted to release them in 2020. I was trying to figure out if I was going to mix it. So I recorded and produced the songs myself and I was dabbling with the idea of if I wanted to mix it myself or have someone else mix it.

I decided I wanted my friend Claudius Mittendorfer to mix it who had mixed my other record “Davos”. But after mixing was done I was kind of ready to release the record in 2020. But then obviously the pandemic hit and I was like, do I still put this record out? Is it gonna be lost? I can’t tour it. I don’t really know what to do. But what ended up happening was I just decided to put it out in 2021. Because I didn’t really want to wait anymore for the pandemic to go away. What if it never goes away? I mean, that’s a pretty bad way to think about it but nobody really knows what’s going to happen.

So it’s okay, if I can’t tour I’ll try to figure out maybe how to stream shows and stuff like that and I just didn’t want to sit on the songs any more and I want to get them out. It was just so hard – I had the artwork done, I had all the songs mixed and mastered at that point. It’s hard for me to move on with any other thing if I’m just like sitting on this thing that wasn’t released.

So it feels good to finally know it’s gonna be out next week and then I can move on to whatever the next chapter is.    

Laura Kidd  

Oh, I totally understand that. With the videos, had you filmed those before the pandemic and stuff or no?

Danz CM  

No. So those kind of happened in the summer of 2020. So what had happened was by sitting on the record, I was able to shop it around a little bit more to distribution companies which was a good thing. Rather than just releasing it myself on a distribution company like Tunecore, I was able to solidify a distribution deal with this company called The Orchard.

Laura Kidd  

Oh yeah, they’re really good.

Danz CM  

Yeah, who were kind of helping me along and they gave me a small advance to help with either promotional stuff or videos or whatever and so with that extra money, I decided to do these two videos. It was a really small crew. So about two years ago, I started dating a really good friend of mine who’s also a a director, and it was just him and I, we went to the desert and filmed the video for “Idea Of You”. Then we went to the Oregon coast and filmed the idea for “Domino”.

A year prior in 2019 a good friend of mine, her name is Shae Detar. Her and I went out to the desert and shot the album artwork. So for the videos we wanted it to coincide with the artwork for the album. That’s why they’re set in nature and the natural world goes with the album artwork.

Laura Kidd  

They’re so beautiful. The scenery is stunning. The one where you’re in the water and the waves are just moving so perfectly with the music. It’s so beautifully done. Then the other one where it’s just like bathroom goals. It’s the most insanely beautiful bathroom I’ve ever seen. It’s not just the bathroom – it’s a great video generally – but it’s really great. Well done. Really beautiful.

Danz CM  

Thank you. It was really cool to just do it with the two of us. I think it was like a very intimate kind of setting and we were feeling kind of trapped in New York with COVID. We then went out to the middle of the desert and felt trapped in this different way. But at least it was surrounded by nature instead of buildings.

I’m really happy with the way the videos turned out. That beach that we shot at for Domino is Bandon Beach in Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, and I’d never really been there before but the beaches were just so cool. We found a cheap Airbnb right next to the beach and it was like pouring rain, but it was a really cool experience.

Laura Kidd  

It all feels very put together, you know; the music and the visuals and everything. It’s really good.

Danz CM  

Thank you.

Laura Kidd  

You made one of my favourite music videos ever I think, which is the one where you’re walking around, I presume New York, dressed as an astronaut.

Danz CM  

Oh, yeah.

Laura Kidd  

I love that so much.

Danz CM  

That’s a classic one. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, it’s really good.

Danz CM  

That was the first music video ever, I think. I mean, besides there’s this one that you can find on YouTube called “Shopping For My Robot” and it was when I was living in Florida and I made this robot outfit for my mom to put on made out of tinfoil. It’s really bad.

The “End Of Time” video, that was shot in New York. I was very shy. I remember the director was like, “All right, so we’re gonna start it where you’re gonna put this astronaut costume on and is it okay if you’re in your underwear for the beginning of the video?” I’m like “Oh, my God. I don’t know. I don’t know about that!” But now it’s just like a different time. I feel like it’s so silly to even think that I was worried about that. But yeah, that was a cool experience for me.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah and just walking around in public. It’s funny, because I mean, you can’t really walk around in public at the moment. So it seems like a sort of past era in some ways and obviously, we hope to get back there really soon. But walking around and having people watch you doing stuff. How did you feel about that? Because I always feel so awkward, even though I enjoy making videos and stuff. That’s the bit I hate. 

Danz CM  

I mean, I think there was something about just being kind of in disguise in the astronaut suit that it was kind of like shutting the world out a little bit. Anyway, I feel like, just naturally when I walk around, I always have headphones on, have my hood on, have sunglasses on and now with a mask – going totally incognito.

The only difference was there was a camera behind me, but it was just literally one guy and a steadycam so it wasn’t a whole crew or anything, but I think people definitely were like “What’s going on?” But I feel like in New York, there’s so many crazy random things that happen that that was kind of just normal. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, I suppose so. Yeah. You’re not the weirdest thing they saw that day.

Danz CM  

No, it probably be weirder if I was walking around in upstate New York or something. They would be like “What the heck is going on?!”

Laura Kidd  

They’d love it. I was really interested in the name change thing purely because I’ve done it too. So I had a project called She Makes War, which I did for 10 years, which was a solo project and then I changed to the project which I’m doing now, which is called Penfriend, and when a band breaks up and members from a band form another band with a different name no one seems to think that’s weird. But when it’s a single person doing it, I don’t know.

I kind of joked about it and said I had broken up with myself with, you know, artistic differences kind of thing. So how have you been dealing with that and what’s your rationale behind that?

Danz CM  

Yeah, so it’s interesting. When I first started making music, I never even for a second thought that it would become a career, I just was doing it for fun and people liked it. I just thought of the name Computer Magic kind of on a whim. It was a quote from this movie I’d watched and it’s like, all right, that sounds cool.

But then over the years I started to grow and have a fan base and it just became where I am today and I had songs in commercials and I got to go to Japan and all these things and then the name kind of just stuck. Even though I was never that big of a fan of my own name. I just thought there’s so many bands with the name magic in them and I don’t want to be stuck in a corner with Computer Magic.

I always thought whenever I talked to somebody else who had no idea what kind of music that I made, they thought it must be very technological like Skrillex or something like that. Not that there’s anything wrong with Skrillex. But I think people who’d never heard my music before thought that it was something different than it actually was and I wanted to change my name to just Danz actually, a few years ago.

I remember I posted it on Facebook, and people were “Oh, no, I don’t think you should change it, it’s gonna confuse people, blah, blah.” I was like, “All right, I’ll just name my record Danz”. So I put out a record called “Danz” by Computer Magic. Then I don’t know if it was COVID or what, but I kind of wanted to do it before COVID. But then that happened and then I just didn’t really care about keeping the name any more.

I was like I’m keeping it more so for other people than myself and I just wanted to kind of shed it and everybody knows me as Danz anyway. So I decided to just keep the CM as like a little throwback.

I think it’s just that the name Computer Magic reminds me of this bedroom pop girl that was very shy and wanted to hide. I wanted to even hide that it was me making the music so I was like, what if nobody believes that I could do this? So I’ll just like make this into it could be a band, could be just me, you won’t know, it’s named Computer Magic.

So I think now I’m just more proud of what I do and just decided to shed the name. That’s a big reason, or that is the reason why it’s coming out as Danz CM.

Laura Kidd  

I think that’s wonderful. Yeah, I’ve been through the same thought process myself with my own one and it’s so funny, because there’s a lot of people who don’t see any problem with the name I had, maybe there is no problem. It’s just a bunch of words, there is no problem with it.

It’s just obviously my connections to it and the way I feel about it and the way I feel that other people might have felt about it is my own thing, and I have to be happy because I’m the one doing the thing. So it’s no one else’s business at all, but your own. 

Danz CM  

Yeah, exactly. 

Laura Kidd  

Of course you don’t wanna lose everyone that you’ve built up over the years, but I think people can can manage, you know, I think you can probably find them, hopefully.

Danz CM  

Yeah that was a thing that I didn’t really think fully about. Like there’s I don’t know 20,000 or 30,000 people that follow Computer Magic on Spotify. I didn’t really think “Oh, well, I’m gonna have to regain all those followers again for the Danz CM account.” But really, at the end of the day I feel like I don’t care. I feel like if people want to find it, they’ll find it.

It was troubling me a lot. Should I change my name? Shouldn’t I change it? Should I change my name? Shouldn’t I change it? I think you’re right. You have to be happy with it and I was just so tired of being introduced like, “Oh, this is Danz. She’s Computer Magic. Like I just want to be Danz. Like Danz CM or whatever and it’s just kind of easier that way, it feels like for me.

I feel like I’ve gotten older. It’s like a new chapter in my life. I’m like, you’ve been doing this for like 10 years, I’ve been doing this for 10 years and it’s time for a change. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. How does the change feel?

Danz CM

It feels great. I feel very happy about it. I think I like having Computer Magic be where it is and not go…I didn’t want to ride it out like Seinfeld or something like that forever. I just felt like I needed to change it and I didn’t want to just keep doing Computer Magic forever and ever.

Because I think with any kind of music eventually it kind of gets stagnant. And I feel like it sounds dumb, but I feel like changing the name of something and reinventing yourself in a way is just how to grow artistically and, yeah, it’s just a new chapter for me.

Laura Kidd  

I totally agree. I’m excited for you, because I’m excited for myself as well. It’s fun. It’s just fun! My name was picked very quickly, a long, long, long time ago and I just don’t want to be defined by an idea I had 15 years ago, it doesn’t make any sense.

Danz CM  

Yeah exactly. 

Laura Kidd  

Well that’s brilliant. I’m really, really glad that you’re happy. As well as making brilliant music, you also run a really cool website about synths don’t you? 

Danz CM  

I do. 

Laura Kidd  

Tell me about that, please?

Danz CM  

So it’s called Synth History. The way it started is pretty interesting. So a couple years ago on Instagram I realised that whenever I’d post something a little bit nerdier about a synthesizer or something it would get way less interaction than if it was a selfie of me. I was like, well this is annoying because I can’t really talk to that many people as much as I want to about synths because it kind of gets lost in the algorithm.

So I decided to start this other Instagram account that’s just dedicated to talking about retro synths and stuff and I’d find these older magazine scans on Tumblr and blogs and stuff and just research the synths a little bit and post about them. I would hashtag all the posts and stuff and it just started growing like really crazy.

I think the first big follower was Moog synthesizers. Then after that Trent Reznor started following it, then John Mayer started following it and Red Bull Music Academy, then it just snowballed. All of these musicians that I look up to started following it, and nobody knew who it was, or anything. I’m not in the bio of the Instagram account or anything. I’m just following myself. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. 

Danz CM  

I post about myself occasionally, but it just kind of grew. Then over COVID, I was like, “All right, well people obviously really love to interact with this, I should really start doing something else with it”. Originally, I thought it’d be really cool to do some kind of documentary TV series. But after realising that was just way too much money and too complicated to do, I thought well, I know how to record and how to edit and how to produce, I should just do a podcast.

So the first episode is this narrative podcast on Wendy Carlos. Then after the podcast – around the same time, actually – I started to do written interviews with musicians that were following the account. The first one I reached out to was Pete Townshend from The Who who is really into synths and he was the first interview I did. Then I did Vince Clarke who was in Depeche Mode and Yaz, and Gary Numan, and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. 

Laura Kidd  

Such cool people. That’s great. 

Danz CM  

Yeah, it just kind of became this Instagram thing that I then turned into a website and now a podcast, but the podcast episodes are a lot of work. So it takes a lot of time. Because I’m scoring all of them and it’s a lot of sound design.

Laura Kidd  

Oh, right!

Danz CM

It’s very similar to Radio Lab or This American Life or something and I’m the only person doing it. So I want to put more of them out, faster, but right now, it’s every few months I’m gonna release an episode. Yeah, so that’s the Synth History thing. There’s playlists and interviews and stuff on synthhistory.tv and the podcast and I hope to do more with that.

Laura Kidd  

That’s so great. I mean, I was sort of laughing along then because I know how much work a podcast is even when it’s just talking. Because I’m pretty sure it’s about a day and a half, two days a week I spend on this podcast, and there’s no music in it. There’s music at the start and at the end, but that’s already recorded. So oh my god, so you’re scoring the whole thing. That’s a wonderful project. But holy moly, that’s a lot of work.

Danz CM  

Yeah. So it’s a lot and I’m also writing. So I’ll write the whole thing first and I’ll do the references and everything like that. Then I’ll record a demo audio track so I know how long it is. Then I’ll score all the sections and put in all the the sound design and I also have other people, like when I need voice actors. I’ll just be like “hey!”, to my boyfriend like “Hey, Matt, can you pretend to be an old timey person and say, what’s a synthesizer?” and then he’ll record it on the voice memo on his phone and send it back. Then I edit that stuff in.

Laura Kidd  

That’s so cool. 

Danz CM  

It’s really fun. I’m just, it’s hard for me to do that and then also with the record coming out, I’m just like, all right, I’ve got to focus on this and then once this is out, then I could focus on that. 

Laura Kidd  

Exactly. Oh, yeah. It doesn’t matter how long something takes if you’re making something beautiful and meaningful and all that stuff, but I’m just sort of in awe of the complexity of the thing you’re taking on. If anyone’s listening who’s got tons of money they want to throw at Danz so that she can do this full time once her record’s out? Because I want to hear the whole series and I’d like it to be done really quickly.

So if there’s anyone with just too much money burning a hole in their pocket? Get in touch, please. That would be really good.

Danz CM  

That’d be great.

Laura Kidd  

Any synth fans in the house? Come on. Get involved. Yeah, I love that account. I’ve been looking at it for a while and the pictures you find are amazing. Some of the most recent pictures, they just kind of look like boomboxes but they’ve got synths on top. Are they real?

Danz CM  

Yeah. So the post that I did a few days ago was just kind of like these quirky synths. It was just a compilation of a few synths that I posted about over the last year or so. But yeah, they’re all real synthesizers.

Laura Kidd  

I’m gonna hold up my Casiotone so that you know that I’m somewhat geeky as well.

Danz CM  

Oh nice! That’s awesome.

Laura Kidd  

I’ve got a slightly bigger one in the corner, but I’ve only got five synths in my house. But that’s enough for me at the moment. I like them.

Danz CM  

That sounds great. I want one of those. That’s really cool.

Laura Kidd  

So how many do you have? 

Danz CM  

I have a few, I have a Prophet 8, Prophet 6, Moog Minitaur, Moog Grandmother and an Omnichord which is a pretty neat, quirky little synth. 

Laura Kidd  

I’ve got one of those. I love those so much.

Danz CM  

Those are great. I want to get a Moog One but they’re really expensive and I think the next big synth purchase that I want to get would be a Mini Moog – an original one. But unfortunately I live in a pretty tiny studio apartment in New York. The more gear that I get, the less space I have to to actually live in. But I think in the summer I’m making the move to LA, which I’m pretty excited for. I’m really excited to get out of New York City and have a little bit more space so hopefully will get more synths then.

Laura Kidd  

But it doesn’t sound like it’s a collecting thing for collecting sake. Are there certain sounds that you’re looking for when you’re getting new synths?

Danz CM  

I don’t collect them. I mean I wish that I could but I just can’t at this point in time. I can’t really afford to collect stuff that I’m not using to actively make music with. But for me, I think it’s important to have a synth for a specific thing so the Prophet 6 I use for chords all the time, the Moog Minitaur is what I mainly use for bass, the Grandmother is what I use for leads.

The Prophet 8 I have is barely used at all, I’m just using it like a MIDI keyboard right now. But I have a list of certain things that I want to get for certain specific sounds, but I think as far as collecting goes and collecting vintage synths that’s something I want to do when I have a little bit of extra money saved up.

For me right now it’s just about whatever I have just making sure I use it on music making and then down the road, I hope to collect more.

Laura Kidd  

Do you only use analogue synths? Or do you program stuff inside computers too?

Danz CM  

So I use software synths sometimes. I think the past couple years I’ve been trying to just mainly use analogue hardware stuff. The Prophet 6 is all analogue except for the effects and the Moog synths are all analogue. What I’ll do is I’ll write in Ableton and maybe use a software synth and then send the MIDI through one of the hardware synths, so get the bones of the songs down in Ableton and then re-record everything with the analogue synths.

It’s a mixture, it just depends on what I’m making, and how lazy I am because setting up the hardware synths takes a much longer time than just using a software synth and I could do something on my keyboard. I’ve been doing some music livestreams and because I only have this one camera, I’m like, I’ll just do it with Ableton and just do some soft synths but I think, yeah, it just depends on the mood that I’m in. But for this last record it was probably 90% hardware and analogue synths.

Laura Kidd  

I asked because I know some people are really, I was gonna use the word snobby, which sort of sounds like I think that’s bad. But some people are very specific about, they will only use hardware and stuff inside the computer is no good. I just like a mix of stuff. If the sound is right, I use that sound. I don’t care where it comes from at all. But some people have other opinions, obviously. 

Danz CM  

Yeah, I think honestly it depends. I think it can sound super good coming from a software synth for sure. It just depends on what you’re trying to make, and both can sound good.

Laura Kidd  

Back to things in the real world…now I sound like someone’s Gran. “Back to things that we can touch and feel!”. I’m really interested to know what the word creativity means to you. Because this show is about that and it’s about trying to find out what that is for different people. I was wondering if you have a process for the things that you make, and what kind of stumbling blocks you come up against, and possibly how you get yourself out of them.

So that’s about seventeen questions in one. But just generally, what do you feel about creativity? What does that word mean to you?

Danz CM  

So what does creativity mean to me? I think that one of my biggest problems, I think I was gonna say being overly creative, but I don’t think that’s a good way to put it. I feel like I want to do so many different things that it’s hard for me to sometimes ever finish one because I’m like, “Oh, I want to write this thing about synth history. Oh, I want to finish this song. Oh, actually, I want to create an NFT”.

I’m always like, if a lightbulb comes up in my head to make something whether it’s, you know, anything I just said or maybe it’s designing a shirt or something for the new record. I just feel like I just go for it right there in the moment, whether it’s 2am and I’m sitting there and I think of it or if it’s right after I’m eating dinner or whatever.

I think the most important thing for me is when the idea comes to just get it down there in the moment when I’m feeling inspired by it. Because I feel like it’s really hard for me to sit down and force myself to be creative. I feel like it’ll just come. Like, I’ll be super interested in a specific synthesizer one day and I know that if I don’t look it up and research and write about it now, tomorrow I’m gonna forget about it. I think it sounds really impulsive when I talk about it that way.

But I think for me, creativity is just going with the flow and listening to your ideas and not being afraid to follow through with them, and I think it is important to force yourself to finish things a lot of times even if you are impulsive about them. But yeah, just always try to be inspired by things around you.

Laura Kidd  

I think that resonates with me a lot. In fact resonate is a good word because it’s the things that make you kind of vibrate, or something that lights you up. Because the thing has to light you up in the same way that the name that you choose to use for your project needs to be exciting or make you feel positive or whatever. 

Danz CM  

Definitely, definitely.

Laura Kidd  

You know, it needs to be something that really gets you going otherwise you wouldn’t really bother finishing the thing would you. 

Danz CM  

Yeah, I have to be excited about it. The next podcast episode I’m writing is on this guy, Ikutaro Kakehashi, who was the founder of Roland, and I was researching him and reading his autobiography that he wrote and looking up all the stuff and I was super excited about it, wrote this whole thing. Then I was like, okay, now I have to figure out all this stuff for my record.

Now I’m forcing myself to go back and work on it and the excitement’s not exactly as much as it was before and so there I have to force myself and then I become excited about it again after I dive back in. But for me, the initial spark is like, okay, gotta jump on it, got to do this now while I’m really excited about it, and start something, and then I can always come back to it later and finish it.

But I always try to jump on the ideas when they come. There’s definitely a lot of manic texts that I send to my boyfriend that’s like, oh, and then we should make a video like this and then this is gonna happen and oh my gosh, if we ever do the Synth History series this has to be there and blah blah blah, but always constantly coming up with crazy ideas.

Laura Kidd  

I always feel like I’m exhausting my husband in the same way. He’s in the house as well so it’s just never ending. He hasn’t even been able to go out to work for a whole year because of the pandemic so he’s just in the house with me all the time and I’m just like, “I’m doing this, I’m doing this, I’m gonna do this. I’m talking to this person, la la la” and he’s just like, “That’s great.”

He’s so supportive, though. He is wonderful – I’m so lucky. I mean obviously we wouldn’t be very well suited if he couldn’t handle the high octane idea factory which is my brain. So yeah, I feel you on that. 

Do you ever come across things like inner critic problems, or writer’s block or anything like that?

Danz CM  

Oh yeah, definitely. I feel like there are times when I’m very confident about what I’m doing and very confident about the music I make and the record and the videos and whatever, then there’s times when I’m like, oh, man, you know this music video came out and I think it’s so cool – I wish that I got more views. Maybe it’s not that good.

Then I’ll focus on one bad comment which will start a train of thought in my head that’s like, oh, maybe it’s not that good. I think it’s just about when you do have the inner critic, being hard on yourself, just realising that they’re just thoughts and electrical impulses and they don’t have to be true and you can just focus on all the good thoughts that you have in your head.

I think everybody goes through ups and downs about their work but what has helped me is just trying to accept those thoughts, know that they’ll be there, but trying to just choose to focus on the better thoughts, instead of focusing on the bad ones, I guess.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, that’s very wise. That’s very, very wise. I find it so funny and strange that people who don’t make music – so the people who will hopefully be listening to this, might just assume we’re so confident all the time because they hopefully like the thing that we do, which is why they’re listening to this episode. But we certainly don’t think we’re perfect and I feel the same things you do.

I was talking to Liela Moss from The Duke Spirit in a recent episode, and she was talking about exactly this thing. Because we were talking about meditation as well. So the thoughts being like clouds, that the thoughts sort of come along. They don’t have to define your day. They’re just thoughts. She was talking about the mind being separate from presence of mind. So the mind being something that is trying to get your attention and it’s the thing that wants all of the dopamine hits on Facebook and things, it’s trying to distract you and tell you to go and watch TV or eat a takeaway or whatever. So that was a really interesting way of putting it.

Danz CM  

Yeah, that’s very wise, I think. Yeah, you just don’t have to give in to those negative thoughts, you can just try and focus on the more positive ones. But definitely, I’m not confident 100% of the time. 

Laura Kidd  

Yeah I think it’d be weird. It would be so weird to be. I don’t know how that would feel. It sort of seems like an uncomfortable way to live. Although it’s obviously not. It’s obviously the most comfortable way to just have no self consciousness. Yeah, no. Yeah, I just can’t imagine it.

Danz CM  

I can’t imagine it either. I don’t know. That’d be weird.

Laura Kidd  

Maybe it’s like having loads of money. I was talking to my sister earlier about this. Imagine having so much money and this is such a stupid point to make, but having so much money that for instance, if you were trying to order something, you wouldn’t even care how much the shipping was. Do you know what I mean? I always look at that and think hmm, that’s a lot.

Danz CM  

To just not even have to look at it.

Laura Kidd  

Not even look at the shipping.

Danz CM  

Or go to a restaurant and just put your card down and not look at the bill. I’m waiting for that day in my life and be like “Oh, yeah, just take it, whatever.”

Laura Kidd  

“It doesn’t matter.” Yeah. I’m gonna keep waiting for that one, I think but yeah, that’s okay. 

You mentioned negative comments. I don’t want to give them too much oxygen, but I was wondering what your current relationship is with smartphones and the internet in terms of your career and general mental health and happiness?

Danz CM  

So that’s interesting. So I think it’s really weird. I think before COVID, I was on Instagram a lot and on social media all the time, always posting stories, and I think I got – not addicted, but I was just always on my phone during the early stages, middle stages of the pandemic and I think somewhere along the line, I was just like, I don’t care as much anymore.

I think that there’s just been a shift with how I use social media now. I’ll go on, I’ll post about if I have an announcement on the Danz Instagram account, my personal Instagram account. Synth History, I make a post every day on there, but for my own it’s not very often. I definitely am on there a lot less than I was a year ago and I feel better about it.

I feel like there’s this thing on social media, like just comparing yourself. For me, it’s comparing to other musicians and oh, how many followers do they have? Then I just kind of like wanted to stop caring about that kind of thing. Because it just kind of takes over and brings up all these negative thoughts about yourself and there’s no point. Life is so much more than that. I felt like it was just taking away from my experience of life, being on Instagram all the time. Like, why am I on there? Why do I care about numbers and likes and how many people are looking at my stuff? I think I was on Instagram more often and then the pandemic brought me off of it a little bit which I think I’m a little bit happier about.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah. I think it’s gone the opposite way for me and it’s annoying because I have made a lot of effort to get off a lot of stuff for good chunks of time and only use it in a really sort of a digital minimalist way, as in use it to add value to my life. So, you know, look at specific things and then get off the computer, or post about things I’m excited about and want to share and then get off the computer, so none of the scrolling was happening which was really good.

Then I just let myself get back into it and it’s disgusting. I hate it, just looking again, oh Instagram and then this and then this and then this and around and around and around and I can’t stop – and they are addictive things, they’re shiny… argh! 

Danz CM  

It’s very addictive.

Laura Kidd  

It’s created that way. That’s why this podcast is called Attention Engineer. I’m an idiot and I’m a hypocrite and I’m telling everyone so that they know it’s really hard. But you’re so right. It’s so right to distance yourself because that is not life, staring into basically a vortex in your hand is not living life to the fullest, is it.

Danz CM  

It’s crazy. It’s like sometimes it’s just such a reaction when you’re not doing anything. Just pick up your phone and look at Instagram, look at your email, look at Twitter or whatever, and I just started trying to train myself when I noticed myself doing that – put it down. Do something in the real world around me like yeah, oh, I should probably clean up my apartment or oh, I’ve been wanting to sort my record collection. I should do that.

It’s just, I was realising oh my God, I’m wasting so much time scrolling through stuff that is not adding to my life at all. Some of it – like the memes make me laugh, knowing what my friends are doing is fun, but a lot of stuff on my Explore page, and there’s somebody doing their makeup a specific way…I’m like, I’m never gonna get those 30 seconds back.

Laura Kidd  

You didn’t seek that out either, that’s the thing. I mean, there’s so much wonderful information – like we were talking about YouTube tutorials and what have you. 

Danz CM  

Yeah!

Laura Kidd  

But but it’s very different to just be presented with something and then you watch it and you’re like, why did I watch that? I didn’t want to watch the makeup tutorial, or whatever it is.

Danz CM  

Yeah, or like I downloaded Tik Tok for the first time.

Laura Kidd  

Danger!

Danz CM  

Yeah, and it’s very entertaining to watch. But after a while, I don’t know, I’m just mindlessly scrolling through these videos. I don’t think the internet is – I think it’s amazing and I am a big proponent of social media, I don’t think I would have gotten to where I was today without being able to promote myself on all these platforms. But I do think that there is just this mindless addiction to just scrolling. Just subconsciously I think we just get so used to it, and just think that there’s nothing wrong with it but sometimes I take a step back and I’m like like, geez if I added up all the time that I spent doing that!

There was this really funny quote that was from Mark Cuban that I heard the other day, I think it was on an episode of Shark Tank. So, Mark Cuban is this investor guy, but he’s talking about making his bed and how he added up all the time per week it took to make his bed and he realised he would be spending hundreds of hours of his life making his bed, so right then he decided never to make it anymore or something.

I was like, wow, that’s really interesting. Like, yeah, why do I make my bed? I just go back and sleep in there anyway. It just makes me think of all of the mindless scrolling I do on social media. When I’m really old on my deathbed what what would I think if I added up all the hours I spent watching these dumb videos?

Laura Kidd  

Imagine if someone presented you with that number right at the end and you just were like, “Argh!” That’d be what killed you.

Danz CM  

Right? 

Laura Kidd  

Like, “Oh, no! All the novels I could have written!”

Danz CM  

That’s like an SNL skit or something. 

Laura Kidd 

Oh, God.

Danz CM

Probably many hours. So.

Laura Kidd  

I was mostly laughing at the Mark Cuban thing because I don’t really make my bed. But it’s not a messy bed. I just, I don’t have loads of sheets or anything. We just sort of straighten out the duvet and that’s it. It doesn’t take very long but if he’s talking about, yeah, the seconds that add up…unless he’s got some elaborate bed making thing that I don’t understand and I’m doing it wrong? I don’t know.

Danz CM  

I don’t know. Yeah, maybe it’s an elaborate bed with a specific pillow setup or something. But yeah, so I think social media is great for brands and stuff. But definitely don’t get sucked in to the Explore page.

Laura Kidd  

Go on the internet, read stuff by me, read stuff by Danz, look at all our stuff, get all of our music and then get off again!

Danz CM  

Exactly!

Laura Kidd  

That’s all you need it for! Yeah, please just don’t be on it all day. That’s the thing. I suppose there’s the inherent thing I struggled with, with social media, because I really love it and appreciate it for, again, the same things you’re saying about career building stuff. But I also don’t want people to be on there all day.

So I went through a period of time thinking, well, if I’m posting, then I’m basically saying I agree that we should all be on there because I want people to read the things. But I think people can make their own minds up and I’m not responsible for that. So I’ll just post, and if you don’t see it, that’s fine. Hopefully you were outside doing something else. 

I would love to ask you which three pieces of your own work you’d recommend for new listeners to get into your musical world?

Danz CM  

That’s interesting. I would say anything off “The Absurdity Of Human Existence”. For Computer Magic stuff there’s a song called “Amnesia” that I really like of mine, that came on the “Danz” record, which came out a couple of years ago. Then probably a song that I really like is a song called “Spaces” off my record “Davos”, which came out in 2015. Yeah, I guess that’s three things. So I would say those things. 

Laura Kidd  

Okay. What are you most proud of creating so far?

Danz CM  

Hmm. I feel like I would say this nearest any new release that I have, but I do feel like this new record I tried to dig the most emotionally than I ever have before. Obviously all the songs I’ve ever made are pretty personal to me, because they’re coming from me. But I think this last record, I tried to dig a little bit deeper and I think that this new record has some of the best songs that I’ve written. So I’m very proud of that.

I’m very proud of the Wendy Carlos podcast episode. Because honestly, it was almost as much work as making a record, in some capacity. I think six songs are originals and then just all the editing and sound design and all that, and I was pretty proud of that accomplishment. Yeah, I would say those two things I’m pretty proud of the most.

Laura Kidd  

Am I right in saying that you do film soundtrack stuff as well?

Danz CM  

Yeah, so I also do scoring work. I’ve scored a ton of commercials in Japan and some US commercial stuff and I just scored a mini doc on the New York City subway system this past summer. I just recently scored this horror film by my friend that is not out yet. That will be out soon. But I’m really excited for that, the movie is called “While Mortals Sleep”. I don’t know when it’s gonna be out. But I’m sure I’ll post about it.

Laura Kidd  

Brilliant. So has all of that come about because of the music you’ve made as Computer Magic and Danz?

Danz CM  

Yeah, so the commercial scoring in Japan was because of Computer Magic. The companies were fans of Computer Magic and just asked if I would be able to compose stuff for them. In the US, it’s more like demo kind of work. I’m not even necessarily promoting the stuff as Computer Magic or Danz. I’m just like, oh, I’ve scored this. But…an example, I just did the two recent commercials for this company called Thinx, an underwear brand. Then last year I did these jingles for this company in Berlin for Mercedes. It’s kind of like ghost writer type of work I think of it as. But this movie that’s coming out I’m really excited about and that I will promote from my own brand. Some of this other commercial stuff, they’ll give me a brief like, oh, you know, we want something that sounds upbeat and sometimes that stuff’s a little cheesy. I’m not necessarily like, “hey, I made this music for this commercial”. It’s just more so to make money to reinvest that money into more things I have creative, artistic freedom over.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, cool. Yeah, I was asking because I got the impression that you were hired to do the work because of basically the self generated work you’ve done and I’m really interested in that and explaining to people that that’s how things happen as well sometimes. Because it’s not that we all go and train at music college to know everything about everything and then you get jobs. You have to prove yourself or teach yourself or get yourself to a point where people will then ask you, or you can go to them with your back catalogue and all that kind of thing.

Danz CM  

Yeah, like the the subway documentary. The director reached out to me because he had heard my stuff as Computer Magic, and that stuff I was doing on all the Japanese ads, they had heard of Computer Magic before and wanted me to work on that stuff, because of the music that I had already put out. I hope to get more stuff like that, that stuff is really fun for me to do and a challenge and kind of gets me out of the grind of what I’m doing in my own world. It’s somebody else’s project ,so it’s fun to work on somebody else’s thing for a change.

Laura Kidd  

Yeah, yeah and there is such a beautiful collaboration between music and pictures in films, and the different ways that the emotions can be heightened and stuff – it just seems like so much fun to work on that as a composer.

Danz CM  

Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely. The last one is really cool. The horror one. It’s really creepy and it was fun to make music for that one.

Laura Kidd  

I’m looking forward to that one. That’s a brilliantly creepy name as well – I love it.

If you could give one piece of advice to a listener who wants to be more creative in their own life, what would that piece of advice be?

Danz CM  

I would say, hmm…one piece of advice. I would say to never hold back your ideas, and believe that what you can do is possible. I remember about two years ago when I was first starting the Synth History stuff just thinking wow, it would be so cool to interview so and so or so and so, and, oh I can have a website…just kind of like envisioning all this stuff, then eventually over the course of a couple years just making it happen. Just realising that no idea that you have is too big, like if you want to write a movie, there’s no reason that you can’t write a movie and can’t make something out of it. There’s no reason that you can’t write a book, there’s no reason that you can’t make an amazing song. If you put your mind to it, I think, and really focus on it and put a lot of hard work and effort into something, there’s no reason that it can’t come to fruition. I feel like you’re your own worst enemy when it comes to holding yourself back about things and it’s just to kind of take that mindset away and believe that you can. I mean, it sounds cheesy, but believing in yourself and realising that you have the ability to actually make things happen in your life.

Laura Kidd  

I feel like I just got a personal pep talk from Danz. That’s so cool. Thank you so much. I had such a wonderful time talking to you.

Danz CM  

Oh, thank you.

Laura Kidd  

Thank you so much for saying yes. 

Danz CM  

Yeah, this was amazing. Thanks for having me.

Laura Kidd  

Best of luck with the album. I hope that everyone listening goes and picks up a copy immediately. In fact, they must.

Danz CM  

Yaay.

Laura Kidd  

What’s your next creative adventure? What’s happening next this year for you?

Danz CM  

So after this record comes out I’m gonna finish the next podcast episode and I kind of want to put out an instrumental record, and just have fun and be weird, and just release it for fun and see where that goes. Also, I should say if anybody wants to order “The Absurdity Of Human Existence” on vinyl, my website is zdanz.com.

Laura Kidd  

Go there now.

Danz CM  

Yeah, I’m just gonna try to be keeping creative, I guess. 

Laura Kidd  

Brilliant. That’s brilliant to hear. Well it sounds like a busy year ahead. I hope it goes well. 

Danz CM  

Thank you. 

Laura Kidd  

And thank you so much for talking to me.

Danz CM  

Of course. Thanks for having me.


Laura Kidd

I think you know what to do. Danz’ new album needs your support, so please head to zdanz.com to get your copy of “The Absurdity Of Human Existence”. I love that title.

I’ve made a deluxe show notes page for this episode at http://penfriend.rocks/danz as well of course. 

Thank you so much for choosing to listen to this podcast today, It’s lovely to have you here, Really. I’m sure you already know that rating and reviewing podcasts really helps spread the word to bring in new listeners, so thanks for considering that – and please do subscribe so I can get the next episode to you with minimum fuss.

My new album Exotic Monsters is available to pre order now on limited edition vinyl, CD, cassette and more, so have a listen and a browse at penfriend.rocks/newalbum. Big love and thanks to every member of my Correspondent’s Club for powering the making of new music and podcasts. Thank you. 

I’ll be back next Wednesday with another deep conversation about creativity, grit and determination.

Catch you then.

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