Jack Name Returns to Earth—and to His Childhood Guitar Obsession—on ‘Magic Touch’

Jack Name’s first two albums—2014’s Light Show and 2015’s Weird Moons—were, quite literally, otherworldly. Here’s how the Los Angeles indie rocker characterized them in a 2018 interview: “In Light Show there were two gangs fighting each other, and the good gang dies. They were reborn on Jupiter as werewolves, and that’s Weird Moons.” At the time, Name felt he needed these fictional arcs and the synthetic soundscapes that accompanied them.

But Name’s third album, Magic Touchout tomorrow via Mexican Summer—shows the singer-songwriter returning to Earth—and to his childhood love of fingerpicking. It’s his most intimate, enveloping collection to date, built around his careful guitarwork and whispered-in-your-ear vocals, plus contributions from Izella Berman, Chris Cohen, Kenny Gilmore, Will Conzoneri, and others.

Thematically, Magic Touch is about connection, but it’s also about the pleasure of crafting music. The sacred place that Name refers to in “Sacred Place” is actually a state of mind: “I don’t know if you would call it a dissociative state,” Name recently told me over the phone. It’s “the place where you’re making music or doing whatever it is that makes you feel like your life is actually happening the way you want it to. For me it’s a really comforting thing. I think music and songwriting in general, there’s something therapeutic about it.”

Name cites Prince and his friend and labelmate Jessica Pratt as recent influences, but the fare on Magic Touch also calls to mind Mike Polizze’s debut solo album, Long Lost Solace Find, which wades into similar musical territory.

Name spoke to us a few weeks ago from his home in Pasadena about the making of Magic Touch—check out the full conversation below.

American Songwriter: When did you initially sketch out the songs on your new album?
Jack Name: I was writing it in 2018, mostly. The two duets are actually songs that I wrote back when I was… let me think. It was a really long time ago. I think I wrote them in 2006. They just never matched any of my other albums. Those songs just wouldn’t have really fit. 

I had this plan back then to make a whole album of duets, and then I just abandoned the idea. Then I had these songs that I liked but they never fit anywhere, and I also had never done recordings of them that I liked. There were a million different versions of them and I never settled on one. Actually, White Fence covered one of those songs before I ever put it out. I think his version came out in 2014 or something like that.

So it’s had a few different iterations?
Yeah, that one’s called “Do You Know Ida No?”—that was just a working title, because at the time I wanted Ida No from Glass Candy to sing on it but I didn’t know her and I thought maybe I could put it out into the ether that way. I think the song was actually called “The Summer Love Song” or something like that.

You recorded the album yourself. When was that?
That was at the same time as writing them.

What does that process look like?
At the time it looked like a bedroom with basically a studio. There was a bed and then it was surrounded by outboard stuff.

Did you have any notes or scraps that you were working from?
Well, walking around maybe there would be a melody that I kept singing. At the time I was living in Hollywood, in a really crazy busy part of Hollywood. But right behind me there was an area called Whitley Heights. It’s beautiful up there. I was walking around there all the time, and little things would come into my head doing that. Not really any formal notes. 

I mean, sometimes of course if there’s an idea I’ll write something down. Sometimes if I’m singing to myself in the car I’ll pull over and record it so I don’t forget the words or something like that. It’s funny though, because the whole process of writing is…

Well, whenever I’m in that kind of mode I feel like it’s a really distracted state of mind, so I don’t usually have vivid memories of songs coming together. It’s more like I go down this rabbit whole and come out with something.

In another interview you described your previous Jack Name albums in the following terms: “In Light Show there were two gangs fighting each other, and the good gang dies. They were reborn on Jupiter as werewolves, and that’s Weird Moons.” Does Magic Touch belong to the same narrative world?
I had a big idea that it was going to be a trilogy, the whole thing. I had started out thinking that was my intention. And then I sort of decided that it was more fun the idea of abandoning something so formal and not boxing myself in like that anymore. And I also naturally grew out of the fictional realm. I think artistically I stopped seeing being so abstract and fictional as a good way to say what I wanted to say, I guess. Originally I thought that I would [avoid] alienating people by talking about things that were more generalized, and then I realized, in retrospect, I don’t know how much anybody could ever understand the different layers of all that stuff. You know what I mean? It’s pretty nerdy. So I wanted to just be more direct. It made more sense for the way all this music feels [and] where it’s coming from.

So you’re departing from that narrative approach, but you’re also departing from that musical approach. Can you talk a little bit about that departure?
It’s a few different things. When I was thinking of it as a trilogy, Light Show would be solar and Weird Moons would be lunar and then this would be terrestrial. In that sense I wanted things to be really… I’m trying to think of what that meant. I wanted it to be less synthetic sounding, more human, handmade vibe to the instrumentation. 

And for some reason Prince dying had this weird effect on me. I got really obsessed with guitar playing and trying to be a better musician. I thought a lot about him and how amazing he was, and it made me want to try to not be so lazy. So I started practicing a lot more guitar, like really getting into nerdy, disciplined stuff that I never really had much time for before. I was too impatient in the past. So I decided to get really into that. And I was enjoying the immediacy of it. Growing up I did a lot of fingerpicking and music like that. If you play a synthesizer, you have to think about what the sound’s gonna be before you make it. If you’re playing a guitar—with your body—it’s more intuitive and immediate. I think I just feel more connected to that these days.

That definitely comes through in the music. Why did you lead the album rollout with “Karolina” and “Sacred Place,” in particular? Did you want to foreground anything with those?
I mean, I’m not totally alone in choosing these things. 

Of course.
The reason that I put [“Karolina”] first—it came first on the record—is that it was the first one that I wrote of this batch. There’s something sort of private-sounding about it, I think. I don’t know if private’s the right word. But it’s pretty intimate and sets the tone of what the album’s like.

The “Sacred Place” song was the same thing. I could see that one lending itself nicely to a video. I’m not really big on music videos—I think that usually whatever people imagine in their minds is going to be cooler in most cases. But some songs lend themselves to that, and I thought that one did.

How did that accompanying video come together?
This guy Salvador Cresta, who lives in Argentina, we have mutual friends and someone had said, “Hey you should talk to this guy about doing a video,” and I said sure. I liked what he did. He asked me if I would send him some green screen footage of myself and I had trepidations about that. So I was like, “Maybe I’ll obscure myself somehow.” And the first thing that came to my mind was the skeleton [makeup]. I went with it and sent it to him, and I think it worked out.

What is the “Sacred Place” you sing of?
For me it would be the rabbit hole I was talking about. I don’t know if you would call it a dissociative state—the place where you’re making music or doing whatever it is that makes you feel like your life is actually happening the way you want it to. For me it’s a really comforting thing. I think music and songwriting in general, there’s something therapeutic about it.

So it’s a creative state?
Yeah, it’s the state of mind when you’re feeling in control. Actually, not in control, but… happy. It’s a happy place.

Has any other music you’ve listened to recently given you a similar feeling?
I guess for me it’s more the doing of it—the being lost in it. Morton Feldman, he’s a friend of John Cage’s, and his music is the opposite [of Cage’s]. It’s not really about the thoughts behind it, it’s more just about the sound. It’s really sensual. I get lost in that stuff. It’s really pretty.

I did actually like Jessica Pratt’s album [2019’s Quiet Signs]—a lot of her melodies and her voice. I spent a lot of time with that in the earlier part of the year, the beginning of quarantine. Her guitar playing is actually pretty inspiring for me for this record too. At the beginning of the whole lockdown I was listening to that a lot. But just seeing her play live, her guitar playing is so beautiful. It was inspiring for me.

Have you had a chance to perform recently?
No. Yesterday I distracted myself with some friends—we just recorded some songs in my house and that’s been about it. But it felt good to play with people.
Magic Touch is out November 20 via Mexican Summer. You can pre-order it here.

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