Black Taffy is the project of Dallas-based producer and musician Donovan Jones. One year after Elder Mantis, he released a new album. Opal Wand is out now via Leaving Records. According to the press release, it operates upon a playful sense of the occult, a mischievous curiosity that gently tears at the already frayed edges of our collective reality.
Its 12 tracks offer a sumptuous banquet of downtempo gems, a richly realized smorgasbord of artful masquerades and warped, hazy memories of more idyllic times viewed through the dim glass of history. It’s instrumental pieces, inspired by easy listening, ballroom, Japanese folklore and Korean folktales, coalesce into a mesmerizing cautionary tale.
Listen below and check our talk with him in which he details the new full-length and much more.
Can you tell me about your new record “Opal Wand”, and the process behind creating it?
I wanted to make an album that felt like a logical progression from my previous album, Elder Mantis. i gave myself very specific confines while writing my first album. Essentially to do more with less. With Opal Wand i loosened my melodic confines and sample sources. i wanted to be more playful in my approach and to be completely honest, flex a little. There are still harps and koto sampled but also theremin, celeste, vocals, strings and woodwinds. there is much more synthwork on this album as well as vibraphone on most of these pieces.
I was inspired by and sourcing “experimental” easy listening / ballroom music from the 40’s and 50’s and also by many *many classical composers. kurosawa’s film “dreams” was also a big inspiration for the visual aesthetic as well as fantasy / ghost stories from Japan and Korea.
The title Opal Wand is somewhat tongue in cheek because an opal, being a semi precious stone is too soft to exist in this wand form. this concept is a nod to a theme touched upon in some vaporwave albums referencing a place or world that simply does not exist… now or ever.
You shared two wonderful videos for the tracks “And They Saw” and “Ocarina”. And the artwork is very interesting. How important is the visual part for your works?
Thank you. dallas is very fortunate to have a thriving community of visual artists focusing on synthesis and processing. the visual aesthetic is very important piece of how my music is colored and perceived. I tend to see melodies and texture as characters or.. scenarios that make up a story. prokofiev executed this idea flawlessly with peter and the wolf. I am definitely specific about mood and theme when it comes to videos and album artwork. I went back and forth many times with my brasilian friend Akin Deckard, who did the album artwork. I sent him visual references and also a lengthy backstory about the concepts behind the album, how i see myself, what inspired the song titles etc. and at the end of this process we were both very satisfied with the final product.
I think your music has a strong connection with the concept of mysticism. How do you feel this theme when you think of your music?
Music can be a very spiritual experience. creating it is very much my sacred ritual.. the voice i prefer most to interact with the world. At this point, the process is very much a meditation. Pulling melodies and songs from the ether is a very mystical experience for me. It feels like a wordless connection to the other. i say this with complete humility because my process was not always this way and i don’t take this connection for granted.
I trust the chills that run down my spine or the tingling in my crown chakra. It feels like being high or in an altered state of awareness. this is what i want to communicate… without specific verbiage. This feeling doesn’t need to be named. The other doesn’t need to be named. I use mysticism and concepts to allude, not to define.
The album was recorded between Dallas (where you live) and Brazil. I’m very interested to the connection between the places we live over the years, the territorial geography of our roots and the art. How do you feel these theme connected to your music, your way to think music? What are your favorite places which inspired the most?
I’ll start with my roots. My family moved all over the southern region of the US while i was growing up. Most of my time was spent listening to my parents performing hymns and gospel music for their church congregation. I saw the effect it had on people. It broke them, entranced them and healed them. it was their sacred music. i think at the heart of it i am trying to create music that induces a similar experience. so, in a way i am carrying on the family tradition but without the unnecessary confines of organized religion.
Texas is where i started seriously writing and performing music. The sparse landscape inspires an aspect of minimalism in me while my love for dj screw inspires much of my tempo and beat making processes. also love to camp and i’d say most of my geographical inspiration happens when i’m alone in the wilderness.. big bend was really inspiring for me and so was camping / traveling across the US for tours etc. arizona, New Mexico, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. Also the blue ridge mountains in north carolina. I’d say most of my inspiration happens in solitude.
How do you imagine a live version of this album?
haha i just think of the past two years of touring really.. i’ve been performing these pieces for a while now but if i were able to add more than just projected video synthesis i would like to incorporate some themed story / opera through modern dance. i’ve done performances similar to this quite a few times with some dance groups in dallas but not a fully executed live version of an album.
How are you living in these strange times and what are the main concerns as an artist?
I’m really fortunate that i don’t have to rely solely on touring to make money. i’m still getting remix work and commissions but to be honest, it is really difficult to feel inspired when my available resources are so limited. I live alone with my cat and haven’t had physical contact with another human in months. So i guess my main concern is my mental health right now. Luckily i have some dear friends i can confide in and a community of artists that are quite literally beacons of hope in this strange new world. chess and zelda: breath of the wild are a welcome escape from this perpetual groundhog day. i am also blessed with a yard that always needs mowing.
Ritual question. Have you seen or heard anything good recently?
The best film i have come across this year is called Kwaidan, meaning “ghost stories” in japanese. there are four stories set in feudal japan and they are all fantastic and surreal. i also went down a kurosawa rabbit hole for about two weeks and do not regret it.
The leaving records “listen to music safely in your home next to a fern” livestream on twitch has been healing me. There has been a ton of heat coming from the leaving records camp. matthewdavid – i am care, ami dang – meditations mixtape vol. 1, asa tone – temporary music, greenhouse – six songs for invisible gardens, sam gendel – satin doll (Nonesuch). There’s a new botany (western vinyl) album on the way. I have been jamming this in secret for a while now.