Kevin Devine

In Interview on August 17, 2010 at 3:33 am

On Feb. 1st at Ybor City’s Orpheum, Kevin Devine stepped up to perform and people seemed to appear out of nowhere. Very quickly, the entire space at the front of the stage became crowded. He let who was probably his youngest fan, an 8-year-old girl sit criss-cross applesauce on the stage for most of his set. He also surprised us with a bit of a folk-rap when someone requested a song he could not play. When the audience member persisted, he replied with “No, nah, no, nah, no, nah, no, no, no I didn’t mean it that way, I didn’t mean it that way, I just meant to say, I love youuu.”His lyrics stung a bit, because not all, but many of his songs have to do with politics and the present state of our country. He reminds listeners that it isn’t just the war in Iraq that puts us in such a deep place, it is all of us. Devine is not in it to win it. He sings, writes, and tours endlessly because it’s what he loves to do. He just so happens to open eyes and hearts while doing so.

Were you born in Brooklyn?
I was. I was born in Bayridge, Brooklyn and lived there for a while. I’ve lived in Staten Island and Manhattan, and now back in Brooklyn for the last seven years.

Do you think living where you do shapes and adds to your music?
I’m sure it does. I’m sure anywhere you live has some impact on how you write and how you perform and interact with people. But I guess I don’t write specifically urban like Lou Reed, like someone whose music is very of the city. My music could be from anywhere. The biggest thing of being from New York is you have no shortage of opportunity to watch people or observe things. I feel like the music I write is very detail-oriented lyrically, and that comes from watching people do crazy shit all the time where I live.

I read that you went to school and majored in Journalism. If that’s true, what brought you to music?
Well, I’ve always played music and I’ve always also loved writing. I had an interest in Journalism, Media Studies, and English and that’s what I studied in school. I didn’t know I could make music professionally. I came from a punk-rock scene and didn’t really think that was something people could do; people like me, anyway. I started to see through indie-rock that people could make a living and work– not be some celebrity rock-star, but have a life. So, I made a decision during my junior year of college to try and either get a job in journalism or education, or try doing music for a while. I decided to try this. I had already been doing freelance out of college for a while doing both, touring lightly and working in offices, writing. These last two or three years have been pretty steady. It wasn’t a conscious choice so much as it was seeing where things could go. I feel like whenever I make big plans, they don’t… plans are just hard for me. Day by day is easier.

Can you tell me about the past bands you’ve been in?
It’s only been Miracle of 86’ really. When we were in high school it used to be called “Delusion” because we were 14 and thought that sounded cool. But, that band I was in for almost 10 years from when I was about 14 to 23. For a while I was doing both Miracle and this, but then Miracle split up in 2003.

Would you have kept up with Miracle if given the choice?
I would have liked to. I think they were very different things; there was some cross-over since I wrote songs for that and my own songs for this. There was more opportunity since there was another songwriter in Miracle and we were writing more as a band so we probably could have existed with this. But, we didn’t really have much of a chance to. But, who knows? Bands are hard. Bands break up. It’s hard to break up your own thing by yourself. You have to either quit or keep doing it.

[I was then introduced to Mike Strammer, who was playing guitar for Devine on the tour]

So, you’re a solo artist. How do you make that work when you play live shows? Do members from the bands you’re on tour with help out?
I have a collaborative collective of about 10 or 12 people that I play with. It’s loosely called “The Goddamn Band”. Mike Fadem will jump up and play drums on a few songs– it’s sort of whoever is available or whatever we can afford. The trick is to roll it out in as many ways possible so that it sounds good and is presentable. And that goes for me playing alone to me playing with seven others on stage.

Manchester Orchestra helped you out recently, right? There was a song with them on your MySpace.
Yeah, they played a couple shows as the band. That was Austin City Limits, a big festival down in Austin.

What would you say about music and culture in Brooklyn, because it seems as though a lot of bands and art are coming out of there?
I love Jealous Girlfriends and I have a lot of friends who play there, but at the same time a lot of that stuff is happening, that’s not the neighborhood I live in. They live in Williamsburg and I live in Bayridge. So I feel connected to it because that’s where we rehearse and play tons of shows in New York and so I meet a lot of bands. But, I don’t write that style of music or whatever I feel like is happening there. It’s more modern. Like TV on the radio– I love those bands, but I’m just writing folk songs that are kind of simple in comparison. I wonder if payday has passed commercially, but I think it’s very vibrant artistically. There’s a ton of stuff going on there. I just don’t always know how much I’m a part of it, because I’m never there. I’m on tour a lot. But there’s no place I’d rather be. And I’m honored to be loosely part of this sort of bristling music culture that’s happening there.

What do you hope happens for you and your music in the future?
I just want to be able to keep making it. My expectations have been calibrated a lot the past two years. I made a record with a major label and I got a lot of smoke blown up my ass by that label, and I kind of realized that stuff’s not for me. My family is Irish Brooklyn working class people and I’ve always felt a little disconnected from that as someone who’s more creative. But, I realized I like working my ass off like they did in their jobs, for this, and if that means touring for 250 days a year– not the glamorized side of why people join bands, that’s fine with me, because that feels normal for me. If more people keep coming to these shows and more people seem to care about it, then I feel like my fans are very passionate and they’re not casual about it. So, I feel very lucky for that. That’s about as involved as my desires and expectations are at this point. I won’t be making any acceptance speeches at any awards shows, but that’s fine.

You never know.
Well, you can’t care.

Mike Strammer: I think certain people have this concept of what it means to “make it”. As far as I’m concerned- this is it-having people come to your shows- people knowing and understanding the songs and where you come from as an artist. All of that complex shit; tons of bands don’t even get that. They just seem to get this wave and then it just dissipates. I think Kevin is in a position where he has been building something from the ground up for a long time without the help of a label’s support or a big infrastructure–

“And from my friends,” adds Kevin. “I play with friends and with people that get it. I’m very blessed in that regard.”

Official Site

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