Alter The Press!


Exclusive: Kevin Devine and Jesse Lacey - 25/11/08

Kevin Devine was gracious enough to speak to Alter The Press prior to his set at the Music Hall of Williamsburg alongside Brand New front man, Jesse Lacey, and Brian Bonz.

During the interview, Jesse Lacey joined us and contributed his thoughts. We touched on, Kevin's past, his influences, leaving Capitol Records and his new record, 'Brothers Blood,' out next year. Jesse also provided his two cents on the current state of releasing music, bringing the solo tour overseas, how Brand New nearly broke up and more.

We are pleased to present this exclusive interview.

Alter The Press: Tell us what you have been up to at the moment.
Kevin Devine: I just got back from a social trip to Seattle, which was nice. I've been on tour for the last two-three years, I've had 6-7 six week breaks in three years and at the moment, I'm ending one of those. I'm going back on tour with Manchester Orchestra and Dead Confederate starting Friday and tonight I’m playing the Music Hall of Williamsburg with Jesse (Lacey) and Brian (Bonz). It’s nice to play again, it’s been a while.

ATP: You went on a tour of the US earlier this year with Jesse and Brian. Can you explain how the tour came together, the layout, who goes first etc?
KD: Me and Jesse have known each other for ten years, and been close friends for about six years. We've always spoken about playing music together, talked about liking the same music, have a similar perspective of why we play music and what we want to achieve. So we played Give It A Name festival with Brand New, then a two month tour in the States with them and we spoke about doing this tour in the summer. We had a great time so we decided to do it again this summer. We did the east coast and mid west last year so this year we decided to do the west coast. Brian is a friend of mine who lives in my neighbourhood and plays music. Brian and Mike (plays guitar for Kevin) both play in my band as well, and Jesse loves them, so it was kind of a no brainer to make him the other guy. We travelled around in a van, the four of us, and played about twenty shows. Brian goes on first and we play a couple of songs, I go on next and everyone plays a couple songs with me, then Jesse plays and we play couple songs with him. It’s fun as I'm older and not a music per user as I used to be, like digging out old records of bands I've never heard of, like when I was teenager growing up in the hardcore scene. So I listen to my friends a lot. I really like Brian's music so I get to learn and play it. Besides, the fact you’re travelling with people you would hang out with anyway in your neighbourhood it sometimes doesn’t even feel like work, which it’s not anyway, but it’s even less so with these people.

ATP: Can you describe what you used to do before you started playing solo and how did you get into playing music?
KD: I started to play guitar when I was an early teenager. I used to be into 'cock-rock' stuff, like Mötley Crüe and Poison, like when I was eight, really bad music which I thought was cool then. So I started to play electric guitar and learn rudimentary guitar power chords kind of stuff, playing along to those records. Then I got into Nirvana which warped my perspective. Kurt Cobain would talk about bands like The Pixies, Sonic Youth and The Breeders, those bands. I ended up liking those bands. The difference between what those guys were doing and what Slash was doing is, that, you felt like you can play Nirvana songs; it didn't feel like you can play those complicated guitar solos. Later on, you would realise Kurt Cobain was a more interesting guitar player than those flashy guys but then you would think, 'those were just three chords?' I can do that. I learnt enough to write my own songs. I played punk and hardcore but my bands were always indie rock. We played in the scene with those bands so I guess I wrote quieter stuff on the side like REM, that sort of stuff. I didn't start doing it in any equivalent way to the louder stuff until I was in college and listening to a lot of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Elliot Smith and that part of my personality manifested more. I still can't believe I'm making a living out of this, it’s very strange to me. My band broke up in 2003 and I had just made one acoustic record and did another one, 'Make The Clocks Move,' and that was the record some people paid attention too. So I decided to tour a lot in those intervening years, Europe especially, then, all of a sudden, it was 2006 and I was signed to Capitol, making a third record, not having a day job. I don't know how that happened. I guess from playing seven hundred shows in three years.

ATP: You were recently dropped by Capitol, what was the reasoning behind that?
KD: They got subsumed by Virgin. They swallowed Capitol to save EMI from some devastating profit loss. I got dropped, a lot of bands did. A lot of people got fired which was more serious. For me, I couldn't believe I was actually signed to Capitol; just being in LA, making a record and recording where Neil Young, Prince, The Doors had, I am so happy I got to do that. They really didn't know what to do with me before I got dropped. I don't exactly fit in the emo or indie thing. I do tours with mainstream singer/songwriters like Katie Tunstall, but I don't fit in there either. The economy collapses and people get caught up, I got caught up and I wasn't alone but I got some money, I got to make a record, I would have never got to make it the way we made it. I got the record back when I was dropped and now get to re-release it on Jesse's label.

ATP: So it was a good deal then?
KD: I have no complaints about it. It would have been nice if they pushed the record a little more but they didn't. It still worked out. I still got fans and a following which they helped me build and finance.

ATP: Your next record is out on Favorite Gentleman Records, how did that come about?
KD: I met those guys (Manchester Orchestra) through Brand New and we get along really well. Brand New, Manchester Orchestra, Brian Bonz, Color Revolt, mewithoutYou and bands I know from around here, those are people I consider for the first time in my life, a little crew. Manchester are a part of that and approached me about signing and asked if they could do my next record. It came around through talking. We gave it a shot, now everyone's excited.

ATP: Let’s touch on the new record, 'Brothers Blood,' (at this point Jesse joins us.)
KD: March 13-17th it looks like in the US. We are trying to find a label in the UK, hopefully June out there, and Europe. It’s more heavier and expansive at points. A lot of it came from a conversation I had with Jesse. When we spoke about it, I didn't know how to filter the pop, quiet and bad stuff, which I like, but I felt 'Put Your Ghost To Rest' was a pretty record. There wasn't a whole lot of loud on that record. Just patches. I always thought I had to do one or the other.

Jesse Lacey: My band runs into that a lot. We have more people writing, so you’re done, you run into the problem of having a wide variety of types of music. There are some points you have to edit yourself and say ‘this can't work,’ and have to exclude the song.

KD: I feel like 'Split the Country, Split The Street' feels too disjointed and songs I would keep off it, I could record now. But, the idea was to go back to be so stylistically uniformed and I think the record reflects that. There are still songs with just me and a guitar, flutes, three electric guitars. Lyrically it’s a record about conscience and why people do what they do, on a personal, social, romantic level. It’s about trying to look yourself in the face, and growing up a little bit, which is probably what all of my records are about to some extent. It’s a work in progress.

ATP: Would you say this is where Kevin Devine is today, with regards to the new album?
KD: I really love it but I think I'm my own worst critic and my worst fan, because every time I finish a record I think ‘this is the best record I have ever made.’ The next record, I say the same thing, but it’s not possible. I don't think I'm a genius or have made five brilliant records. I just think at the time I make them. I think the stuff I make is very observational about what's happening around me at the time, it's musically all of that, and connects with so much at the moment.

ATP: Any plans to release anything else on Procrastinate Records?
KD: We haven't talked about anything beyond the re-release of the record 'Put Your Ghost To Rest.’ I personally would just like to go back to make records with the people I am friends with but the answer is no.

ATP: Are you still signed to the label?
KD: That record is still on there.

JL: That record label thing is much more of an idea than an actual institution. It's more about trying to put out a record than having a record label. Not about trying to make money off of it. So it’s starting a label every time a record comes out, it’s nothing to do with a name and the people that work there. There would be no label if there was no person to put a record out. I'm not interested in having a label, nor my band either, just, if something comes along and we have some cash it’s just like, yeah, we can make a 7" or a record and it’s cool. It just adds fun to the whole thing we have going on.

KD: I want to have a career in music without having to deal with the music industry and if I can deal with my friends as a proxy for that industry, that’s fucking awesome. I don't think it’s always realistic, but from my perspective, from the Procrastinate thing, it’s really important for it to exist; to do that release was super important.

JL: It was important for me too, but that was the point.

KD: We were in a position where we were fucked with that record. We were so bummed. We really liked that record and were busting our asses touring a lot. Playing four hundred shows in two years, something like that. When they re-released the record, it kind of gave us a flare for a few months to like keep connecting, and it’s like 1500 have been bought since you (Jesse) pressed 1200. That’s a lot of people for a record that's three years old and people don't buy records in stores anymore; so it’s been great, and I'm glad it worked out the way it did.

ATP: You have got the record coming out next year, and a release date scheduled in the US, but nothing scheduled for Europe. Doesn't the current state of the industry scare you, like you said, no one buys records anymore. Records will leak online and people have grown up nowadays where, for example, the new Killers record just came out and people will say 'Oh the new Killers record is out? Great! I'm going to download that now'.
KD: No.

JL: (to Kevin) Have you ever made a dollar from a record sale?

KD: No, never, but I'm getting a royalty statement from Triple Crown!

JL: I've never made money off a record sale. I made money on a record advance, but that has to do with the industry. Companies investment in me, but I've never seen a return. For a band like us and Kevin to keep doing what we're doing is by doing shows. We used to tour pretty hard but by looking at Kevin's schedule, it’s like, his is completely relentless. I guess the point is, why charge a kid for a record? Give him an option, maybe. If he wanted to buy it at your show for $5-10, and getting the packaging, or wanting to buy it in a store. But if the quality of a music reaches a point online where it sounds as good as anywhere else, I mean, I don't like paying for records either; when it gets down to it, most of the time I don't. As long as kids keep coming to the shows, buying a ticket and wanting to experience the music with me, in a setting like this, then they can have it for free. They can give it to as many people as they want and that's fine with me. Why keep putting money from the actual piece of artwork into the hands of someone who really had nothing to do with it creatively, when we can share it with everyone. Then, hopefully, we make our living playing, which we all want to do in the first place.

KD: I totally agree. I think it’s going there, and I think they've been so slow and so pigheaded. It’s acting as if something’s changing where it’s actually changed. It’s interesting because I've met a lot of interesting people in this business, who have no clue of what is actually happening, but I think, from my perspective, that I don't sell enough records to make royalty checks. If I sell 10,000 copies of a record now, which is about what I sold for the most popular record I made, the most recent one. First of all that’s totally unbelievable, I'm sure that 40-50,000 people actually have it, that is, if i'm basing it off how many we have playing it on the MySpace every day and how many people come to the shows. There are more fans then there are people buying my music. As a start for me, I echo a lot what Jesse said. From my perspective, when I want to stop touring 200 days a year, because of my personal life; my goals changing or maybe I might wake up and stop liking music as much as I always have, it would be a decision because of those things, not because a kid didn't buy my record and downloaded it for free. Why would you buy it if you’re sixteen, living in fucking Cardiff, you don't know me personally and you had the choice to hear my record for free or pay £10 on iTunes. If you’re doing it for moralistic reasons, it’s nice, but people don't need to do that.

JL: It's cool that you said Cardiff and made it relevant to the region the interview is going too.

ATP: The only way I can see the industry going backwards is that the sale of vinyl is going up. A good example is that if you go on eBay, Brand New's 'Your Favorite Weapon' goes for a lot money.
JL: I understand, and we are hoping to re-release that, but the whole idea now is that people buy CDs because they want to have something physical, and an LP is a much better representation. It offers more opportunity for an artist to create something physical for a person to experience, rather than a CD. You can easily find the record online and have the music already incorporated into the music listening device you have, like burning a CD, putting it on your iPod, or on your computer. But if you want to own the album physically, go and buy the album. It’s cooler. You can actually have it, hold it and look through the pictures. It’s kind of the basic idea. It’s like having a 7" is one of the coolest things. I have a stack of 7"s and I don't even know what's even on them, I just know it’s the same old song that I love, and I've heard before, but it makes it a lot cooler to have.

ATP: If a kid buys an album at a show, a lot of the time they would just put it on their iPod and sell the CD on eBay or put it in their CD rack.
JL: The last four hundred CD's I bought, I probably only listened to them once and put it on my computer and that’s it. People need to start thinking that way, if you want to keep selling records, you can do it yourself; it’s really not that expensive. I was surprised when I went to press Kevin's record. It’s not that much money, especially if you can find a store who wants to buy a couple of hundred to sell for you. Why not? Whoever you are, even if no one has heard of your band, or if you’re one of the biggest acts in the world, go record two songs on whatever you can find to record it on, and put out a 7" or a CD single because you are adding to music. It’s awesome. If you’re going to put a record out, put out a 12" LP and slip in a CD in the forward so a kid can go out and have that. They can have the artwork and can burn the CD on their computer. The industry has always been ‘we need to stack these CD's ten deep on four shelves in Best Buy’ (US electronic superstore chain) and it doesn't work.

KD: I like the idea of putting the code in with the vinyl so you can go online and download the MP3s, because everyone has that little keepsake, and niche kind of market associated where people can download it and have it right there to listen too. It kills two birds with one stone and surprisingly, the indie rock labels are ahead of the major labels. They've been doing it for two-three years.

ATP: Maybe majors are just starting to get it. Warner are re-releasing My Chemical Romance's 'Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge' on vinyl where you get exclusive artwork, lyrics. That’s going to shift a lot of copies.
KD: I think it’s always going to be a valuable and thriving niche. It will always be, I don't know about vinyl replacing CD. Nobody is going to sell a million records again. It’s not going to go back to 1972, with Joni Mitchell selling ten million records. It’s going to be something that collectors and kids want to have physical.

JL: If you’re looking at new media and the whole idea behind the future of things, you should take a real queue from that because you’re seeing people who don't just want twelve songs on an iPod, they also want to experience something with it; something visually, something physically to hold, something like that. But if you are planning to move everything into an electronic venue, people should start thinking of ways to create an experience using that medium that’s just not music. You can't come out with a record ten years from now, you could, but it'll be kind of depressing. As if in ten years from now, you go on an online store and buy a record for $5-10 or free. It'll be a lot more interesting if you got a record and maybe a bunch of jpeg files, a photo book or some kind of website. I don't want to use these things as 'marketing tools' because that’s how they are using these things now, like where you get a download code for some kind of contest for a free t-shirt. It has to be something artistic; it has to be something that's a real experience, something you can experience on a computer. Start thinking about a live show also, because when you see band live that’s the one time you get to look at something and to make that into an experience. These are things I think about constantly, which we fall short of all the time, but, thinking about what we want to do, I hope people better than we are do it.

KD: I think for me, you’re not falling short when you’re a product of a period of transition. You’re trying to be ahead of a kerb which is perpetually redefining itself. I think your band (to Jesse) is actually pretty forward thinking with some of things you've done; with your presence from an online marketing perspective, like generating interests on your website. I, on the other hand, am so detached not from technology, I know how to use a computer and know what I have to do to get by in the world, but am the least imagistic person. I can be imagistic with words all day, but i'm not a visual thinker and not a technologically minded person at all. So, for me, as the definitive album experience changes, as peoples’ response to how they receive music changes, I'm still thinking, as in cassettes, about how I would want a song to start when the cassette is flipped over, when you press play.

JL: Because there's no second side on an iPod.

KD: That’s how my head works in a weird way. To me, this is how I want to hear it.

JL: When speaking about how recording and how people used to buy albums on vinyl, that was a limit. Literally, space was a limit of how long a record can be, so you would have a record that’s 35-40 minutes long but when you made it, you had to create it in a way where the songs would fit equally into two sides. It’s kind of making two mini records, like two beginnings and ends because people listen to one side and flip it over. Then it was tapes and CDs, granted you can fit more information on CD's, but after the physical limitation is gone, people can put out twenty song records and, when you do, 80% of that is complete crap.

KD: Self indulgent...

JL: Yeah. Limiting yourself in the quantity but respect the quality of it. The bands that I am friends with are very guilty of doing things like that. I mean, nineteen songs on a record? How much can you give someone in one purchase! We could easily talk about this for a long time.

ATP: Lets touch on a cliché question, where is your favourite place to tour?
KD: I like to tour in nice weather anywhere as you are not bound to the venue or van. I like Europe and England in the sense that, the city centre is pretty defined; you can follow the ring to get to the middle of the town and see the culture. American cities are spread out a lot.

ATP: London though, you'd have somewhere like Brixton Academy, which is far out from central London.
JL: Paris, New York and London are all becoming carbon copies of each other. Places that were separated by oceans and culture are just the same. It’s just as easy to find a Starbucks anywhere and get something whenever you want. It’s just as cool when your touring Europe, when you go to places that are not those cities and everyone says, 'How is Paris?' and you’re like, 'Um, it’s like New York except with different buildings and museums,’ but when you get to different places in between, that’s when it gets really interesting.

KD: That’s true. When you get to towns tucked away in places like Austria. When you get there, it’s like ‘The Sound Of Music.’ A mountain in the middle of downtown. You’re like ‘this is sick.’ It’s like in Canora in Canada; there are these towns where people are so stoked when you come through. You’re driving through, there is nothing at all but then you see a church, a VFW hall, a diner, a gas station and there is Canora. You’re playing then, this maybe terrible, but two hundred kids come out of the ground somewhere. Some of the most exciting people you've ever played in front of, but that’s one of my favourite things about touring.

JL: It’s harder to get reactions out of kids in larger cities because they are so used to like ten bands playing every day.

ATP: Despite the UK being so small, people get bummed when bands just play London, like when Brand New played Brixton Academy last time, a lot of people were disappointed, but when you get a band coming to Scotland, a lot of people are appreciative.

JL: Oh when we played Ireland, it felt like we went back to the first ever venue we played in New York.

ATP: Kind of like the second coming.

JL: Yeah, it felt like we had come home for the first time in 15 years. It felt like we had come back from the moon, it was such a great reception, by a bunch of kids we've never met before, and immediately we felt so welcome. When you feel that before you play and start your show, it’s a great experience. It’s hard to play Chicago. You have big shows there but, in a way, you are just punching your time card, because you've been there so much. It’s the same kids but you have to remind yourself, when you play so much, like Kevin, when you come back to a town like Dallas or London, you may play 200 shows this year so far, but that person, at that show, might have only seen you once. It’s not the 200th time they've heard that one song you’re playing, only once or twice before. For them, it has to be an experience. It’s not repetitive for them. You may see the same kid in the crowd, three days in a row and you think there are better things to do, like hiking in the woods. I don't understand. I want to talk to this kid and say, I promise there are better things to do in the world.

ATP: It must be flattering though for them to turn up wanting to see you every night.
KD: Oh, of course.

JL: It doesn't benefit you in an experience level after thirty days in a row. It’s just like go, watch TV, do something different!

ATP: Why hasn't this tour not come to the UK? You know for a fact tickets would sell out in a heartbeat.
KD: I'm down to do this tour whenever it presents itself, but it’s got to fit in to everyone’s plans. We've talked lately about doing it in different places, maybe we will or won't.

JL: I actually have a little bit of a complex about it. I feel like I can do it for a few weeks around the US, and the guys in my band can sit at home and take some time off, but the songs lack meaning without them. The songs lack when I play by myself compared to when we play as a band. I can still play alone; they don't have a problem with me playing one or two songs alone by myself. If I said this to them, they would say ‘you’re crazy, do whatever you want,’ but there is just a connection I have with them. Until we say, we are not going to do Brand New, I need them around.

ATP: Would you feel like people just come to see the front man of Brand New and take the spotlight away from artists such as Kevin?
JL: What Kevin does stands out for itself. I sometimes feel inferior going on stage after him. You can shake your head, but there is no doubt that Kevin is more experienced with playing music by himself. He's a better guitarist then I am and he makes things a lot more interesting than I do. Not to take anything away from me either. I can understand how people can think that, but after they see the show they can realise the really strong connection between me and Kevin and Brian. I care about their music just as much as mine, so it’s important for people to listen to them as much as they are listening to me.

KD: As far as my perspective goes, I'm well aware of the fact that if I go ahead and play with Brand New people are primarily there to see them. My job is to try and present myself to keep the mind interested in what I'm doing, until they get to enjoy the experience they were primarily there to have. That's what you’re doing when trying to connect with people. I am fully aware, when I play a headline tour and I see fifty people in the crowd wearing Brand New t-shirts, and talk to me and say they loved the tour with Jesse/Brand New etc, that’s the coolest shit in the world to me. Those are the tours I love the most. For me, the coolest thing about what they do as a band, like Color Revolt, Manchester Orchestra, mewithoutYou, is that they have given me the keys to a group of serious and passionate listeners. They might come in the door because these guys are so supportive and local but my job is for them to stay in the door for my own shit. Sometimes it works and sometime it doesn't, but I have no problem with people coming to say, 'I'm only here for Jesse and who’s Kevin Devine?' I think that's cool because they might turn around and say ‘I liked Kevin Devine’ or say ‘I never want to see him again’. I know what’s what and I'm thrilled. If I play a headline show with Brian (Bonz) and 300 people come out to see me and 150 walk away wanting see Brian when he's in town next without me, that's what it’s all about.

JL: Brand New hit a point four years ago when we didn't know what we were supposed to be doing. We started a band and let it take its course. We met tons of people and became associated with a lot of bands but just before we made 'Devil and God' we weren't even sure if we wanted to make another record. We realised all those people, we didn't want to be associated with them ever again. Our second realisation was that we had no friends and no one we cared about cared about us. Out of nowhere, the first four/five people we met after that became the first group of people that we love. That’s when I became good friends with Kevin. We met with Color Revolt, Mississippi, Thrice, mewithoutYou, Manchester Orchestra. Not bands that a lot of people had heard of, but we realised, not only just as individuals, that if you took any many member of those bands and put them in a room together alone, there would be no awkwardness at all. We created a small community. It just sort of happened, being in this group where everyone cared about each other and their music. I was excited getting ready to see them play, as much as I was getting ready to play myself, and seeing the way they react with the crowd. Everything revolved around that. We want to create things and share with people who are sharing, and this is what saved our band. Also, in the band we started to love each other a lot more too. It’s a hard thing to describe. That's why it’s so good to play shows, not just because kids are coming out, sounds goofy, but we were hanging in Kevin's apartment last night, and walked to the venue today and play. It’s a pretty good life.

KD: That’s great. I actually have nothing to add to that.

ATP: Thanksgiving, holiday season, 2009. So, what’s the future for Kevin Devine?
KD: Um, besides playing now on Brian's songs, being accountable, being a good person, making good things and taking care of the people around me. I would like to meet a girl, not a priority. I got good friends, great family. If I can get keep that going, I'm doing okay.

- Jon Ableson

Alter The Press!