Alter The Press!


Interview: Kevin Devine - 27/06/09

With the first UK release of his upcoming record just weeks away, Jon managed to sit down with Alter The Press favorite Kevin Devine before his main support slot with Brand New at the HMV Forum in London.

Kevin spoke about being back in the UK, his recent headline US tour, touring Japan, how he would describe his new record 'Brothers Blood' with it leaking two months in advance of it's US release, signing to Big Scary Monsters in the UK, shooting and editing the video for 'I Could Be With Anyone' in just two days for $100 and more.

Alter The Press: It's been a while since you're last visit to the UK, how does it feel to be back?
Kevin Devine: It's nice to be back but it's different on this kind of tour. We are playing big venues and it's nice to be traveling on a bus instead of getting the train, but I like that you get to learn a lot about a place that way. The weather has been pretty co-operative for the UK; it's been pretty sunny. The kids are great; it's been good to be able to hang out with the Brand New guys and Moneen. I just finished a six-week tour of the US and came here with just six days at home, so the explorer in me isn't as strong this tour. I'm not like, 'I want to go around and see the city!', I'm more contempt to stay at the venue or walk around and get a cup of coffee. In that regard, maybe I'm missing out because I'm not sucking the marrow out of the UK but it's great to be back and all the shows have been great.

ATP: Was it planned for a while that you would be supporting Brand New in the UK this year?
KD: I saw they had the dates and didn't have support. I asked if I could come because I knew 'Brothers Blood' would be coming out this summer, and we haven't done stuff with them as a band for more than a show or two since 2007, so it seemed like a good opportunity for us to spend some time together, and we always love playing together. When I approached them, they were very quick and said sure, let's go. I think it was set up in March, but we had to wait for everything to be confirmed to announce it.

ATP: How was you're first headline US tour with the release of 'Brothers Blood'?
KD: It was great. It's a big country, a lot of travel, lots of different kinds of places, people, but quite a lot is the same. You can travel the US and drink nothing but Starbucks and eat nothing but McDonalds so it's like a challenge to still get something local from where you're going. It may sound weird but it was nice because it was spring. Traveling on the level I'm at, in vans and cars, is awesome but it's not as fun as it's 10 below zero. When you can travel and walk around when it's great weather, it makes a huge difference in your peace of mind. The shows were great, it made me realize, and have a lot of gratitude, that I can go anywhere in the country, and a lot of places in Europe, and there will be 100-200 people who like my music. It may not sound a lot to someone but to me, with the one detour through Capitol Records, I've been a pretty independent artist and have been able to cultivate an international fan base of a couple 100 people who know the songs and this tour proved that for me. There would be 80 people coming out to see me at a show on a Tuesday in Iowa City; that was really validating and cool. It passed really quickly; I was doing all the tour management, selling merch, doing all the press, so all my days were getting up, doing all of that then playing the show. The day would just fly by so I had a ball, it sounds crazy. April started, then I blinked and now it's July because there has been so much moving around. I feel pretty sane for that amount of travel.

ATP: You also went to Japan recently with singer/songwriter Rachael Yamagata?
KD: I had done some shows with her before and she invited me along to open up for her, as well as play guitar in her band. I opened up acoustic and was her rhythm guitar player. Then I did a tour after SXSW music conference in Texas, in March, and just played guitar for her. It was the first time I did that, and not play any of my stuff, and it was cool because she plays more piano ballads, some rocky, some jazzy but it's definitely what I write typically. The fact she lets me have access to her songs, for me as a player, it informs when I go back to my stuff as I'm doing different things. The one tour I was doing with her, I did lead guitar and I don't play a ton of that but I am more comfortable doing that now. The one thing I fear is that I have been on tour enough that sometimes the places can blur. The places in Japan were not traditional; they were cities. Where I am looking right now (outside in the parking lot of the London HMV Forum) is a very British snapshot of a city area, the way the buildings look; there is something about that which makes me feel like I know where I am but if I'm in a downtown somewhere with skyscrapers, coffee shops, H&Ms which is everywhere in the world, the only thing that's different is that, when you open your eyes in the morning, everyone is Japanese or everyone is Spanish. That part of the tour was crazy, we were only there for five days and we travelled thirty hours combined. It was just a dream but on the trip I got to play music in Japan, which was never my plan as a musician. I never thought I would be here.

ATP: 'Brothers Blood'. The album leaked two months in advance, how was you're reaction?
KD: I don't know. It affected sales but when a record is out, you can get it online by someone uploading it either it be a month in advance or a week after the release. I know for a fact the attention in the press is starting now. In the US, it got more press attention then any record I've made, sold more copies in a shorter amount of time, it has drawn more people to my shows than before. I'm not sure if it was a bad thing, maybe it magnetized some people to the record who were on the fence about me before? Is it the preferred way you want you're record to get out there? No, but who do you get mad at? A sixteen year old kid who got it off some website who doesn't have any moral obligation to buy it in the first place or a record label who tries their best to keep it under raps and it accidently sneaks out through them sending it out to press? There is no where to put your blame and ultimately it falls in the category, as I think do 98% of things in your life, you say, 'What can I do about that?'. The answer is nothing. I can't unleak it, or keep it locked in my house and give it to the label when I want it released. If you want to put music out now, there are ways to protect it and maybe we learned a lesson of how to do that next time, but I don't even know how it leaked. The label had it; the press had it and the studio we made it at which seems unlikely to me. How do I feel? Part of me wishes it didn't happen but a part of me thinks it's not as big of a deal, and worse things have happened at sea.

ATP: How would you describe the album in your own words?
KD: I think each record has been more popular than the one before it. I think, in retrospect, people have favorite ones. When they were released, each one got more of a bump. The most popular record, sales wise, was 'Put Your Ghost To Rest', so if someone came in knowing about me through that record, I think this record is a bit more eclectic, abrasive at points. A bit less high fidelity at some points in the recording, more live sounding, as we recorded a lot of it live, and it’s broadly representative of what I want to do with music. There’s stuff that sounds like 90's indie/alternative rock, which I grew up with, stuff like folk/country music, which I got into later, stuff a bit in the middle. Songs like 'Yr Husband', remind me of more The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Wilco. There is a bit of everything on there but songs like 'Murphy's Song' are doing stuff that I've never done before. It has a Caribbean swing to it with a nylon guitar; 'Fever Moon' has a Leonard Cohen feel to it. There’s a greater breath of sound, not saying that 'Put Your Ghost To Rest' is a boring record but it's more of a direct folk-rock record. It's this jangly, pristine, pretty record, and I love it, but this record feels more jagged.

'Put Your Ghost To Rest' was brought out of a lot of things that were changing in my life, maybe that record was so straight because I wanted something calm. The songs are very much about change and I think even the louder moments are not rock like 'Cotton Crush', 'Another Bag of Bones'. It was a song writing exercise. I was listening to a lot of 'Harvest' by Neil Young, Belle and Sebastian, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, stuff that was more controlled. I know I like screaming, but I felt like I wanted to do my own pretty record, and the reason why I toured for two and a half years on that record, is because I love it and wanted people to hear it. But at the same time, the way I think is like that but, I feel calmer now then I used to, and with 'Brothers Blood', I felt like I could let go. The other one was more about tightening the chorus so I could feel sane, this one I felt fine, and wanted to go out and do whatever. You can never second-guess the record you make because you made it for a reason. I'm not someone who agonizes about making records for a reason. When I go to record a record, the songs are done by the time I get there. I know what I want to do and never have written a record in the studio, in the space of three months. I can't afford it and it's not how my brain works. To me, it seems this record seemed easy to make because I was in a calmer place. We had done a lot of pre-production, a lot of song writing demos and we were in a place by that point where there wasn't much to agonize over. 85% of the record was conceptualized before we even stepped in the door, so what was being stressed about was on getting it executed, not coming up with things. There were some parts written in studio but most was mapped out. I am sort of a stickler that way.

ATP: The self-titled track 'Brothers Blood' is such a powerful song; can you explain what the song is about?
KD: It's a song about being afraid of having someone's worst impulses in you. Noticing the bad parts of family, thinking of hereditary issues, of what gets passed and what gets worsened through the bloodlines, when your responsibilities start, when you start fixing the trauma of your past and to stop blaming other people for your behavior. I think a lot of my music is like that, but that song is the most about that. It's about being connected to people and figuring out when people start and end on a personal level. The song is very cathartic, it's like get it out of your system or it will rot but on another level, it's about a specific relationship in my life and it's about everything to me. People, family, your own self-understanding, social order and just playing guitar for eight minutes and singing on top of you're lungs, which is cool.

ATP: What made you choose 'I Could Be With Anyone' as the first single?
KD: It was kind of recommended, as it's the first immediate poppier song on the record. It's still sharp, screamy, but doesn't have much of a chorus, so to say. The melody is really strong; it's appealing to someone who might not want to sit with an immediate eight-minute tortured song about family and drug abuse. They might want to hear a song about a guy who can't keep a girlfriend. I love that song, but I don't exactly write singles. It’s always kind of an effort for the people who work with me to try and figure out what they will do, and what to send to different radio stations, or make a video for. It seemed to be the most playful and direct, but there is a lot happening in the song, if you listen closely. I didn't feel compromised to make that the single, it's just as representative of anything I would usually do. I was happy to focus more on melody in that song, it was another exercise for me, if I could write a song which is me but also my version of a pop song.

ATP: Was it your idea to come up with the premise of the video?
KD: Not at all. I have an idea for a 'Brothers Blood' video, which would be cool, but I'm not a very visual thinker but a lot more verbal. Sherng-Lee Huang directed the video and we went through this company '$99 Videos' who challenge directors to make a music video for under $100 and are sponsored by Verizon (US cell phone network), which allows them to have the finances to do this. The directors have to shoot and edit a video in two days for $100. We heard about them and pitched the idea for 'I Could Be With Anyone' and I liked the idea. It was very intimate and funny in certain areas. The director got certain things about that song which is that it's a sunny song, which has got oil slicks underneath, and he saw those. I love the video. It was pretty awkward for me as I've never really acted in a video or been in a video where people were acting. I really thought he did a great job and I'm happy with it. I was able to be critical and have an input. I read the treatment and said what I thought, more of an editor than a generator. It was his idea though for sure.

ATP: When can we expect a vinyl release 'Brothers Blood'?
KD: I think it will be out in the US this summer on Academy Fight Song, who put out 'Put Your Ghost To Rest' and 'Another Bag Of Bones' EP. They didn't come out at the same time due to legal bullshit. Right now I have a small label in Germany, the UK, the US (but connected to a multi-national conglomerate) so when I do anything anywhere else, they have to okay it. That's why it's taken three months to get out in the UK, it won't come out in mainland Europe till August-September, it won't come out on vinyl till August. It took forever. The second record we do with Favorite Gentleman Records, I will make sure all of this stuff is sorted out four months before it is due to come out, so it can be released everywhere all at the same time.

ATP: How did you sign with Big Scary Monsters in the UK?
KD: I didn't know about them except for that they worked with Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly and Anathallo. We met Kevin (Douch - owner of BSM Records) at SXSW this year and it seemed as if he got it. He was committed, smart and understood where I was at. If he were to put my record out, it would be mutually beneficial because he is walking into: a guy who has never had an official release in the UK or press presence, just touring, word of mouth. Kevin knew he would be getting, not a guy on the same level as Brand New status, but a 75-100 people kind of crowd anywhere in the country more or less. Kevin would get the record that has received the best reviews and, not to say it's a slam dunk for him, it's not like, if you put a Kevin Devine record out, you are going to sell 10 million records, you have to work to make it connect but, the timing is right. His work ethic is good and I've spent a lot of time with him recently. Kevin seems like a great kid and works really hard, the whole operation is the right fit and I'm glad I'm here.

ATP: Any plans to bring Brian Bonz (plays on 'Brothers Blood'/tours with Kevin) to the UK?
KD: I would love to when we next do a headline tour, but I don't know when that'll be. Probably on this record, maybe late this year or next, but I don't know what the plan is yet.

ATP: How long do you plan to be on the road with this release?
KD: As long as its justified. We are trying to get a release for Australia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Netherlands; when that's sorted, I'll tour there. I could see being on tour with this record for two years, it all depends if there is a demand. If there is nothing that comes up, then I can't tour on it. We'll see. I hope to write another record and get some time to write. This record is still new and trying to find its audience. I'm a grower. It seems like, people hear it and the third or fourth time they listen to it, they get it. If it takes touring two years on every record until I don't want to tour anymore, which is a very real possibility, I’ll do it, but I'm not at that stage right now.

'Brothers Blood' is out 20th July on Big Scary Monsters Records.

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