An Interview with Kevin Devine

Singer Songwriter talks"Matter of Time"

Tuesday, December 8th, during Subspace Radio, I spoke with Kevin Devine, independent singer-songwriter. Devine spoke about the upcoming Devinyl Splits, Series One shows (Dec. 11-13). Devine also spoke about his most recent LP, Matter of Time, recording his next LP, his 2015 music picks, and more. Listen to the interview or read the Q&A format below.

So this weekend is pretty exciting. It’s the one-weekend-only set of Devinyl Splits shows, and everyone on the splits will be there, along with a few special guests recently announced. Can you talk about who and what these shows will be showcasing?

Sure, so it’s three nights. It’s Friday at The Bell House in Brooklyn, Saturday at the TLA in Philadelphia, PA, and Sunday at The Sinclair in Cambridge, basically Boston, MA. It’s basically showcasing the entire series to this point of this Devinyl Splits singles thing we’ve been doing all year. What that has been is, when I did these two records, Bubblegum and Bulldozer, [funded through] Kickstarter in late 2013 … we needed some name to put on the back of the records, to basically be like our little record label, pseudo-record label, imprint. Rob Schnapf [who made Bulldozer, Put Your Ghost To Rest, mixed the second Bad Books record, mixed Between The Concrete And Clouds, and worked on Elliott Smith and Guided By Voices] … he was like, “You have to call it Devinyl Records.” And I was like “Dude, that’s really cheesy, that’s like super cheesy.” And he was like, “It’s just the perfect amount of cheesy.” And I kind of figured that since I’ve never been particularly cool anyway, it’s okay to be a little cheesy. I took him at his word and we put “Devinyl” and had Chris Bracco, who’s worked on a bunch of stuff forever, make a slogan, or logo rather, put on the back of the records.

So this year we were kinda like, “Well, I would like to put something out but I don’t want to make a new album yet.” We were still kind of touring on those two records [Bubblegum, Bulldozer] for most of 2014 and even the first half of this year. So the thought process was like, I want to try to do something that kinda nodded at the hardcore punk world I grew up in where splits singles were a huge thing. The Sub Pop Singles series … that was a thing when I was growing up, and Polyvinyl [Records] still does that now, a bunch of other people do it. Thought it would be kinda neat to try something like that that could also kind of further define what Devinyl could be, not just this thing I put on the back of two albums I put out, but a thing that has some connection to other artists too.

The reason it ended up being this splits thing was I had the idea that … I feel like I sort of sit at a cross, sort of like a nexus point between a bunch of different genres or approaches of kind of guitar based, loosely independent music. There’s bits of folk in there, bits of punk in there, bits of indie rock, bits of a bunch of things. I kind of thought, maybe not everybody would associate some of the people I’m friends with or have played with with one another, but I could do this thing where I’m the hinge, I’m kind of the constant, and you get to kind of cover a lot of ground stylistically. You know, I don’t necessarily think people would associate Owen with Perfect Pussy with Nada Surf, but they all kind of make sense with me, depending on which of my records you’re listening to or which part of my show you walked into. So that was kind of the abiding principle and I didn’t expect to ever do it live because all of the bands are like touring level, national artists and live in different places, and I didn’t expect that we would ever get to perform it. But my booking agent and I were talking about trying to do something kind of fun for the holidays back in June. We kicked around the idea of, what if I did multiple nights at a venue in New York and played x amount of my records each night, did like two records one night, two records the next night, something like that. And we kind of were lukewarm on that, it feels like.. I get it, and I will probably do something like that again at some point, but it does feel like it’s a bit overdone maybe right now. So we were kind of trying to do something else. And I threw out the split singles show idea, kind of with the caveat that, I was almost positive that it wouldn’t happen just because it would be difficult to get everybody together, there would be limited funds, and it’s just a logistical hurdle for sure, a series of logistical hurdles. But we kind of got the dates held and I went and asked the people, the bands … my pie in the sky was like, if two of them say yes, I can build a show around that, we can do three of us and make it work. But that was like the highest echelon of wishful thinking. And then they all said yes within an hour. They were all like, “Cool, tell me when to show up.”

So that’s kind of the spirit of how this whole thing has come together. It’s not a big money enterprise for anybody, it’s just kind of community building and an acknowledgement of relationships and liking each other’s stuff and that extended through the making of the singles into now getting to actually perform them with this whole group of people together for three days this weekend.

So I’m excited about that. It’s definitely not your average kind of indie rock show, it’s almost going to feel more like a variety show, with like a headlining Kevin Devine & The Goddamn Band set around it. So I’m looking forward to it.

Yeah, it’s very different from a lot of the shows I’ve been going to or been hearing about just because it is a variety show, like you said. So what can people expect this weekend and how different are all the three shows gonna be from one another?

Well the shows are gonna be somewhat standardized in the sense that it’s basically gonna be like … There are six guests, five of them are the same at each show, which is the first five splits. That’s Matthew Caws from Nada Surf, Meredith Graves from Perfect Pussy, Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins from Tigers Jaw, the full band Cymbals Eat Guitars, and Mike Kinsella who plays as Owen and and also plays in American Football. And so basically it’ll be two 80 – 90 minute sets with a 15 or 20 minute intermission between them. And it’ll probably be something like I play, my band and I play three or four songs and then I introduce the first guest and that person or those people come up and they do their short set and for some of the bands we’re gonna back them or support them play with them. For some of the people it’ll just be them solo or alone.

And I think that’ll be the run of the night. It’ll be kinda like a baton, three or four Kevin Devine songs, the guest, three or four Kevin Devine songs, the guest, you know. And there’ll be some collaborating, some intermingling, some me and the band acting as their backing bands for the night which is exciting. We’ve had to learn a bunch of music, that’s always challenging, fun.

We’re in the final stages now of organizing details for food drives we’re doing for each show with the local food banks and we’re figuring out the details for that. There’ll be a merch raffle connected to that that’ll happen during the intermission.

And then I think where it’ll be different every night is there’s a different sixth guest each night … all of them great and all of them people I’ve done a bunch of touring with and really like a lot. We have Laura Stevenson playing in Brooklyn, Jesse Lacey from Brand New in Philly, and Brian Sella from The Front Bottoms in Boston. So that will be naturally different cause the sixth performer will be a different person.

And then I would also suspect like, we, me and The Goddamn Band, we rehearsed a lot of songs, probably I think between my solo stuff and the band we’re up somewhere, for our own music, in like the 30s. We’re not gonna play 35 Kevin Devine songs every night, I think we’ll probably end up doing about half that. But I think we’ll switch up some stuff from night to night if that makes any sense.

Absolutely, that sounds awesome. So, the split series, so far there have been five. Is there gonna be a sixth one for this series?

There are, yeah, but we’re gonna announce that a little later. Can’t say it yet but there will be a sixth … Being on the record label side of it, I learned a lot about some of the frustrations and logistical insanity that goes along with a project like this. We’d kinda hoped to be through with the series by now. We thought the sixth one would be out by now, but we ran into a lot of issues with the pressing plants. You might’ve heard, or I’m sure some of your listeners have, but vinyl pressing plants are super backed up kind of everywhere now because there’s such a demand and there’s not enough of them. So I think every release in this series has ended up getting delayed as a result. But … the fifth one we’ve announced and … it might already be up for pre-order but I think my song might be being premiered some time later this week. We’ve only got one more, it’ll probably, hopefully it’ll happen in the first quarter of next year. We’ve got the artist lined up, one of the songs is recorded and done, the liner notes are ready, the artwork is done, we’re just waiting on a few finishing pieces. Hopefully we get it out to people before spring. But you, know it is what it is and we’ll just keep people informed as it keeps moving.

That sounds great. Is there gonna be another series? I know online it was announced as Volume 1.

I gave myself the out there to let there be another one because I figured if I didn’t use that language then… that language lets you do another one if you want. So I hope there is, I’d like there to be, I don’t know if it’s gonna be in the immediate future. I think the next thing for me is a proper album next year, some time late in 2016. And then by the time we get to it, it’ll have been like five years between Bad Books records, so that may be a 2017 thing, which would make Devinyl Splits Volume 2 like a 2018 thing, which is a long way from now. But, I definitely want to do another one and I could tell you 20 artists that I’d love to [include]. It would be for no shortage of me wanting to split a single with people, it’s all footwork, logistics, and timing. But yeah, I definitely would do another one

So how exactly did you decide what musicians you wanted to include and then whether or not you were gonna be doing original songs, covers of another band, or covers of one another

Well, I’ll go backwards. Each one had its own theme and we kind of let the artists be very integral in deciding that. I thought something that would be fun about this process would be that even though I’m the constant through all this, it would help give each single its own personality even more if the other artist was allowed to direct some of those terms, particularly if he or she had strong feelings about it. So I would kind of go into each one and be like, “What do you want this to be? I am open to whatever. Do you want it to be new original material? Do you want it to be we cover each other? Do you want it to be we pick a third party and cover that?” And that’s kind of where it built out from. I think the one thing we didn’t get to do on this series, because it’s kind of ambitious timing wise and focus wise, there was some kind of conversation with one of the partners about us writing together, like recording together, sending each other bits and pieces of songs and then building it out from there, and I do think next time it would be cool to have that color represented.

With this one, each one kind of took its own shape.. Like Matthew was the first guy I asked, and I’m a huge fan of Nada Surf and I’m a huge fan of his songwriting and his voice and he’s also become a good friend over the past five years. We met probably seven years ago and did some touring together in Europe in 2010 and since have been increasingly close. He didn’t know this at the time, but in a sense, the fate of the whole project kind of hinged on whether he was into it or not. I asked him first and I think if he had been like, “Yeah, you know man, that’s too much of a hassle, I don’t really have time,” I might’ve been less motivated to ask whoever the next people were. But he was, luckily for me, really excited about it, present-minded. He was eager to cover one of my songs and he was sending me ideas and it was easy for me to want to cover one of his songs, because his songs are pretty beautiful songs and immaculately constructed songs. He has probably 10 – 15 songs that are on my list of ones I wish I wrote, you know? So that’s kind of where it all started.

Meredith was someone I admired and thought was really smart, strident, and cool, and I actually just reached out to her through social media. We both played the same club in Manchester, England, like two nights apart. I sent her a picture of her set list and just said basically what I just said to you. I was like, “Hey, I think you’re really cool and I don’t know you but I’d like to.” And she knew who I was and we were sending each other these kind of visual postcards as we were both on tour in Europe, like emailing, “Here’s a note from a McDonald’s in Copenhagen” or wherever she would be. I was like stealing the free wifi and trying to stay in touch with people and I was kind of doing the same thing from whatever hotel or van I was in and we became friends. Immediately, it was like, “Well, she would be killer,” because she’s really good and really good in a really different way than people associate Matthew or I being, if they think we’re good at all. It would be a very different color.

And that’s kind of what dictated Tigers Jaw. My friend Jon Simmons from Balance And Composure played me their music on an overnight drive when we toured together in 2014. I was struck by their songwriting and their melodies. They’re lumped in with these emo bands or hardcore bands, but I thought they were more like … very chimey, chordy, Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads, power pop bands, and that’s my wheelhouse, I love that stuff. So I just kind of asked, you know, kept asking.

Mike Kinsella and I have toured together. Cymbals, we have a lot of mutual friends and I just like their stuff and they also come from Staten Island, which is kind of weird. I lived there for a long time, and I started playing music out there a long time ago, and there are not many indie rock bands that come from out there.

And there were a million other people I could [ask]. Dave Bazan is somebody I’d love to do this with, and we went back and forth a bunch about it, and but it was a timing issue for him. Maybe he’s part of Volume 2, or 3, or 4, or maybe we’re both 70 and that’s when we do it. Sharon Van Etten is somebody I would love to do it with, Hop Along, Into It. Over It, Laura Stevenson, there’s a million people, and maybe some of those will be in the future, but the ones we got I think are pretty… It’s a pretty awesome list.

Absolutely. I’m excited to see how this weekend goes, since it is such a different group of musicians.

Me too! A lot of it’s a leap of faith, not socially, everyone’s cool, and I’m fairly certain everyone will be cool together. But more like, I kind of won’t know how the show is gonna feel until we’re doing the first one, cause it’s not possible to do a dress rehearsal for a show like this because everyone is so busy and lives wherever they live. The dress rehearsal is going to be sound check at The Bell House. Then I’ll get a sense of the flow or lack thereof. Could be a glorious mess, the whole thing but I have a feeling, even if that’s the case, I think it’ll still be exciting and different.

Montclair State | New Jersey

Natalie Caamano

Natalie is a senior at Montclair State studying English and journalism.