Kevin Devine (User Interview) - 10.30.09

Interviewed by
Kevin Devine (User Interview) - 10.30.09Kevin Devine recently agreed to answer some of your user questions while out on tour with The Get Up Kids. He had this to say before he started:

IntroductionIíd made a pass at writing in depth, thoughtful answers to roughly the first half of this interview before my computer decided to swallow them. That happened while riding an Amtrak train towards Lancaster, PA from Penn Station in New York to pick up a rental van for this upcoming string of Get Up Kids shows. Round 2 takes places from the front bench in said van, listening to Flaming Lips (now Janeís Addiction, now Jesus Lizard, now a million things later) driving through the mountains in central Pennsylvania (and the flatness of Ohio and Indiana, and through Chicago, and into Madison), this time heading west to start the tour in Minneapolis.

Iíll do my best to answer as thoroughly this time around and not punish you, fearless reader, for the sins of this machine. If these answers pale in inspiration, I guess Iíll be the only who knows. Thanks for your time, for sending in these questions, and to AP for its support and interest.

What is the idea behind the line, "your brother's blood"?

Iím not a big fan of telling people exactly what anything in any of the songs means; I think songs, books, movies, paintings all mean one thing to the person making them and, if theyíre worth anything, mean a whole lot of different things to the people receiving them. I think itís a lot more interesting to hear what you think, what your interpretations are. I donít want to ruin or cheapen them with mine.

Iím especially not crazy about assigning a fixed meaning to something as impressionistic as ďBrotherís Blood.Ē A lot of times, I write from a feeling, from something thatís kind of outside a logical expression of meaning; Iíll write something that feels sprawling and expressive and evocative and like it unearths something pretty deep in me, but I wonít be able to articulate exactly what for a while. Later, something will happen, or Iíll get some distance, and Iíll see it in context, and itís that, ďOh, rightĒ moment.

That phrase Ė ďMy brotherís blood boils in my armsĒ Ė felt very big to me. An expression of connection and sameness that was elemental, but not comforting Ė almost scary, a bit dangerous. How we mirror each other. Itís also something that was very specific and literal and familial in ways to me personally while also being this open idea, a metaphor about a lot of other things about people in general.

[I was lucky enough to catch the Brand New, Kevin Devine, and Manchester Orchestra tour a while back at Irvington Plaza in NYC, and it was probably the best concert i have ever seen because all three bands collaborated and played with one another all night, with that said,] How would you feel about some kind of large group collaborative project that included some of the people previously mentioned, as well as whoever the hell else you and your friends feel like bringing in?

Iíd love that, and in a sense feel like in my own small way, Iíve been doing that for a while. The Goddamn Band has had about 20, 25 members over the years, all of whom have lives, careers, families, other projects, some of which you guys know and listen to, some of which you donít, but all of which are worthwhile and interesting and accomplished. I love the idea of a self-renewing collective, where ideas bounce around and people come and go, kind of a sliding door. Keeps things fresh. As for those specific bands, there have been discussions and Iím sure sometime someway something will come out, either in small groups, or one large shot.

On another note, I find it very gratifying that people respond to that particular tour, because I felt like it was really special too, and I feel like a lot of things both in my career and in my life are pre- and post- that experience. Definitely transformative.

What's your biggest pet peeve with the audience when performing live or interacting with fans?

First, I do think Iím lucky in that I tend to have nice fans, smart and thoughtful people with a healthy respect for boundaries. That being said, of course there are some who donít, and I think my biggest issue is when someone overcompensates for their insecurities by being rude or inconsiderate, like being a dick will level a playing field that only exists in their head, some preconception where Iím looking down at them or something. Youíd be surprised but that happens more often than it should.

When playing live itíd probably be the whole cell phones in the front row thing. People texting or whatever while youíre trying to have this experience. Iíve had to kind of let that go to some extent, because thatís generational and Iíve been burned a bit calling people out on it who are actually big fans trying to send someone a picture theyíve just taken or texting a friend about how great the show is. It just seems detached to me, like all this isolated cultural reception via avenues like MySpace and YouTube has impacted certain peopleís ability to be present and engage. But Iím almost 30 so maybe I gotta change my diaper and roll with the new.

Did you like being on Favorite Gentlemen Records? Thoughts on going from a major label deal to an indie label?

Favorite Gentlemen has done very right by me, especially considering itís run by two dudes who tour as often as I do in a band thatís also keeping a very intense promotional schedule within that major label system. I knew the limitations going in and had decided I was just grateful and excited to work with friends and kind of keep it in house, but theyíve done a supremely professional job and surpassed many of my expectations. This recordís been the best and most broadly received of my career, and a lot of that has to do with the commitment and creativity of Jeremiah [Edmond] and the supportive people helping out at radio and press. As of right now, Iím really happy there and looking forward to what comes next.

Itís also kind of my goal to have a career in music while also having as little to do with the music industry as possible, and having the Manchester guys involved has really helped with that.

As for readjusting to life on an indie, I was really only a public property on Capitol for four months (October 2006 to February 2007), and a Ďsoft releaseí (meaning a small number of records pressed and next to no publicity campaign) at that. I was signed to Capitol for less than two years. The whole thing feels like a dream to me now, someone elseís life, and I recognize that Iím extremely lucky to have gotten out of it with a career and a record. Also, the adjustmentís not all that pronounced because since Capitol didnít use its collective might to propel me in any serious way, Favorite Gentlemenís plan around Brotherís Bloodís release was actually a step up. It was impressively executed and really reinforced what a difference it makes when people believe in you and that belief allows you time to develop. Iíve never been and probably never will be a rocket-ride artist, a quick shot to bankable success, but I do seem to keep taking steps up the ladder and, given how insanely impatient things are in the music industry now, I feel grateful for that. But more on that later.

What are your top five albums that everyone you think everyone should own?

These change all the time. But today weíll go with:

Neutral Milk Hotel, ďIn The Aeroplane Over The SeaĒ
Elliott Smith, ďEither/OrĒ
Pavement, ďCrooked Rain, Crooked RainĒ
Bob Dylan, ďBringing It All Back HomeĒ
Nirvana, ďIn UteroĒ

What direction do you truly see the music industry going in the future?

Who knows. Musicís going to be fine: people will always write songs, or sing, or play instruments, or bang on drums, or build beats on laptops, and other people will always be drawn to congregating around them, to share in an experience, to socialize, to feel something. The music industry is a totally different story. Itís changed so much already and keeps changing. The formulaís broken down, thereís no development anymore, no patience, the return on the investment is so drastically reduced, the technology so democratic and perpetually evolving: thereís just no predictable arc anymore.

Eventually, the dinosaurs that refuse to adapt will be killed off. They might take the entire structure down with them, but that might not be the worst thing. I think this shifting paradigm is good in that it requires musicians to be more broadly capable, to be more creative and more immediately involved with their careers than before. You canít rely as much on middlemen to solve everything, so you better care, and be plugged in, and be willing to drive things, and in a way, I think thatís as exciting as it is intimidating.

I donít know. Iím considered a has been or a never was or a rising star or a grizzled vet or none of the above depending on who you ask, so maybe Iím the wrong person to weigh in on this. I guess I think working for a living is what everyone does, and I think the forward-thinking and adaptable musician will figure out a way to keep doing that regardless of what happens to the industry at large.

When you're not touring, or recording, do you have a regular job? If so what is it? If you don't have one now, what ones have you had in the past?

I havenít had another job since 2005 or 2006. Prior to this, Iíve been: a counselor-in-training/janitor/lunch distributor at a summer camp in Brooklyn; a bakerís helper at a bakery in Staten Island; a cashier/sales rep for GAP Kids and Old Navy at the Staten Island Mall; a clerical worker at a credit management firm in TriBeCa; a personal assistant for an elderly retired textile maven on Manhattanís Upper West Side; an assistant in my universityís computer lab; a clerical worker at an executive search firm on the Upper East Side; a recipient of federal unemployment; a freelance journalist; a delivery guy/kitchen worker at a friendís vegan restaurant in Williamsburg; and most recently, a computer assistant at Sony.

How literal are you being in your songwriting?

Sometimes very, sometimes not even remotely.

Do you see yourself always being a solo artist? Who would you most like to collaborate with or form a supergroup with (dead or alive)?

I dunno. I like the situation Iím in right now: I get to make music with my friends, write songs and have an expansive group of people around me to help realize them and travel around presenting them to people. I have a lot of fun in the process, and I still feel like each record has its own personality and feels worthwhile, at least to me. So whatever else I do, play guitar for other people like Iíve done for Rachael and my friends in New Numbers, or record with other songwriters, I think Iíll always do this stuff too, because it feels open and inclusive and like I can go anywhere I want with it.

Iíd love to play in a band with Dave Grohl on drums, Janet Weiss playing second drums sometimes, Paul McCartney and Mike Mills and Kim Deal on bass and backing vocals, Elliott Smith on guitar, J. Mascis on other guitar, Doug Martsch on other guitar, Neil Young on other guitar, Sam Cooke singing, Morrissey also singing, Sinead OíConnor singing, Karen O carnival barking, Kurt Cobain screaming, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen collaborating on lyrics, and that little French baby Jordy in the front, frozen in time as a baby, playing baby games. My friend Will Schalda could play piano and keyboards with Steve Nieve. Whoever played pedal steel on the Hank Williams recordings would play too. Sometimes Hank Williams would sing, and if we needed a harp, Joanna Newsom would hook it up. Em in 2000 and Hova in í03 would rap sometimes with Ghostface and Chuck D. Sometimes Radiohead would play. Iíd play tambourine, kind of hang out.

How do you feel about the Mets choking every September?

Ha. I didnít have to worry about that this year. Think we were done by mid-July. Still, hope dies last; wait Ďtil next year.

Kevin, you and I both have something in common, we both have extremely red hair. So I was wondering if you ever get red headed criticism? And how do you coupe with this discrimination that has become socially acceptable? And just for fun, how many red headed nicknames have you racked up over the years? I have tons.

Iím trying to think: nothing too serious. Some girl at the merch table recently just told me she doesnít like gingers but I didnít take it too hard. I think she was lying. I get ďKDĒ and ďKDevĒ and ďKevDevĒ a lot more than anything about my hair. I got told I looked like Vincent Van Gogh once by a bartender, which was a pretty righteous compliment and somewhat connected to my ruddy complexion and reddish crop up top. All the same, stay strong. Be proud of yourself, bruthasista.

One of my favorite things about your music is how painfully personal your lyrics can be, and yet how relatable they are at the same time. How difficult is it to write and record songs that have such personal meaning to you? Do you ever find it difficult to play those songs for an audience, or is accessing that emotion on stage what makes the experience worthwhile for you? Is it strange to see people connect to those songs in a different way than you intended?

I donít know if itís something I see in terms of its difficulty or whatever. Itís the way I write, and the way I sing. If I choose to invest certain songs with direct personal experience, theyíve still got to be good songs. No extra points for showing people your diary and expecting that to be enough, to be above critique. I want to write the best possible songs I can, with an eye on all that means formally and emotionally, how things are structured and how they sound and what they say and how they say it.

The act of recording a song and playing it hundreds of times on tour can have a distancing impact sometimes, can force you to focus on certain technical aspects and can remove you from that initial moment where something felt so kinetic and raw. You can still connect but itís not like every night youíre inside that first feeling. I donít think thatís healthy and I donít think itís realistic. Still, itís not like itís robotic or premeditated either; sometimes I feel a lot, and different things in different songs trigger different memories, thoughts beyond just the moment youíre in or the moment that wrote the song. And that can be powerful and strange. And, I guess, part of the conversation with yourself you have in your work. It makes sense that it would change all the time and not be fixed, because you change all the time. Itís the act of figuring yourself out in real time.

And no, itís great if people develop their own connection with anything I write. It means what it means to me, and that wonít change when someone comes up with his or her own interpretation. Itís part of the exchange, I think. If there are songs that mean something so specific I donít want to risk being misunderstood, I have no problem saying so.

How do you find yourself adapting to different cultures when you travel the world?

I try to lay back a lot, to watch and keep my eyes open. Be respectful, say please and thank you. I try to balance taking advantage of the opportunities afforded me with not feeling beholden to some expectation of what Iím supposed to report back to the folks at home. No sense making yourself crazy while traveling just to piece together the most kick ass scrapbook on the block if it comes at the expense of your actual experience.

Would you ever consider repressing 'Put Your Ghost to Rest' and pressing and re-releasing 'Split the Country, Split the Street' and 'Make the Clocks Move'?

ďPut Your Ghost To RestĒ is available to be ordered online and can be purchased at shows; the CD has been back in circulation since Procrastinate! re-released it in April 2008. The vinyl is sold out and as of right now there arenít plans to repress it, but plans change, so weíll see. As for ďClocksĒ and ďSplitĒ, weíre discussing re-releasing those records with Fred at Triple Crown as theyíve been out of print for a while now. Weíll have more information on that towards the end of this year, early next year.

What was it like growing up in Brooklyn for you?

I loved it. I loved my neighborhood, my family, my public school, my public library, the public parks, my little league baseball, my friends, I loved it. Would not trade it.

What's your strangest fan encounter or fan gift?

Either the time I got told I had cankles or the time I got something akin to a voodoo doll, with a fully-realized front and back. Pretty cool actually and pretty accurate likeness, in a cartoonish, crayon-drawn sort of way. It made me realize I was wearing a certain outfit too often if someone could make a doll of me in it.

What's the most awkward question someone has ever asked you in an interview and how did you respond?

I canít think of anything off the top of my head; I was informally interviewed recently by a drunk woman in the basement of a club in Lawrence, KS, and she told me she was surprised I was playing there because, simultaneously, I should be a lot bigger AND be out of music, because people had long written me off in the music industry as a failure after my first record, which she remembered receiving at her college radio station in 2002, didnít take off. That was a little awkward.

With such a big back catalog of music, do you find yourself detached at all from older songs as you progress as a musician and person or have a hard time playing certain songs live, if it all?

Sure, there are some songs, especially from Circle Gets The Square, that I have a tough time relating to now. A couple on Clocks and Split Ė less, but a few. There are others I still really like, and some I end up coming around to from a totally different angle now. Almost like Iím charmed by the sentiment, the thought process in them, even if Iím kind of embarrassed by the content. But I still really like a lot of the last three records before Brotherís Blood and get a lot out of playing them live. They change with me, which is fun.

Do you find that doing large festivals like Lollapalooza is beneficial, or do you think that you would be better off touring with a band whose fans would be more instantly receptive to your music?

I think both have their place, so far as any of this stuff is ďimportant.Ē Having an association with events like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits categorizes you in a certain place thatís meaningful to certain people, and it affords you a certain visibility one club show wonít. At the same time, a tour is a more sustained and broad experience and in that sense covers more ground. If youíre lucky you get to do both. Iím lucky.

If you had total control over a big music festival, what would your dream music line up be as a fan? Your all-star game of sorts?

Everyone in my all-star band up above, and everyone on my five favorite records list. Letís see some others off the top of my head:

Built To Spill; Talking Heads; Modest Mouse; David Bazan; REM; Pixies; The Cure; The Smiths; Yeah Yeah Yeahs; Brand New; Manchester Orchestra; Brian Bonz; Miniature Tigers; Original lineup Guns N' Roses; Original lineup Sunny Day Real Estate; Superchunk; My Morning Jacket; AA Bondy; The Strokes; mewithoutYou; Wilco; The Lemonheads; Band of Horses; Johnny Cash; Owen; The Replacements; The Beatles; Stevie Wonder; TV on the Radio; The White Stripes; Flaming Lips; Arcade Fire; Nada Surf; Bruce Springsteen; Nina Simone; Red House Painters; M. Ward; Promise Ring; Velocity Girl; The Beach Boys; Weakerthans; The Breeders; Bright Eyes; Monty Love; Cass McCombs; Colour Revolt; Koufax; Sorry About Dresden

Iíd ask a lot more depending on avails, scheduling and if we were gonna do hip hop shit too.

Will there ever be a Miracle of '86 reunion?

I donít know if I can say never, but probably not. I donít think thereís really a public clamoring for it, itís not like we were some hugely impactful band. I wouldnít rule it out completely as weirder shit has happened but I donít see it any time soon.

What is your best advice to someone who really does enjoy writing lyrics, any tips?

Read good writing, and listen to good songwriters. Write what you feel in a way that feels unique to you without overstating the case. Write what you know, but donít be afraid to take chances within that. And be able to take criticism because as much as it stings it will help; you arenít perfect.

[At Ohio U a few years ago, you stated something along the lines of (I hope I don't botch this) "It's great to get out and listen to music and appreciate the art while leaving all of our worries about political bullshit at home."] Do you feel as if music should be used as an escape from the uncontrollable? Or something to relate to as opposed to driving home political agendas?

Hmm. Iím not sure I remember that statement or its context, but what I think about music is that it, like all creative endeavors, should be exactly what the person making it wants it to be. And if that person wants to it to be about love, or sex, or loss, or death, or God, or the absence of god, or politics, or what they had for breakfast, or shaking your ass, or nothing more than having a good time, thatís what it should be. And we, and you, all have the choice to stand there, to commiserate, to dance, to sing, or to shrug, register that ďthis isnít for me,Ē and then walk to the bar for a drink, or leave outright. And I accept that some people will always do that during the songs in my set that deal with social issues, because some people donít like their music mixed with their messages, and I accept that I have probably lost a number of fans as a result, but I think thereís room at the table for escaping and for digging around in the dirt for answers, for sense. And thatís what I plan to keep doing, personally.

What is your favorite instrument to play, and why?

I really love playing drums, but Iím not very good. Itís a long-term goal of mine to get a lot better at it, but even in a half-assed way, playing them is super fun. Guitarís great because depending on whether itís electric or acoustic itís just constantly unfolding, like a different instrument all the time. So much room to improve.

How did you come up with the name for the Goddamn Band?

I said it out loud and it sounded fun to me, cheeky, irreverent. Kinda shit-kickiní, and that was that.

Will 'She Stayed as Steam" ever be released in any sort of way?

Weíre looking at releasing ďShe Stayed As SteamĒ and ďBig Bad ManĒ formally sometime next year. I really love both songs and it was a tough call leaving them off the record. More to come there, probably in 2010.

In your opinion, what song, or album (b/c that's how it has to be sometimes), would you suggest a new listener to give a listen to in an attempt to get to know your music? What would you like to be the window that someone sees at first glance as a representation of your music?

Iíd probably start with Brotherís Blood. I think that record gives the widest representation stylistically, and encompasses, to this point, pretty much everything Iíve wanted to do in one place. It wears a lot of different faces but it all comes from the same place. Iím already itching away from it a little into whatever comes next, but for right now, itís the closest thing to definitive, to what Iíd want to show the aliens when they come down. Start there and move backwards.
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 20
09:48 AM on 10/30/09
What are you waiting for?
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KingsCrossing's Avatar
Haha, "irvington" plaza.

Love this man so much.
09:59 AM on 10/30/09
You need human heat
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owiseone35's Avatar
Ha nice my question was answered first too.
10:12 AM on 10/30/09
All my love to long ago.
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letdownagain's Avatar
No wonder I feel a connection to Kevin - being a cashier at Old Navy is an experience like no other.

Thanks to whoever decided my fan pet peeve question should be answered.

And that is the greatest super group ever.
10:13 AM on 10/30/09
Registered User
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Kapa73's Avatar
this took me close to 25 minutes to read...i wonder how long it took him to answer.

Awesome responses. I'd definitely go to his version of Lollapalooza.
10:39 AM on 10/30/09
87 jeans & a fresh pair of Nikes on
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rhinitus's Avatar
Ooo my question was answered. Thanks, Kevin.

Edit: After reading about his pet peeve with the cell phones, I read some blog post (I really wish I could remember who it was) about the always-on web or something. It was all about how this dude went to this MySpace concert I believe, and he was up in the balcony in the VIP area, and while looking down during the concert noticed that everyone was always on their cellphones. The post is about how people are being distracted from living life by constantly communicating. It was really interesting. Sorry I can't find it...
12:00 PM on 10/30/09
Finally here.
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-ben's Avatar
What an awesome guy.
01:21 PM on 10/30/09
Tommy Gun
Regular Member
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Tommy Gun's Avatar
That's why he is the nicest musician currently residing on this planet. You can tell not only in songwriting but in answering the questions of strangers how dedicated and thoughtful he is regarding his fans. That's a role model more in the industry should look towards.
01:24 PM on 10/30/09
Registered User
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Ragnar's Avatar
Man, that was great. I concur with the whole cell phones thing - even worse is when 10 different people are holding up their cameras to videotape and I can hardly see through their arms to what is actually happening in front of me. It's definitely strange. I love all the band conglomerations he came up with - thanks AP for doing this and thanks Kevin for being wonderful.
01:28 PM on 10/30/09
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Mirrorsandfevers's Avatar
Great interview.
01:54 PM on 10/30/09
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pete70x7's Avatar
02:20 PM on 10/30/09
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crit's Avatar
He is such an amazing, insightful and talented man. Thanks for taking the time to do this Kevin. Great read.
02:39 PM on 10/30/09
my blood flows harshly
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IntoTheSun's Avatar
This is great. He wrote a lot, wow!
03:43 PM on 10/30/09
Hi, I'm Andy Hull.
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ManchesterOrch8's Avatar
My questions were answered! =)

Kevin is truly a delight/
05:40 PM on 10/30/09
Satisfying your mom since 1986
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TribeTilInfnity's Avatar
Made my day : ) Great interview

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