My name’s Kevin Devine. I play by myself, sometimes backed by a collective of musicians I call the Goddamn Band, sometimes as part of a group called Bad Books that’s ostensibly myself and members of Manchester Orchestra. I’m from Brooklyn & Staten Island, New York, have lived in the city my whole life. I write rock-leaning songs that fall between noisier, indie-rock style power-pop kinda things and then sparer, rawer “folkier” kinda things. Bad Books just put out its 2nd album, called II, and we just finished our first tour for this cycle. On December 1st, I’m doing a 10th anniversary show, playing three of my six records in their entirety, at a club here in NY called Webster Hall. This week I’ll be taking part in a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy here in Brooklyn. I’m intending to write my 7th record throughout this upcoming fall & winter.
You popped by La Casa Artist Residency in the beautiful setting of Byron Bay last year, how did you hear about the residency?
My manager John Mathiason turned me onto it. I’m grateful he did. It’s heaven there.
What inspired you most about being at La Casa?
It’s the sort of environment that breeds a looseness that isn’t lazy, but rather, one that makes you wanna play music all day. The nature, the water, the air, the beach, really spectacular there, literally awesome.
You recorded a version of ‘Between The Concrete And The Clouds’ at La Casa, it has rather interesting lyrics including a line about Casper The holy ghost tell us about the inception of that particular track?
I’d had the basic chorus melody of that song kicking around since probably 2007, but it never stood up and made itself finished, announced itself. It just kind of hung around until it was ready to be a thing. Over the course of winding down the Brother’s Blood tour cycle in 2010, I started piecing together ideas for what would become the Between The Concrete & Clouds album, and that song crystallized about halfway through the writing process, November 2010. The verse chord progression and pre-chorus came together and seemed to flow really nicely with this chorus melody that had needed a home for so long. Lyrically, it’s a song about embracing uncertainty and realizing there’s an expansive opportunity in not needed to concretely define certain aspects of your interior experience. That much of life’s mysteries aren’t meted out on a “don’t know” as much as a “can’t know” basis, including, on some level for me anyway, structural ideas about the religious experience. Embracing something more open-ended doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lukewarm, but more that you’re taking things are they come and not trying to crowbar reality to your specifications. That specific lyric is kind of playful and hung well on that theme and melody.
What’s your earliest memory of performing and who inspired you to start?
I remember singing at family parties. I sang Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” at a holiday party when I was maybe 5, 6. I feel like it was at my paternal grandfather’s house, or maybe my dad’s sister’s house, in Brooklyn. My family inspired my initial interest in music, just all being fans, having it around all the time, playing it around the house. I got inspired to start playing by pop rock bands like Guns N’ Roses and, later and more formatively, Nirvana. I got really inspired to make music based on a certain set of ideas by them & further on by the local hardcore/punk rock scene on Staten Island, and to develop along a certain style through exposure to songwriters like Elliott Smith & Neil Young & Bob Dylan.
Acoustic or Electric guitar? And why?
Both, and for totally different reasons, totally different expressions, moods, contexts. A good song should work on either.
You’re a massive fan of words, in no particular order what are you five favourite words?
How could I ever know?
What and where was the first gig you went to?
I think the first proper gig I ever went to was R.E.M./Grant Lee Buffalo, Monster tour, 1994, Nassau Coliseum, Long Island, NY. I think I went to some hardcore shows at a club called The Rock Palace on Staten Island right around the same time, but I played at those too, so they don’t count.
What’s on heavy rotation on your iPod right now?
The new Cat Power, the new Sun Kil Moon, the new Fiona Apple, the Front Bottoms.
Online streaming services are now a part of day to day listening for music fans. Which is your favourite online streaming service and why?
I don’t really use any of them. I’m pretty old school at home, I listen to a lot of talk radio. NPR, WBAI, WFAN. Politics & sports.
If you were given the chance to write a book, what genre would it be and why?
I’d really like that kind of delicious, plot-driven, dialogue-heavy crime fiction, either hard-boiled noir like Raymond Chandler, or softer, slicker like Elmore Leonard, predominantly because the genre and style and skillset are so foreign to me. I’d most likely actually write a sort of memoir, a “your life to this point through this lens” kind of thing. I’m not the best fiction writer at all.
If you could curate your own festival, where would it be, who would be on the bill, how many people would you let in and what features would it have ?
Oh, maybe on Byron Bay, maybe a small group – 1000 or so – lots of delicious slow-cooked veggie friendly stuff, the word “artisanal” makes you want to gouge your eyes out but you know the deal, good for you & delicious & good for the world. Green-run as best as possible. Sinead O’Connor would be my guest of honor. Lots of people I’d want to play are dead. I’d like there to be basketball available.
Because you visit Australia regularly, which living Australian artist would you most like to collaborate with? Tell us why?
I really like An Horse quite a lot. We’ve toured together and I’d really like to write music with them – they’re a fun & smart band, really tasteful & heartfelt.
When are we likely to hear your seventh album? And when might we see you back here in Australia?
I hope to have it out in 2nd half 2013, and I hope to be over there shortly after that.
To find out more about La Casa Artist Residency go to: lacasa.net.au