Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Bottom String Session w/ Kevin Devine

Kevin Devine is an artist that's been evolving since his solo debut back in 2002 with "Circle Gets The Square" and only continues to do so with his latest effort, Bad Books, a collaborative project with the guys in Manchester Orchestra.  Kevin was nice enough to sit down with me before the first show on the Andy + Kevin tour at The Cat's Cradle and do a Bottom String Session.

We talked a bit about the process of making the Bad Books record, his progress on his upcoming full length, and much more.  After our interview Kevin performed "Country Sky Glow" from "Make The Clocks Move".  Check out the interview and performance below!





TBS:
So tell me a bit about the process of making the Bad Books record.  How did it come about, was it just the idea of making a record with friends?

Kevin:
Yeah, I mean I met the Manchester guys like three and a half years ago, coming up on four years this spring.  We very immediately liked each other as people and obviously...well not obviously I guess, also really liked each others music.  We were actually talking about it in the van today, we've ended up playing maybe over ten tours, ranging from a couple of shows to maybe like twenty shows or thirty shows in three and a half years.  We've been all through the states, the UK, we've been to each others weddings and stuff.  It's just a close connection.  From there to, "we should write together" isn't a huge jump...but it is a huge jump because if you know you like playing guitar on their songs or that you like their voice on yours it's a lot different from actually writing music together, you know?  There's no real guarantee that it's going to go great, but I really think that this has.  It's kind of opened up another wing as to what we can do, but it came together just from talking about doing it for a long time and then finally being like, "fuck it let's do it."  Then we just had to find a mutually agreeable opening in our schedules and just making it a priority and doing it.  That's how it came about.

TBS:
How did the writing of your portion of the Bad Books album go?  Were these songs written with Bad Books in mind or were they just what you'd had at that point?

Kevin:
For me I was just writing songs.  I was still touring Brother's Blood a lot and I didn't really know what the schedule was to do my next record, but things kick around anyways and I was trying to get them finished.  So I had these five songs that I was messing around with and when we actually sat down to make music together four of those songs, "The Easy Mark and The Old Maid", "Wouldn't Have To Ask", "You're A Mirror I Cannot Avoid", and "Mesa, AZ".  That was what I had to show them, otherwise I didn't have songs.  But what I'll say for sure is that those songs in some form would have ended up on my next thing.  Now I can only hear them as Bad Books songs though because of what everyone else did with it.  Like with "Wouldn't Have To Ask", Andy changed the bridge to that song, when I played it for him he was like, "it sounds great, but I feel like that could be straighter.  I mean, it's a pop song, it should be like this. (sings melody)"  Then I heard it and was like, "well, that's better."  To me that was what kind of marked a turning point for me, it made it a collaberative thing.  It would have ended up a totally different way on my record.

TBS:
So "Brother's Blood" was definitely the biggest leap between albums in terms of changing your sound.  Do you feel that forming such relationships with Brand New and Manchester attributed to a heavier sound or do you feel like it was sort of a natural progression for you.

Kevin:
Uhm, I mean I think everything you do in a way is a natural progression unless you self conciously say, "I'm going to make a techno record."  I mean it's not like I sit around listening to Simon & Garfunkel all day on acoustic guitar, just as long as I've played folky sounding music I've played punk rock sounding music too.  That was in there, but definitely touring a lot with Brand New and Manchester back in 2007 and 2008 and playing a lot more with a band in that time frame too for the first time in a while.  I hadn't had a real steady band since my old band broke up, before I was really doing this stuff all the time.  I'm sure it had an influence though.  These are two fucking burly bands.  They're bad-ass rock, not that they both aren't very capable of being very pretty because they can do those things very well too.  So it wasn't like, "I'm going to write something so that if I play with those guys again I have louder sounds", that definitely wasn't it.  It was more of the fact that I have a really good band now, and not that I didn't before but I had a different band.  The band I used to play with was violins and acoustic instruments and female backup singers, but it was a thing that I really liked and still like.  The membership changed and the direction of the band changed and even the songs changed.  But I mean there are still those songs like "Murphys Song" and "Fever Moon", and just mid-tempo-y not so agressive rock or band songs and then there's just me and a guitar a couple of times.  The band songs on it just felt a little more...ass-kicking, I guess.  "Brother's Blood" I always thought should be like "Cortez The Killer" that Neil Young song with a bunch of guitar solos and stuff.  I also think that your band tends to get louder when you have three people playing electric guitar instead of a dude playing acoustic guitar, a girl playing violin, and a girl playing piano.  So I'd say it's a combination of there being a natural progression, you're a songwriter and sometimes the songs you write dictate the record you make.  Sometimes when I make a record I don't know if it could be a completely folk record or it could end up being a straight-up 30-minute Ramones record one day, but that's just the songs that you write.  But the Manchester/Brand New thing I'm sure factors into it to.

TBS:
A little earlier this year you announced that you had started work on a full length.  How far along are you with that?

Kevin:
I have nine songs acoustic demo'd and a tenth song that I have written and structured, I finished the lyrics on the flight here and I just need to sit and make a demo of it.  I'm far enough along that we've already set a date to record in February.  We're gonna start making band arrangements in December and January...later this month actually.  Theres a little more writing to do, maybe five or six songs, and the record will be something out of those.  Theres a record in there now, I just need to kind of chop it and figure it out.  Y'know, give it some love.  It's getting there though.

TBS:
The altering of your lyrics live isn't something that a lot of people do.  What sparks the alternative lyrics and what makes you choose which songs?

Kevin:
Well, I think when you make a record you've just got a song in a moment and when you're playing live it's different.  It keeps it interesting for me.  I mean, there's probably some people that come to the shows that don't like that I do that, but there's probably plenty of others that do.  For me, and for that group of people I do it to keep it interesting.  I mean, I'm thirty, I'm playing songs in my set every night that I wrote when I was twenty-three, twenty-five, twenty-seven.  Sometimes your feelings change and your thoughts about something change.  One of the songs I have the hardest time with is "No Time Flat" because of my feelings about that whole middle passage.  I wrote that song in 2004 in the middle of the beginning of the Iraq war, in the middle of Bush and Kerry.  I was really uninspired by Kerry and I had no good feelings about Bush ever.  I felt like, "These are the choices?  These are the same fucking guy."  But I do still feel like both parties are closer on a lot of things than most people think they are.  A lot of the arguing is just bickering over bullshit, it's like fighting with your girlfriend over throwing out the trash when you're both cheating on each other.  I mean, I think that with that song I wanna rewrite the whole fucking thing sometimes.  But it's complex stuff to figure out how to articulate sometimes.  With a lot of the songs I'm just in the moment and something comes, but others theres an alternate set of lyrics for that you crossed out or something and one night you're just like, "I wanna do that one now."  It just kind of changes based on my mood.

TBS:
So, I saw the set at The Stuffing and let's stop fronting...when are we gonna get a hip-hop project?

Kevin:
Yo, this group of people...we listen to a fair amount of hip-hop.  Probably a bit more than with indie-rock or rock music at some points.  I wouldn't be super shocked if it ever happened, but I think that all of us operate at a high enough quality control level that we wouldn't wanna make something that was totally fucking embarassing so we'd have to make sure it was like...not some candy rap garbage.  So, yeah I don't know...maybe someday haha.  We've probably got to get there first.

TBS:
So what's the most flattering comparison that you've heard regarding your music?

Kevin:
I think I'm most flattered by the fact that theres a bunch of different things that I get compared to.  I think that speaks to the fact that theres a bunch of different kinds of songs on the record and a bunch of different ways that they're arranged and expressed.  The fact that I've been able to do tours with bands like Brand New and Manchester then go out with people like KT Tunstall, or Corinne Bailey Rae, or Rachel Yamagata who exist in a different spectrum with like pop/folk/soul singers.  They're certainly not indie rockers or punk rockers or whatever.  Then to do shows with artsy-fartsy bands, like Pitchfork bands.  I've done that too.  To be able to be on a festival like Bamboozle with a bunch of pop-punk kids then go to Coachella or Musicfest NW where theres like the hippest of hip or whatever and everything in between.  It speaks to the fact that theres a breath of style and expression there.  In terms of specific people though, anyone you like.  If someone is like "oh, I hear some Elliott Smith in your music" or some Bob Dylan.  You're just like, "I love Elliott Smith and Bob Dylan" so you're not going to tell someone no.  It's weirder when you hear shit you've never liked or listened to.  When someone is like, "Hey you remind me so much of Ace Enders!" or something, who's a nice kid but I'm like I don't listen to that music.  I've never owned any of those kind of bands music, except when I was younger I liked stuff like The Promise Ring and Get Up Kids and Sunny Day Real Estate.  But even with stuff like that, I haven't bought a new thing by one of those bands in a while.  I guess...those bands are probably poor examples but you know what I mean.  I love Get Up Kids, but you know what I mean.  I've always been surprised that a lot of the kids who like the Hot Topic music like what I do to because it's not what I listen to at all, but I'm stoked that they like it.  I'm happy anybody fucking likes it, theres a lot of music out there.

TBS:
What would you say is the proudest moment of your career?

Kevin:
I was pretty proud when we played at Lollapalooza.  Personally, I was a fifteen year old kid when I went to Lollapalooza in New York and I saw Pavement and Sonic Youth, it was the first concert like that I'd ever gone to.  To be playing a thing like that, and to be playing at Coachella that year on the same day as bands like Pavement.  Growing up that was my favorite fucking band and to get to be on the same day as the festival...that's rediculous.  So to me, I'm proud of that.  You have moments of frustration like you do with everything, but I'm pretty happy about most of what goes on.  It keeps growing, we keep doing it the way we wanna be doing it and I think that that's all I ever really wanted.  Sometimes you lose the plot and you get worried about who's gonna write what about it or whether it's gonna get bigger than it is.  That's normal and human, but when I can step back from that and realize that there's gonna be a couple hundred kids out here tonight very far from where I grew up, very far from where I started playing music and they'll know the words to songs I wrote; that's something to be proud of every night.


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