Kevin Devine

By paul

Paul: Hey Kevin, how are things with you right now?
Kevin: Can’t complain. Sitting on an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic two hours from Heathrow. Just watched ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop.’ Not a good movie.

Paul: So your new record ‘Brother’s Blood’ has been out in the US for a month or so now, have you been pleased with the reaction from both the press and the fans? Do you pay much attention to what journalists write about you? I read on Wikipedia you actually majored in journalism, is that right?
Kevin: I did major in journalism, at Fordham University, an upstanding Jesuit institution in New York. I read more than I should but not as much as I could, I guess would be fair to say. I try not to pay too much attention but curiosity and ego get in the way sometimes and I end up investigating more than I consider to be healthy. So far, this record’s been really well-received and I’m grateful for it.

Paul: The record actually leaked early – is it soul destroying as an artist to have the album be freely available before release date or do you actually think it can be a useful tool to market and hype up a record?
Kevin: It’s definitely a bummer, but we got lucky in the sense that it seemed the response was pretty uniformly positive, so the leak drummed up some interest and probably magentized some people who were on the fence about me prior. It definitely affects sales, but we’re still selling more of this record (and it’s a modest amount) than any prior, so I see it now as both good and bad.

Paul: You’ve always sung about a wide range of issues, what kind of topics do you touch on with this record?
Kevin: The end of days, a dead dog and his sailor master, hallucinogenic fever dreams, sexual infatuation, vividly imagined infidelity, Irish women, Irish Spring, baby boomers, cold feet, getting responsible, life on life’s terms.

Paul: ‘Brother’s Blood’ is your fifth album, yet the first to be given a full UK release. Firstly, why has it taken you so long to get a proper UK release? Has this been a deliberate decision…I assume not bearing in mind you tour the UK fairly regularly…
Kevin: No, definitely not. I’ve been over here at some point on every record I’ve ever made, since 2001, 21 years old sharing a van with an Austrian – I think – hardcore band called Billion Dollar Mission. I’ve just never been able to secure UK distribution for whatever reason before on a proper and committed label. ‘Put Your Ghost To Rest’ was licensed over there by some friends of mine running a start up called Fruitcake, but this is the first real release with anything behind it. And not by design.

Paul: What is it about the UK that attracts you here?
Kevin: Definitely the weather. And the chocolate. And Tom McRae. And the cliffs of Dover.

Paul: How did you hook up with Big Scary Monsters?
Kevin: We’d heard a bit about them through Anathallo, and I believe Kevin and my manager John talked to each other a bit before this past year’s SXSW Music Conference in Austin, Texas. We got to talking and it just seemed like Kevin got it, and did things from a genuine place and for good reasons and like he’d bust his ass to get the record as visible as possible. It made sense to me.

Paul: How important is it for you to not just release a CD, but also have the artwork, extras…that kind of thing. Do you think artists and labels have to work harder to ‘sell’ music than they ever have before?
Kevin: I think they absolutely do. There’s a whole generation of kids who’ve never paid for music at all, who don’t think about it as any sort of ethical decision and don’t realize the impact this sea change in the industry has on mid-level independent bands. So everybody’s hustling. I like the whole packaging aspect, for sure, but I’m not fascistic about in as a fan and understand plenty of people are just going to hear my music as mp3 files on their laptops. But yeah, I like the whole process, laying out the photos, putting together the lyric sheet and credits and thank you list. I like the idea of presenting the songs in order and in context, even if it’s a dying idea.

Paul: You tour a lot. A hell of a lot! At a time when myspace and other websites are making it easier for bands to become heard, do you think it’s still as vital to tour as it was, say, 10 years ago when the internet was not as prevalent as it is now?
Kevin: I think it’s even more vital. All that accessibility online has crowded the space and made it both easier for bands to be heard and for listeners to cycle through an endless stream of options. It’s depersonalized the experience as much as its democratized it. I think you’ve got to be willing to bust your ass and bring your music to people, to try and connect with them in a way that makes the experience three-dimensional and tangible. The internet is constantly evolving and an amazing resource but it can’t be the only resource, at least for someone like me.

Paul: Are you surprised that your friends in Manchester Orchestra have not just become successful, but also had success on a commercial/mainstream level too? Can they follow Brand New onto the next level?
Kevin: No, I’m not surprised – they’re really good, and they’re young and hungry and driven. They’re ambitious and their stuff is muscular but accessible. I think they can absolutely be a successful rock band, however that’s defined; I think they already are. The first time I saw them play was in Buffalo, day 1 of that Brand New tour we did in 2007, and I remember thinking then that they were going to be just fine.

Paul: Speaking of Brand New, you’re touring with them in the UK very soon. Have you heard the new BN record? What can we expect? As someone who is friends with the band, do you and they find it amusing at just how much people go ga-ga whenever they do anything, even when it’s posting some kind of cryptic blog?!
Kevin: I haven’t heard the record, but the new songs I have heard I love, and think they continue to take chances and grow, which is all you can ask any band to do. I think they have a very singular relationship with their fans and I think it’s awesomely weird and cool that kids are that committed to them, that interested.

Paul: I know it’s something you’ve been asked about a lot before so I’ll only just touch on it, but when you were dropped by Capital did you ever consider packing it in?
Kevin: No, not at all. Never occurred to me.

Paul: Since you were dropped do you think the gap between indies and majors has levelled out a little?
Kevin: In the sense that they’re both struggling mightily, I think they have. And I guess there are more legitimately successful acts on non -corporate indie labels now than ever before, bands selling a bunch of records and holding a more vaunted place in the cultural landscape. But I still think even severely compromised majors have more capital to throw around, more resources at their disposal, more room for risk. They’re not very quick to take those risks, but they’re very quick to prematurely reverse course if they don’t see an immediate return. If anything, what I see right now is that nobody has a working formula anymore – you’ve gotta be adaptable and work with what’s out there.

Paul: What does the rest of the year hold for Kevin Devine?
Kevin: I’ll be back over to Ireland and the UK in July with Manchester Orchestra, doing a few headline shows and popping over to Berlin for the Melt! Festival. Then, a short solo run in the midwest out to meet the Goddamn Band at this year’s Lollapalooza. Then, some time home before getting back on the road this fall in the States. Keeping sane and level. Eating well. Less rain, I hope. It’s a living.

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]