“Songwriting is a lot of things for me,” Kevin Devine starts. “For one, it’s compulsive. I’ve been making up songs since I was a little kid. I’ve been obsessed.” Having made his name performing in a number of different bands, as a solo artist, alongside members of Manchester Orchestra, in side project Bad Books, and releasing a series of ‘Devinyl’ split singles in collaboration with friends and favourites, Devine’s extensive output speaks for its own conviction.
The most recent addition to his ever-growing back catalogue arrived in the form of ‘Instigator’ last year, a record that couples contagious hooks with shattering sentiment, baring its heart on its sleeve with unwavering tenacity. “A component of songwriting for me is absolutely a way of making sense of my inner life and the world outside of it, how those things do and don’t connect to one another, and maybe trying to make them connect,” the musician continues.
It’s this enduring sincerity that continues to endear Devine’s music to fans worldwide. “I have a capacity to get in my own way sometimes,” he admits. “I feel like there’s a capacity as a songwriter, particularly when you’re a bit younger, to fall in love with your pain. You’re kind of married to the romanticism of it. You think it’ll be your salvation.” Putting faith in the notion that “there are other things in your life,” Devine writes both of and from experience.
“The point is to try and communicate something in a way that makes sense to me,” he explains. “It’s a blend of poetry and journalism – it’s not a diary entry, and it’s not a dream completely, but it has a foot in both worlds.” Communicating his own unique experiences through shared traits, Devine’s music speaks on a number of different levels. “We’re all painting with different combinations of the same colours,” he adds.
“I’m still waiting on that call from Sinead O'Connor to write her big comeback record!"
— Kevin Devine
The title track of his latest record, ‘Instigator’ brings the process of writing to life with its own powerful voice. “I keep it dumb, do it just like you tell me to, I draw it straight as I possibly can,” Devine sings. “I come as close to the truth as I ever do, I take some liberties, I am what I am.” “That's a conversation between one part of my brain that's saying 'just write a fucking pop song!' and one part that's saying '...but I don't want to write a fucking pop song!'” he exclaims, laughing.
“What does a pop song look like if I'm the one writing it?” he questions. “How do you write that but write it like you?” True to form, Devine’s music makes ample use of hooky riffs and punchy refrains. These are songs that’ll have you humming in an instant and later contemplating every turn of phrase. Their enduring appeal is rooted in the sincere sense of character that strings them together. “What I'm trying to say in music,” he carefully articulates, “is to present a picture of what it feels like to be a person.”
“My experience as a person is unique to me,” he continues, “but it's not unique in the sense that we all share a lot of the same inner traits.” Putting his own truths to music, Devine creates songs with an openness and honesty that continues to resonate with fans all over the world. “I think that when I'm eighty in the old folks home, that will be when it all kind of cascades,” he chuckles. “I'll be like 'wow, that was an amazing way to spend a life, making this stuff that people actually connected to.'”
Until then, Devine has his focus firmly in the present moment. “You're just trying to make something you like, and that feels real.” This search for reasoning in reality is given a vibrant lease of life in ‘Instigator’ opening track ‘No Why’. "If you're not a religious person, and you don't believe that there's this preordained architecture that is watching out for you,” Devine begins, “or that there's a modus operandi for how everything in the world is happening and why it's happening…” he trails off.
“We’re all painting with different combinations of the same colours."
— Kevin Devine
“If I accept that all of the beautiful, substantially overwhelmingly positive things that I have in my life are as arbitrary as the totally knee-bucklingly negative things that happen sometimes in a life - death, loss, disappointment, whatever... There's a lot of freedom in that idea,” he concludes. “I've spent so much time, sober, high on cocaine, drunk in a bar, sat in a church, sat in a basement, with friends, with lovers, with my family, by myself, thinking about why – why do things happen?” he states. “What if that's in the question? What if that is the reason?”
These songs might have been written over “a year and change” ago, but their sentiments echo with perhaps more relevance now than ever. “Unfortunately for the state of the world,” Devine states, “some of the more topical songs accidentally fumbled into what ended up being the most embarrassing political cycle in modern American history.” Expressing that “at that time it was more like I couldn't believe that there was any grounds for a Donald Trump to even mount a presidential campaign,” the words resound with all the more weight since the politician became president.
Finding liberation in absolution from cause, Devine explores emotion and experience in a way that’s quite unlike any other. “I love the idea of music being something that communicates directly to the brain and the heart,” the musician enthuses. “There's sad, frustrating, scary things in life and in the world that are inarguable,” he conveys. “Then there's also a lot of sublime beauty and goofy silliness,” he adds. “My hope is that my music reflects at least some of those things at least some of the time, and that people hear it.”
“My role is to be this guy that is trying to vibrate and communicate,” Devine expresses. And that’s exactly what he’s going to do. Embarking on a tour across Europe and the UK with his Goddamn Band, Kevin Devine is bringing his music to audiences with an unrivalled sense of devotion. Not one to withdraw from his creative outlet, the coming months are sure to hold much more for the Brooklyn-based musician.
“I’m still waiting on that call from Sinead O'Connor to write her big comeback record,” Devine hints. “When that comes, everything else in my life - my daughter, my wife, my band, my self-care, it'll all stop, and I'll just throw myself fully into that,” he states, before laughing. “No, I'm just joking. But I would love to do that.”
Speculating about the possibility of writing music for a play, composing for a film, and even starting work on a book, the future might be uncertain, but there’s no doubt it’s going to be something brilliant to behold. “Hopefully, life is long,” Devine chuckles. “As you continue to march through it those things can show up.” Keeping his mind open to possibility, the future is his for the making. “Maybe not the Sinead O'Connor thing,” he laughs, “but everything else. You never know.”
Kevine Devine's new album ‘Instigator’ is out now. His UK tour starts on 29th Jan - head here for the full details.