On June 1st 2002 I had the chance to interview New York singer/songwriter Kevin Devine, who is also the frontman of the Miracle of 86 after his set at The Royal Albert.
YATD:: First off, what do you see as the message, or theme of your music?
Kevin Devine: I don’t know that there’s a singular message, I guess I just write a lot about what’s happening to me. I think there’s a lot of bullshit and “faking it” in emo music, and I don’t want to do that. I just write about whatever’s going on.
YATD: How do you feel you express yourself differently solo, compared to when playing with the Miracle of 86?
KD: The line is kind of blurred, a lot of songs went from the band to me, and vice versa. To me, the stuff I do by myself doesn’t need the drums and the loudness, and maybe it’s a little different lyrically, and more country-ish in style. The band is a little more rock and roll, and this is a little more not.
YATD: Did you find the transition from playing with the group, to playing solo difficult to make?
KD: You always play solo first, cause you play in your room that way (and in front of your friends or whoever). I started playing solo in college out of necessity, because I really wasn’t around the band as much. It’s more nerve-racking because if you fuck up, you fuck up. But I also find it a little more liberating, because you don’t have to be jumping around screaming. It’s more like how you’re playing when you’re sitting around in your house.
YATD: Your music has been compared to the work of Bright Eyes, and the early Dashboard Confessional songs. How do you feel about these comparisons?
KD: I’m a lot more excited to be compared to Bright Eyes than to Dashboard Confessional. Not because he’s big, but I’ve just never liked his music, even before he was big. I respect him because he’s worked hard forever, but on the other hand, in terms of pure songwriting, Conor Oberst is infinitely better. Chris Carraba is 28 year old man writing about 15 year old emotions. Conor Oberst and David Bazan (Pedro The Lion) are so much more complex in their writing. In terms of being compared to Bright Eyes, I like him a lot, but when he misses, he misses almost to the point of being embarrassing. But when he’s on, he’s as good as anybody is. I just get nervous when I’m compared to someone like him, because he’s so easily identifiable it’s almost like you’re ripping him off. But it’s also an honor to be compared to him.
YATD: Chris Carraba chose the moniker Dashboard Confessional to separate his songs from himself, and make them something anyone can relate to and sing along to. Are your songs outpourings of your individual feelings, or do you think that many people can relate to the lyrics as descriptions of how they may be feeling?
KD: Everyone in the world can relate to happiness, or sadness regardless of their age, whether they’re 10 or 40. Kids will relate to what they’re going to relate to. I’m not on the level of popularity as someone as Chris Carraba or Conor Oberst, but I don’t really think about that because it’s not my job to think about it. It’s up to you guys if you want to relate to it or not. Certain songs I’m surprised that people can relate to, especially some newer songs, because they have very personal lyrical content, and if people relate to them I don’t know how they do. Some songs are about specific incidents in my life, and it’s hard to get an outside perspective on them, but I think kids are going to relate to whatever. It’s more about how you present it, than anything else. It’s up to you guys.
YATD: What type of crowd do you feel your music attracts? Is this different than the makeup of Miracle of 86 fans, and if so, how?
KD: I think a lot of this is shared, but for instance my mom likes this better than the Miracle of 86. I think a person who doesn’t like standing at a rock show and having their hair blown back or whatever will be more comfortable listening to me solo. There are a lot of kids now that aren’t as excited about drum rock and roll. I think in terms of lyrical tastes, there isn’t much difference between and Elliott Smith fan and a Pavement fan.
YATD: What artists have you been listening to lately?
KD: I have a copy of the new Bright Eyes full length, and I’ve been listening to that a lot. A lot of Pedro the Lion, my friends listen to a lot of hip hop. Right now, our friend Mike has been playing us stuff like The Casket Lottery and Transistor Sound and Lighting Co.
YATD: What albums always stay in your playlist?
KD: Definitely Nirvana – Nevermind, In Utero, and basically all of Nirvana’s catalogue. Both Elliott Smith records, Guns N Roses – Appetite for Destruction, Crooked Rain by Pavement, and Pedro The Lion’s “It’s Hard To Find A Friend”.
YATD: Which show that you’ve played do you remember as being the most fun?
KD: On this tour, Kenora was probably the most fun because there was like nobody there, so I did like 15 songs including Tenacious D covers. Before that, the night before I left we (Miracle of 86) opened for The Promise Ring, and there were like 800 kids there, so it was crazy. Hanging out with them was really awesome, and having Davey (van Bohlen) telling us our band was great, while we are huge fans of them was really cool. Also, pretty much everyone was there so it was really fun. That show is going to stand out to me for a long time.
YATD: Of any band or artist, current or broken up, who would you most want to tour with?
KD: Nirvana for sure. The Beatles were the best band ever and that’s just how it is, but Nirvana is the only band in my lifetime that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. They changed the way I looked at music when I was 12. More realistically, someone like Elliott Smith or Pedro the Lion.
YATD: You’ve played four sets in the past two days. On air, at a community centre, at a coffee shop and at a bar. Which type of venue do you enjoy playing most? Which do you feel suits your music best?
KD: I think tonight (the Royal Albert) was my favorite show to play. I’ve never been a fan of coffee shop shows because people always expect it to be quiet, boring lifeless poetry and I don’t want to be any of those things. It was cool, but I love playing in bars. I also loved playing in Altona. I just think it’s all about the crowd, if the crowd is into it you could be playing in your bedroom. It’s kind of 50/50. You do what you do, but if the crowd needs to get into it too for it to be good.
YATD: What does the future hold for Kevin Devine?
KD: The band is recording a full length for release in the fall on Immigrant Sun Records. I have song coming out on a compilation in England, and I’m also probably going to record a solo full length before the year is over.
YATD: Lastly, why would one call you a protest singer?
KD: It’s from a lyric in The Smith’s song Shakespeare’s Sister, “I thought that if you had an acoustic guitar then it meant that you were a protest singer”, and I just used the lyric for a flyer for one of my first solo shows. Then when I thought about it, I realized it was true. Before Dashboard Confessional and all that, everyone associated a guy with an acoustic guitar as being a folk protest singer.