I sat down over coffee with
Colin Devlin who had just returned from Atlanta where he been playing at the W Hotel as a part of a pre-
Grammy celebration. While he was in Atlanta he filmed a segment for his song
‘Refuge’. It was shot on top of the W Hotel on their helipad. Which he said was “very, very high but lots of fun”.
Devlin has filmed the last few trips he’s been on; Paris, Dublin, and Atlanta
with plans of having it all edited together and creating a snapshot of being on tour. The video will be an average day of touring with static shots of him while the terrain changes around him.
If you’re not familiar with Colin Devlin, please allow me to introduce him to you. His voice is subtle with nuance. His musical melodies are hauntingly beautiful, lush, and smooth. His songs filled with deceptively simple lyrics which nevertheless cut to the soul. At times his music is gritty and bittersweet, always it seems to be hinting at a deep knowing and full of hope. In Ireland he’s a Rock Star, famous for his band The Devlins which he created along with his brother Peter and now for his first solo album ‘Democracy of One’; released last year. As well being a singer, playing the guitar (acoustic/electric) and piano, he is a songwriter. In the States you may not be familiar with his name but you have probably heard his music and not known it. Music from his band The Devlins and his solo album have been used in dozens of film, and television productions, such as HBO’s Six Feet Under, Batman Forever, Closer and One Tree Hill. Last year he was nominated for ‘Best Male Artist’ for a Meteor Award; Ireland’s “Grammy” Awards .
After ordering our caffeine and without missing a beat; he is a musician after all.
Devlin chimed right in. “I’m going to
Montreal for 3 weeks, [to work with]
Pierre Marchand he has produced my solo record and also [produced] for my band
The Devlins. He’s known for his work with
Sarah McLachlan and
Rufus Wainwright, he produces all their stuff and is a great friend.
Montreal is a lovely city, a very creative city. It’ll be fun and I look forward to it.”
When asked what his plans were for his new record. Devlin replied. “There is no real plan. We just arrive and say Ok were gonna start working. We’re a really good team and work well together, we don’t think much about what were going to do. He [ Marchand] has an amazing studio we are able to use, which is lovely. I recorded my last album in his studio, which was great. It’s a very creative place for me to go. The last time I went we spent 6 months recording. I can’t do that this time. Montreal is a very creative city with really nice people, a beautiful place to be. In the winter you feel removed from everything it’s so different from L.A. It’s nice to get out of L.A. into sub zero temperatures for a couple of weeks.”
Our coffees are delivered and after taking a sip he continues. “A director friend in Buenos Aries puts my stuff together for me. He’s in L.A. this week for meetings. I think he is going to get to do his own movie and I’ll do the music for that. The deal is I do the music for his short movies and he does all my videos and the stuff on my website. He is an amazing guy and young, just turned 33, and ours is a very creative partnership as well. That’s important in the music business of today where things are changing so much and there aren’t as many large checks going around because off illegal downloading and all those things. There is a lot less money going around in the music business and to survive you really have to be more creative, make more partnerships and friends. You know, with people you want to work with, where you can do high quality stuff and not have to pay as much as you might have.
When I signed my first record deal with Capitol Records it was still at the height of the CD sales and there was no problem if you wanted to make a video and it was going to cost a quarter of a million dollars, that was no problem. Now that has completely changed. It’s also cheaper now. For example a camera that would have cost you half a million dollars ten years ago, you can now get for maybe $300. “
I asked him about inspiration when writing his songs. Telling him I wanted to crawl inside his brain and see where [the inspiration] came from. His reply was an “u-huh” and then he went on to elaborate. “You have to be open to it first. Your environment is important, where you are [physically] writing. Sometimes when I’m walking down the street in a different city, someplace where I’m inspired. That’s when I start to just hear melodies, hear things and for me it’s usually the music that comes first, and then the lyrics. The music, the tone, or the mood of the music, that I’m thinking about sometimes dictates how I’m gonna feel.
Sometimes with music the sound of the words is very important, some words are very hard to say when you sing them. No matter how great it looks on paper when you sing it, it doesn’t sound right. It has to sound right and convey an emotion or a description well. That’s why a lot of the times you have to change it. You may know what you want to say and when you actually get to sing it, it doesn’t sound good. I’ll sometimes just throw in words that naturally sound good to me as I’m singing. Then it’ll be, ok those words don’t really make sense, so what words give me the same idea… It’s usually music first. I don’t so much set out to write poems or that kind of thing. It’s more organic and helps to create a very complete piece.
Songwriting is about the initial inspiration and then you really have to work hard. I do anyway. To try and make it into something that really stands up. Especially if you are a solo artist and you have to get up and play and you’ve just got your guitar. Unless your songs are really strong it is just not going to work. No matter how good of a voice you have or the stage presence you have. There have been times where I’ve done shows where I was really tired or not really on form and you kind of have to let the songs take care of you.
I like well constructed pieces of music that are strong. If you do that, then you can kind of push and pull them in different directions. I may write a song on the acoustic guitar that may end up being recorded on the piano or on the drum machine or whatever. If it [a song is] lyrically and melodically strong then you can take it in different directions.”
When I asked about the relationship with his brother, what was happening with their band and his choice on making a solo album. Devlin enlightened me by explaining . “My brother and I will probably get together and do more stuff, so it’s not like the end of the band. We made four records together as The Devlins and had an amazing time; toured all over the world. I’d written some songs that felt to me different in some ways. I felt creatively I wanted a new challenge. That’s really what you have to do; follow creativity. It’s really about what excites you. If it excites you then other people usually gravitate toward it. You can’t just go in and do the same thing. People will tell you it’s what they want but when they hear it that’s not what they want. They want to be surprised every time they hear something you do. It may be a subtle change, like it could just be the instrumentation you use or the tone of your voice. They want you, but they want something different.
Basically I felt like a different creative challenge. I’d written some songs, I wanted to record.
Peter, my brother, was married with a second child on the way and he wasn’t free to go to Montreal for six months, to record, and I was. So I talked with him about it and he was supportive. He thought it was a great idea and that I should do it. I still involve him in whatever I’m doing. He’s the first person whose opinion I’ll ask for. We have such a great history together. The most important thing is family and friendship that comes before anything. It was very important to me that those things were still intact before I moved forward.
It’s been an interesting transition mainly because you have to learn how to do a really good show, which to me means playing some piano, some acoustic and playing the electric guitar, which I always do anyway. It’s very difficult; there are very few people I want to listen to for an hour and a half just playing the acoustic guitar. For me, it’s good to mix it up tonally for the audience to hear a different tone like a piano or electric guitar it just breaks things up and makes it more interesting for the audience. Onstage it’s just you, so you have to focus on what you say in between the songs and telling a story, little moments of magic where the audience feels like they are transported. That’s what makes a show special. It’s what keeps the audience coming back to your shows because they felt something and they want to feel more of it. That’s been interesting to do as a one man show.
I miss playing with a full band. We’re [
The Devlins] probably going to be doing some shows this year in Ireland. Were going to do a re-issue online of our first Album which people loved and got amazing reviews like, four stars in
Rolling Stones . We’ll also include some unheard songs and unseen photos first photos we shot in New York when we signed our record deal it’s a great shot with the Twin Tours in the background.”
More coffee was consumed and I asked Devlin what brought him to America. “I’ve been coming here for a long time since the mid nineties. We [ The Devlins] have toured through every city in America 2-3 times, from the smallest clubs, to Madison Square Gardens, to the Red Rocks and the Grand Ole Opry, everywhere. My fiancé is an actress and she had moved to Los Angeles while I was in Montreal. I felt like a change and decided I’d come out, too. I’m enjoying it so far. It’s not new to me, but it’s different when you’re here full time. It’s a good time to be here. Things in Ireland are tough. Economically were going through a recession that is a lot worse than here. So, it’s been a good time to be here and obviously it’s a good town for music. I’ve also been asked to do quite a few interesting small time projects. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops as well. The music I make is very atmospheric and I really enjoy the process of doing music for film. It’s an avenue I’d like to explore more of.”
He went on to state. “It’s a different business than it was ten years ago. There are more avenues to get out there and more power for the artists. There are less things that you need a record company for now. Most of the artists are doing there own thing, having their own labels and while you sell less records you make more money. It’s not just about the money. It’s that you can make a better living by being in control of your own music. There are different media outlets to create revenue streams and that’s very important for young artists to know. There is no way that I would sign a major record deal now unless they were offering crazy amounts of money. Which I’m sure they wouldn’t anyway. It doesn’t seem like there’s much point to doing that now. I’m very happy to work with people I want to work with, that I like and who help me build and expand on what I’m doing and at the same time retaining my own rights. That’s the key.”
When I asked him about what he thought of the duality of being so well known in Ireland and not as known in the States. His reply was. “I really like it. It’s kind of fun. Like when I go back home, I forget people know me. What I really miss about Ireland is not that aspect. I miss the connection of people knowing who you are, where you’re from. Like someone saying ‘oh yeah, I know you, you’re a cousin of so and so.’ Instead of, if you’re not on the computer you don’t exist, which is how in America it has to be, because there are so many people and so many things. I miss people knowing who you are and where you’re from. L.A. is such a transient town there is a lot less of that [in Ireland]. Then, you know, the benefits are obviously huge for being here. So, I don’t really think about it too much.”
Draining the coffee cup he continued on. “I’ve always had an international fan base. I’m trying to organize a tour of Brazil at the moment. I’ve been getting a lot of play down there. They just used one of my songs for a TV promo on one of their biggest satellite stations. I’ve been getting a lot of emails from Brazil over the last 2 months. It would be completely amazing if we did [go on tour there] that would be so much fun.
You have to be open to opportunities you never know where things come from the key is to continue to do good and interesting work. If you keep doing that it will put you in position for those opportunities. At the end of the day it really is about music.”
For more information about Colin Devlin and to get your hands on some of his music, check out his website: www.ColinDevlin.com