Kevin Devine goes in-depth on the details behind his album Brother’s Blood, putting himself out there with his music, the insecurities he faces as an independent artist and touring musician, and his relationships with Brand New and Manchester Orchestra.
It’s been almost three years since your last record came out. Are you excited to have another one out finally?
I am, yeah. It’s interesting because it’s not like I’ve been inactive by any stretch in that time. It’s actually the busiest I’ve ever been as a musician because I never really toured before Put Your Ghost to Rest, in the States anyway, in a real constructive way. I did one full U.S. tour when Make the Clocks Move was out, supporting some bands back in 2004, and a partial U.S. tour in 2005 when Split the Country was out. Then I did a week with Brand New in 2004, also with Make the Clocks Move. That was the extent of my U.S. tour experience before Put Your Ghost to Rest came out.
I kind of started later than most of my peers. I finished college and was in the professional world for a little while, working and doing music part time. It wasn’t until I was maybe 25 that I really committed to doing the club circuit thing and trying to make a go of it, which a lot of my friends had been doing since they were 19 and 20 years old.
So, it’s weird. I’m totally thrilled to have the new record out, but it’s also funny because sometimes when I get asked that question, it makes me think about how funny perception can be. I’ve probably played 450 shows, internationally and at home, since Put Your Ghost to Rest came out, but to somebody who wasn’t living my life or paying close attention to, that could be like, “Oh, it’s been a long time since your last record [laughs].” It’s like it has been, but there hasn’t really been a ton of time to make one.
Since you didn’t have much tour experience beforehand, what kind of toll did being out on the road and playing that massive amount of shows have?
It was interesting because it was kind of half way. I’d done a lot more touring out in Europe before it started to pick up in the States. I had a small independent label that had released my album in Germany and some of the surrounding countries. I went over in 2003 with three different, separate, distinct trips to do tours of like six, three and three weeks in continental Europe and the U.K. That was still when I was part time at this job. I was like, “I don’t want to tour for six weeks and work for the next four months. Then go on tour for three weeks and work again.”
So I knew a bit of what to expect, but I definitely would say that from July of 2006 to December of 2008 I was never home for more than six weeks in that two and a half year period. That happened about three or four times, where I was home that long, but generally speaking I was gone. I was gone for almost three years. It definitely fucked my head up, for sure. I did that full U.S., six and a half week tour with Brand New and Manchester Orchestra. Then I came home and went right away from that to Europe. I did two festivals with Brand New and a week with a British songwriter I’m friends with called Tom MacRae.
When I got home from that in May of 2007, I was kind of falling apart at the seams a little bit. I hadn’t been home much. My relationship I was in had fallen apart. I was living with my girlfriend and we broke up while I was away, so I came home to a half-empty apartment. I actually had to spend two weeks living at my mom’s while my girlfriend figured out what she wanted to do from our home base. Just weird things. I got dropped by Capitol, but I was getting the most significant, substantial and consistent positive responses from my music in front of the largest audiences. It felt like things were growing, but all this other stuff was fucking crazy.
It felt the strain for me of trying to be an accountable, responsible adult with the life at home I never was really getting to access because I was always away. So, my attention felt pretty split. I didn’t know how to reconcile between staying in the moment and dealing with what was right in front of me, while also having a family and life at home that I wasn’t connecting to at all. I don’t know if any of that makes any sense, but it felt like I was trying to live perpetually in two places at the same time and not doing a very good job at either one.
Then it sort of changed. For better and for worse, I figured out what I need to do to be a healthy person who is going to be away this much. As long as this is what I want to do with my life, it’s going to require that kind of commitment. It was weird for a little while, for sure. It felt like the world had gotten knocked on its side for about six months, where I didn’t really know what the fuck was happening. Now, I definitely feel a bit more adapted to it.
The first time I listened to Brother’s Blood, I noticed it kind of has a start-stop vibe to it. It’ll have like a slow, acoustic, folk song and then go into more of a louder rock song. Was that intentional or did that just naturally fall into place?
I had been having a conversation with a friend of mine who was also a songwriter about how I wanted to make three records. One that was a really stripped, just me record, with just acoustic and vocals and very little embellishment. Very low-fi and unadorned. Then make one that was, punk rock is a loose term, but one that was more abrasive and aggressive with loud guitars. Kind of a shouty rock record. Then I wanted to make something that was a real traditional country record, with a fiddle and a pedal steel player, and really play with the genre a little bit.
Instead of incorporating elements from all three, which is what all my records do, I wanted to split the three personalities and make a record strictly sticking to each one. He was like, “That’s cool, but the good thing about you being the way you are is you can make one record and have all of that on it and it’s a Kevin Devine record. At this point, you can do any of those things and people will think that’s just you.”
I thought that was a more interesting challenge. Instead of trying to make this overly ambitious thing, just make a record where all the different things I like about the music I listen to and about songwriting are all represented. So in that regard, Brother’s Blood is real conscious, in the sense that it’s got a little bit of everything I like and I like making. It’s got some really abrasive moments, probably some of the most aggressive moments I’ve ever put on a record.
Then it’s got some really raw stuff like “It’s Only Your Life,” which was recorded live at six o’clock in the morning on the second to last day of recording. The producer’s sitting there with the lights out, practically falling asleep, and you can hear it. You can almost practically hear the sun coming up [laughs] and the fucking birds chirping outside the skylight window of the studio we were in. It was like, we got to get this record done. The last two nights we were there we pretty much pulled 20 hour shifts. Then there’s a song like “Murphy’s Song,” with a beautiful harmony and trumpets, and there’s like this Hawaiian shuffle to it. I didn’t give a shit about genre limitations.
“Murphy’s Song” and “Fever Moon” were two songs that I wrote where I was like, “I don’t know if I can write a song like this. This Leonard Cohen kind of sexual meditation, with trumpet and a Latin flair. That’s not what people are going to associate with me.” I wrote the song, and my band was like, “That song’s great.” So, it was like, “Fuck it. Let’s put it on. Why can’t that sit right next to a seven and a half minute, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Built to Spill guitar freak out with screaming and really heavy tones about family and loss?” If you’re a person, you’re probably made up of a bunch of disparate elements. I certainly know that I am. So, why not make a record that reflects it?
There was no set track sequencing that we went through to try and make all of it fit together. This is the one we came up with. It does still stop and start, but I feel like if you let yourself give over to it, there is a rhythm to the record. It kind of ebbs and flows, and that’s on purpose, so I hope it works out that way.
I think the title track is definitely your most ambitious song to date, with it pushing the eight-minute mark and stuff. How did that one come about?
When I was demoing stuff very, very early – I would say in summer 2005 in the brief window when I was with Capitol – they brought me out to L.A. to play a couple of shows at some singer-songwriter oriented clubs in the neighborhood, have me meet the people that work there and get acclimated to the club scene out there, and make some connections and also go up to their studios and do some demoing.
I had written a super early version of “Brother’s Blood,” intending to get it on that record. In retrospect, I am so glad something stopped me. I remember it was a totally different song. It was like a folk song, almost traditional presentation. I was listening to Woody Guthrie before “Times They Are a-Changin’,” and Bob Dylan and those kinds of records. It just felt to me like one of those old ballads about a mining town gone to sea, except it was about personal stuff more than political stuff. That was the song I wrote.
The verse first on the record now is exactly how it was then. I tried demoing it that way. I had this bridge that didn’t work and the song was two times too long structurally. Without all of the instrumentation that you hear now, it was still like a six-minute song with just lyrics. I liked parts of it a lot, but it felt generally like it wasn’t where it needed to be to get included in the cycle of songs that got recorded for Put Your Ghost to Rest.
We jammed on it as a three-piece band later in March of ’06 in L.A. We were out there doing pre-production with Rob Schnapf, the producer, with me, Bracco and Skin, the guys that produced this record. We jammed on that song, and it kind of started to take on this weird, Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” thing, which was a reference point. Just a lot of guitar stuff, like a slower, dirgy thing.
Then, it sat that way. I would come back to it once in a while, but I let it sit until June of last year. I was playing an acoustic show. I was thinking about that song, and I ended up writing the other verses. I gave up on this little bridge part and went out and played it acoustic that night, reading the lyrics off of a music stand in Connecticut at this club. I very quickly realized this is one of my favorites and could be something really cool.
So we started working on it when we were demoing what became Brother’s Blood, the record. The shape and the form just took shape when we were jamming on it a bunch of times. Russell Smith and Mike Strandberg playing electric guitar, and me playing electric guitar, just kind of said, “Let’s have fun.” We would take this solo and build the song to this epic kind of freak out. We did it and recorded it. Demoed it, beat it up, pulled it apart and put it back together. After a while, it was like, this song’s a fucking monster.
We recorded most of Brother’s Blood live. Then I would go back and overdub vocals, and we’d do little overdubs here and there. But the basic tracks were live, and you can feel it with that song. It feels live, and it is. That’s how that one came around.
Another song I thought was pretty interesting is the new version of “Time to Burn,” which sounds pretty different from the acoustic one from last year, with the added outro and everything. How did that take shape?
This is just a note to you, and I wish we could do this to everybody, but the promo people fucked up when they sent out the album to the press. “Time to Burn” is still just supposed to be called “Another Bag of Bones,” and “Hand of God” is just supposed to be called “Hand of God” and not that “When You Breathe, Breathe Deep” thing. I fucked around with the song titles a long time ago and then changed them back a long time ago, but for some reason the printers for the CDs had already printed these promo copies before they changed it back.
So anyways, that song is another one that I didn’t know it was a song. We were doing acoustic demos in my apartment for the stuff that would become Brother’s Blood in December of 2007. Just me and a guitar, like songwriting demos. I actually put one up every month on MySpace for 2008, just to show people I was writing. I showed Chris Bracco, the guy who plays bass and co-produced the record, and I was like, “I don’t even know if this is a song. This is just one guitar riff over and over again and a laundry list of stuff I’m freaked out about.” He was like, “Well, show it to me.” So I played it for him, and he’s like, “Dude, that’s definitely a song.” So I said, “OK.”
A lot of times with the stuff I write, I have three or four different versions of how I’d like to hear it in my head. I heard a version that was like the one I did with Schnapf, the acoustic one, with those harmonies and that weird feedback thing happening. Pretty spare and just letting the lyrics jump out at you. I heard a version that was like the one we have on this record that was a more tension-building arrangement, incrementally bringing in instruments. The drums opening up a little throughout and finally blowing up with this big ending. That kind of felt stormy and appropriate to the tone of the lyrics.
Then I also heard a version in my head that was really harsh the whole time, almost distorted drums really upfront in the mix and screaming the lyrics the whole way through. Like the In Utero version of it, or think of a song like “Magazine” by Pedro the Lion but if Dave Bazan was just shouting over it. But, we never recorded that one. Maybe some day we’ll do that just for shits and giggles.
I wanted to make a conscious decision. I really believed in the band I had playing with me on this record, and I wanted to give over more control. Instead of me multi-tracking five guitar parts and then teaching the guitar players what they should be playing live, it felt more collaborative and nested for them to be writing their parts to the songs. Especially the guitar work on “Another Bag of Bones” is super cool, and the three of us interweaving the electric guitar parts is pretty heavy.
I definitely have loved and have listened to Modest Mouse for a long time. I’ve always said I’ve really liked them, but never really knew how to incorporate what I like about them into my own music. I feel like with that song we finally got there. So, that’s what was going on with that.
Lyrically, it seems you tackle a little bit more weighty themes this time around than you have in the past, especially with “Brother’s Blood,” “Another Bag of Bones” and “Hand Of God.” What went into that happening?
I think the record, musically speaking, is more minor key than anything I’ve made before. I hadn’t listened to Put Your Ghost to Rest in like two years, and I had a really long drive recently. I was flipping through my iPod, and I don’t listen to my own music very often, but I thought, “Let me see how this holds up.” On Put Your Ghost to Rest, every song is in a major key. Even the sad songs are in a major key. But if you sing sad songs in a major key, or songs about faith, government, addiction, failed relationships, or about anything that’s not lollipops and rainbows or whatever, you can sneak a lot of sad stuff by people, or angry or questioning stuff, because they’re so taken by the upbeat bounciness of the melody.
I think if you go back, all the records I’ve made are about similar themes. It’s just the way the songs are dressed up. I’ve had people tell me like, “‘Brooklyn Boy’ is one of my favorite summer songs.” I’m like, “That’s cool. I love to be part of that experience, but have you ever really listened to the words in ‘Brooklyn Boy’ or read the lyrics to it? I don’t want to fuck up your summer jam, but it might change your perspective about it.”
This record, I think through “It’s Only Your Life,” is all minor key. Minor keys are more sad or angry. They sound darker, kind of how the clouds come out in front of the sun. I think that’s what people are picking up more with this record. I think a lot of people who know my stuff would say most of my songs have dealt with these kinds of issues.
Hopefully, as you get a bit more practice at it, you get a bit sharper and more focused with your style and you write better [laughs]. That is the hope. So, maybe this record just feels sharper and focused. The stuff that’s being written thematically is pretty much I’ve always been someone who’s been obsessed with conscious, both personally and socially, and obsessed with why we do what we do. I think this is a record about that, too.
The stuff that made me want to explore all these things more darkly, or in-depth or whatever, is just life experience. I’m certainly not as neurotic about the world as I was in my early 20s, but that doesn’t mean I’m still not confused and dissatisfied by a lot of things. While I don’t want to be an agent of depressiveness, or someone who’s asking a lot of questions but not presenting any answers, you feel a certain amount of overwhelming empathy for people. I definitely have my own shit that I do that I’m not terribly thrilled about.
So there was no big moment that was like, “I’m going to write a bunch of songs about such and such event.” If you have eyes and ears and live right now, there’s a lot of opportunity. A lot of people are excited. It’s a very transitional time. It’s exciting, and it’s also a bit overwhelming from my perspective. So the record is also about the personal and the political, and how they both enmesh with one another and can throw your head for a loop a little bit.
With the economy in a downward spiral at the moment, what kind of effect does that have on yourself being a smaller indie artist?
That’s a great question and it’s one I’m asking myself, too. I’m not sure yet. I’ve had most of the last four months off from tour. Like I said, I was on tour for a really long time. When I got back from the last long tour I did, which was with Manchester Orchestra and Dead Confederate, I had it built in that I would be off while the record was prepped. I wound up going to SXSW in Austin and doing a bunch of stuff to set up the record down there. I went to Japan, where I opened up and played guitar for Rachael Yamagata. Then after SXSW, I just did a week and half from the Midwest out to Seattle, where I played guitar in her band but didn’t play my own stuff. It was just me playing with her.
For me, almost exclusively all of my money is made as a touring artist. So, now I go back on tour in three weeks. It’s my first full U.S. headlining tour, and I’m not sure what’ll happen. I don’t know if people will show up. If they do show up, is it going to be they can afford the ticket but can’t afford the ticket and the T-shirt? You want to be entertained, but you don’t necessarily bring home a piece of merch or something.
As tedious as it sounds, and as boring as it is to my reasons I play music, it does have an economic impact because I don’t make money off of album sales. I don’t really make a ton of money off a publishing deal or anything like that. A lot of songwriters will have their songs in movies, or on Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy and stuff like that, but that hasn’t really been my path.
So, I’m not sure. I’ll know in a month and a half. I’ll either come home from this tour and I’ll be hurting, or I won’t, you know? As of right now, I’m OK. I’ve played some college shows while I’ve been home, and done these two short trips where I’ve made some money. I have some money in savings to hold me over, but I’m definitely curious to see how it all goes once I get back on the road.
Unfortunately, your record did leak a month or so ago. Do you think that’s going to have a positive or negative impact on all this?
I think it’s both. It’s already had a positive impact in the sense that it got people talking early about the record. Luckily, the response online to the record seems to be uniformly positive. I try to keep myself somewhat insulated from that, but I don’t always do the best job. I don’t know if it’s the best thing for your ego to be reading about yourself, but I definitely did look into it when I was told it was all out there.
I’m really grateful because it seems like the consensus is not only do people think it’s the strongest record I’ve done, but people also seem to be taking it personally that it leaked so early and wanting to make sure they pick up their copy to be supportive when it comes out. I think that’s a really cool thing to see. It really doesn’t surprise me because I have extremely passionate and real fans. I feel very lucky about that. They seem to have a really serious relationship to it.
I think, in general, it’s no surprise. I don’t think people really buy records anymore. I get that. If it’s free, why would you? The tour will be telling. If the tour does really well, then I think the answer is I might even just put the records out for free from now on if I’m not going to make money off of it anyway. I have 80,000 fans on Last.fm but I sell 10,000 records, so if it means people come out to the shows and the venues keep getting larger and the shows keep getting more attended.
Two years ago the thought of me mounting a successful national tour at the club level was unthinkable. I think a lot of people have found out about my music through downloading, and I’m not going to chastise them for it. I’m so technologically not savvy that the only reason I don’t download more music is because I don’t really know how the fuck to do it. I don’t really have the patience to do it.
I think it’s both. I think it’s bad for business, in the sense that if it’s 1995, Put Your Ghost to Rest probably would have sold 40-50,000 records. That’s a lot. You know what I mean? If I sold 60,000 records now on Brother’s Blood, I would consider it completely, epically huge by my standards, but I don’t anticipate that is going to happen. If it does, I will be the most surprised, grateful and happy dude in the room. But, we’ll see. We’ll see how it all pans out.
I’ve noticed, as you mentioned before, that you do have a good connection with fans, and when I’ve seen you at shows you’re always hanging out or doing your own merch and stuff. Is that pretty cool, to be able to do that and have that relationship?
I think it’s great. I think it’s rare. As long as people are cool, and ninety-nine percent of them are, it’s a great thing to be able to have that kind of relationship with your fans. I think there are some people that take advantage of it a little bit, and those are people you need to build a barrier around and divorce yourself from. There’s always creepy people. There’s always weird people. There are some that come out, but in general people are really nice and kind.
I also have to have an awareness to the fact that there’s no guarantee that because people come see me play music now, they’re going to be coming to see me play music in two, or five or ten years, if I’m lucky enough to still be doing it. It’s what I want to do with my life, but I don’t know if I’m going to get to. I realize that something like this is fickle and it’s a subject to the whims of popular reception. Something that people like today, they might not like a couple years down the line.
So I try and take it seriously and not take it for granted that these people choose to spend ten bucks and three hours of their time with me, because they could be spending that time and that money in other places. I know that might sound cheesy, but I really mean that. I feel like I’m lucky, because even though there’s a lot of people I could look at and say, “I wish I had his situation,” there are a lot of people that look at me and say, “I wish I had his situation.”
As far as selling merch goes, I kind of have a weird administrative side of my brain that likes some of those tasks. This tour we’re doing that again. We’re going to sell our own merch. I’m a little fearful because of the scope of the tour that this might become overwhelming. If that is the case, I might make a panicked call halfway through the tour to some friend or another, and be like, “Can you fly here and sell merch [laughs]?”
Even though I do have the Goddamn Band, that’s a shifting thing and there’s always different people playing with me and stuff. My name is the name of the band. So if I do play a show and I’m lucky enough to have 200-300 people come to it, and then I’m selling my merch, the odds are that 150-200 of those people are going to come up by the table to either buy merch, or at least talk for a minute or get their picture taken.
I think that’s crazy and cool as hell, but I do understand that my mom told me that at a certain point I need to be more mindful of keeping a little bit more distance sometimes because I can make myself so accessible. You kind of give too much away, and there’s nothing left for you. I’m trying to be accessible and I’m also trying to listen to my mom, so we’ll see how it goes.
I heard that you tend to get nervous sometimes when you play onstage. How do you like having all that attention on you? What’s it like when you’re just by yourself doing a solo show versus as a part of a band?
Well, I think that the nerves thing is just a product of my personality. I can be very social, or I can be very isolating. I can be very gregarious, or I can be somebody who wants to be on the couch watching The Sopranos with no one else around and just disconnected. So with performing, I like playing. I love playing live. I mean, I better like it if I’ve done it as much as I have. It would be torturous to not like it and play 450 shows in three years, but I am on some level not a natural born extroverted performer as some other people might be.
Some of the music is so intimate that there is an element of tightrope walking emotionally, and it cultivates a very intimate and strange relationship with the audience. It’s kind of like showing people your most private family pictures onstage. I wish I could be a little bit more just writing about whatever, but that’s not how my brain has ever worked since I was 15 when I first started writing songs. Even in an interview like this, I probably shouldn’t say some of the things I say. I just don’t have much guile. I say what I think.
On Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, he wrote something totally ridiculous, but that was funny in a weird way and sad and relatable. He wished that he felt the excitement that Freddie Mercury felt when the crowd’s roaring and he’s backstage. There was something, even in his suicide note, that was tongue and cheek about him bringing up the singer from Queen, who could not be a more different performer than Kurt Cobain. But, I get that. I feel like I know what he meant when he said that.
There are just certain people that are naturals, and they get up and they got it. I’m not always like that. I have nights where there’s a weird vibe, or I feel weird, and I just want to detach a little bit from the crowd. When all of the attention is on you, it’s harder to do that.
When you have a band with you, it’s great because you feel like you got some people to help you throw your punches. My music changes a lot when I’m with a band. I think growing up in an indie rock, hardcore and punk rock scene – when I tend to think of adding other instrumentation, sometimes it’s really mellow, but other times I want the songs to become these fierce things. It’s not just light accompaniment that showcases me, it’s we play like a rock band. That’s definitely a different animal.
I never get so nervous that I don’t want to play, and sometimes the nervousness is a great thing. When we first sold out the Bowery Ballroom at our show we played last January there, I didn’t expect it to do so well. When it did, my knees were shaking the first two songs, but I generally find a groove and then can go.
So it’s probably a good and a bad thing, but it’s definitely just another example of me doing what feels normal. Sometimes what feels normal is to freak out a little bit about the fact that people have come to watch you play.
You tend to spend a lot of time with either Brand New or Manchester Orchestra. How did you get to know those guys?
I’ve known Jesse from Brand New for probably nine years. My old band was called Miracle of 86. We were from Staten Island and Brooklyn. When Brand New was very first starting, and Taking Back Sunday and the bands before them, like Glassjaw and Silent Majority, we would play with them very small shows in bowling alleys or VFW halls out in Long Island. So, I knew Jesse. I didn’t know him well, but I always liked him.
I think we started to really talk in the fall of 2003. I had just signed to Triple Crown, and they had just done Deja with Triple Crown. I did Make the Clocks Move for Triple Crown, and Jesse really liked the record. I really thought the Deja record was super interesting, because I was kind of like whatever about Brand New when I first saw them.
I’ve grown to like that first record over time a lot because, I think it’s a pop-punk record, but it’s got some clever and interesting turns of phrase. There’s little, sneaky hints of the band that was going to pop out eventually. I think the band they’ve become is so weird and cool and interesting. There’s so much going on in their music that it’s light years beyond most of their supposed peers. I think they’re so miscast by being lumped in with the bands they’re lumped in with. I just don’t think they’re doing the same thing as those bands.
So we got along really well, and started hanging out and messing around. While Jesse was making what became The Devil and God record, we got very close. In the time they made that record, we made Split the Country and Put Your Ghost to Rest. He was on Split the Country, and our friendship got really cemented.
So when they started touring again, they had made the decision they were going to go out with what they liked. Whether what they liked was going to draw or not, they were going to go out with it. So, they brought Colour Revolt and mewithoutYou. They did those two tours, and then Jesse told me, “I want you guys to come out with us on this Spring 2007 thing. It’s going to hit the whole country. Bring your band.” It was great for us, obviously.
Then he also said, “You got to meet this kid, Andy.” He introduced me to Andy and Manchester two weeks before that tour started. Well, the first night we played with those guys in Buffalo. The billing on that tour was Manchester opening, then us, then Brand New. This was like their first tour. So I saw Manchester play the first night, and I was like, “Oh, fuck. We’re dead [laughs].” We’re this weird, idiosyncratic band that’s mixing all this genre stuff together. Essentially, it’s like a singer-songwriter project, and I’m playing between these two really good, powerful rock bands.
That tour was like immediate family. Pretty much every tour I’ve been on I’ve enjoyed more or less, but that’s the tour that sticks out. Everything in my life is almost like before and after that tour.
I remember I caught one of those shows and it was totally awesome.
Yeah, the thing I love to hear from you guys is how it felt for you because that’s how it felt for us, too. There were 40 people on that tour, or something. 25 people, or whatever it was, and any two people on it could have gone out for dinner with each other and had a great time. It’s so rare that that’s the case. Every day, you’d be hanging out. It wasn’t just having your friend you like in the other band, it was all the dudes. Every one in every band, including Brand New’s crew, we all just hung out and clicked. That became like family. It stands that way to this day. We’re still so connected.
Then, obviously Manchester kind of signed to the big label and leapfrogged me. My whole thing has always been it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I know I’m harder to peg than those guys. I’m kind of all about the slow, incremental rise and not the geyser shot. So, I get it. Manchester writes great, accessible and immediate rock music that’s got a popular appeal. They’re great, and I get why they’re where they are. I’m extremely grateful that both of those bands have continued to bring me out when they have the desire to do so.
I think it’s certainly helped me build my own. I think a lot of people came to see me because Brand New said I was good and they were curious, but they stayed because they’ve built their own relationship to my music. I got nothing but gratitude about that. That’s amazing that they would choose to share that. Get a set of keys to their audience made up and hand them to me is really cool and not something that everybody would do.
With this record you’re now on Favorite Gentlemen Records, which is run by some of the guys in Manchester. What’s it like being on a label that your friends are running?
It’s great [laughs]. I’ve done four records under the name Kevin Devine. My old band, Miracle of 86, did two and a half. So in nine years, I’ve put out seven records. I’ve put out records with midsized independent labels. I’ve put out records with really tiny, boutique, almost like hardcore labels being run out of someone’s living room. I’ve put out records with one of the biggest conglomerates of the Western world. I’ve put out records with a film company that ran a record label that was somewhere in between a midlevel indie label and a massive major.
I’ve tried on every hat there is to try on on the rack. This one fits really nicely. They have funding through Sony, to some extent, because Manchester’s deal is through there. So they get to pick one Favorite Gentlemen release a year, or something, that gets treated through the Sony system but with Manchester calling the shots.
So, I get to be in the best of both worlds. I get to work with Manchester directly, and have a relationship with people that I trust and are friends of mine, and be a little insulated from the music business part of it. But, we get the benefit of distribution through Sony and the use of some of their people in their promotions department.
So far, it’s the most set up I’ve ever felt about a record I’ve made, without any question at all. That’s not to disparage any of the other releases I’ve made, and probably a lot of that has to do with the fact that I have busted my ass touring for the last three years to build an audience. That probably helps, and a lot of it is probably that it’s a really strong record.
Jeremiah, the drummer who runs the label, is one of the most impressive people I’ve met in a long time. He’s totally swamped with what he has to be responsible for with his own band, but he’s also been almost effortless in keeping me a priority and making this record move. And it’s moving. It’s doing more than anything I’ve ever done to this time in my life, before it’s out. There’s just been more traction, and a lot of that has to do with his focus and his effort. So, I currently could not be happier.
The same goes for the Put Your Ghost to Rest rerelease, which Brand New rescued from obscurity after Capitol dropped it. Capitol only pressed like 2,000 copies of that record, and then they dropped me when they got merged with Virgin. My manager, John, who needs to be mentioned in this as well, busted his balls and got the record back from Capitol for free, which never fucking happens. Capitol deserves props too, actually.
I got laid off, essentially. They dropped like 60 bands and I was one of them, but they made our lives so easy, comparatively speaking, to what it could have been. They could have held the record in limbo. They gave me money for tour support for the Brand New tour because they had committed to it, even though I was off the label by then. So, they paid me for a tour I did when I wasn’t a Capitol recording artist anymore. They released their Internet rights, so we own the record on iTunes.
Then Brand New pressed up a bunch of albums, and the fact that is was their label got another burst of attention to the record two years later. They could not have been more cooperative and cool in that regard, too. I’ve been extremely lucky, and I’m not oblivious to the fact that I’m getting by with more than a little help from my friends. Now that I’m getting to a place where I’m standing on my own feet, I don’t want to forget or give the appearance that I forget that. Those two bands have been critical in me not having to fold up over the last two years.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press