We probably shouldn’t have told him straight away, but never mind.
“You know, after you, we’ve an interview with Rivers…”
Hands slap flat, hard, on the table; face follows, sinking. “You can’t drop that on me! Awww… maaaan…”
“You got any questions you want us to ask him?”
“Awww… I can’t think. What would I ask him? He’s like, a hero. Weezer are the reason I play music.”
Dev Hynes (it’s short for Devonte) smiles, switches to an odd glumness, back to a smile; beneath a faux-fur hat his eyes twinkle with youthful wowness, an endearing quality only blunted by a scratchy beard dancing erratically above a red hoodie. He is wholly sincere about his love for music, in its many forms; he’ll speak at length about a great many more of his favourites if presented with an opportunity, Slipknot among them; on his hoodie is a Strokes badge. Unironic. Think whatever you like about the man – his eclectic tastes and eccentric sense of style – but meet him and there’s no pretence apparent, just a likeable young man with a new record to talk about.
Lightspeed Champion’s Falling Off The Lavender Bridge has been a long time coming; Hynes has been flying solo since the dissolution of Test Icicles in 2006, and writing songs the whole time. Produced by Mike Mogis at Presto! Recording Studios in Omaha, Nebraska, the record’s mixture of luscious string-aided pop and twang-touched alt-country is an immediately pleasing listen, and additional vocals from Emmy The Great provide Hynes with an interesting foil for his wandering lyricism. Already a critical success, the album’s out now on Domino.
In the week of Falling’s release, Hynes calls into DiS for a little quality tête à tête time. And a glass of apple juice.
All photography by Lucy Johnston
Video: 'Galaxy Of The Lost'
- - -
The album seems to have been in a state of limbo for a while – we’ve had a promo copy knocking about the office for what feels like a long time…
It’s maybe, like, because Domino… (Dev starts and stops his sentences a lot – get used to it – Ed) Well, for it’s… it’ll sound really clichéd… I’m really happy when I complete things, and everything else is nothing to me. It’s been a year and a week since it’s been completed, so to me it was done and they kept talking about dates. It was going to come out in September, and then someone changed their mind: “Maybe you should do singles?”
Which has proved to be a good move.
Doing singles probably was the best decision. I would never have thought that way – my mind doesn’t think like that, while they’re paid to think like that.
One thing that’s brought up in a lot of your interviews is your productivity. You must have another record or two ready to go already, save for production, no?
Yeah, really! It is a bit weird. I have such a short attention span – I’ve written so many new songs over the last year or so, and have played a lot of them live. Like, a a lot – they’re regulars in the set, so some people have asked why they’re not on the album. Well, it’s hard to explain – I know these people heard me play these songs in March, but the album was finished some months before that. It’s good though – a month ago, or so, I listened to the album again, and I’m trying to get back into that mindset. It feels a little bit new again.
I’ve spent much of this year feeling terrified of the acoustic guitar, because I kept being called an acoustic artist. I wouldn’t call myself an acoustic act, but to play the songs on the album, most of the time I have to play acoustic. That really affected my songwriting, and I was writing songs that were more instantly pop – you get something out of them a lot quicker. A lot of the new songs are like that – they’re more upbeat. So it’s been strange, but cool – this February tour will be faithful to the album, and maybe we’ll play one new song that nobody has heard of yet. We’re gonna play that, but aside from that it’ll be pretty much the whole album.
Fewer covers of Weezer songs, then?
Yeah, I guess there’ll have to be.
And playing solo is something you’ve become comfortable with?
I did this weird, solo European tour thing… even UK tours solo… after which there’s only so long you can go playing solo and saying you don’t like it. You have to deal with it. I think playing solo has helped my voice. I’m not proud of a few vocal performances on the album, because I hadn’t sung any of the songs out loud that many times before. There are minor differences in how I sing them now. The same thing happened with the Test Icicles album, too – we wrote the songs before we ever considered playing them live. Then, you flesh things out as a band over the course of months and changes happen, and the same thing’s happening now. But playing solo, with just an acoustic guitar and voice, it definitely helped me get better, yeah. And I’m not afraid of playing the acoustic anymore – I’m back in love with it.
I’d think most of the songs, even the most lavish-sounding ones, begin with just you and a guitar?
Yeah, it’s literally as basic as chords. I start with such a skeletal arrangement – I know what chords are what in my head. A lot of songs I just get out and then work on weird melodies. They usually start like that. I think of melody lines, and then what context I want the music to come out in. It could be a dance song, or a country song – I let the songs take their course, but it’s usually the guitar that they start on. I guess that’s what I’m most comfortable with. I have to put these ideas into songs, always – I can’t just have ideas on their own. That’s the main reason why I write so many songs. You read about bands that they have a lot of ideas for their next album, but I just can’t leave them in that state. I’m quite OCD like that – I need to have them in songs, almost like a file I can store away. That’s why I end up with so many songs. Eventually they find some sort of ending.
Sometimes a pretty ‘epic’ ending, too. There are moments on the album where I was surprised with just how layered the sound is… there’s so much depth there.
It is strange. I was talking about a song on the album to someone earlier, ‘Dry Lips’. I’ve been struggling to play it live – I will play it live in February. There was a two-month period, about a year and a half ago, where I’d bought a harmonica and I’d sit and play it in my bedroom. I remember I wrote ‘Dry Lips’ at four in the morning – the original demo of it, which’ll probably come out somehow, is just me playing everything into Garageband. All these piano parts, and there’s a violin in my room so I played that, too; it’s one of very few demos with string parts. There was harmonica on it, so I played it on the recording we did in Omaha. But there’s a problem live – I can’t bring myself to wear one of those braces. There are preconceptions about those things, which I’m guilty of – you go to a gig, walk in, and there’s a guy with an acoustic and a harmonica… But I feel the ending of that song… People might not agree, but to me the ending of ‘Dry Lips’ is the most ridiculous thing on the album. It’s so epic, for no real reason.
Because you had the option of making it so, and simply why not?
Yeah, a little! There’s this weird descending chord thing, and even the demo was over the top. I find it really funny, and I remember playing it and just laughing. I’m aware of the layers, and the epic nature of parts of the album – I’m a fan of it! Thing is, I’ve never done ironic music, in my life, but a lot of people think that. It’s interesting.
People are quick to assume that writing so many songs, as you do, must mean the quality control filter isn’t always there, and that you maybe don’t take certain songs all that seriously. But that’s just your nature, the productivity?
Yeah. I’m going to record the next album at the start of the summer, and the label are happy with that. They’re not even pissy at the gigs I’ve done where I’ve only played, like, two songs from this album. It’s good – as opposed to some other labels they obviously like what they sign, y’know what I mean. In a sense they’re fans of the bands they sign, so when a band plays new material they’re cool with that – they’re not thinking what songs you ‘should’ be playing. It’s cool. It feels… well, normal.
Dev Hynes, Paddington, 23/01/08
- - -
There was never any doubt that you wouldn’t do this album with Domino?
The (Lightspeed deal) literally just followed through from Test Icicles – there were a couple of meetings but nobody ever really said anything. Nobody ever said no! Basically, Test Icicles had come back from Europe, and I was hanging out, doing whatever. I’d played a few solo shows – I played one of the first for you at the Barfly, it may have even been the first. We played a few of the album’s songs back then – definitely ‘Dry Lips’. Lawrence at Domino asked if I’d done anything musically, and I had so many songs! I gave him three CDs, each with about 20 songs. I kept giving him more, and he said we should do an album; I said yeah, let me know what we can do. There were lots of different styles on those CDs – my idea originally was just to release the demos. It was strange – it just kind of built up. He, Lawrence, gave one of the CDs to Mike Mogis. He was in LA, while Mike was finishing Cassadaga; I didn’t know it, but Lawrence had been speaking to producers. He’d been handing CDs around, and I got a call out of the blue from Mike. I remember it to this day – I was out looking for jobs. I wasn’t down or anything…
People ask me if I always wanted to play music for a living, but the thing is I love music. It’s all I think about, and it’s so natural to me. It’s almost like breathing. It’s like asking me if I’d ever wanted to be paid for breathing. I’ve never considered music a career – I’ve never thought I needed to get signed, or that I’d kill myself if I couldn’t. I just love it so much. So I was fine – looking for jobs and hanging out – and I was in my kitchen when there’s a call. “Hey Lawrence, what’s up?” He’s in LA – of course; he’s always somewhere. He’s like, “I’m here with Conor and Mike. You know, Mike Mogis. He likes your songs.” It’s like that Rivers Cuomo thing – you can’t just drop things like that, over the phone, at midnight. I spoke to Mike and it was really awkward. I was so happy to have had that conversation. It was surreal, and so happy with just that, but we spoke again a week later, and then more and more. Eight to ten months of getting to know each other on the phone and via e-mails, and then I went to Omaha to record; by that point the songs were fully formed in my head, set in stone. We recorded the whole thing in two weeks, and mixed it in four days. Although I’m not sure Mike went to sleep for those four days, as he was rehearsing for the Cassadaga tour between mixing sessions. I was just by myself for this period, wandering halls.
You found yourself twiddling thumbs occasionally?
I spent my time playing Xbox with Tim Kasher, because The Good Life did their last record in the same place, at the same time, but with AJ (Mogis). So when they weren’t tracking and stuff, we’d play games. Mike asked us if we wanted a Wii or an Xbox. We got an Xbox because I wanted to play the NBA game – I just wanted to play NBA.
I would never have imagined Tim Kasher being into sports…
They’re all into basketball and American Football. You’d be surprised at how far sport ricochets through American culture. So they’re into strategy, and war games too. So the Xbox came and we spent ages playing on it.
And that was never weird? Here’s you, hanging out with Tim Kasher… Tim Kasher of Cursive… in Omaha?!
It never hit me that I was in Omaha, apart from a few moments. I was greeted by Conor and stuff, and… that was just ‘normal’. Like, The Faint were practising, and their drummer was also there writing the new Faint record… You hear stories about Omaha and the Saddle Creek scene, but Omaha’s just one long road, and these guys really did all go to the same school. They all were in bands together – there isn’t one of these people who isn’t connected to another five. We’d go to a bar and there’d be The Faint guys, and the Cursive guys – they all work locally, in shops and stuff. There wasn’t a day when I wasn’t around these people. In my head, I wasn’t thinking about it, but the moment it hit me… it was weird.
I spent the mixing week at Conor’s house, listening to The Dixie Chicks. I used to have this weird obsession with The Dixie Chicks when I was 13, but we won’t go into that now. We really don’t want to delve into that now! So I wasn’t even… it wasn’t anything. But before that Tim was like, “Hey, can I do some vocals on the album?” I was like, don’t even ask! Just do it without telling me! He started singing, doing his take, and that’s a moment that it hit me: I was straight into those records. The Ugly Organ was my favourite album for a whole year in 2003 – I listened to that album non-stop, and I’d forgotten that. He sang, and it was crazy. Another moment… there were lots of little moments, like ‘No Surprise’, the last song on the album, was played on a Wurlitzer, and Mike told me he’d used it on Bright Eyes’ Lifted… album. Shit… Jesus Christ… I played Xbox every morning, and one morning I could hear a song playing – I thought it was a CD, but it was a Bright Eyes band practise. I think I interrupted it. As a whole it was really cool. So many nice people. I dunno… it’s a really nice place.
And you’re invited back?
I hope so! Even now it feels like it didn’t even happen, like I’m making it up or something. I have to read articles about the album to remember all this happened. They state all these facts, and it sinks in! I feel like this is a second album – the newer songs are more guitar-based, two guitars, bass, drums and piano. One vocal – it’ll be quite rough, and a bit more live-sounding and spacious. I have worked on a couple of orchestrations, but the second album is sounding like it should have been the first album.
I always think of Nirvana when people say things like that, of the contrast between Nevermind and In Utero.
On the inside sleeve of the album I am wearing an Incesticide badge, and I wondered if that’s even allowed? Would it infringe copyright? I remember the first N*E*R*D album – Pharrell is wearing an AC/DC shirt, and it’s blurred. It’s clearly AC/DC.
Like on Bevis and Butt-head, where they’d have band names changed to read ‘Skull’ when not on MTV…
Oh yeah, oh my God… Hey, it’s the Rivers guy…
Video: 'Midnight Surprise'
- - -
A natural full-circle: DiS’s Gareth Dobson strides in, bragging rights his. Turns out Rivers is quite the football fan. That interview will follow; meantime, why not arrange to see Lightspeed Champion at your next convenience, after you’ve picked up his new album. Dates as follows (some solo, many full-band affairs, MySpace for more details):January
26 Bournemouth Consortium
February (with Semifinalists)
1 Cambridge Graduate
2 Bedford Esquires
3 Oxford Academy 2
5 Exeter Cavern
6 Bristol Fleece
7 Cardiff Barfly
8 Southampton Joiners
10 Nottingham Rescue Rooms
11 Birmingham Bar Academy
12 Newcastle Cluny
13 Aberdeen Tunnels
15 Glasgow King Tut’s
16 Hull Adelphi
17 Manchester Roadhouse
18 Leeds Faversham
20 London Dingwalls
21 Canterbury Studio 41
23 Dublin Crawdaddy
6 London Koko
17 Brighton Great Escape Festival
Lightspeed Champion live, Barden's Boudoir, 08/01/08
- - -