Having performed solo for over a decade, Kevin Devine shows no signs of slowing down with the simultaneous release of Bulldozer and Bubblegum. Now, I’m not sure about you but whenever an artist announces a double album or two albums, I’m always wary, are they capable of producing enough content that is exciting and not just filler? With Kevin Devine, his past few records have been criminally under-looked, and have been some of his best and most diverse outputs to date. So, you can imagine the confusion running through my conscious when Devine announced through his Kickstarter campaign that he was to be recording two albums of material.
Thankfully, as you can read in my review of Bulldozer, he delivered and Devine still manages to produce some strong content.
Despite being flooded with a hectic day full of interviews and rehearsing for the upcoming Bubblegum tour, Kevin was kind enough to take some time out of his day to speak to us about the process behind the two albums, as well as a choice selection of some of our favourite songs.
So at the end of last year, you sold out Webster Hall and played three albums (Circles, Split The Country Split The Streets, Between The Concrete and Clouds) back to back. With such an extensive catalogue, how did you go about picking those three albums for that particular show?
I had a little help making the decision from the marketplace. Circle Gets The Square had never been released on vinyl and last fall, we had an offer to do a limited release of that. Then there was a Triple Crown reissue of Split The Country… which had been out of print for a little while. So, we treated it like a record release show for those two reissues and then Between The Concrete…, we had never really done a formal record release for that and it was part of our tour. That December show was also like the end of the record cycle for that album. It just lent itself to being such an expansive night.
In the first half of this year you toured with Bad Books, what differences do you find touring with those guys as opposed to the Goddamn Band?
There are some very significant differences. Bad Books has become it’s own thing but it started out as me and a band that already exists and travels with each other all the time. So, you’re stepping into an already established social dynamic. The dudes in Manchester Orchestra are a lot different from the guys I usually tour with in the Goddamn Band, it’s just really subtle differences like where we go to eat as well as the character of the jokes. Both experiences are refreshing to go from one to the other. The Bad Books shows are different for me because I’m only singing for half the time and it’s nice to just stand back and not worry about being the frontman for the whole time. I’m a lucky person that I have both of those things in my life, it’s kind of an amazing thing to have two projects that are that versatile, it’s hard enough to have one.
Are there plans to get Bad Books over to the UK when you both are free?
We talk about the UK and Australia, I think it’s challenging with Bad B because of everyone’s schedule and the fact that the records weren’t formally releasing anywhere. Myself and Manchester Orchestra feel confident enough to go to those countries based on the strength and awareness of each others catalogue. It’s just a lot of planning to get five people over to a different country and it’s harder because a lot of those people are in other full-time bands. It’s something we keep talking about and coming back to, but maybe it’s something for the third record. But for now, it remains to be seen.
With the new records, did you write all of these songs in one session or are a lot of these songs old ideas?
More of it was written in this session, but this session was more of a three month window. A lot of songs that ended up on Bulldozer started out as ideas that weren’t fully formed. I had the guitar riff for ‘Little Bulldozer’ and I had the name and it was just something that I recorded very quickly on Garageband I think around the time of Concrete and Clouds. I really liked it, but I didn’t feel like it was ready to be developed for that record, so I just put it in the back of my head. It got built into that in the same session.
There’s another song on there called ‘Safe’, which in a sense was like the first thing I wrote for these albums but I wrote it more than a year ago and I didn’t know it was for the albums yet. I just wrote it.
I think the Bulldozer writing span is a little bit longer and it was just stuff that got written over a six or eight month period, piece by piece, and then it got turned into something in that session. However, all of Bubblegum and most of Bulldozer were written between December 2012 into 2013.
There’s one song that appears on both records, ‘She Can See Me’, what was the decision to record that twice?
When I wrote that song it sort of reminded me of The Vaselines and it was a very simple, very off kilter song, and that was what The Vaselines kind of were to me. I feel like The Vaselines influenced bands like Nirvana, but also influenced bands like Belle & Sebastian. My thought was have one very twee pop song and another that was more distorted guitars. What happened when I showed it to Rob Schnapf, he heard it more like a power-pop song. I’m not sure if he’d like this comparison but it reminded me of the best stuff I like about a band like The Lemonheads. Really up-tempo, sweet open chords.
I think that Jesse wanted something a little thicker and a little nastier, there’s a little Black Sabbath-y riff. In a way they moved closer to each other, but both songs sound distinct enough to fit on the records they’re on.
How did you decide which tracks would go on what album?
That was weirdly obvious to me, maybe it was to do with the chord progressions or something of the melodic phrasing. All of the songs were essentially written on acoustic guitar except for a handful of the songs on Bubblegum which were written on bass. There was a rhythm with the Bubblegum stuff where I felt like that it was more like a punk rock record and the other one is more of a open and meditative rock music with folk aspects. So those songs somehow made themselves apparent.
With ‘Now: Navigate’, even though I knew I wanted that to get louder in spaces, it wasn’t a Bubblegum song and ‘I Don’t Care About Your Band’, which is quieter, does feel like a punk rock song in the sentiment and in the really straightforward nature of the chord changes. With the base structure of that record, I went for something a little more direct and simple musically. It’s tough to explain why but I think the records should explain it better.
Keep an eye out for the second part of our Kevin Devine interview in the coming weeks!