Devin may be a fresh face on the New York music scene, but this Brooklyn native tends to a time-honored tradition of red-hot rock and roll. (Think Iggy Pop, Jack White and the New York Dolls.) His last job was stacking boxes in a shipping warehouse. He doesn’t do that anymore.
Can you talk a little bit about what you were doing before this?
You know, I was working a terrible job and living with a roommate in a basement apartment in Park Slope—a little shithole with no windows. We were both single and pretty much depressed, not doing anything. Absolutely nothing was happening; I hated New York and everyone I knew. I was like, “Maybe I’ll move to Germany.”
Then you started writing songs.
I’d been writing before that, but they were pretty terrible. I mean, really bad. But then I started working with these classic forms that everyone understands: rock and roll, rhythm and blues. I never knew I could pull off rock, but I wrote some songs and I could tell I didn’t suck anymore. They have references all over the place to the music that I like. I think that’s part of what makes it good—it’s got really specific references to good music.
People have already started mentioning David Johansen and Iggy Pop.
There’s a million different guys and girls you could point out. But Iggy Pop is definitely one you can stand behind as a pillar.
What do you like about him?
I discovered him late; I think I was 24 or something. I saw this video on YouTube of him doing “The Passenger,” which isn’t even him in his prime. But it just took me in that moment; it hit me personally. I never saw anyone do that. He’s obviously a man, but he’s acting like a child. It’s so cool. Everybody wants to do that: get up onstage and flip out—but without looking like a fool. Anyone can go up there and look like a fool. But to pull it off for real, I was just like, Wow. Rock and roll is supposed to be fun, you know? And so many times it’s not. Rock and roll on the radio—well, now there’s no rock on the radio, at least in New York. But when I was young, in high school, rock was definitely not fun. It was terrible.
So you began utilizing these classic forms. Did you know what you wanted to sing about?
The forms suggest what the songs are about—they put you in a world. Take the first line from “New Horrors”: “Junkie’s shaking in the subway car / My baby’s shaking on the dance floor.” Everyone’s seen that. And “White Leather,” that’s a song about getting ready to go out. The album takes place at night, I think—it’s about running around with the one you love, doing whatever you want.
The title is Romancing.
I thought that was hilarious. I really fell in love with that idea: “Here’s a song about jealousy.” “Here’s a song where the title is the girl’s name.” My point of view is maybe a little more realistic than the old stuff; it’s not as glamorized. But I still have songs like “I Died.” That’s obviously not something that happened to me. I’m fantasizing.
You originally recorded some of the songs at home, right?
All of them. For me the process of recording is part of the songwriting; I write my songs while I’m recording them. It’s not a process-oriented thing—they’re straight songs in terms of the arrangements. But it’s not like I play the guitar and write a song; I can’t do that. I think up parts and put them together.
When did you start playing?
I’ve been playing guitar since my parents bought me one at 15. But I wasn’t dedicated. For me it all came through recording. A couple of years ago I started working with a friend who got me into recording. He was into R&B and hip-hop; I didn’t like the music. I was just looking for something to do, and he really got me into recording at home on this busted level—not at a studio, just making a shit setup sound good. And I loved it.
You did end up rerecording the tunes in a studio with Chris Zane, and there’s an amazing amount of energy in what you guys did together. It’s like you’re convincing people to have a good time.
We tried to do that. I told Chris, “It has to be crazy.” That was the term—“crazy” was the word of the whole recording process. It doesn’t have to be good; it just has to be crazy. It’s not a live recording, but it’s pretty close.
There’s also something tender going on, though. The record doesn’t feel harsh; it’s not trying to beat you up.
It’s true. Syd [Butler] would say, “Dude, you’re not crazy. You’re not like Iggy Pop.” I was like, “I’m extreme!” And he was like, “You’re not extreme.” I told him it’s relative. I have a full spectrum of human emotion; I’m not a one-dimensional person, and I think the album reflects that.
More recently you’ve started performing live.
After I had bunch of songs I got a band together, and I’ve been playing for the last year in New York. But it’s completely different from recording.
Have you come into it? Does it feel comfortable?
Well, I felt comfortable the first show I played. I never felt nervous, and I never would feel nervous—at least not nervous enough to fuck me up. It’s just about fun, you know what I mean? There’s nothing to feel nervous about. You’re up there, and it doesn’t really matter how good the show is technically. It just has to be fun—that’s the most important thing.