Kevin Devine | 02.13.08


I chose to put out a record with those people with a full, indie-rock arsenal of stories of people who in my situation had done that and were very unhappy. Being in that situation allowed me to tour the way I wanted to tour.


at Off Broadway (St. Louis)
w/AA Bondy & The Jealous Girlfriends
8 p.m., $10
Buy tickets

I could tell you a hundred reasons why you should go see Kevin Devine. How the man’s a master with words; how he tells stories in his songs that make you pause, think, reflect. How onstage he’s a captivating and entertaining performer who will have you laughing and cheering throughout his entire set. How he seems really, truly genuine, a nice guy—if those things still exist in rock music. How he’s a singer-songwriter who leans a bit folk-emo, largely because of his sometimes whiny (in a good way) vocal delivery and the frankness of his songs. How you’ll talk to him after the show, and he’ll look you in the eye as he shakes your hand and thanks you oh, so graciously. And oh yes, he’ll notice if you sing along.

I could tell you all of these things and more, dryer stuff, too. The way he self-released a handful of albums, built himself a following, and did the first thing they tell indie singer-songwriters not to do: signed to a major label. Of course, it didn’t stick; Devine found himself dropped four months after the actual release (and a soft one at that, meaning there really wasn’t any promotional effort or money put behind him whatsoever). The way he’s not bitter; he recognizes the benefits he reaped from the less-than-ideal experience; he holds his head high; he’s moving on.

I could tell you, but really, Devine’s so articulate (read: talkative; very, very talkative) and friendly and open, I thought I’d just let him tell you himself. And then, of course, you’ll go to the show when it comes to your town and you’ll have yourself a memorable evening and you’ll thank me for keeping my mouth shut and letting Kevin do all the talking.


What are you up to now?

I’m just sitting, staring at a wall, waiting to go back on tour. Counting the minutes.


No, I mean, we’re working on new stuff. I pretty much run just like a small business. I work everyday on administrative stuff, and I’m just catching up with friends and family and with life at home. It feels like there’s not a time for anything ’cause you’re home for six weeks and then back out for four months, or something like that.

What about the bands you’re touring with; do they fit your sound, do you think?

In Brooklyn, you’re a little bit more concerned about what fits and what perceptions are. The music industry’s falling apart. I mean it’s a failing enterprise. I feel like I’m in a generous and lucky position because I can exist. I’ve been on tour for a year with the record not in stores, dropped by the label that put it out. And I’m now getting more fans out of it and somehow getting consistent. That’s what it is right now, if you could be on tour for as much as you possibly can.

It’s weird. I don’t really know how to gauge where I’m at with that stuff. I actually just had this really long, convoluted conversation last night with two friends; they were drunk in a bar and I wasn’t. They think I undervalue myself because I’m someone who’s done a lot of work and I’ve done a lot of touring and I’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t get paid what I should. And when we’re 50-plus, artists won’t have a pension plan and we’re all gonna be fucked. And I should be doing everything I can to get what I can out of it right now. I could have systemic issues with how musicians and artists get treated in America, but that’s bigger than me. I feel like, as far as the market price goes, I kind of am getting paid and treated exactly the way everyone in my shoes is.

I think in the music industry right now you’re either a pop star or you’re working 250 days a year on tour and the middle is evaporating really quickly.

What do you think about all the doom and gloom in the music industry?

It’s really crazy. I’m very uplifted about all of it, because there’s part of me that feels like I’m glad that it’s happening. I feel like these people have taken their fan base and their customers for granted increasingly for about 30 years. And I feel like they don’t treat their clients particularly well, either, and their employees, or whatever you want to call the artists.

The talent.

Yeah. Their money for them. I have personal, concrete experience with this from the Capitol thing. I feel like the Capitol thing for me was a total lark. I was like, "Oh, let’s see what happens." I had no expectations and, gratefully, those no expectations were more than met head on. It’s a failed business model and they didn’t adapt.

You know, Bob Dylan would come out now and he’d sell 10,000 records and he’d be on Pitchfork and he’d be playing the Creepy Crawl or Off Broadway or whatever, but I don’t think he’d be able to develop the way he was in the time he was around. I’m not in any fucking way saying I’m like Bob Dylan, but what I’m saying is if I was in a different situation with Capitol, I would have actually had a chance. I believe in that record. I think we made a real good record, and I think that the more people that hear it the more people also think we made a good record. But Capitol did nothing.

Really? They didn’t promote it or anything?

My record came out on Capitol October 2006. I was dropped in February 2007.

You’re kidding.

No. They call it a soft release. But you can’t complain about the decisions you make. I chose to put out a record with those people with a full, indie-rock arsenal of stories of people who in my situation had done that and were very unhappy. Being in that situation allowed me to tour the way I wanted to tour. It allowed me to bring my band out and pay them something, which I can’t do right now.

I met great people. I got to make a record I believe in. I got to work with Rob [Schnapf, producer], and that was awesome. And I got to do things I ever would have gotten to do, like live in L.A. for two months and work on music.

What’s the plan for the next album?

What’s happening is this one is gonna get re-released into stores; it’s looking like a label called Procrastinate Records run by like the Brand New guys. It’s gonna be an imprint of whatever the hell label they’re on.

We started writing and we demoed 11 acoustic demos that are just guitar and vocals, really bare. We’re gonna keep demoing whenever I’m home and then I have an eye on properly making the record in the summer. Songs are coming out now. You know, every time I start that process, I don’t know if I know how to write and remember how to, or if the songs are any good. So there’s always this living-inside-your-head period where you’re writing all this stuff and being like, "I have no idea is this is a good song or if this is even a song," and then showing it to the people you work with and having them be like, "Yeah, dude, you’re stupid; it’s great."


So when you’re writing, are you sitting down to write an album as opposed to writing a song as it comes to you?

I just write. I write a lot. I write a lot in notebooks and on my laptop and on my phone and on napkins and wherever. There’ll be like hundreds of pieces of writing that aren’t like songs that people will find; maybe they’ll just be someone who lives in my apartment and they find it in a shoebox or something like that. But there’s a lot of stuff like that. Some of them things become songs and some of them just stay in the notebook.

I just got asked to write a short story for this book that’s gonna get published in Germany. From what I’ve been told, it’s musicians or artists that are known for their facility with words. I think Thurston Moore is gonna write a story, Conor [Oberst] and Tim Kasher. I don’t even know how to restart that engine in my brain to write a short story right now.

You’re calling this the Antifreeze Tour, which I think is a brilliant idea, serving hot chocolate at all the shows. Where did that come from?

I’m gonna really let you down right now. I had nothing to do with that. And I hope that people don’t take it literally because I’m not fucking serving it.

Are you serious? You totally should.

I’m a little worried now, ’cause you’re the second person who’s been like, "That’s such a great idea."

It is a great idea. Maybe you should rethink the not serving it thing.

I’ll pass it along to the appropriate channels.

Anything else exciting that you wish to share with me?

Um, I can’t tell if my apartment is like a self-feeding organism that steals motivation and builds some kind of viral sickness, ’cause I feel…it’s super dry. I’ve had a low-level cold for all of the time I’ve been home.

I think it’s your apartment.

I’m worried that it’s my apartment and I don’t want to believe that ’cause it’s a lovely place. I mean, I clean it. It’s very comfortable. It’s very spacious. But I feel a little worried that there’s some kind of self-feeding organism that’s trying to take me over from inside. So that’s exciting if you believe in my impending doom.

It’s interesting. It’s a story. That’s what we need.

I’m making oatmeal right now. I’m gonna leave my house in a little while. Go buy some apples and bananas and some toilet paper. Maybe go see my friends after that. And count another day off the ledger toward the tour…

Well, good luck with the apartment sickness thing. Maybe you should drink lots of hot chocolate.

Yeah, you like this hot chocolate thing. I’m gonna have to tell her that…

You should just have your publicist buy the hot chocolate.

That’s exactly what I’m gonna say. I’m gonna say, "You made this problem and now you can make it go away." | Laura Hamlett


Kevin Devine’s Antifreeze Tour (without hot chocolate)

01.19: New York, NY | The Bowery Ballroom
01.24: Philadelphia, PA | North Star
01.25: Pittsburgh, PA | Garfield Artwork
01.26: Richmond, VA | The Camel
01.28: Washington DC | The Black Cat Backstage
01.29: Chapel Hill, NC | Local 506
01.30: Atlanta, GA | Smith’s Olde Bar
02.01: Tampa, FL | The Orpheum
02.02: Orlando, FL | The Social
02.04: Nashville, TN | Rocketown
02.05: Birmingham, AL | Bottletree
02.06: Baton Rogue, LA | Spanish Moon
02.07: Houston, TX | Walter’s on Washington
02.08: Austin, TX | Stubb’s BBQ
02.09: Dallas, TX | The Prophet Bar @ The Door
02.11: Lawrence, KS | Jackpot Music Hall
02.12: Omaha, NE | Slowdown Front Room
02.13: St. Louis, MO | Off Broadway Nightclub
02.14: Chicago, IL | Beat Kitchen
02.15: Cleveland, OH | The Grog Shop
02.16: Athens, OH | The Union @ Ohio University
02.17: Columbus, OH | The Basement

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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