Originally published: Virgin Music
Virgin Music caught up with Dev Hynes to discuss Lightspeed Champion’s new album ‘Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You’, medical conditions and Alexa Chung.
Thomas A. Ward: Hi Dev, how are you?
Dev Hynes: I’m good thanks. I haven’t really slept or eaten. I just forget, time flies.
T: That’s what London does for you, sucks you in.
D: It does, it does. Sorry I’m late, it’s for a boring reason, I had to do my tax returns. It’s so lame.
T: How did they work out?
D: A bit pricey! More than I would like. But it’s fine. Anyway…
T: So your new EP and album are out, it’s your first release for two years, where have you been and what have you been doing?
D: I’ve just been writing and recording. Really that’s been it, the only thing that has stopped is touring. But I’ve kept writing music, for myself and other people ,going in the studio. Now there’s this backlog of records that are just building up. It’s a case of systematically choosing when they will come out.
T: So tell us about the new album, it’s a change of direction.
D: I guess so. Every B-Side was recorded over a year and a half, I have so much stuff sitting around. I wrote a lot of classical stuff, cello pieces, paino concertos, one of which is on the EP. There’s a couple of covers too.
T: A Serge Gainsbourg cover? How did that come about?
D: Yes – how can I phrase this story without getting in trouble. I go in the studio with people, record all the instruments and record it, then give it to the label and say ‘just do whatever with this’. There’s a lot of time left over at the end, because I work quickly. So I get left with studios at the end of the day. Good ones, so I think ‘I should really do something!’. So that’s how that happened. We did quite a few, other Gainsbourg ones, then versions of my songs in French. I don’t know if anyone would ever want to hear. I hate wasting time in studios, so I end up with way too much stuff and doing stupid stuff. Sometimes I put stuff straight online and people don’t even notice.
T: So ‘Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You’. What’s the details behind the album title?
D:I got really interested in forced happiness. People tend to exaggerate negatives in their lives, I find it funny to do the same with positives. I love Brian Wilson, ‘Smile’ etc. I have names so far in advance though – I knew this title before I recorded the first album. I know what all the next albums are called and write towards that.
T: What’s the next album title then?
D: The next one is called ‘Dev’.
T: Keep it simple then.
D: Yes, exactly. I’ve written about six songs for it and it’s going to be a mixed bag, a mix between new things I’ve been reaching out at, the Blood Orange record, first Lightspeed and Test Icicles. It’s everything, it’s pretty weird. I don’t even sing on most of the songs, it’s gonna be strange.
T: With ‘Life is Sweet’ you’ve said you wanted it to be positive, but it’s came out sad?
D: Yeah, I’m so bummed about that, haha.
T: What happened?
D: I don’t know! It’s quite positive in parts. It just didn’t work out how I planned. It’s in a really weird tracklisting, inspired by Todd Rungren. It’s in four parts. On CD it’s hard to see that, but it’s more just to make me happy anyway. The songs are grouped together and towards the end it gets a bit more positive.
T: Everyone lives happily ever after?
D: Well, I wanted a transition from the last album .Start sombre and pick up at the end.
T: There’s been a transition in your writing to add more orchestral elements. Why?
D: I started doing arrangements after touring for other things and it progressed from that. The original version of the album wasn’t as heavily orchestrated, it was quite the opposite. I was just fiddling, and thought, ‘man I should do this properly, make it really intense, go over the top, overblown’. I thought it would be a nice contrast, because it is the uncoolest thing to do, making an overproduced album at the moment. I thought that would be really funny.
T: You were trying to go against the grain and what you have done in the past?
D: Kind of. It’s all just challenges for me, all my goals are musical. I just want to see what I can do, but I’m happy when I don’t do it too. I like the accidents and the experiments of music. It’s such an amazing thing you can get things wrong and still get an end product. I like trying stuff out. It’s a weird mixture of control freak and not at all. I’m not technical minded, but I know what I want, I know the sound I want.
T: You’ve been doing covers for Elvis’ 75th birthday. Are you a fan?
D: Yeah, it was all my idea. Nobody asked me. I just wanted to put it out on his birthday, Oh, man, he’s so good. He’s one of the true – him, Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone were the masters of singing other people’s songs that just become their own, with their emotions in it, as if they’ve written it. It’s interesting that those three were all good piano players and good musicians.
T: Do you think you made the Elvis songs your own? It must be a big deal for you.
D: Yeah, it was weird. We recorded it at Avatar Studios because a friend’s band was recording. They only needed it for a couple of hours. They knew I’m always doing stupid s**t, they called me up and said I could have the studio, so I called my friends, said let’s go down. I got there and decided to do ‘Devil In Disguise’ and a load of live versions from the album. I remembered afterwards about Elvis’ birthday; the day before his birthday I was in LA, so thought I’d do a stupid video. It went online four hours after I made it.
T: Let’s go on to Blood Orange. How is it different to Lightspeed Champion?
D: It’s a bit 80s, in a soulful way. It’s really cool, weird Oriental things, I bit of Sade and Prefab Sprout. We recorded it very authentically, to 8-track, it was so insane. It was incredible though, really fun. People talk about music from the 80s that is covered in synths. I was trying to get more of a live instrument-based sound. Lots of it was, Tears For Fears for example. I wanted something like that, to evoke those kinds of emotions. It will come out before the end of the year.
T: You seem like a man not willing to wait for anything. Why is this?
D: Well, I find it weird that people would want to pay for my stuff, so I like posting it online straight away.
T: Have you got a lack of self-confidence about some of the things you release?
D: I guess. I’m such a fan of music, the stuff I listen to is so much better than the stuff that I create.
T: Do you feel in competition with your idols, Elvis and co?
D: It’s more that I’m selfish. I make music for me. I listen to my own demos for weeks. I know what I like, I’m happy in that sense. But I don’t think it’s goodenough for other people to listen to. There are people like Elvis out there, there is amazing music in the world – I feel I’m just floating around the bottom somewhere. It’s complex.
T: How do you find the idea of fame, that people want to come watch you and hear your music?
D: I find it terrifying and so strange. There isn’t many of them, but it’s weird. Its interesting though. I like talking to people and finding out why they listen to what I do. I’m always curious to see if it’s the same reasons as I listen to me. Often it’s just associations, like a boyfriend gives a girlfriend my record. It’s so strange.
T: London’s been very kind to you. You must have a lot of friends here, why did you uproot and move to New York?
D: So many reasons. Mainly just starting anew somewhere as a person. There was no musical reason. I moved with only hand luggage, eventually brought bits over. I didn’t feel like anywhere was home, now I feel like New York is home. I felt like a fresh start. I guess there is a weird race in London, weird music thing – I don’t know how to explain it and not sound like a dick. In New York, no one cares, nobody is looking for the best new band that hasn’t played a gig yet. In London that stuff is shoved in yoru face.
T: The fame game. Is it something you wanted to get away from?
D: Yeah, but in a sense of whether I was making music or not. It’s not just London though. It’s just in New York I can walk down the street and be more relaxed. Also I can’t afford to live in London. I nearly cried when I bought a week Travelcard – £38, that’s ridiculous. It’s not even all zones! A week travel on 24 hour transport in New York, and efficient, is $22. And people are complaining about that!
T: You’ve been working with X Factor semi-finalist Diana Vickers. Tell us about it.
D: They’re really cool. I’ve kind of forgotten them. Erm…yeah, they’re good.
T: What can we expect from them?
D: Don’t expect it to sound like music I would personally release – it won’t. One of the songs got adapted by this guy who has written the two biggest selling songs of the decade. It’s quite natural sounding. I think they kept a lot of my production. Lots of wood sounds, pencil scraping and rolling around. Pretty interesting stuff, I’m curious how her album will turn out and how it will fit together.
T: Aside from music, you’ve done comic books, a collection of short stories ‘The Bad Era Of Me. Is that personal stuff, where does it come from?
D: ‘The Bad Era Of Me’, that was going to be the name for ‘Life Is Sweet!’ originally. It was actually created by Alexa, Alexa Chung, There was a period where I would ask her for titles, she’s really good at word play. Lots of my songs have stupid titles because I write the first thing in my head on the demo, then it never gets changed. Anyway. These stories are stuff I’ve written in the last year and a half, I felt like it was time to compile them. I never tell people when they come out – maybe I should start.
T: Is it out now?
D: Kind of…I think.
T: You don’t even know!
D: Haha. I’m taking some back to New York anyway.
T: You’ve recently been blogging about the neurologically based condition synesthesia. How does this relate to you?
D: It’s a fault in the brain, where two senses meet that shouldn’t. There are different types of it. My particular kind is with sight and hearing. So I can see sounds, basically. It’s weird.
T: Does this cause problems, or help your music?
D: I’ve never really known until I met this girl, Leah, who is a doctor at Rockefeller University. I guess I’ve had it my whole life. I could never concentrate in bars. I couldn’t have conversations. It’s like talking to someone, with a clown jumping behind them, just distractions. It’s the reason I can play every instrument expect brass and woodwind. Most instruments are based on memory, and I have perfect pitch, my mind can work it out. But with woodwind and brass, they involve breathing and different fingering. It’s not easy, and I’ve never been able to crack that.
T: You’ve discussed feeling paranoid in the past. You’ve said you’d prefer to have no face – what did you mean by that?
D: Music is often a package – bands that look cool and are great live. I feel like I can’t provide that. I feel guilty even attempting. But I’m in a position where I feel I should. I’d like people to listen to my music without them having me in their mind. I’d like something imaginary, with no connotations. It’s frustrating, but I make so much different stuff and I don’t… It’s all personal to me. I feel like me as a person shouldn’t influence the listener. I wish there was a way I could be cut off so people could just hear the music. I try not to think about it.
T: Is this why you’re moving towards orchestration? Are you looking to do opera or theatre?
D: I’ve just always been a fan of writing music. I’ve never seen myself as a performer, never in my life. I’ve never had that dream. I used to dream about writing songs, really weird. I’d pretend I’d written certain songs, or played bass on a song I like. I’m actually going to be producing Theophilis Monk, he’s from New York – and stuff like that is fun. I just find all the rewards for me are in the creating, whether my name is on it or not. The rest of it is just weird.
T: My final question then. How would you like to be remembered?
D: Wow. I guess…someone who did a lot of things…and sometimes it was funny.