Over the course of 2015 and 2016, Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Kevin Devine sporadically dropped an impressive collection of 7″ vinyl splits in a unique project he cleverly calls the Devinyl Series. For the project, he enlisted friends and musical influences to help craft six two-track splits — one by Devine himself, and another by the artist of his choosing. His past collaborators have included the indie rock duo Tigers Jaw and Perfect Pussy frontwoman Meredith Graves.
This year, Devine is returning to the project, and Billboard is premiering the first track. “Kuala Lumpur” will be one of the first set of tracks, the other being a brand new song by Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. “‘Kuala Lumpur’ was a bit more imagistic and a bit more of a proper projection and fantasy — a daydream where someone get a little further than they wanted to in their head,” Devine says of the track, which is complied of upbeat strumming and dark but relatable lyrics about getting caught up in your head while neglecting the world around you: “You’re losing and lost, haunted by your newsfeed.”
Billboard spoke to Devine about the first single and the upcoming project — which will feature six new splits to be released over the next year — as well as what taking on such a huge project means to him, and about the unlikely collaborator he still holds out hope for getting on his next series.
Tell us about what made you want to do this idea.
It was an undertaking last time, but it was really fun. I like undertakings, I’m not adverse to them. They kinda keep me focused and working — not getting stagnant. I think because I make a little bit of a lot of things — a little punk, a little indie rock, a little folk, a little pop, emo, even a little bit country — I can play with lots of different people, which has been really cool. So the split idea kinda came out of figuring out some way to literally physical-ize that. Like, how could I represent that in physical form?
Rather than do some kind of “We Are The World” thing where you have 40 people singing on your album, it kinda felt like a cool thing that grew out of the punk and hardcore world I grew up in to do a series of singles, where you had different people representing different corners of your sonic world. That’s what we did with the first one, and that was in 2015. We ended up doing three shows for them at the end, which I didn’t really anticipate, where everyone involved with the project played. It was so cool. I don’t know yet whether that will happen with this [second Devinyl series], but it happened then, which was great.
I made a record [Instigator] at the end of 2016, I toured it a lot last year, and I don’t think it’s time yet for a proper [follow up] record. I kinda wanted to put some space between them. But this project enables me to work with people I love and admire, and also kinda forces me to write and record something that I like. I kind of like the idea of doing them every three or four years. I don’t know if that will continue, but that’s the goal in my head.
Who did you want to enlist for this project?
I can’t say all of the people yet, but the first two are with Craig Finn from the Hold Steady and [Philadelphia-based band] Petal. We’re all connected through the “church of song” thing. We’re all people who take songs very seriously. Craig and I have similarities and differences, and Kiley [Lotz, Petal frontwoman] and I have similarities and differences, and Kiley and Craig certainly have differences and similarities. But everyone makes sense in this series. It lets each single have its own distinct personality, which is really great for me, because that’s so much defined by who I’m splitting the singles with. So it lets me stretch out and be six different versions of myself, which is cool.
How do you chose your different themes for each split?
For the Craig one — he’s just got such a distinct and writerly voice. He’s great, and a nice cool smart funny present person. He’s got a big brain and I like the way he thinks. So I was thrilled that he agreed, thrilled to start with him. One thing for the splits that I was trying to do, is to ask the partner for their preferences, and go from there. If someone wants me to determine it, I’ll go from there. But I like the idea of the partner setting the tone. And [Craig] was like, “What if we wrote about the idea of a place, as opposed to what that place actually is?” Which is a really particular and funny and relatable thing.
In general, you could say, “<y life would be so much better if I was in Portland.” And maybe it would be, but you’re still you, and you’re bringing you with you. So if you don’t make changes, you’re probably going to find the same problems in Portland that you had anywhere else. And that was a cool thing to meditate on and write about. So, the song he wrote, “Galveston,” is certainly a story about that in his way. “Kuala Lumpur” was a bit more imagistic and a bit more of a proper projection and fantasy, a daydream where someone get a little further than they wanted to in their head. There are definite references to what goes on in the capital-“W” World, and then kind of in the immediate, personal sphere. So it was a good way to kinda play with current events a bit.
Do you have any particular memories from recording this series?
Yeah, it’s cool, because each one of them gets to be its own story and memory which is nice. I distinctly remember recording every one of them. With the first single with Craig, [it was at] a space that now, unfortunately, is gone- Sunset Seven Studios, in sunset park. I recorded most of the first series in there, and this first single is the last thing I got to record there, since not long afterwards they lost the building, from all the development happening over there.
Dave Hollinghurst was the engineer. He’s got a place set up for drums, bass, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, vocal mics… it’s fun for someone like me who can kind of fake his way through everything. I can play guitar and bass confidently, and sing, but I can hardly peck on a piano and a keyboard. I played drums on “Kuala Lumpur” which was really fun. I can play a little bit but I can’t play play. But he was just kind of like, “No, you’re playing this. He put the track on and [went], “Go!” His methodology was smart, because he was like, “If I don’t let him think about this, I bet he’ll nail it.”
What can you tell me about “Kuala Lumpur,” your new track?
I got to play everything that’s on there. Everything that’s on there is just me. And that’s something I have a lot of fun with. I don’t elect to do it all the time, because usually there’s someone who can do it better than me, certainly on drums and piano. But it was fun to get to do that with this. If you don’t die or quit or give up, I think you’re always trying to get a little bit better at something in your career. From record to record, from project to project, I’m always trying to tighten a screw. Instead of trying to wholesale improve, just make little changes every time that are noticable to you. I think that’s the real deal.
Who would be your dream collaborator for these splits?
I’ve always wanted to do one with Sinead O’Connor, but I don’t know if that’s really where she is personally in her life. But every time I’m asked that, I put it out there, because maybe one day, it’ll make it to her, and she’ll be like “Who is this fucking guy From Brooklyn who keeps telling people he wants to meet me?”