Kevin Devine: “Nothing is a given anymore.”

*Unfortunately, Kevin Devine’s April 29th show at the First Unitarian Church has been cancelled due to positive COVID tests. Last month singer/songwriter Kevin Devine released his 10th studio album,...

*Unfortunately, Kevin Devine’s April 29th show at the First Unitarian Church has been cancelled due to positive COVID tests.

Last month singer/songwriter Kevin Devine released his 10th studio album, Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong, courtesy of Triple Crown Records.  Although written prior to the pandemic, the album was largely recorded remotely between Devine and producer Chris Bracco.  The songs themselves deal with the struggle between the self and the system in which we are forced to exist.  Devine has said, “They’re all excavating a particular brand of how to operate in a crisis, spiritual and familial and cultural.”  Kevin Devine has been on the road with these new songs, the most expansive collection of his career, for the better part of the month and will be headlining the First Unitarian Church this Friday, April 29th, alongside opener Kayleigh Goldsworthy and hometown heroine Kississippi.  Earlier this week I got a chance with Devine about the new album and his two-decade-long solo career.

Izzy Cihak: You just released Nothing’s Real, So Nothing’s Wrong, your 10th LP, which seems crazy for someone barely in their forties…  Anyway, how do you think the album compares to previous releases, both in terms of sound and the process of writing and recording it?  I know a lot of artists took more time than usual writing and recording their latest works.

Kevin Devine: Ha, I appreciate the kindness around relative prolificacy.  It’s funny how I sorta never think of it that way until it is presented to me, there’s that part of you that always feels like you could be doing more…  I think the record is the most wide-screen, horizontal, cinematic, atmospheric piece of music we’ve made, and I think that was both the intention Chris Bracco (the producer) and I established at the outset, and a positive by-product of the forced circumstances of the last two years.  We were able to slow things down and explore every corner and every side of every stone many times over, which I think benefited this particular group of songs greatly.

Izzy: Have you had any favorite reactions to the music so far?  You released a number of singles in advance.  Have you heard anything especially cool from critics or fans?

Kevin: I’ve been generally really pleased with the extent to which the people who have received it and sat with it and let it in seem to really understand it, really see what it is.  Audience members and critics alike.  I’m grateful for their willingness in a very crowded and ephemeral landscape.

Izzy: Do you have a favorite album track at the moment, whether one you’re most proud of or one that might just be especially fun to play?  (I’m guessing it’d be one of the singles, but maybe not…)

Kevin: It always moves around, but right now I’d probably say “Hell Is An Impression Of Myself.”

Izzy: On a related note, do you have any particular favorite works from your back catalogue, whether albums or even individual songs?  Is there anything that resonates with you as much (or more so) than it did when it was released, or that you just still especially enjoy playing?

Kevin: Generally speaking, I actually enjoy playing the bulk of the catalog still.  There are a few songs from the very first record that feel pretty alien at this point, but even those from wherever I am now can be sort of sweet to drop in on.  I feel like there’s something endearing – if you are in a place where you’re taking care of yourself – about being able to communicate with past selves, from some safe distance.  And anything that feels super out of touch to me, I usually try to update lyrically in some ways to bring more into the present.  Or to at least establish the dialogue.

Izzy: The bio in your latest press release references Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House, which I’m assuming is one of your favorite works of art.  Are there any other works of art outside of music that have played a particularly significant role in inspiring your work?

Kevin: Oh, that reference is actually 100% attributable to the person who wrote the bio, based on their experience of listening to the record.  I remember “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson very clearly – I’m not even sure if I’ve read The Haunting Of Hill House… and I think anything anyone makes is ultimately some hodgepodge of all of the art and stimulus and experience swirling around in the soup in their brain, whether that’s conscious or subconscious or some blend, and I’m certain this record owes plenty to plenty of people, in art and in life.  I do love Valerie Hegarty’s painting “Woman in White” a great deal, and saw some sort of impossible to articulate, unspeakable bond between it and the people moving around in the songs, and I was really grateful she let us use it.

Izzy: You’ve played a ton of shows in Philadelphia over the years.  I actually just saw your stripped-down set last December at World Café Live with Stars.  What are some of your thoughts on the city?  Any favorite experiences, whether onstage or just around town?

Kevin: Being a lifelong New Yorker, and much of that time in South Brooklyn, Philly’s always felt like the closest major city that was still sort of a noteworthy trip, and I’ve always loved coming there.  Many many shows in many many places with many many cool people, lots of great bands, lots of stand-out stuff.  I love that R5 is still going strong, I love that the church is still a thing, I love the generations of punk rock and punk rock-adjacent vibrancy and history, and I love being some sort of minor connective thread over the arc of like, 20 something years, a part-of.  It’s sort of astounding when I let myself observe it.  I will miss Blackbird, though.  Very sad to hear about it closing.

Izzy: You’re about in the middle of a really big tour.  Are there any cities or venues you’re especially excited to revisit?

Kevin: Truly grateful to be able to go to any of them, given the state of the world and what the last 2 1/2 years have been like.  At this point, just sort of happy to be in motion and that there are still venues to play and people to attempt to populate them.  Nothing is a given anymore.  I guess it never was, but you know what I mean.

Izzy: You’re touring with some really amazing artists, including PRONOUN, Kississippi, and Kayleigh Goldsworthy.  What are your thoughts on each of the acts, or what would you tell your fans to get them to show up to your shows a little early?

Kevin: All three are formidable artists with singular perspectives and capabilities and each communicates with a lot of intention and capacity and I’m honored to have them on the bill, and think that anyone who likes aspects of what I do will connect to some aspect of what they do.

Izzy: Finally, what can be expected of the live experience on this tour, both in terms of the setlist and the general vibe of the evening?  I’m guessing it’s going to be fairly different from the show you played here in December.

Kevin: In keeping with the ambition and scope of the album, I think it is the most wide-ranging version of the band I’ve ever had out on tour, and I am thrilled and gently awed by the way they deliver the new record and all that’s come before, faithfully but also elevating everything with their own style and ability.  It’s a pretty even split between the new record and a balanced helping of back catalog; I think someone who likes what I do will leave the show happy.  That’s the hope, anyway.

Band InterviewsLive EventsMusic

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.