When you love someone as much as DEVONTÉ HYNES [and are meeting them for the first time], it seems appropriate that the necessary thing to do is [temporarily] immortalise his face in wizard cake-pop form... and seeing the gobsmacked / highly amused expression on his face makes the long wait for this moment to finally eventuate, incredibly worth it.
"Did you make this?! It's crazy, whoah..." - he says incredulously.
I don't possess such skills myself, I tell him. But come to New Zealand more, I say. "You get given wizard cake-pops and get to play with [his NZ record label publicist's] 'triangle head' dogs."
Devonté agrees: "I really should be doing this more!"
"I honestly think that that’s the craziest thing in the world, and that goes for like movies and whatever, anything that you have to create something. I think it’s really insane that in how big of a world we live in, that one person would then grade it. It’s insane! That’s crazy, and I just don’t really care for it."
COUP DE MAIN: You’ve been supporting Florence + The Machine on this leg of the 'Ceremonials' tour since April - do you have a favourite anecdote from recent times?
BLOOD ORANGE - DEVONTÉ HYNES: Let me think... I don’t want to get into trouble. <laughs> Well actually, the other day we were all flying and we were sitting in the lounge, and Mel B was there. That was pretty cool! She looked amazing. Someone told me that she’s doing some fitness thing or something in Australia - she looked incredible. Flawless, I could say. No, she was flawless! I will say it.
CDM: Scary Spice! And apparently you’ve got plans to record an album with Florence Welch, is this the Grand Slam return of Team Perfect?
DEVONTÉ: <laughs> I guess so. I mean, when I say the process is slow, I mean it’s very slow!
CDM: So we might finally get to hear the album in twenty years?
DEVONTÉ: It’s really taking its time, but hopefully yeah. We’re working on it.
CDM: How did you first meet Florence and what was your first impression of her?
DEVONTÉ: I don’t know if she wants to know my first impression... <laughs> I first met her when I was seventeen to eighteen, and she was seventeen. I think I met her in Elephant & Castle in London, and she was always just running around singing really, just singing at the top of her voice at places. She was amazing. We became really, really good friends, kind of inseparable really... And then I moved <laughs> which is kind of the story of most of my friendships. But yeah, she was amazing. We used to just spend all day just singing and writing songs and recording.
CDM: And covering Green Day songs...
DEVONTÉ: Not so much now, but back then I would cover entire albums for fun, just in a day or whatever. She [Florence] was around at my place, and she’s a really big Green Day fan - still is - and I was a Green Day fan too. I think I was going to cover it, and she was there, so we just did it. I haven’t listened to it in years, I’m not sure if I can... maybe I can, I mean we actually played it recently and covered Green Day.
CDM: I watched a live video online of that 'Hitchin' A Ride' performance!
DEVONTÉ: Really?! Whoah, I should look for that. And I played a LIGHTSPEED [CHAMPION] song!
CDM: Yes! That made me super happy.
DEVONTÉ: I was forced into it by Flo. <laughs>
CDM: You've said that you never really felt like a singer before/until this tour when you were singing every day - why did you never feel like a singer before?
DEVONTÉ: Because I just don't sing. I sing when I'm at home I guess, but I would never present myself as a singer to someone. I just feel that it's so much work, you know? Everything else is really easy to me. The idea of just singing is terrifying. There are so many good singers out there, and they can be used, more than my horrific attempts.
CDM: I loved your vocals on the 'Never Let Me Go' duet/remix with Florence though!
DEVONTÉ: Oh yeah? Thank you! I tried.
CDM: Was that fun for you to experiment with?
DEVONTÉ: Yeah, it was cool. That's actually my favourite. I've been playing that live a lot and it's actually my favourite song to sing live, I love singing that song. I do enjoy singing, but I’d prefer to hear SOLANGE [KNOWLES] singing or something! <laughs>
CDM: And with your next project, you’re thinking of doing it piano or cello-based?
DEVONTÉ: Well, it’s my next performance. I’m also thinking of recording it, but I guess I just want to put on a concert and get lots of friends down to perform and sing, and make it more of an event. I'll play piano, maybe cello, and get other musicians in.
CDM: Will it be purely instrumental? Or will you be singing as well?
DEVONTÉ: I may not sing that much, but I’m planning on getting lots of singers down to sing. Early stages, we’ll see if it comes together. I have so many other things I have to do; I’ve taken on too much!
CDM: When we interviewed Tom [Cowan] from The Horrors earlier this year, he said he’d just emailed you about wanting to do a dance album. Do you think that’ll happen?
DEVONTÉ: Yeah, I need to do that. Actually it’s funny, because he wants me to do vocals, but I can’t sing. <laughs> I need to message him...
CDM: Can you ever see yourself returning to release more music from your former projects, like Lightspeed Champion?
DEVONTÉ: Actually, I have a Lightspeed album finished that no-one’s really heard yet.
CDM: Will anyone else ever get to hear it?
DEVONTÉ: Honestly, probably not.
CDM: Aww, don’t tell me that! I'm sad now.
DEVONTÉ: <laughs> I don’t know, I really like it though, I actually listened to it recently, like a week ago.
CDM: Now you’re just being selfish!
DEVONTÉ: I don’t think anyone really does want to hear it - it’s not that good! No, it is great... <laughs> maybe. I mean, if it comes out, I don’t know if I'll want to perform it ever.
CDM: With Blood Orange though, you hadn’t really planned to tour... it was Florence asking you to, right?
DEVONTÉ: Yes, so maybe that would happen eventually. There is a Lightspeed album though, I wrote it a couple of years ago, and recorded it within the last two years, slowly. The label don’t even have it, they haven’t even heard it!
CDM: We won’t tell Domino [Records]...
DEVONTÉ: <laughs> Who else has heard it? Let me think... do you know Soko? She’s this French singer. She’s really good actually; I played it to her once.
CDM: Well, maybe the next time you come over we’ll give you an entire life-sized wizard cake... would you play it for us then?
DEVONTÉ: <laughs> Yes! If you want me to play it for you, I’d play it, I just don't have it on me right now.
CDM: Who or what are your main songwriting influences and inspirations?
DEVONTÉ: I guess there's musicians or people that I aspire to and admire, like Philip Glass or Michael Nyman, Ryuichi Sakamoto - [they] are all composers that I really look up to and who have kind of really honed in on what they do with their craft with their age. And then Todd Rundgren, Michael Jackson, I'm thinking there's a lot of people... there's a production group called J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League who I think are incredible, Arthur Russell, David Byrne, I can think of a million people. Marvin Gaye, Serge Gainsbourg is another big one, there's lots and it changes. I have playlists and playlists of music that I tend to listen to regarding what it is that I need to do. There's a lot of people, and dependent on what it is I'm writing, it tends to change.
CDM: Are you more on an autobiographical songwriter or do you prefer to write about imaginary situations?
DEVONTÉ: It's a bit of both. I tend to just write about whatever comes to my head. In my mind I don't really care for lyrics. I kind of do, but I do it as the last thing that I do. I write songs and so I tend to, whatever comes into my head I put it out and then when I look back on it and it tends to be about things that are actually happening. So it's all... they're all stories. Like The Blood Orange album tends to be stories that I have pretty vivid ideas about. It's all like... I can look back and place it in to what was happening at my life at that time.
CDM: Lyrically, do you have a favourite song that you've written?
DEVONTÉ: Probably 'Bad Girls' - I'm really happy with the music and lyrics for that song. I think it's probably the best song that I've ever written and I sometimes worry, because I'm just trying to please my own ear and I don't think I'm ever going to do a song like that again. <laughs> I really like that song. It's on a 7" that I put out with Terrible Records. The song is actually meant to be for Solange Knowles, it was for her to sing, so there's a version that's going to be on her album, when it comes out.
CDM: Is your creative process different when writing songs for yourself or for other people?
DEVONTÉ: Not really, I mean it depends... if I'm writing songs and I know it's for the person beforehand, then I'll get together with the person and get a sense of them and work on it and then present the song. But otherwise, I tend to just write and I usually don't want me to sing them, I want other people to. So I have like, fifty songs that are just there and if people want them, they can have them.
CDM: Do you think having Synesthesia affects your approach to song-writing?
DEVONTÉ: I’m sure it does. I’m not really sure how it does as of now, but I'm sure it must do. It definitely helps me learn how to write and how to play instruments.
CDM: When did you first know that you had it?
DEVONTÉ: When I was in high school and I was talking to a music teacher. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I was explaining something to her, and she then told me what it was that I had. It was weird, it was a lunchtime, and I remember it very vividly because I was so shocked. Up until that point I had thought that it was just something that everyone experienced. It was really hard to me to wrap my brains around the fact that a lot of people don’t have it. It’s still a little hard to me to wrap my brain around, but I got there I guess, eventually.
CDM: In your opinion, what’s the difference between a good song, and a great song?
DEVONTÉ: I really think it’s just if you want to listen to it, over and over again. I don’t get sick of songs - if I like a song then I can really listen to it on loop, and I think that’s the key thing. I don't know if it's a particular chord or lyric... I just think that if you hear something, and you wanna hear it again, then that is a great song in regards to you.
CDM: I was reading on your Tumblr a quote that you posted from Beach House's Alex Scally: "Writing about us, people have said: ‘Do we need another album by this band?’ What the fuck is that? That only matters if you’re just listening to sound. Did anyone ever say, ‘Do we need another album from the Beatles?’ It’s this pathetic era we’re in where people are like, ‘I’m done with them, I need a new sound; I’m a baby, I need something every five minutes.’ A lot of people listening to music now don’t listen to the songs or lyrics at all. They just go, ‘Good tones…’ and that’s it. But we’re obsessed with songs. Sometimes, I feel like people aren’t listening to our songs, they’re just listening to the sound." In your opinion, when do you think that shift occurred, when a 'sound' became more important to people than songs?
DEVONTÉ: That’s such a good quote! Well, I think it’s actually always existed, because in music there’s always a revival of something. As long as I can think of there’s always a nostalgia-driven genre of music - it always tends to happen, 70's, 80's, 90's wherever. Even in the 80's, when they were all nostalgic about the 50's and 60's, it always happens. And then things get popular, and people are just listening to what it sounds like. Like low-fi, where they’re just listening to how bad the quality of the recording is and there’s nothing else to it. I thought that was really interesting, because I’m also pretty new to Beach House. I’d heard bits before, but this new album was the first time I’d really listened, and I love it, I think it’s amazing! And I saw that people were saying that it sounds like the other old records, but it’s like... why wouldn’t it? It’s the same people. I don’t know what people want. And then I saw that quote - someone posted it online somewhere and I just thought it was so incredible.
CDM: You've said that: “Lots of people in the world nowadays see music as a sport, and the more I begin to see this, the less I want to take part.” Can you explain your reasoning behind that?
DEVONTÉ: Maybe it’s just my jadedness from being on the side of making it, but it seems like there’s these routines, where it’s like ‘get your song on here’ and ‘you play these shows to get to this stage’ and 'you must be this type of music’... and people score it. People slap a rating on this thing that you’ve made! <laughs> It’s just so wild! It’s just the craziest thing. I honestly think that that’s the craziest thing in the world, and that goes for like movies and whatever, anything that you have to create something. I think it’s really insane that in how big of a world we live in, that one person would then grade it. It’s insane! That’s crazy, and I just don’t really care for it. And that’s one of the reasons that I don’t really care about releasing my Lightspeed album, because I’ve made it and I’ve just listened to it for myself. I haven’t read a Blood Orange review ever, and I disable the comments on YouTube videos, so I actually have no idea what people are really saying. Because, I mean it’s all kind of meaningless, but if a stranger in the street came up to you and just said: "Your jacket sucks." And then walked away, you’d be like "what the fuck?", and "who are you?", and "I like this and I just put this on..." But it will still bother you. Even though it’s someone who you’ll never seen again in your entire life and you never knew them before, you’ll be thinking about that, and you’ll just be like “Shit, I thought it was really great, but..." So that’s what I think reviews are [like]. <laughs>
CDM: Do you have any plans to publish more books?
DEVONTÉ: Not really. I’ve just become so busy, with production and writing and stuff, I dunno. No, I haven’t, but I wrote a short-film with a friend recently, and we’ve been talking about writing more kind of screenplay stuff together, so I think that will be where that ends up in the future.
CDM: What was it like working as a consultant for Jay-Z's clothing label, 'Rocawear'?
DEVONTÉ: Pretty chill. It was mainly just me sitting in rooms like this [boardroom], and saying: "Yes, that looks cool." <laughs>
CDM: Would you ever want to design your own fashion-line or collection?
DEVONTÉ: Oh my gosh, I can’t imagine ever doing that; I don’t have the patience or talent. Mainly talent, but I definitely don’t have the patience I don’t think. If someone asked me to, sure, but I don’t think anyone’s ever going to ask me. <laughs>
CDM: If D.E.V.O.N.T.É. was a real-life acronym, what would each letter stand for?
DEVONTÉ: Don’t... Eat... Veal... Only Nice Tender E-coli.
BLOOD ORANGE'S FIVE MOST MAGICAL THINGS IN THE WORLD...
THE ADVENTURES OF BLOOD ORANGE - A 'COASTAL GROOVES' COMIC BY DEVONTÉ HYNES.
Devonté Hynes' BLOOD ORANGE 'Coastal Grooves' album is out now - featuring the singles 'Dinner', 'Sutphin Boulevard', 'Champagne Coast', 'Forget It' and 'I'm Sorry We Lied'. Click HERE to purchase via iTunes.
Watch the music video for 'I'm Sorry We Lied' below...