Posted on 17 December 2009.
I first became acquainted with Kevin James Devine when I happened upon a listing for a show of his at Philadelphia’s The Fire. I was wildly excited, but mostly confused because, “Why is Kevin Devine playing The Fire?” Well friends, therein laid the problem: I immediately assumed it was Brooklyn’s Kevin Devine, with whose music I’ve had a love affair since it was introduced to me back in 2003. Nay! It was Philadelphia’s very own Kevin James Devine. Upon this discovery, I was intrigued that Philadelphia, too, has a Kevin Devine. I was also slightly annoyed that I had been had.
After another KD-KJD mix up the following week, I tweeted “Philly singer/songwriter Kevin JAMES Devine is *really* fucking my shit up.” You can find this in the archives of this very website (though we no longer have a weekly Twitter recap). Mr. K. J. Devine happened upon this entry and he and I have been in talks since then. On the eve of his debut album’s release, he’s been kind enough to answer some questions that I’m happy to share with all of you.
Jessica, Popwreckoning: How long have you been making music and what got you started?
Kevin James Devine: I received an electric guitar in 9th grade, but my hands were too small to play.
Sometime during my senior year of high school I heard “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. I wondered who this guy was. So I picked up a greatest hits sort of thing and from there just became so obsessed with the man and his music that I had to play a guitar and harmonica–I just had to.
So I asked for an acoustic guitar and some harmonicas for Christmas and played them for like hours that day and taught myself the chords and stuff (laughs). That was almost two years ago.
So since that time, I began writing my own songs. I went off to Point Park University for acting; I found myself skipping class and staying home writing songs constantly. I knew that I had to let people hear my songs. I played my first show some time in January 2009 at Saxby’s in Lansdale and now I’ll be releasing an album there in December 2009. I guess you could say I’m bringing it all back home. And you could say that I’ve been an active musician for almost a year.
PW: As a local artist, just outside of Philadelphia in Lansdale, how do you find the flourishing Philly folk scene amongst the like of Langhorne Slim, Hezekiah Jones, Sisters3, etc?
KJD: Langhorne Slim?! Let’s talk about how beautiful “Diamonds and Gold” is (laughs). I’m a big fan of Hezekiah Jones. [Front man] Raphael Cutrufello and the band are extremely talented–they’re regulars at the Fire in Northern Liberties, which is facing some hard times. Everyone can donate money to this great venue at my Saxby’s release show and by attending the World Cafe Fire Benefit Show on December 13th. I’m telling you that place is like our CBGB.
I actually talked to Raphael about possibly setting up a show with him sometime, but right now he’s touring with one of PA’s great bands, Good Old War. Sisters 3 is a great group. They just have this beautiful sound going for them and I really dig it. It’s great. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of the flourishing Philly folk scene. I’m surrounded by a large group of talented musicians and to be included in that is just a dream come true.
PW: How did you get hooked up with ToFo Records, to which you are the first signed artist? Congrats for that, by the way!
KJD: Thank you so much! It was all started by a couple of college students: Carter Fox, Dan Toll, and Ryan Hall. I went to high school with Carter and he was pretty big on Lansdale’s jazz scene as the head of his own group (The Carter Fox Group). Once I quit college and came home, he was going to school for music stuff and he told me, “Hey, I’m starting this indie label and I really want to put out your music. And I knew he was a good guy and so we went with it and so far, I must say, things are really looking up.
PW: That’s good to hear! I love hearing about DIY labels that work so hard to get great music heard. You recently recorded your debut record, Through the Fields, which will be released on ToFo this week. Explain the process for recording the album.
KJD: This first album I recorded in my friend Matt Leece‘s basement. He heads his own production company: Leece Productions. ToFo offered to put me up in a studio and everything to finish out the songs, but I already had some of them recorded and didn’t remember how certain parts went. So there are some really lo-fi songs on the album that I recorded before I started working with Matt and then there are the songs that I recorded with Matt that were supposed to have a lo-fi sound, but actually came out sounding like they had that studio quality.
They’re also all mastered by Sean Comber who does a lot of odd jobs for ToFo Records like mastering, recording, graphic designing–he’s a brilliant guy. The process of recording was a lot of fun. We spent about nine hours on the single, “Long Way to Go” and we finished the album on December 11th just seven days before the release. It was a thirteen hour session and I went straight from Matt’s basement to work at 6:30 in the morning. After working with a guy like Matt, I really like how all of the songs sound and I’m really hoping that people will enjoy them, too.
PW: What have you learned from your first go at record making with Through the Fields that you’ll apply to future albums?
KJD: I will never again announce a release date until the album is finished. We did that and it almost killed us (laughs). Every time we record, I find myself using the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” technique and I think I will always use that.
PW: I love that! It’s so lively. The CD Release show at Saxbys in Lansdale — what can the fans expect?
KJD: Me on an acoustic guitar and harmonica with Matt opening and playing some lead guitar on my songs. I just really want to show them the songs as they were before anyone heard them. When it was just me, a guitar and a few words on a page. I also wanted to do the first release in a coffee shop because a lot of my friends will be there and I want to be able to connect with everyone. It’s harder to do that at a larger music venue.
PW: Aside from a few shows in late January, what does 2010 have in store for Kevin James Devine?
KJD I’m not sure what 2010 has in store for me, but I know that I have another release in store for 2010. MAYBE 2011. I’ll be playing shows on and off and attempting to make an album that really captures the sound of summer nights in Philadelphia and that one week you always spend at the Jersey shore. And I’m not talking about the TV show.
PW: Ha! I’ve heard so much about that show and am so glad I’ve never seen it. I am, however, looking forward to the next album from the idea of it. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for Popwreckoning. Best of luck with the record and the CD release show.
Through the Fields CD Release Show
Friday, December 18 || 7 PM
Saxbys Coffee Shop
401 South Broad Street
Lansdale, PA 19446
Kevin James Devine: myspace
Photos: Erika Smith