The PV Q&A: Kevin Devine on 'Bulldozer' and 'Bubblegum'; Stream the Premiere of New Track "Bloodhound"

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Kevin Devine's been busy. In addition to his recent work with Bad Books, the Brooklyn singer/songwriter has two records set for simultaneous release. Today, we've got an exclusive premiere from one of those records: Listen to "Bloodhound" above.

Produced by Brand New’s Jesse Lacey, the track comes off Bubblegum, Devine's full band album with the Goddamn Band. The second album, Bulldozer, is a solo album produced by Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Beck, Guided by Voices).

Both Bulldozer and Bubblegum are out October 15—pre-order the albums here. In the meantime, check out our Q&A with Devine below...

BY Jonah Bayer

There doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground with Kevin Devine. Either you love him or you aren't familiar with him and gauging by the fact that he was able to raise $114,805 via Kickstarter for his seventh and eighth albums, it seems as if the tides are finally turning Devine's way. That said, Devine has always gotten help from his supportive friends and correspondingly Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Saves the Day) produced his upcoming solo disc Bulldozer while Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey and Devine's backing act the Goddamn Band helped out on the decidingly more rocking Bubblegum.  

We caught up with Devine to discuss the catalyst between these two markedly different releases, how both producers helped him step outside of his comfort zone and where Devine thinks that he fits in an increasingly hard-to-figure out music world. If nothing else, Devine's persistence proves that you don't need a major label or fancy gimmick in order to have success within the music industry—and it's a refreshing sentiment that's as much a testament to his fans as it is to Devine himself. 

PureVolume: What was the inspiration behind self-releasing Bulldozer and Bubblegum?
I wasn't super satisfied with the experience I had with the most recent record label I worked with and I also have enough self-awareness to see that they were the sixth record label i've worked with over six albums in ten years so the fault doesn't lie exclusively with them. There's either something about what I do or the way I do it where it doesn't seem to connect in the best way with the traditional structure. I think that also has something to do with the fact that these places are financially struggling and I'm not the kind of person who would make a label a lot of money at this point in my career.

I kind of thought the crowd-funding thing was interesting but I had a whole mess of fear based somewhat ethical concerns. Most of which I addressed pretty explicitly in the essay that accompanies the Kickstarter campaign but I ultimately decided to do it because I wanted to do something different and see if either A, I was super misguided in thinking I had the kind of connection with the audience that I thought I had or B, I was correct in assuming that they're not concerned where the records come out label-wise as long as I keep making them and playing shows and thankfully the latter was what ended up happening.
You've worked with Jesse and Rob so much in the past and they've both gone on to be so successful in their respective fields. Was there an inherent comfort level where they know what you're going after at this point?
There was. Those are both people I would call good friends and they're people I speak to in my real life a lot, so there is shorthand and there is a relationship in place. This is the second album I've made with Rob but he mixed [2011's] Between the Concrete and Clouds and the last Bad Books album and we did two stand alone singles before. He knows me and the turns I want to take and the same is true of Jesse. [Myself and Lacey] have a different relationship but we've played 200 shows together over the years.

In both cases what the comfort level allowed for was being comfortable with them totally pushing me. I can tell you stories from both recording sessions where I did something and one of those guys would say "You know what that's what you would do, let's do something different." The best part about them knowing me and being comfortable to me was the fact that they weren't content to just go, "good enough, man." They wanted this thing to be the best it could be so I have boringly glowing things to say about the whole process.
Who exactly are your fans these days? Do they come from your old band Miracle of 86 or did they find you for Brand New?
I don't know but I would be surprised if a bulk of them were Miracle of 86 fans because I know how many records that band sold. What it seems to me is that a lot of kids came into the fold because the Brand New association in the sense of younger people listening to my music. There was also a phase of my career that was more folk-centric and I was doing things that were hipper-leaning folkish bands like Okkervil River or Lambchop. Then there was a lot of almost adult contemporary acts I played with like the Hotel Cafe Tour—stuff that was definitely not indie rock or emo or punk or whatever—and I think there are older fans came in through that.

Regardless of how they found you, what do you think kept these people interested in you over the years and so hungry that they were willing to donate money to make these two albums happen?
I'm the last person on the planet who's qualified to answer this but I hope they get the sense that it's—tricky word alert—"real." I haven't made much movement during my career toward making music for anyone besides myself. I think people get that I'm interested in having an open relationship with the people who like my music but I'm also going to make the music I'm going to make. What the Kickstarter thing told me was that they respect that enough to want to support it in this really firsthand way that's kind of staggering. Maybe I'm wrong and it's just a bunch of casual people who dug in their pockets that day, but when I talk to people there seems to be a kind of respect and awareness for how I do what I do. I can't promise they're always going to like every record I make but I can promise them that I'm going to do the best I can do and not put out stuff that I think is bullshit in order to get one over on them.

It seems like your career has been shockingly prescient in the sense that when everyone was making big rock records you went the singer/songwriter route and a lot of your peers are starting to do that now as they get older. Do you get a sense of that?
Yeah, it does make sense and for better or for worse, I have an accidentally inverse relationship with the trends and it would actually probably benefit my career if I didn't. It's not an intentionally antagonistic or oppositional thing but these days I see a certain strain of folky thing like the Lumineers or Mumford & Sons is popular and it seems like every time you play a festival or turn on certain radio stations there are ten more of those bands. Keep in mind this is at a moment where even the folk record I just tried to make didn't end up staying a folk record and the other one is pretty far from Mumford & Sons. I think there's something to that.
Have you ever felt like you were on the cusp of that type of commercial success?
I think the moment I was kind of aligned with what was happening commercially to have had that kind of shot was 2005 - 2007 when the Capitol thing was going on and Bright Eyes was big and within the folk/indie/emo thing there was a cross section that was pretty popular. I think [Capitol] took a swing with me and pretty much the minute they put the record out the entire label got gutted and everyone got dropped and that was the moment if there ever was one, but out of that I actually got to have this really interesting career.
Looking back are you happy with how things turned out?
I can say for better or for worse that I have been able to react my way through what has become a very singular career path and ultimately wherever else I thought it was going to be or hoped it would be, that's a pretty cool thing to be able to live at the end of the day. Actually it's a total fucking gift, so I'm stoked and grateful for that.

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Kevin Devine

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