Meet Devonté – Dev – Hynes.
I’m extremely happy to have this UK born producer, writer, musician, singer ànd book author featured on this little blog.
Not familiar with this talented individual? Let me be so kind to give you a modest introduction.
The first time I ever heard of Devonte Hynes was because of the following track he produced for Theophilus London.
However, before that Devonté Hynes walked and mastered different roads in his own musical journey. Born and raised in Essex, UK, Devonté got into music through his older sister who played the cello. Young Dev, inspired by his sister followed her footsteps which led in playing the guitar, the synth and the piano. Starting out with Test Icicles, a dance/punk band, and moving on to writing songs for Florence & The Machine and The Chemical Brothers, Dev Hynes embarked on his real first solo project as Lightspeed Champion releasing his first album called ‘Falling Of The Lavender Brigde’, an album and title partially inspired by Devontés severe insomnia.
Not too keen on limiting his personal music evolution, Dev Hynes ceased Lightspeed Champion and his new project called Blood Orange was born. With that, an album called Coastal Grooves, consisting of a more sexy electronical sound that makes you wonder if it wasn’t transported straight from the wavy, spacy and dreamy 80’s. For the artwork of this album, Devonté was deeply inspired by the 80’s transsexuals and gay culture and even worked on producing a more androgynous voice, which makes you sometimes doubt if the tracks on Coastal Grooves aren’t actually sung by a woman.
Personal favorites are:
and my favorite, I’M SORRY, WE LIED.
Can’t forget to share this other dreamy summer track CENTURY GIRLS, another collaboration with Theophilus London.
One thing led to another and when Theophilus London called his friend Solange Knowles to ask if she would do some vocals for a track him and Devonté Hynes were working on, a new chapter for Dev began. When Dev met Sol something clicked in such a perfect way that the two ended up working together on Solange Knowles’ next musical endeavor. When Solange’s ‘True’ EP came out with a series of tracks which Dev Hynes produced and co-wrote, a new synergy did as well and seeing Sol & Dev work and perform together makes me think of those magical collaboration from back in day like Marvin Gaye & Diana Ross.
Definitely watch this video for Black Cab Sessions.
Since then, Devonté worked with Sky Ferreira, just finished working in the studio with the former Sugababes aka Mutya, Keisha & Siobhan (check out this random ‘Swimming Pool’ remix he did with the girls) and even Jessie Ware was spotted working with him.
This should give you a pretty good idea of what Dev Hynes is all about, no?
Now. This is the story.
I first met Dev Hynes about two years ago in Paris when my friend Lefto was Dj’ing for a Theophilus London concert in Paris. When I first saw Devonté in the flesh, he was wearing a white ripped bleached jeans, a simple white t-shirt and a baseball cap. While we were hanging backstage during rehearsals Devonte was very silent and he was mostly texting on his phone. I didn’t have my Polaroid camera with me that day because I wanted to just hang for once and not grab content all the time. Bad decision when I think back, because there were some pretty interesting moments that I could have captured that day.
Anyway. I think I told him I thought his guitar riff on Flying Overseas was brilliant and that I would buy it as an alarm tone on my phone so I could wake up to it every morning. What can I say. I’m quite the conversation maker #NOT. Don’t get me wrong, I did mean what I said. I’d still love to have that guitar riff as my wake up alarm. It’s just so….soothing. At one point we had to leave the venue to grab some food and we all jumped into a black car with tinted windows and a double seat in the back looking towards each other. With ‘we’ I mean Lefto, Dev, Theophilus and Theophilus’ manager called Knoxx, a slick Denzel Washington lookalike, but slightly younger and thinner.
Now here comes the moment that is engraved in my memory till eternity and a momentum I associate with Devonté Hynes for ever and ever. I hope I can describe it as vivid as it exists in my memory.
So Theophilus asks his chauffeur to put on a song and to put the volume ùp while we are driving to the restaurant. Seconds later the speakers of the car are blasting out Wiz Khalifa’s ‘On My Level’ and the minute Wiz starts his first rhymes of the song the – until then – extremely silent Devonté Hynes gives thé best Wiz Khalifa impression (accent and flow inclusive) I witnessed in my life. I know this might sound unbelievable cheesy, but for a split second I thought I was in a rap video. By that time I didn’t know Devonté was such a hip hop head, so it totally came as a surprise and I would be lying if I say I wasn’t fascinated by his impromptu performance especially because he was so gòod at it! After dinner at ‘Hotel Amour’ we all returned to the venue Theophilus London was playing. Lefto asked me to provide some footage for his tour video while he was on stage. Here is that little video about the Paris trip to give you an idea.
I didn’t really speak to Devonté after the concert I think. Or barely. I do remember the promoter of the concert almost lost Devonté’s guitar in a cab while we were returning back to Hotel Amour where everyone was staying. I also remember Devonté’s face when he heard that his guitar might have been lost. He was not amused and he looked slightly sick in the stomach. Luckily for him (and the promoter who broke out an anxiety sweat like you’ve never seen before) the guitar was tracked and returned to his worried owner.
I remember Devonté going up in an elevator to his room and that was the last time I saw him. We should have gone all together to Le Baron that night, but to make a long and somewhat annoying story short, Lefto and I ended up alone and went for a nocturnal walk in Paris instead and watched the lights of the Eiffel Tower ‘shine bright like a diamond’ at the Basilique Du Sacré Coeur. But, to my big surprise, I don’t know exactly when, but not that long after Paris, Devonté started following me on Twitter. With the rise of Instagram, he also started following me there and from time to time he dropped me a note or a like. I know it sounds lame the way I write it out, but it is what it is. Besides, that’s how people communicate and reach out these days. Show some love and double tap that gram!
Time passed by and I kept track of Devonté and his activities via Social Media right upon the point Solange released her ‘True’ album and she embarked on her European tour in january 2013. There were only a few countries she played in Europe and Belgium wasn’t one of them, so if I wanted to have a chance to capture Solange on Polaroid, I had to travel to Amsterdam. But of course, the concert was sold out and I had to think of ways to get in. (what’s new?)
So, after some brief consideration, I decided to DM Devonté, since he was touring with Solange, and explained him my request for (A) a +1 on the guest list and (B) a possible hook-up / tip to have Solange ànd him on Polaroid. To my big surprise Devonté replied very quickly and told me he was going to put me on the list +1 and he transferred me the email of Solange’s management so I could pitch my Polaroid request the official way. He also gave me his number and told me to text him right after the concert so we could hang. Just like that, ‘Simple come Bonjour’! I did email Solange’s management, who quickly transferred my request to her Roc Nation publicists, but unfortunately my official request for a quick Solange Polaroid remained unanswered, even after a polite reminder. Then again, what’s new? I’m so used to not have my mails answered that it doesn’t even bother me anymore. #shrug
My only chance was therefore trying at the concert directly via Devonté but from experience I knew that this is not a given so I decided that it was in faith’s hands whether I would go home with a Polaroid or not. So Aicha, who assisted me for this story, and I traveled to Amsterdam and when we arrived at the venue we were indeed on the guest list. (Always a tricky moment, telling the lady at the guest list you are on the list via an artist, because if that specific artist didn’t do what they promised you, you look like a complete idiot and if the concert is sold out, you can simply return home. We entered the cosy Bitterzoet venue and it was totally packed. Because of a huge train fail in Holland properly called ‘The Fyra Fail’ traveling to Amsterdam took us about six hours that day so we were extremely late and had to piss off quite a few concert attendees while Aicha and I were squeezing ourselves all the way up the front row. At some point I was completely blocked by a bunch of angry-looking women but Aicha managed to push herself all the way front row where she could grab the following exhibits for you guys.
I really loved Solange’s performance. It was modest, classy, pure and she comes across very genuine and down to earth when she interacted with the audience. Vocally she sounds extremely fragile but in a good way. Here is a video snippet from when she performed ‘Losing You’ at end of the concert, a little cameo of her son included.
After the concert, I texted Devonté and minutes later he was back in the venue and we finally met again. I told him that I always regretted that I didn’t take my Polaroid camera with me then in Paris and I asked him if he was down taking a Polaroid. He said something like: “OMG, yes, I’m finally going to be on your blog!”. Yes, I do admit that his statement kinda made my night.
While we were going upstairs the looking for a decent wall to take the picture Devonté told me that he was leaving right away to the next tour destination and that Solange was sick. I translated that as secret code language that a Polaroid probably wasn’t going to happen, and since I know when I shouldn’t be pushing for a Polaroid I didn’t ask or hustled towards a Solange Polaroid, because I felt that it wasn’t meant to be. Besides. I was really happy to have Devonté on Polaroid and I knew there would be other opportunities to catch Solange.
We walked to the smoking area of the Bitterzoet venue upstairs were it was quite crowded and I had to take my Polaroid in front of a small crowd of chain smokers. I prefer to take my Polaroids slightly more intimate but I didn’t have any choice so I made the best of it. We decided to take the Polaroids on the Chesterfield that was standing in the room. As usual, I told Devonté that I ask every artist to give me two different expressions. I also told him that I was going to take an extra shot with my other Polaroid camera that I brought with me. Devonté was totally down for it, (the camera loves him and I think vice versa) I aimed my Polaroid camera and:
After we took the Polaroids, we chatted a bit more and Dev told me that his pose on the second Polaroid was inspired by a visual that apparently is in the inside of a Michael Jackson album. If you follow Dev on Instagram, you probably noticed that MJ is one of his many inspirations. Not much later Dev was warned by his band members that they were about to leave. We said our goodbyes and that was that!
I was super thrilled when my Polaroids from Dev came out and since this started out as a Solange story but evolved in a story about the mastermind behind Solange and that I didn’t really have the chance to talk with Dev, I decided to text him and ask him if it would be possible to do a little Q&A for this blog. Months passed, I was busy, he was busy, I was busy, then he was even more busy but in the end I loved how he kept his promise and I found the answers to my random questions in my mailbox only a few days ago.
So, here it is, all the questions I wanted to ask Dev and some other random stuff I was just curious about.
A POLAROID STORY x DEV HYNES
“Flying Overseas” was the first song that introduced me to Devonté Hynes the producer and to your world and past music ventures in general. What does that song mean to you?
Hmm, well it’s funny, because that chorus was written in my apartment when I was living in Brooklyn, and it was the further to being ‘overseas’ that you could imagine. But that was a very particular time for me, I did the ground work to a lot of songs I home dear to me around that time period, just thinking nothing would really happen to them or anything, and they ended up running away and having lives of their own.
Looking back at the Solange True EP and how warmly it was welcomed accompanied with quite a few amazing reviews, what was your biggest lesson as a producer making the EP? What did you learn out of that experience collaborating with Solange?
Well, I learnt how to collaborate. Because even though I had done in the past, I never really felt fully comfortable, but with Solange I have such faith in her, and trust here judgements musically 100% that I learnt how fruitful a real collaboration could be.
“True” is co-written by you and the last lyrics are about the end of a relationship you experienced. Was it painful to have Solange sing out your grief or rather healing?
Neither really, luckily I’ve moved past that emotional state.. I think?
You told me in Amsterdam that you didn’t really like touring. Why is that? How has tourbus life with ‘True’ treated you so far?
It’s been great actually, I’m not really cut out for tour life. That’s all, but it’s been fine, I end up missing recording and writing, that’s where I belong. But I love all the musicians in the band, and this whole venture has been a learning experience also.
If you had to make an eternal choice between piano, guitar or a Roland TR-505 what would you pick and why?
Oh man. I actually don’t know. I mean, a big thing about me is my disdain at guitar being my main instrument and how I’ve always strived for piano to take the lead, I learned piano years before I took on guitar, (before all of that it was the cello) but some reason guitar comes a lot easier to me. But I write with piano, I can probably count on one hand the songs I’ve written on guitar.
In an early interview you said that meeting people who you admire doesn’t really interest you, however after long thinking you decided that you’d might want to collaborate with Charlotte Gainsbourg (good choice btw) and… Eminem. Anno 2013, are those people still on your collabo wish list?
Yeah! But I really don’t have a wish list. They’re all people I love and would jump at the chance, but there’s no one I’m like striving for.
You are big hip hop fan, which current hip hop song are you into at the moment?
“Bitches Love Me“ is still amazing.
You are inspired by visuals, movies and pictures when you want to write music. Which picture, visual or movie blew your mind recently or are you inspired by at the moment?
I’m currently doing some scoring work for a film, not sure how much I can say, but when I saw the rough cut, it blew me away. I also actually really enjoyed ‘Place beyond the pines’.
So tell me about Mutya, Keisha & Siobhan (MKS). How did they end up with you and what can we expect from that collaboration on a music level? Are you making their entire album or just a few songs? Is it challenging to work with a girl band?
They requested and I accepted. I’ve been a fan of those girls since I was like 13. I feel so honoured to work with them. The main song we’ve done, is one of my favourite songs I’ve ever worked on.
After watching a slightly weird but interesting (5pt) interview-turned-counsel-session with you and a Dutch platform called ‘FaceCulture’ it turned out that you suffer from insomnia in a rather serious way.
Do you still have issues with sleep to this day? If so, does it affect your music?
Yes, I seriously never sleep, it’s awful. I should see someone actually, ha.
What’s the biggest misconception about Devonté Hynes?
Do you still have the ambition to release a comic book? Where does your love with the Peanuts comics come from? Why Peanuts?
I’ve actually released a few comics back in the day, one day I’ll go back to it. I started painting again recently.
In 2008 you once doubted in an interview in the back of a van if the concept of groupies even exists. We are 2013 now and you evolved tremendously as an artist in your career. You’ve seen faces, places. Do you still doubt that?
What’s your favorite French song?
Ooh. That’s tough. Right now it’s ‘L’hippodome’.
If I say Belgium, which 3 words pop in your head?
And there you have it. With that final answer Dev easily outshined évery artist who ever answered that question since I started this blog. I’m not going to lie, I’m super happy to have Dev on this blog, I believe he is a great musician and a really nice guy in general.
According to an interview Dev Hynes did for Interview Magazine, Dev suffers from synesthesia which is, and I quote: “a neurological condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived by one or more additional senses. In Hynes’ case, his sight and audition senses are linked, causing him to literally see sounds. He describes his experience as viewing moving pictures, with tone, pitch, instrument, the spoken voice, and volume all having their own separate color qualities.”
With that in mind, you can only imagine that the future is sounding bright and colourful for Do, Re, Mi, Fa, SoL, La, Si, Dev.
Special shout out to Aicha for the additional shots and video!