Music Feature

Album Review and Interview: Devin

by Jonathan Roth
Romancing proto-punk


Devin is Devin Therriault, who recently released his debut album, Romancing, on Frenchkiss Records, the label founded by Syd Butler, bassist of Les Savy Fav. Frenchkiss is (or has been) the home of bands such as the Hold Steady, Passion Pit, and Bloc Party. But none of that will tell you as much about Devin as “Masochist”, the first track and lead single from the album: a 3-minute burst of 50’s rock and roll fused through early 70’s New York proto-punk, a la the New York Dolls. It’s instantly recognizable and memorable, complete with Elvis-style vocal hiccups and squalling Johnny Thunders guitar. The same can be said for other albums cuts like “New Horrors” and mid-tempo album closer “White Leather”. Unfortunately, the album loses its distinctiveness mid-way through, with too many similar sounding songs that don’t immediately resonate. Still, it’s a solid debut album that holds the promise of more strident, rowdy rock to come in the future.

I spoke with Devin by phone just as he was beginning his latest tour, which started June 5 at Johnny Brenda's in Philly.

215 Magazine: So, you start your tour on Tuesday?

Devin Therriault: Yeah, we start on Tuesday. We’re supporting the Cribs around the US. We just got back from Australia, and we went through Europe a little the last month.

215: Are you a Brooklyn/New York native?

DT: Yes. I grew up in Brooklyn and live here now.

215: Your music is somewhat of a departure from other current Brooklyn bands. You seem to be drawing from some older influences than what is currently going on in Brooklyn. Did you give any thought to how your style of music would be accepted in Brooklyn? Did you notice any resistance to it when you started playing out?

DT: No. At least the shows I played, no. I got a great reception from the beginning, when I started playing out. No, there’s no resistance in Brooklyn. I think, in the press, Brooklyn seems more one-dimensional than it actually is. Brooklyn has everything; you can do whatever you want. That’s the great thing about it.

215: So far in the write-ups I’ve seen on you in Rolling Stone, NME, etc., you've drawn comparisons to the New York Dolls, Ramones, the Black Keys, the Rolling Stones, and the Stooges. As this is your debut album and people are approaching your music for the first time, do you feel any pressure being named in that company?

DT: [Laughs] No, I don't think so. I guess I’ll have to see what the effect is. I don't personally feel that it's negative, I feel it’s positive. I guess the only negative would be if people heard the album, then were let down, that wouldn’t be good. I don’t feel negative about it.

215: Is this the first musical project you’ve been in?

DT: This is the first serious thing I've done. This is the first band that I’ve been the lead singer. I’ve played guitar in other bands. This is the first creative thing that I’ve done, where they’re my songs, my parts, everything like that.

215: Were you familiar with, or a fan of, Les Savy Fav before getting signed to Frenchkiss?

DT: No. I had no idea who ran the label. Syd [Butler] e-mailed me the first thing after he heard the demo and I looked him up. I knew who Les Savy Fav was from them playing in Brooklyn. So I knew who they were, but I had never really listened to them.

215: There’s not necessarily a sound associated with Frenchkiss, but if anything, it leans toward newer post-punk. Did Syd talk to you at all about his vision for the label or a specific sound that he’s going after?

DT: About why he signed me or his vision of the label?

215: Both.

DT: At this point, it's pretty small. It's basically just Syd and Paul [Hanly]. They basically sign what they like. I think that’s why it’s diverse. All the recent signings - like me, the Drums, RACES, Suckers - they're all real different. I still don’t even understand the music industry; the “how you make money” part, because it seems crazy. So they’re not betting on anyone to “save” them or make any money. They’re only signing the bands that they like and are willing to support, because it takes so much effort. Anyway, I only know my experience. I’ve dealt with Syd for a while. I’ve known him at least a year and a half. We’ve been working on the album, working on getting the right band … we’ve had a very close relationship. They’re really supportive. That’s why I went with them. I think it was a great choice.

215: Speaking of your band, is your touring band the same as the band you recorded with?

DT: Steve Jewett played bass on the album and is in the touring band. But the drummer's different. The dude who played on the record just had a child, and he's married, so he didn't want to go on tour. But he's been touring his whole life. His name is Matt Schulz and he was in Holy Fuck. But we were lucky to have him on the album. The drummer is the hardest part. But also, the drums in my songs are very intense. Then we found Angus, who's our drummer for the live show.

215: On your page on the Frenchkiss Records website, it mentions that you were working in a shipping warehouse when you wrote your first songs. Are you still working there?

DT: No. I hope not to go back. I quit when we left for the first few dates back in February. So that was four months ago. So hopefully we can just tour and try to make it that way.

215: You’ve got some support behind you with Frenchkiss Records and you’re doing a lot of international touring off the bat. As this is the first serious musical project you’ve had, how has that experience been for you?

DT: I like it. I think it's a great chance. I don't how it will actually work out. For one, it’s great to travel around. I haven’t done much of that. And it also keeps the band interested. I could have gone around and played the U.S., on a DIY tour, but I know I wouldn't be able to keep a band together doing that. It’s real hard to keep a band in a relationship like this where they don’t really have any creative input and I can’t pay them, so you have to keep them interested with other things. So I didn’t want to go that DIY way, just because it wouldn’t make sense for me with the band. We definitely wouldn’t have stuck together. I think it’s going really well now. And also, it’s great just getting to play to all these different audiences … all the different cultural things … all the different countries. Seeing the few things in the show that don’t work out … songs that don’t translate. It’s interesting.

215: Do you find yourself editing on the road as you’re noticing the reception that you’re getting –just making slight arrangement changes - or are you staying faithful to the album versions?

DT: The live show is pretty different from the album, anyway. The live show we worked really hard on. Angus, Steve, and I practiced for a month solid - serious practicing of the act - because we knew we couldn't do the album sound. But we don’t really mess around with it. Actually, we're still trying to get it right. [Laughs] You know, you can get always get better.

215: How has the reception been so far as you’ve been playing out?

DT: I think generally good. I know it's hard to book us with a similar act, so we’re always different. It's an entertaining show. I think that’s what maybe saves it. It's a high energy show, which I think is unusual. I think when it goes bad is when it is too aggressive. But we’re working on it.

215: Have you played Philly before?

DT: We played at Union Transfer in Philly in February when we were supporting Heartless Bastards on tour.

215: How was the reception to you guys when you were opening for Heartless Bastards?

DT: That was maybe one of the most mismatched things. It even seemed weird. If we're playing with a hipster band, at least the crowd is young. But I think that crowd was looking for more mid-tempo things, more mid-temp rockers. That was one time where the intensity of our live show was more alienating than inclusive. But it was still fun. That was just in general, not about Philly, specifically.

215: You mentioned it’s a challenge getting matched up with other bands. Have you noticed that with any other bands that you’ve been playing with? Do you try to adjust at all, or do you just go with what you have and just hope it flies with the crowd?

DT: We definitely change set lists. We don't change arrangements. We do the songs the way we do the songs. But we change set lists. Sometimes I ask the crowd if they want to go up or they want to go down. They always say “go up,” even if they don’t want to go up. You know, it’s dealing with all these different audiences.

Devin's current tour wraps up Wednesday, June 27 at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ.

Photos by Marley Kate

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