Mere moments after completing his storming set at the Norwich Arts Centre (the review for which you can read here) Devonté Hynes sat down with Alphabet Bands for an exclusive interview. Here’s what he had to say.
One thing that really struck me tonight was there seemed to be so much more personality in your live performance, is that something you feel comes through as well?
“I don’t know actually. I guess it’s a good thing. I’m never not honest, so um, in theory that’s how everyone’s live show should be should be, really, if you think about it. Like, y’know, like if someone writes a letter or if someone reads a letter in front of your face to you.”
Do you feel there’s a difference at all between the way you perform live and the way you record though?
“Oh there’s a massive difference and they’re approached in entirely different ways. Coz, um, how I write music isn’t, I don’t think about performing live, ever. It’s a completely different thing for me, which I have to like, really think about. Y’know so um. It’s a huge difference, like I don’t write songs thinking ‘it could be played live’ like I just kinda think about what sounds good.”
That seems incredible to me, just the way you were able to blend everything together tonight and move seamlessly from one song to another. With no break and with such energy in the performance.
“Oh thanks. It’s mainly thanks to these guys, coz they’re like really, they’re just good players which makes it a lot easier to do that. Like they can adapt well to, like, musical changes and stuff.”
But seriously, you were like half an hour in, there’s no breaks, there’s no chatting. What the hell did you guys eat today?
“I ate a quarter of this [cous cous] and most of these [crisps].”
Drummer – “oh and you had a box of amphetamines”
“Oh and a box of amphetamines”
Cous Cous, crisps and amphetamines.
That’s one hell of a rider.
“I don’t know, it’s just, we just like playing music. Like it sounds like, we… you know, it’s not a cliché because if you don’t like it, then you shouldn’t be playing it, so we just like playing.”
And that really comes across in the live performance.
“Oh cool. Someone said that I looked disinterested and I’ve taken it to heart. That was from a show a while ago, on this tour. They said I was disinterested.
Drummer – “that’s sad”
“It really saddened me”
“Yeah, it really bothered me.”
So you actually made like a conscious decision since hearing that comment to try and change your onstage persona?
“Nah (laughs) but it just bothers me”
“It pissed me off so I’m gonna go for it.”
“Not even, I’ve never had, that’s the thing, I’ve never had that personality like even in school, like I remember like science I wasn’t doing well or I would never do like my homework or anything and I remember teachers were always saying thing like ‘what are you doing? You’re gonna fail’. That never motivated me I’ve always had that personality like, people being negative doesn’t make me want to be positive and I wish it could be the other way round. But erm, it used to happen in my old band as well. We would play and my old band, we were always got seen as like, dicks. But it’s just that, if you’re playing and the crowd were like, nice and having a good time, it made us have a good time. And it would be great and people would say it was like a really good show but if we were playing and the crowd were just completely disinterested, waiting to be impressed, we would literally practically just like stop playing and we were like 18 or whatever and we would just stop playing. Sometimes we would like, put our guitars on members of the audience and leave. And people would just be like ‘oh these guys are dicks’ but it’s like, we’d be there like playing and people would be standing there like… like staring and stuff and it was such energetic music that we were just like, “oooh”, y’know. We’re not really, like, as much as we love music, we haven’t particularly chosen to go to this place and entertain them. It was just… it was annoying and I still have this kind of weird mentality y’know, it’s just, you know? I dunno, I just want to… people should be able to enjoy themselves. And that’s why I approach recording and live differently, because I think recording you can do what you want but I don’t think that’s the case with live music.”
Is it because the response is more immediate?
“Yeah, y’know, like you do have to entertain, regardless of what kind of music it is. You know some audiences obviously differ, and I feel like the more established you are, the more you can kind of lean towards your own personal game but I feel for the most part you have to entertain so I always try to think about that.”
So how did you feel about tonight? Because you were very complimentary about the crowd tonight.
“I really enjoyed tonight, it was one of my favourites”
Bassist – “The vocals sound good in this place”
“Yeah, that’s why, I think that’s why I liked it. That’s totally why I liked it. Selfishly. (Laughs) I like singing in like, churches and halls, its more complimentary, the natural reverb.”
Do you think like, you know the stuff you said before, about the people being negative about your performance and even thinking you’re disinterested… Do you think that might come from, you seem to be a relatively shy and reserved person. When you came out tonight it was like “hi, is everything alright?” like quite quiet and then the performance starts and like this entirely different person playing… do you think that maybe people are getting the two mixed up?
“Maybe. Probably. I’m just more comfortable playing than I am like standing, physically standing on stage. Like I don’t like standing on stage but I like playing music”
Is that because of the immediate response, you know like judgement?
“Yeah, I really just don’t. You know I’ve always had this thing that some people, like some people are just performers. Like you have bands that form and tour and they’re always playing gigs and constantly touring, it’s all part of the same thing, you know? They write songs and play live, they write songs to play live and that’s like awesome I think, but I don’t know, live is a bit… I like to be completely, like, ready and know what I’m doing before.”
Is that why then you just go at a breakneck speed through the songs and there’s minimal banter and interaction with the crowd? Because it’s that kind of performance?
“Yeah, I just think it should be, you know, they’ve come to see the songs”
They haven’t come to see the chat.
“At least I don’t think they have.”
You got a good reaction though with the crowd.
“Yeah, I really really enjoyed it; I was surprised so many people came. This venue is really good, I really like this venue. I’d like to come back”
Drummer – “Like tomorrow. Do a residency. We could work up a whole Steely Dan set”
“That’s so cool”
Bassist – “yeah like every nights a different record.”
You’ve done covers of other peoples stuff, like whole albums, you could do that.
“Oh I did say I wanted to cover the Royal Scam. I’d fucking love to cover that record.”
Drummer – “Haitian Divorce” is on that one.
“Yeah. Man, we should, maybe we…”
Drummer – One of my favourite Steely Dan songs. We sang that at karaoke together the other night.”
“Is there karaoke in Norwich?”
Err, I think they closed down the karaoke bar but I’m sure there’s somewhere.
“I love karaoke”
Over the road was open mic night tonight.
Oh really? We should totally do it. I could do my magic!.”
Is that an aspiration then, “if it wasn’t for music I could be a magician”?
“It’s looking that way. I’ve been teaching myself and I needed the next step, I needed some help. So I actually went and studied for like an hour or so in a bookshop the other day… reading all these different types and techniques. It turns out that certain tricks I taught myself I’ve jumped, I’ve jumped ahead and missed. There’s a whole load of stuff I could’ve been doing as tricks that because I didn’t learn via anything, I’ve missed out on doing.”
What sort of tricks are you doing?
A lot of them are sleight of hand, but it turns out that where it is that I’ve jumped in magic is that I’ve started doing tricks that don’t involve sleight of hand and that’s the next step. But I’m pretty, I’m pretty good (laughs) like um, I’m pretty good.
So the next time you have one of those gigs where people are just sort of like, “hum, ok”, you can just bust out the cards.
“There was a guy downstairs who was like “I saw you playing cards earlier with your band”, and I was like, “I wasn’t playing cards, I was performing magic” and he didn’t believe me! I was practicing a new trick that will destroy minds and he just didn’t buy it.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us.