27 year old Devonté Hynes has many guises. You might recognise the name as one that fronted the Lightspeed Champion project, complete with its dance-punk sound and ferocious live gigs. You may have come across his name as being described as the buzzword producer of the moment helping to stage the evolution of R&B on internet forums, or you may have overheard his name whispered in circles discussing the experimental soundscapes of an act called Blood Orange in darkened clubs.
All are true, and all are testament to the influence of Dev Hynes. Hailing from London’s suburban area of Barking, Dev grew up listening to the music that surrounded him, and made up the fabric of London’s club culture – house, jungle garage, and explored all his musical sensibilities that would see him creating sounds to appeal to almost every sonic palette.
From his debut album in 2008, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge with its indie and folk influences, to performing as part of the infamously named Test Icicles playing synth and guitar (though he considers cello his instrument of choice) Hynes went on to write for some monoliths of modern music including pop starlet Sky Ferreira, MKS and of course, Solange. It was his work with Solange and his slew of thrilling experimental R&B remixes that began the slow ascent of Hynes’ name on the lips of R&B fans, who began to listen out for his distinctive brand of airy melancholic melodies paired with sultry female vocals and strange arrangements, as had been been heard on his work with Beyoncé’s sis. It’s from there that his work has become increasingly described as the work of a rising star, and the reason why his most recent long-playing offering, Cupid Deluxe which sees him devloping from the shadows of the producer into an artist in his own right has been anticipated. We sit down with Dev Hynes to discuss exactly what it is that makes this album worth waiting for, Guyanese slang, and being too good for Britney.
DD: Where did the single "Chamakay" come from?
Dev Hynes: "Chamalkay" is an old Guyanese slang word. It means a ‘young mischievous girl’. It’s not derogatory but it isn’t over complimentary either. It was probably a word I just googled one day and the song kind of played into the feel of that.
DD: How did you settle on the aesthetic of the video?
Dev Hynes: Well it’s funny because I had maybe four different video ideas before that one, which is usually the case. I just have tonnes of ideas. That's kind of how I am musically to – it seems like there's to many options so I just get rid of everything and start again.
DD: Is there stuff on this that didn’t make the cut for Coastal Grooves or is it all quite new?
Dev Hynes: Well the oldest song is "Chosen" which is three or four years old and it was always going to be on the next album. Because I ended up doing Solange’s album – which took up most of my time – there was a lot of starting stuff and going back. They were all finished songs but I’d listen to them again and be like 'maybe I’ll write a whole new song on top of the same drum beat!' There was a lot of that.
Did you watch the YouTube awards? Gaga sucked, it was all so shitty.
DD: How informed was Cupid Deluxe by other stuff you were doing?
Dev Hynes: I don’t know. It’s weird because it’s not as separated as it seems. I always just try and do what i’m feeling at that moment and that could be spread across a number of different things or come out in different avenues. They all inform each other, in a way.
DD: You’ve worked with a lot of female voices recently – are you sick of them yet?
Dev Hynes: No, no I love female voices, they’re my favourites. I’m not usually as excited by male vocals but it’s strange because this album has more male duets than female ones so i’m trying to delve into that.
DD: As someone increasingly identified as having R&B persuasions, where do you feel you sit within the current trend of experiementing with R&B sounds?
Dev Hynes: I feel like I don’t sit too well in it, because from what I’ve noticed, a lot of new, cutting edge R&B stuff sounds like garage to me. That’s cool but it sounds like when a song would come out and they’d use a vocal edit from an R&B song, but now that’s just the song – though that’s more the cooler side of new R&B. There’s definitely an EDM backlash right now. People, well the sensible ones, are having an EDM backlash.
DD: People often think you’re American because of your US collaborations, but a lot of your influences are British aren’t they?
Dev Hynes: Yeah! The biggest influences for the album are English. Groups like Massive Attack, Malcolm McLaren, Goriiliaz, they were big influences. I was looking at how they create their albums.
DD: It’s great to have UK grime talent like Skepta on the album, but now that you’re so established in America are you worried about people possibly not getting it?
Dev Hynes: They probably won’t, but I’m selfish when i make this stuff. It’s all just to please weird little things in my own head. This whole album is littered with references - self references, references to other songs, it would take a crazy essay, for people to even realise what’s going on in a lot of them. It’s all just to please my mind but I love that Skepta verse.
You’ve been complicit in evolving our ideas of what constitutues a remix, was that conscious?
Dev Hynes: I don’t want to say I hate remixes because I don’t but I hate what instantly comes to mind now when people say 'remixes'. I get into trouble because i’ve done a lot of remixes for people in the last couple of years that have been turned down.
Dev Hynes: Now when people say remix they think, 'just slap a house beat on it.' But I think of re-doing the song to a point that I think would make sense with what i do. That means sometimes slowing it down and turning it into a ballad but all they want is "Losing You" with that singer's vocal on top. And so it never works out which is also why i’m a little weird about remixes and tend to not let people do any of my songs. It’s not because I think that my version is better. It’s not that at all.
DD: Is it weird for you now, when a lot of people are coming to you as the R&B guy, considering you have such eclectic musical history?
Dev Hynes: Yeah it’s pretty funny. I do often joke about how next year no-one’s going to be talking to me in this kind of realm and so if people want to work with me they should just do it now. But I think it’s cool if people want to think that and then I can just do something else.
DD: But if you’re suddenly out of fashion you could always go back to blogging…
Dev Hynes: It’s funny you said that because this week I contemplated doing something that was very my old school, blog vibe. I started writing a review for the Marshall Mathers LP 2, just for myself, but I’m going to post it on my tumblr.
DD: Is it mean or nice?
Dev Hynes: It’s an in-depth essay. I’m already four paragraphs deep and I haven’t mentioned the new album yet. That’s how deep it is. There’s a lot of questions.
DD: Questions? Are you going to turn into the Carrie Bradshaw of R&B?
Dev Hynes: I wish! Fuck, I’d love to be. I have a lot of opinions. I’m starting to voice my opinions more.
DD: Have you got ideas about your live performances with this album? Would you play some instruments live?
Dev Hynes: Well cello is my first instrument, then piano, drums, bass, violin, recorder, saxophone, but I’d never play them live!
DD: You could just loop all the instruments…
Dev Hynes: I don’t wanna be that guy, you know the guy i’m talking about. I don’t wanna be loop pedal guy. No disrespect to that guy, he’s very talented.
DD: So if money was no object what kind of live show would you want to do?
Dev Hynes: There’s still no budget but i’m definitely just paying for it anyway. I’m more like, prepared to just, lose money for the sake of getting my point across. If money was no object, it wouldn’t even be a Blood Orange live show. It would be something completely different. It would be huge and dramatic.
DD: Like Dev does Gaga?
Dev Hynes: Oh my God! No! No fucking way! Did you watch the YouTube awards? Gaga sucked, it was all so shitty.
DD: There were rumours you were working on the Britney Album, can you talk about that?
Dev Hynes: Well they’re not using any of my songs.
Dev Hynes: It’s just too good! It’s literally because it’s too good, and it’s weird, because i’m not usually someone that thinks that, about myself, but i loved the stuff I did, and thought it was amazing.
DD: Where do you find new music? Are you a physical or online crate digger?
Dev Hynes: Oh, Wikipedia, and YouTube is my music library. I literally dig through for hours on YouTube!
DD: So you don't have that nostalgia about records?
Dev Hynes: Nah. But I do actually have a really crazy cassette collection, that was more accidental rather than a, ‘I love cassettes!’, thing. It just kind of happened. But no, I don't really care about audio quality. If people saw some of the ways that i record stuff, they’d see i don't care in that respect. I obviously care about things sounding good, but I think quality exists through other things like emotionally connecting with a lyric or a feeling, or whatvever.
DD: What’s next for you?
Dev Hynes: I actually don't know. I have no idea. Something that most people will probably hate?