Dev Hynes is something of a Renaissance Man. Songwriter, producer, author, film-splicer, comic-book maker and fashion consultant - his CV swells. His musical collaborations are similarly rich; working with a diverse-range of artists including Solange Knowles, Theophilus London, The Chemical Brothers, Van Dyke Parks and Diana Vickers. Meanwhile, it is as a performer that his voracity soars. His chameleon career began in nu-rave, with indie scenesters Test Icicles, before veering off into acoustic folk as Lightspeed Champion. Most recently Hynes has made the transition into R&B pop: crossing the Atlantic and the century into 90’s New York. These frequent transformations could be seen as opportunistic, tracing the line of a shifting spotlight. Arguably, however, it is quite the opposite.
When asked if he ever felt protective over his songs, Hynes replied “never . . . I mean what’s the worst thing that could happen? The song gets worse. It’s not the end of the world. No one dies. And the song is still there, it’s not destroyed”. He is similarly unconcerned about his adjusting aliases: “at the end of the day it’s still just me”. Essentially, Dev Hynes likes to experiment and is happy to indulge the consequences. Rather than chasing fame; he’s eluding it - exploring the shadows when the spotlight focuses. We spoke soon after his debut album as Blood Orange, “Coastal Grooves”, hit the shops via Domino.
You’ve played under a lot of different aliases. Why is that? Do you feel like it gives you the opportunity to explore different sounds - or do you feel like you are re-branding in a way?
I know people have different notions about that; whether it’s trying to avoid something or whatever. But, it’s more just . . . [pause] . . . at the end of the day it’s still just me. I don’t know. People can’t help but think about things you’ve done before as if you are still the same and I am trying to avoid that.
The recent video for your track Dinner is interesting - it’s a very self-consciously 90’s NY aesthetic - can you tell us a bit about it?
It was made by and my friend Alan [Del Rio Ortiz]. I just wanted something that was simple and kind of funny and self-conscious. I mean that’s about it. It’s a pretty simple performance. I am not a fan of performing so much. But I just thought it would be kind of fun to try that out.
It’s interesting you say you’re not a fan of performing. A lot of your gigs are quite theatrical – dressing up for example.
Yeah that’s more just to hide.
So you would say that the theatricality is something to hide behind, rather than another facet of your expression?
Yeah, definitely. The whole thing is pretty nerve wracking.
I understand you are about to go on tour with CANT (aka Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear).
Yeah I am playing in his band and then I’ll also be playing myself.
How do you anticipate your live shows playing out? What kind of a set-up will you be using?
Pretty similar to my usual set-up, I think. I usually use a backing track, a midi controller and guitar, but I am playing with the idea of using a drum machine . . . I might do that.
Do you always play alone?
I understand you have recently released a 7” on Chris Taylor and Ethan Silverman’s label, Terrible Records. How did that come about?
I’m friends with them. They actually asked me to do something a couple of years ago, when they were starting up, but I wasn’t sure about putting anything out at the time. When it came around that I was ready . . . I decided to share my stuff with them. They are friends of mine. They are people that I like.
You make a lot of videos and post them on your You Tube channel – and I know you used to make comic books as well. Are visual arts something you are interested in? Something you can see yourself focusing on in the future?
Yeah, I think so. It was just a way to pass the time to begin with. But a bit more care goes into it now!
I understand you are an advisor for Jay Z’s Fashion Label. How did that come about?
I don’t know really. I haven’t done any in a while. It was strange. I was working for Solange at the time, so that’ where the connection came from.
I know you write lots of songs for - or with - other people, Solange included. Is that something you actively pursue or do they come to you?
A bit of both really. It’s something I really enjoy. I never write a song with the intention of singing it myself . . . I just end up doing so sometimes!
Do you ever feel protective over the songs?
Never [Laughs]. I never feel protective. I mean what’s the worst thing that could happen? The song gets worse. It’s not the end of the world. No one dies. And the song is still there, it’s not destroyed.
Your new album, “Coastal Grooves”, sounds more stripped back - more focused perhaps - than previous releases. I understand you sometimes set rules for yourself on recordings. Was that the case here?
No, I didn’t set any rules [pause]. Well, I kind of did. I just wanted to make something that I wanted to listen to, something I would enjoy listening to. I still do enjoy listening to it! Even though I’ve be listening to some of it since 2009. Everything is listened to so many times!
There is quite a New York sound to it. Did you move to the city because you felt like your music was moving in that direction? Or did you find the city infused the sound?
I don’t know . . . some of the last Lightspeed album was recorded here too, I don’t know if you know it. It must have influenced it . . . but in a much more natural way. I guess the city lodges, imprints itself somehow.
Do you anticipate staying stateside or could you see yourself coming back to the UK?
I am not sure. I’ve been over here for over two years now, but I don’t think of it as my home. It’s just where I live. I don’t get home that often, a bit more recently. I don’t know . . . If I wanted to live in London: I would.
Devonté Hynes is a renaissance man who not only designs, paints and works on visual arts - but also writes music under numerous aliases (the latest, Blood Orange, is his twist into R&B pop). They have shown him to be one the most genuine talents in the contemporary UK indie scene.