Irish singer-songwriter Colin Devlin joins us for breakfast at the beloved Beachwood Cafe in Hollywood to discuss his latest release High Point, finding a balance between his personal and professional life, and his thoughts on the current trends in the modern music industry.
So you have recently released your album High Point. First off, congratulations!
Colin Devlin: Thank you very much!
For those who have yet to discover it, would you care to share some insight on the musical stories and themes that the listeners should be looking forward to?
Colin: Well, there are lots of things. We have loss, regret, hope, we have infidelity, heartbreak, happiness. Everything you need for a full range of emotions.
That’s what we all want right? We want to feel happy and then sad, and then happy and then sad. *both laugh*
Colin: Yeah. I think that the record has a really good mood. For me, when the listener hears it I hope that they’re moved in some way whether it’s through a lyric or through a sound on the record. I really just wanted to create something that I felt that I wanted to listen to and to include elements of beauty into it.
And which song would you say was your favorite to write and record? These could be different songs since it’s a different process style.
Colin: I can think of two songs that are interesting story wise. One is “Exosphere,” which is an atmospheric piece, and it started as the main theme for a movie that my director friend Sebastian Lopez had done. We’re old friends, and he directs all of my videos and I do some music for him for commercials. We have a good friendship and is a genuinely a person I like working with. Anyways, so I had this kind of melodic theme that I had done it as a cinematic piece for his movie, but I liked it so much that I decided to take it and bring it into more of a song form. So that process was kind of interesting because up until that point, anything that I had done for film or for commercials were so separate from my songwriting work. In a way, it was a bit of a fun challenge to take something that I had done for them and then bring it into my songwriting. For the closing track “Lost In The Silence,” that’s one that I feel really made it from the way that I heard it in my head to the way it turned out on the record. It’s very rare to hear it in your head and be like, ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ because to get it to that point in the recorded version can be hard, you know? Sometimes it’s better, but a lot of times the recording can be a disappointment from what you hear in your imagination, which is the same for a lot of things in life I guess. But anyway, it was really cool to hear something in your head and then have it fully realized on record.
Yeah. It’s always interesting to hear about how the songs come to fruition. Like, ‘Oh, it just came to me!’ whether it be in thought, or a dream, or in the shower. *both laugh*
Colin: Well, it happens, yeah! And I have two amazing small children, so it’s part of the deal that with kids you’re gonna have less time to work with music. Because your time is limited to some extent, you really have to manage that time, and I found that with this record, a lot of the time would be at 4 AM or 5 AM where there’s solace in the house. You’ve got to get up out of bed and put something down before the day starts for the rest of the household, so in a way, all of these things subliminally influence how you end up with the actual songs that end up on the record. It’s amazing, but you have to balance it all out.
And how would you say that you balance your professional and your personal life?
Colin: Apart of what we just talked about, I think that you just need to take it day by day in order to make it work. It’s part of the deal with any sort of level of success as a musician with a family. I think with any kind of business or any kind of level of success, there’s going to be traveling involved, or in my case touring. It’s not easy for anyone involved, but it’s something that has to be done, you know? There’s really kind of no way around it. My kids are still very young, but they knows that Daddy’s a singer and musician, and know what happening when there’s a suitcase at the door.
Aw, it’s just like animals where they know when you’re leaving.
Colin: Yeah! That’s it! The key is to bring them a really nice present back each time you come back, so at least in their minds they’re like, ‘Ok, Daddy’s going away, but when he gets back he’s gonna bring a really nice present!’ *laughs* I went to Argentina recently to shoot three videos for the first three songs on the record with Sebastian, so I brought a beautiful dress back from Argentina. And then I was in Montreal for a show last week, and I brought back another gorgeous Elsa Frozen dress. So you know, they’re sad to see me go, but happy to have me come back soon. But it’s hard. It’s really hard.
It’s already hard for me to leave my dog, so I can’t even imagine leaving my kid.
Colin: Well, in a way it’s the same thing so you do understand. It’s the same kind of emotions.
Oh definitely. And how was this songwriting and recording process different than, that of your past work?
Colin: High Point was very much recorded in a shorter period of time than my last record, my first solo record, The Democracy Of One. I did a week’s recording in Montreal on my own with my producer, Pierre Marchand, to get the structure, tempos, and keys together. And then we bought a lot of my close musician friends together to record in L.A. for nine days. The recording was pretty fast in relation to how long it took to write. *laughs*
You can’t rush art!
Colin: No you can’t.
Now going back to how you had mentioned that you split some of the time between going to Montreal to record, and then also recording Canada. What prompted you to want to split the recording time between the two places?
Colin: Well basically Pierre Marchand. *laughs* He lives and is based in Montreal, so I felt it was easier to go there and just do some of the recording and pre-production on my own with him. Recording studios are expensive, and you go in there thinking ‘Oh things are gonna be great!’ but then you realize you can’t do everything in production. You know? You’re gonna hit a wall pretty quick when you’re under pressure to make things happen in a certain amount of time. You might realize that a song is just not working and you don’t know why. And if you’re sitting there around the studio going, “Oh when is this song gonna work?” then it’s not a really good situation. Probably the most important thing was the week with this band doing all of the pre-production stuff, at least when we were going in there. It was all very loose when we were doing the actual recording, but there was still somewhat of a structure to it. I mean, things change all the time, but it was really good fun to know roughly where you’re going to go. And from there we were recording, like, fourteen songs, made the record, and realized that three of them didn’t work. It’s the way it is, which is fine, but it was a lot of fun just to be in the room, just play as a band, and record like that. It seems like less and less records are really made that way now just with what technology we have available now where you can do everything you want at home. And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, I do that myself when I’m doing any kind of film stuff, but it’s just lovely to feel like everyone’s sort of with you as opposed to just a bunch of hired guys.
Absolutely. There’s just always something magical about having the people you have a connection with working with you.
Colin: Oh yes.
And if you had an unlimited budget to do a music video from your album right now at this very moment in time, which song would you choose and what kind of concept would you do?
Colin: Ooh, I think probably “Exosphere” because it would be an amazing one for a huge, big-budget space exploration theme with aliens. *laughs* It’s very much about the feeling that I had at the birth of my son where it’s kind of overwhelming feeling joyful and also realizing the responsibility of becoming a father. But this song is also when you feel that there is also a feeling of uncertainty of what’s out there and not knowing the bigger picture. “Exosphere” is the final air of Earth’s atmosphere before we head into the vacuum of space where all the satellites live. So it’s a very intimate song, but it’s also very much a big picture idea of what could happen. I think we could probably do something pretty incredible with that visually.
Totally! So to go into some modern music industry discussion, social media seems to have taken over as the main form of marketing nowadays. Do you think it’s made it easier or harder for independent artists to break out and make a name for themselves?
Colin: I think it’s definitely easier to reach your fans you already have because it’s a great way to let them know that you have new music out and points them towards where they can listen to it. But I think beyond that, it becomes tougher because anybody can do that. It’s very democratized, which it should be, but I think that there’s so much noise out there that it becomes hard for the good stuff to rise above all of that average stuff, you know? That’s the only kind of issue that I have with it really. Otherwise, it’s a fantastic tool for letting people know you have a show, or letting people know, or as I said, letting your fan base have time to grow beyond that. I feel that reaching one fan at a time is a really good thing because it keeps them interested in you when you’re going out and playing shows. So it’s a necessary evil, but also, I think it can get to a point where it takes away from your own creativity or takes away from your music. If you end up not creating good art because you’re spending too much time on social media, then it’s not necessary and it’s not a great thing, at least in my book anyway.
Yeah, and in a way, it’s almost like, ‘Oh I need to spend these many hours on my posts and they all have to go out at different times in order to reach the next maximum amount of people.’ It’s this algorithm that nobody quite understands because it’s different for everybody. *laughs*
Colin: Yeah, and there’s different parts of the world that you have to keep in mind. I have a pretty international fan base of different age groups who listen to my music on different formats. They don’t just listen on Spotify or iTunes, some still buy the ancient artifact of CDs. *laughs*
You mean those things on display on the Grammy Museum? *laughs*
Colin: That’s it! Or the coasters for your wine. *laughs* It’s funny because obviously everybody still sells CDs and a lot of times it gives them an excuse to say ‘Hi’ to you after the show. Somebody buying your merchandise is always great, but if somebody buys your CD then you need to make sure you sign it. What’s interesting is that more and more you see people that don’t even have CD players but still buying the CDs. In that regard it’s good, but I think people who buy the CDs are just going to home and stream the record anyway, you know? It’s a really weird situation. And then it’s like, ‘Well, how much do I want to charge them for that?’
It’s always a tricky thing with music streaming. That’s just how music listeners are, but very difficult to calculate anything in terms of payment for music streaming.
Colin: It is what it is. That part of it I don’t worry so much about because it’s just another delivery method for the music. It’s just the next form of technology that gets people to hear the music, you know? So you can spend all day worrying about that, but what’s the point?
There’s nothing you can do about it.
Colin: There’s nothing you can do about it!
It’s happening, whether you like it or not.
Colin: Yeah! That’s it! And they’re slowly trying to find the balance between what you get paid for streaming.
Once they put that all into effect I think everything will go into a balance.
Colin: Yeah! And when you look at it, streaming to a certain extent has saved the music industry because there’s so little illegal downloading going on now. You can stream for free on Spotify if you just listen to a few ads, and that’s just that!
Yeah. And at least the artist is going to be paid for that as opposed to losing money like the Limewire and Napster days.
Colin: Ooh yeah, definitely! So you know, being a musician is not something you can go into for the money, at least nowadays. You just have to make that choice for better or for worse. I am a musician, that’s who I am and that’s what I do. *laughs*
Yeah. And kind of still going along the lines of music streaming. Music streaming also consists of playlists, and there has been a lot of more singles-based releases in order to get on these playlists. Do you feel that a steady constant release of singles has been more successful than that of full length released works? Or do you think that modern listeners can’t quite digest the full works now, that’s why they lean towards singles?
Colin: The honest answer is that I don’t really know, but I feel that the good thing about a full-length record, at least for me, is that it’s a point of view at that time in your life. It’s also something you can hang a tour and promotions on. You can’t do all of that with a single or an EP you know? I feel like most people don’t really care whether it’s an album or a single because it’s based on whether they like a song or not. As with Spotify, the algorithms will just put the songs that are being played the most at the top anyways, so that means that whether it’s a day after you release a single or three months after then your song can be a supposed hit single. If you’re releasing a lot of music all the time, like once a month, then sure, put it up there! Who’s to say that I won’t release an EP in three months’ time? Perhaps I just feel like recording one day and then end up doing it. So again, it’s really just one of those things that I don’t really think about too much. For me it’s like, ‘Do I like that song? Does it fit with the record that I want to put together?’ and then that’s it.
I totally agree with what you said about how an album is kind of collection of, what happened at that moment in an artist’s life because it’s almost like a window into what they were going through or experiencing at that time. Sure, you can get with a single depending on how well written it is and how it comes across in recording, but all in all, I feel like an album achieves that more that than one piece of work.
Colin: Absolutely! And because there are great albums released all the time, that alone is a statement to me that the album format is not dead.
Long live the albums! *both laugh* So you came over to Los Angeles from Ireland. I wanted to ask you, were there any culture shocks in terms of the music industry when you came to L.A.? Or was it more just an overall ‘American’ culture shock?
Colin: My old band The Devlins had signed their first deal with Capitol Records in the nineties, so I’ve been coming here for a long time back and forth. There’s a million things that you find that are just kind of funny that are so different from what we were used to. Everything is much much bigger with the food portions being three times the size. With that alone, everything is just on a much bigger scale. And then obviously driving on the other side of the road was a fun adventure. *both laugh* I’ve been here for a long time now, but I try to get back to Ireland three or four times a year if I can. That doesn’t really answer your question because I sort of feel like I still live there but I live here too. *laughs*
It’s a weird universal balance.
Colin: It is, yeah!
And you’ve performed in a fair amount of places in the United States, Canada, and other parts of Europe. How would you say that music and live performance appreciation and support is different between the places that you’ve been to?
Colin: Well, in a lot of different countries there’s a lot of government funding for entertainment. The Netherlands and the other Benelux countries have it, even Canada has it for the Canadian content where a certain amount of songs played on the radio have to be Canadian. It’s different everywhere you go in terms of how things are funded, but in terms of my own experience, I think that the world just a small place now where we all kind of consume music to a large extent. I will go to these different countries with different cultures and meet the people that listen to my music, and I feel that even though they are from different parts of the world that they’re all similar in a way because whatever they get from my music relates to them.
And you always hear about how musical connections regardless of where you live. Sometimes you hear stories of these friends who were connected just purely through liking the same song or the same artist.
Colin: And I’ve seen it with a lot of people who like my music or The Devlins music! They became friends through bonding over the music, and it’s so great that they were able to find that kind of connection.
It’s like a community!
Colin: Yeah! Exactly like that! It’s such a powerful thing when somebody opens their mouth to sing, whether it’s a four year old child singing a nursery rhyme or, you know, Leonard Cohen, or a guy singing falsetto. It doesn’t matter about the culture and there’s no language barrier with music. You go play in France, or somewhere else in Europe, and it’s a funny thing is when you hear people sing along to a song and they don’t speak English.
I saw that in Germany when I was there for for Oktoberfest. There was one tent that we were at and the band they had was playing a lot of ABBA. I think I heard “Dancing Queen” more times than I had in my life when I was there. *both laugh*
So speaking of going to different places around the world, if you could go on world tour and take three artists with you, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Colin: So my number one would be Leonard Cohen. Obviously I can’t take him, but it’s a fantasy tour so why not! *laughs* And speaking of Germany, I would want to bring Kraftwerk. And Nick Cave would be the last one. To watch those three people play every night would be incredible. And I think I’d call the tour ‘Trans Europe Express,’ which would the cover of our album. *laughs*
And if you were able to give your younger self some advice in regards to your music career and what you’ve experienced so far, what kind of advice would you give to a young Colin?
Colin: Young Colin, hmm, I think I would tell him to just try and have more fun with the whole experience. When you’re so focused on writing and recording, you sometimes feel like if you start to have too much fun, or if you’re too happy, that you won’t be able to write properly. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t had a lot of fun in my career, but Id love to have more fun in the journey.
We always need to make room for fun in our lives.
Colin: Yes, because it’s a very privileged position to be in. Such a small percentage of the population are able to do what they really want to do and to be able to make a living out of it. It’s not easy, but it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, so never take that for granted. I think that when you’re younger you assume that it’s gonna be easy and amazing, but then you get wake up calls along the way. A lot of people have to compromise on their dream and what they want to do for different reasons, and there’s nothing wrong that, it’s just life, you know? You’re working full time because you’re working towards that goal and because it allows you to do ‘this’ and ‘that’ as opposed to saying, ‘Oh, I’m too busy because I’ve got my full-time job.’ What you’re doing, it’s fantastic.
That always tends to be our excuse, “Oh, I’m too busy with too many things,” and then we just put it on the back burner. You hear stories about people who are on their deathbed and when you ask, “What do you wish that you did more in your life?” they never say, Oh, I wish I worked more,’ or ‘I wish I made more money,’ or ‘I wish I had a bigger house,’
Colin: No. They always say, ‘I wish I spent more time with my children.’
Or ‘I wish I traveled more.’
Colin: Yeah, traveled more or had taken more chances. You hear it all the time and it’s so true. You know? And as I was saying, being a full-time musician is not an easy thing these days for anybody, so you have to really love it in order to continue it for a long time. But the great musical moments are when you’re on your own stage. You really feel that connection, and it’s almost like you’re flying. It’s something that’s worthwhile. It’s a feeling that’s good. That is the feeling that you want to have and that’s why you do it.
It’s that musical high that artists always talk about.
Colin: It is! Yeah! And for me, it’s like, when you’re in the studio and you’ve written something, and then something happens, it’s like magic. You’ll listen to it in the studio and then you go, ‘Ok, where did that come from?’ and it all becomes a beautiful experience. That’s what you live for, to create those things. And it’s not easy.
It’s definitely not easy. What do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Colin: I hope that when they listen to my music that they can relate to it or make it relatable to their own personal situations. That they feel that perhaps they bring it into their daily life and daily routine too. I want it to be one of those things where it moves them in some way. That’s all you can ask for.
Yeah, I mean, there’s a reason why certain songs and artists become as big as they do because they touch a mass audience with their music. And then people talk about their music for years and years and years, even though they’re gone because there was that connection, and they were revolutionary and did something different. And there’s a reason why there’s such a thing as a one-hit wonder.
Colin: Yeah, exactly, and there’s nothing wrong with that even, but for me I’ve never wanted to copy anybody because I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I don’t want to feel like I’m competing with anybody, I’m just trying to make something that I feel is moving with an emotional energy to it that people can relate to. I don’t fit into any, “trendy” category. I never wanted to and I never had. I feel like that’s kind of my strength because if you do one thing long enough then you just have your own standard. It’s just not that complicated.
And a lot of the music that you hear now are starting to just blend with other genres. I think eventually one day the distant future, everything will be genre-less.
Colin: Yeah, it’s true because we haven’t had a new genre of music for a long time. In all the time since, we’ve got something that is like a combination of punk and rockabilly.
It’s always a fusion of things.
Colin: You’re right, it’s always a fusion of things. It’s funny and scary when a lot of these kind of playlists are mood based. It’s like, ‘Ok, so this is my mood for making my dinner.’ *laughs*
I feel like we still subconsciously do it too. I definitely have my certain songs when I’m angry with the world, or songs that I throw on when I need a good cry, or, like you said, songs to cook to. *both laugh*
Colin: And I think what’s interesting about the continued resurgence of vinyl is that I think it’s a reaction against being bombarded by so many tracks. It’s sort of like, ‘Ok, I know what I’m gonna listen to the next thirty minutes,’ as opposed to people constantly passing around the phone. I think it sounds better when it’s like, ‘Ok, I just want to slow down and put something on.’
And last question. Apart from riding the excitement of your new album, what other big exciting things should we be looking forward to from you?
Colin: I think 2019 is gonna be full of lots of touring, so I’m putting together an England, Ireland, and European Tour around late January or February. So that will be very exciting. And then probably back into touring in the States in March. We’ve signed a record deal with Blue Élan Records for my band The Devlins, and we haven’t made record for quite a while so we will probably do that at the end of 2019 or start 2020. So, I’ll been working for this record for six months, but the plan is at least that we’ll do the recording soon and we’ll probably do that in Dublin. So that would be exciting. We’re very close, the four of us, and our label is great and they are really cool. They’re very great and they completely let me do whatever what I want to do creatively and artistically with very little interference in any part of the process. So we’re looking forward to that.
Well it sounds like you’ve got a big year ahead!
About Beachwood Cafe:
Beachwood Canyon is well known as the neighborhood that leads up to the Hollywood Sign. While local homeowners may not be fans of having a constant stream of tourists making their way up to and down from the famous landmark, Beachwood Cafe is here to put a smile on their faces with an eclectic farm-to-table style menu and a great cup of coffee. Originally home of The Village Coffee Shop, Beachwood Cafe has resided at this location since March of 2012 and has wowed not only residents and visitors with its cozy, diner-like appeal, but has also earned itself an award in restaurant design due to Barbara Bestor’s architectural re-vamping. Step inside to be amazed with its interior perfectly embodying the look and feel of your (probably eccentric) grandma’s house from kooky wallpaper to brightly colored tiles to tight-knit seating arrangements. Whether you’re there for a hangover breakfast with your beau or fun little brunch with your out-of-town guests, there’s certainly enough space to fit your seating arrangement needs. Now let’s talk about that impressive menu that they’re got!
Beachwood Cafe does a wonderful job with making sure that there is a viable food and drink option for every type of visitor with a lot of their options falling into the American-with-a-twist category. With variations on some classic offerings like burgers and salads to scrambles and breakfast burritos, you’re pretty much guaranteed to want to come back for a visit just so you can try everything off the menu. And a big perk for devoted brunch-ers is that they serve breakfast items until closing! As I could quite literally have eggs at any time of the day, I opted for the Bronson Egg Scramble with a deliciously creamy Cafe Au Lait for caffeination. Although, I do admit that if I wasn’t driving, I totally would have gone for one of their morning cocktails for an extra pep in my step. *wink wink*