INTERVIEW WITH DEVON WILLIAMS.
By Gabe Connor
This article was contributed by Gabe Connor, founder of THICK FOG - a magazine that will be out in print this fall.
Devon Williams is a Los Angeles based musician who has been recording under different monikers and with many different people for quite a while. Since choosing the eponymous route, he released Carefree, his debut full length in 2008 as well as three other 7’’s. This past week Slumberland celebrated the release of Devon’s new and already gossiped about record Euphoria (now out via Slumberland Records). Standout single “Your Sympathy” has received buzz from noteworthy music sites and magazines alike.
Devon is touring the west coast this September to support Euphoria and is stopping twice in the Bay Area. On Saturday he’ll be at Abco Art Space in Oakland with The Mantles and Twin Steps, and on Sunday he’ll be supporting Twin Sister at the Rickshaw Stop with Library Voices opening. Devon spoke with Night Fog Reader this week about pure pop songs, the sun, and why he likes solving puzzles so much.
Night Fog Reader: So you’re playing a weekend of shows in the Bay Area. You’ve been up here several times already in the past few months (at the Knockout and Thee Parkside in June, and at the Slumberland Records showcase in May). What’s your favorite thing about San Francisco?
Devon Williams: San Francisco is so different from LA. The weather’s different. The people are different. It’s a good pace-changer.
The cover art for Euphoria is spectacular. It reminds me of The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers or even Magical Mystery Tour artwork. Could you tell us about the artwork and concept? Why did you choose to format some of the album packages as puzzles?
Gage Taylor did the artwork. It’s a painting he did in 1969. I love the painting because it’s so vivid and unreal. The amount of detail and variety of color is what makes it perfect to be a jigsaw puzzle. When I work on puzzles I listen to records and I thought that would be a sort of ideal way for someone to listen to the record.
What’s the craziest, most intricate or difficult puzzle you’ve pieced together? What were you listening to at the time?
I was desperate for a puzzle one day. I wanted to stay inside and work on one, so I went to a couple different thrift stores where they sell ‘em for like 2 bucks. They had none. I couldn’t believe it. I scoured the store and then I found one. It was a breast cancer awareness puzzle with Santa Claus in the snow and two angels wearing pink ribbons flying around him and some doves and bells, etc. I thought it would be fine, but once I got well into it I couldn’t make a breakthrough. It had too much white and pink and I didn’t care enough about it. So I gave up. I think I was watching a movie though, not listening to music.
Are there any specific artists or albums that come to mind that influenced Euphoria? A lot of bands like sunny radio pop, however your stuff is much more orchestrated and added to rather than copied. Do you think vintage worship is a dangerous game in an uncreative music industry?
I sort of have been pulling from my same influences for the last couple years. I’m a huge fan of The Church album Heyday. The guitars on that album are so great and the drumming too. Also Cleaners From Venus, who made really great universes in pop songs. Then there’s other influences like Pete Dello and Nirvana (UK). Pete Dello’s songwriting is so direct while Nirvana is so elaborate.
I always think that garage bands are boring and hackneyed, but it’s also just a legacy that goes on and on and on. Something about just getting together and playing music that you can’t really argue with. The bottom line is if it’s a good song, it’s a good song. No point in talking over it.
What’s LA like as a music haven? I know you guys have had Laurel Canyon, Orange County punk, peak of the 90’s paisley underground and now there’s this whole dark synth and beach pop aura. How would you compare it to other cities?
I’m not sure how to compare LA to other cities, but I definitely feel like music in LA is lacking something. But I love the community that Burger Records has created. Even though a lot of those bands are more “wild” than us, I feel an affinity with Burger (Sean Bohrman, Lee Noise, and Brian Burger) because of their values. I’ve known them for a while and they love all sorts of music, and it’s their entire life. And that’s the kind of musical community I want to be involved with.
The tracks on Euphoria are often bittersweet, and about love, but all seem really passionate. Were you going for that “teenage crush”mood when you wrote lyrics?
I wasn’t going for anything when I wrote these songs. I just write the things that I feel. [But] I don’t feel nostalgia. I just write songs and add parts to them until they sound full.
Slumberland releases are typically more “lo-fi.” The riffs on Euphoria are really clean. What’s it like being on Slumberland?
Mike Schulman who runs Slumberland is a music lover. He loves putting out records as much as he loves listening to them. I can appreciate that. We could talk about music for hours and hours and we have. When I suggested making some puzzles to go along with the LP he was just as excited as I was.
Euphoria feels like beach music. It is like going to the beach with a wine cooler and a blanket instead of getting stoned in the sun. Does the sun influence your music?
Living in Los Angeles certainly affects me, so inevitably the climate takes its toll. Euphoria is a dark album to me, more sunburnt than sunny.
What one thing is “euphoric” for Devon Williams?
Pop music with great melodies and great words. That’s all I’m after.
I noticed that for this tour you are going by a solo name, rather than Devon Williams and the Fuck Ups or Devon Williams and the Grunge Gods, etc. If you were to give a name to your backing band, what would it be?
I consider us all equal players when we play. They are so much more than a backing band. I couldn’t do it without them. If I had to give them a name I’d probably call them “The Good Time Gang” or maybe “Let’s Make The Most of It Band” or maybe something like “The Dustbusters.”
Devon Williams / The Mantles / Twin Steps
Abco Art Space 3135 Filbert St Oakland
Saturday, September 3rd $5, 9:30 PM
Twin Sister / Devon Williams / Library Voices
The Rickshaw Stop 155 Fell St San Francisco
Sunday, September 4th $10 Advance $12 Doors, 8:00 PM
BOTH SHOWS ALL AGES