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Levellers - Interview

  by Sarah Maybank

published: 16 / 2 / 2008

Levellers - Interview


Lightspeed Champion's debut album, 'Falling Off the Lavender Bridge', has been one of the most acclaimed albums of the years and has won almost universal praise, but frontman Dev Hynes explains to Sarah Maybank why he doesn't think it is that good

"Oh no. I’d definitely rather not be at the Brits Awards tonight. The main reason being the album’s not that good.” Mid-February 2008. Over in west London, at Earl’s Court, it’s that night again. That special night. The one when Britain’s record company glitterati dust off the evening wear, top up their coke vials - and try not to let gong-brandishing celebs’ acceptance speeches interrupt their substance-fuelled yammering. A hop, skip and a jump to the north west, in a Camden bar, Devonte ‘Lightspeed Champion’ Hynes is slumped on a leather couch, insouciantly prodding at an electronic iPhone-BlackBerry-gadget-widget-thingummybob. And mid-jab, nonchalantly revealing his belief that his addictive, critically acclaimed debut solo album, ‘Falling Off The Lavender Bridge’ is unworthy of their love. “The Brits are weird,” he continues, cool as you like. “I don’t really know any after that one with Jarvis Cocker. That’s the only one I remember. I don’t think they’d have a category for me anyway. Saying that, people have a strong ‘for or against’ when it comes to award ceremonies, but I love them as a fan. I love the American ones because they do it as a big party. It seems like the biggest thing on the planet at the time and people do all these special performances.” Hip music industry types might despise the Brits for its naked sales worshiping and naff attempts at being edgy, while us plebs out there in TV viewer-land love it for its starriness and the potential it could all go horribly wrong. In refusing to fully side with either camp, Dev Hynes affirms what we all knew about him anyway. He’s one contrary-Mary. He split his first band, Test Icicles, in February 2006 at the height of their asymmetrically coiffed, Hoxton-scenester fame. ("We were never, ever that keen on the music,” he told the NME at the time, “I understand that people liked it, but we personally, er, didn't.) At the same time, he abandoned Test Icicles' driving squawk-rock for the uplifting-pastoral-acoustica-meets-post-relationship-soul searching of 'Lavender Bridge'. Not quite Nine Inch Nails goes country and western but you get the idea. Pennyblackmusic snatches 10 minutes with him just before a gig at Dingwalls. He is virtually concealed under a large fur hat so seriously shaggy it’s probably triggering off security lights in buildings as far away as Aberdeenshire with each nod of his head. What you can see of his eyes behind his trendy-big specs isn’t making any contact. And, fidgeting like a naughty kid waiting outside the head’s office for a telling off, he’s acting for all the world like he doesn’t want to be here. But, contrary again, once he gets in his stride, he’s got plenty to say: PB : So let’s get this clear. The album’s no good and you don’t deserve any awards ? DH : Yeah… The album’s not that great. I mean it’s not that bad… but it’s just not at that level. I’ve written some good songs but I just don’t feel I’m at ‘that’ level yet. PB : John Lennon once complained it was impossible for him to ever reproduce the sounds in his head on record, so he was never happy with his stuff. DH : Ha! Yeah, I know how that feels. PB : The album’s lyrics are pretty graphic – you even mention being sick in someone’s mouth. I can imagine your mum listening to it and going, “I don’t know where it went wrong – he used to be such a nice boy.” DH : [Laughs] My mum’s coming to see the gig tonight - she knows what I’m like. Saying that, we haven’t actually spoken about the album…. PB : Have you got loads of exs walking around waving copies of it and going, “Such and such a song’s about me, that is.” DH : Nah. My last relationship ended a year and a half ago and my ex heard that album; I wrote the songs when I was with her, and we broke up just after it was done. I was still friends with her after that – well, for a while. I haven’t been in a relationship since, though, so I suppose that says a lot. PB : What were you like as a boyfriend? DH : I was hopeless. Pretty awful. I don’t know… I’m quite self-absorbed. PB : Aren’t all musicians like that? DH : Ha ha! Yeah… One argument, though, she said would I choose between her or music ? To me that was a ridiculous question. Music’s like breathing. I love music. PB : What are your strongest musical memories as a kid? DH : I loved ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. I remember doing a show-and-tell at school when I was 10 and I took in the soundtrack album. The kids didn’t know what to say. How did the school react ? The teacher asked to speak to my parents! But it was the hooks and the melody lines I loved. The ‘Hair’ musical soundtrack I liked too. PB : Ever join any fan clubs? DH : I’ve only joined two fan clubs and I’m still a member of one. The first was Manson and the other was Heart. PB : What? American, 80's soft rock? Nancy and… DH : …Ann Wilson? Yeah, that’s the one! Their first two albums are really influential on my guitar playing - and on this album as well. Would I like to work with them if they asked me ? That’d be crazy. [Resolutely] I’d be really nervous but I’d do it. PB : Have you seen the major internet debate about your hair? People seem obsessed with finding out whether it’s a wig or not. DH : [Looks resigned] Me and my friend, who’s in a band as well, vowed never to look at stuff about us on the net as the results are never too great. Saying that, though, the other day I purposefully looked for bad live reviews. I think I was being a bit masochistic. But critics can get it so wrong. They’ll say, "Oh, it’s obvious he’s trying to copy so and so," and it’s someone I’ve never even heard of. Or they’ll say, "It’s not in the folk tradition," when I never even said I was a folk musician. I mean, have you ever heard a guitar solo in a folk song? PB : You seem to get extreme reactions on the net. People either love you or they’re really scathing. One keyboard warrior accused you of "adopting an oh-so vulnerable character that’s clearly removed from his actual self." DH : [Looks bemused] I’ve never said I’m vulnerable or I’m not vulnerable. Thing is, stuff like that does get to me; I do take criticism to heart. The irony is there’s someone saying I’m not vulnerable – I’m only playing at it -and here I am getting upset about it. PB : Are you playing any new songs tonight ? DH : Yeah, one called 'Madam Van Damme'. It’s about a character in a comic who appears in a porn film. It’s the first song I’ve ever written from someone else’s point of view and it’ll be interesting to see if people like it. PB : Ever thought about writing a song about Jean Claude Van Damme ? DH : [Scratches chin thoughtfully} Hmm… I could do. I don’t think I know enough about him though. PB : What are your plans for the next few months? DH : I’m touring until November. How will I cope with the boredom of being on the road ? Ask me at the end of the summer - we’ll see what I have to say then! I’m touring with my friends, though, so it’ll be a laugh. Anyway, if someone likes something I do, it’s insane. Paying to see what I do, it’s even more insane. I’d play gigs for free. I would. The fact people pay to see me is amazing. Why would I get bored ? PB : Good point. Thanks, Dev.

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Levellers - Interview

Levellers - Interview

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