Immediately after clicking “Launch” on his Kickstarter project back in January, Kevin Devine sent out the Twitter and Facebook flares, fired off a few emails to friends asking them to promote it, shut his laptop, and left his Brooklyn apartment. Sure that he had set himself up for a very public failure, he needed to get away from his computer: “I knew I couldn’t just sit there staring at it; it would’ve made me insane,” the 33-year-old Brooklyn singer-songwriter told BuzzFeed.
When he returned home and pulled up his page, however, he found his fears were completely unwarranted: 90 minutes in, Devine was a third of the way to his goal of $50,000. By 10 p.m. — nine hours after launching — he was fully funded. And by the time Devine’s Kickstarter ended on Feb. 28, he raised nearly $115,000 with 1,649 backers.
With the money, Devine will release two stand-alone albums: his seventh LP, a solo record called Bulldozer, produced by Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Dr. Dog, Beck), and his eighth LP, a record with his “Goddamn Band” called Bubblegum produced by longtime friend and Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey.
BuzzFeed caught up with Devine to talk about the ethics of Kickstarter, forging his own path in the music industry, and just how crazy writing, recording, and touring two albums in under a year’s time has made his life.
Here are seven things you should know about Devine and his new releases:
1. Over the course of his career, Kevin Devine has made six records on five different labels. With LPs 7 and 8, it was finally time for him to do his own thing.
He’s been on indies and majors — Triple Crown, Immigrant Sun, Defiance, Capitol, Favorite Gentleman, Big Scary Monsters, etc. — and after essentially existing in nearly every iteration of the music industry since the beginning of his career, he wanted to experiment with doing his own thing. The money he raised from Kickstarter allowed him to go to independent.
“This afforded us the opportunity to do it completely on our own but still compete at a level we’d existed at prior,” Devine says. “The Kickstarter is allowing us to make these two records and have it be this totally immersive experience.”
So far, he says, the experience has been essentially the same, just better. “That [feeling] probably means that both the record labels and me are both exactly where we need to be, which is, we’re not really dealing with each other.”
Kevin Devine with members of the Goddamn Band. From left to right: Mike Fadem (drums), Devine, and Mike Strandberg (guitar).
2. Crowdfunding campaigns often carry a lot of baggage, which is something Devine wrestled with before starting his own project.
“[I was] really trying to figure out a way to differentiate the Kickstarter campaign from other ones and to explain it to and justify it to myself a little bit,” Devine says. He now believes that releasing two albums gave backers more bang for their buck, and he’s comfortable with how responsibly everything’s been handled.
Criticisms have plagued a number of well-established artists who have launched campaigns in the last year or two — Amanda Palmer, Zach Braff, and Spike Lee come to mind — though none of those criticisms ever seem to yield a black-and-white answer about whether it’s OK for an already-known musician/filmmaker/whatever to use the platform.
“I’m not a famous person. I’m not even an indie-rock famous person, but I am someone who’s pretty established, and has some modicum of success depending on how you gauge that. There’s a part of me that’s like, Isn’t this intended for the person who’s trying to get their project off the ground?” Devine says. “But I got to a place where I was like, Just because others have done it poorly doesn’t mean you have to abuse it too.”
He’s learned to realize that maybe the way people use the platform isn’t subject to a moral conversation at all, even if one individual thinks another’s methods are slightly morally questionable. “It’s maybe more about people wanting what they want, and if a band makes a campaign around something that’s morally questionable, but they make [their goal], then clearly people wanted it to happen,” Devine says. “That’s sort of the beginning and the end of the conversation on some level.”
Devine’s Kickstarter video.
For the entirety of his career, Devine’s sort of been stuck between genres: “Half the time I’m an indie-folk guy and half the time I’m an indie-rock guy. So, I thought it would be interesting to make two records,” Devine says.
Splitting his creative brain down the middle allowed him to play up the gap he straddles musically, and translating that split into two completely different albums — not a double release — just happened to work out with his timing. “It just seemed like a really good time to try it given the fact that we were also trying to make these records without a company being involved in it,” he says. “It was right time for my interest in it creatively and professionally, and that kind of aligned with the Kickstarter thing.”
Where Bubblegum is messy, unbridled punk rock — though Devine hesitates to call it that: “I don’t call myself a punk-rocker because I play electric guitar and scream and step on pedals and there are messages sometimes” — Bulldozer is leaner, more refined and introspective. Fans will immediately latch on to Bubblegum’s infectious riffs; Bulldozer will take longer to sink in.
4. Devine’s earned a label as a political songwriter, though he insists he just writes what he knows.
“I’m not interested in trying too hard to be a topical songwriter,” Devine says. “Maybe 12 or less [of the songs on my eight records] speak about socio-political issues, and that 10% or less is enough for me to be thought of as a topical songwriter — fairly or unfairly — which I think says a lot about the nature of topical music in the current pop music landscape. I think all my records are a chronicle of what I’m experienced at the time. That’s what I was seeing.”
Despite not necessarily agreeing with that label, it’s undeniable that writing socially conscious music is something that Devine does well — if not better than most musicians around today. His lyrics are honest and heartfelt, powerful but not overbearing. “I’ve learned in recording music and releasing it, that you don’t get to decide what you think you are,” Devine says. “If people think anything about you, that’s great.”
On Bubblegum’s “Private First Class,” he sings about the trial of WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning: “The truth got told and what good did that do? / but if it was you, you might wish you’d been born a liar.”
“The Chelsea Manning stuff was just impossible to not write about for me,” Devine says. “It just felt so big — it was like falling out of love and then not writing about it. For a while I was waking up and it was unavoidable in my psyche.”
The United States government shutdown on Oct. 1 inspired Devine to release the song “Fiscal Cliff” off Bubblegum earlier than he intended.
“The song was written from a frustrated, thorny place, but also from a desire to leapfrog their obfuscating bullshit toward a more clear-eyed connection with each other, to transcend the (literal) nonsense,” Devine wrote on his Facebook page.
5. He’s started his own label imprint called Devinyl Records. (Get it?)
Like the origins of many small labels, Devinyl began as an umbrella for anything with Devine’s name on it. The label, therefore, also had to have his name. “I couldn’t come up with a name, and Rob Schnapf was like, ‘You have the name in your name,’” Devine says. “And I like it, because it’s super cheeky. I like stuff that breathes a little fun into and can laugh at itself.”
Devinyl’s associated with already-established Favorite Gentlemen Records and Procrastinate Music Traitors (both imprints of good friends Manchester Orchestra and Brand New, respectively), but there’s no real infrastructure — just five or six people alongside Devine, a small team doing all the legwork.
Despite starting as a one-artist catchall, however, Devinyl’s already signed a second band: Philadelphia-based “chamber-poppers” Buried Beds, Devine’s former tour mates. There’s no money changing hands, just simple publicity and a home base, but Devine believes Devinyl might be the beginnings of something bigger: “We have two bands now, and one of them isn’t me. So we’ll see what it does and doesn’t become.”
6. Devine is incredibly humble, and still can’t believe how much encouragement and support he’s received over the last couple of months.
His Kickstarter campaign, which earned a total of $114,805, was the 12th most successful music campaign in the site’s history. “I still don’t really have a vocabulary for what that was like,” Devine says. “It was not near any corner of what my expectations were.”
He recalled the influx of positive feedback and support he got in the days after his Kickstarter launched…and that he continues to receive: “I was just trying to be a normal person while also, you know, bugging out, and getting all of these wonderful notes and emails and texts from people. It almost became like a cause for people,” he says. “It was one of those rare experiences where it was both a stand-alone experience and an opportunity for people to treat it as referendum on my career, and sort of be very vocal in away about how much they just wanted me to be able to keep doing what I was doing. And it was nuts.”
Devine’s just generally a good-natured, honest, and straightforward dude, which is another reason on the laundry list of items why he has such loyal fans. He’s also been incredibly interactive via Kickstarter updates, and has had a great sense of humor about this entire process — a Sarah McLachlan-inspired sense of humor, in fact — which seem to have guaranteed him continued support.
7. Things feel different for Devine this time around.
“What’s interesting about my career as it were, I’ve never had a tidal wave of critical support, and I’ve never had a groundswell of commercial success with radio or anything like that, but I have had pockets of support,” Devine says. “There’s always been someone saying nice things, it’s just never been all of those places on the same record, at the same time.”
“It seems like there’s a little more synchronicity this time, though it certainly isn’t what it is when Vampire Weekend makes a record,” Devine says, laughing. But despite not being at the same level of indie-rock stardom as Ezra Koenig and Co., he’s not doing too badly for himself — especially since he’s doing all this independently.
He’s done interviews and podcasts around the internet, and has already been written up positively on NPR’s All Songs Considered, in Rolling Stone, and in the U.K.’s DIY and Rocksound magazines. He also released the first music video from the albums, “Bubblegum” off the Lacey-produced album of the same name, via Rolling Stone at the beginning of October.
“This tour for Bubblegum, it looks like it should be the most successful tour we’ve had to this point,” Devine says. “It’s fun to shift around and be a proper rock band for six weeks … I’m just excited to get out there and play this music live in front of people.”
Kevin Devine’s new albums Bulldozer and Bubblegum will be released via Devinyl records on Oct. 15. His Bubblegum tour kicks off on Oct. 18 in Akron, Ohio, with Now, Now and Harrison Hudson, and the tour for Bulldozer will follow at the beginning of next year. For more information, visit his website.