Sweet smell of success
It’s all about the music, says Lightspeed Champion, aka Dev Hynes, and the roll call of stars lining up to work with him is clear proof of his devotion. He talks to Lauren Murphy
FOR A MAN whose pseudonym conjures visions of grandeur and omnipotence, Lightspeed Champion – aka Devonté “Dev” Hynes – ain’t half self-effacing. Speaking to the singer-songwriter is a bit of an odd experience. For one, Hynes has packed so much into his 24 years that it’s difficult to know where to start. Formerly of short-lived “experimental dance-punks” Test Icicles, the Texas-born, Essex-raised, New York-based musician already has collaborations with the likes of Basement Jaxx, Alex Turner, Florence Welch and Faris Badwan under his belt, has self-published a comic book to mark the release of his 2008 debut album Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, has contributed to short-story collections, and regularly lends his voice, playing and songwriting to any number of bands.
Yet, there’s not a hint of self-importance about him. Lightspeed Champion laughs a lot. He laughs even harder when it’s suggested that he must socialise 24/7 to have built up a list of contacts that an indie fan would sell their limited edition Converse for.
“I don’t go out, ever! I never go out,” he giggles. “I don’t know how I meet people. I think it is just because of music. People ask me to work on things with them and write with them, but I think when most people say that stuff, it never happens. So if someone says to me ‘Yeah, we should do this at some point’, then I’ll call them that night and write a song to do the next time I see them.”
Of course, living in New York means that it’s hardly difficult to make friends on the music scene. Hynes decided to move to the Big Apple two years ago – yet his music has retained its British characteristics, not least because of that clipped, well-spoken voice. That said, his second solo album Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You is undoubtedly a progression from the folk-based songs of his debut, which was produced by folk demi-god Mike Mogis. This time around, Hynes decided to work with Ben Allen, a producer associated with the more bombastic sounds of Animal Collective and Gnarls Barkley – although the end product could hardly be classed as “experimental”.
“I have a checklist in my mind, and there’s stuff constantly being added to it,” he explains. “It’s a checklist of records I want to make, and I’m just working through it.
“It’s weird – there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve done that I don’t like, but I would never get rid of it. I think of my career as kind of like a diary. I really like the idea of trying stuff, and making music. I love music so much – to the point where I don’t take it seriously in the slightest! So I might have all these stupid, bad ideas, but I like the fact that you can have a bad idea, and you’ll still have music at the end of it.
“It was originally a really long album – it’s still pretty long, but it was originally longer. I just wanted it to be over the top and overarranged – crammed with too much stuff, almost. I wanted it to be like musical theatre, in a way, but also bringing in the classical side of things. I wanted to think about Todd Rundgren records from the 1970s, that kind of pop, and in the sense of musicals, really, in that they nod to so many genres, but never fully commit to one. I think melodies are so important, and I don’t really care for effects that much. I feel like you can get the point across without them . . . but a lot of music is made because of its aesthetic – the feeling it gives, rather than the sound. I’ve never been a fan of that, really. I just try to get to the point, quick and simple.
“I was also trying to tap into a sort of teenage emotion. I didn’t throw it in musically, more the idea of it – but I'm a huge fan of a lot of late 1950s and 1960s rock’n’roll – people like Del Shannon, Frankie Avalon. And I love the idea that all those records were kind of written for teenagers. The lyrics are always so dramatic, everything’s life or death. I was really just trying to make a really over-the-top teenage album.”
Hynes is a prolific songwriter; he casually mentions that he’s already written most of the next few Lightspeed Champion albums, and has just finished recording a record that will be released later this year under the name Blood Orange, which “sounds like Sade meets Prefab Sprout”. Unlike many musicians, studio time is a joyful escape for a man who says he is “deeply uncomfortable” with the “fame” element of his occupation.
“I always feel really good in the studio,” he says. “I’ve never been good about selling myself, and I feel bad about it. I feel really guilty about trying to get people to listen to it. I mean, I want people to listen to it, I just don’t wanna make them listen to it, if that makes sense. It’s something I’ve been trying to work out.”
Perhaps that lack of confidence is a result of Hyness newfound independence; Falling Off the Lavender Bridge gained plaudits for its guest collaborators (members of Cursive, Tilly and the Wall and Emmy the Great lent a hand), but there’s a distinct lack of guest collaborators this time around – although Hynes says that it wasn’t a deliberate statement of self-sufficiency.
“The thing with me is that I know what I can do and can’t do. I really enjoy writing, and I know the parts, and I know what parts I want to get. I’m also aware that people are masters of their instruments and can add things to the parts that I could never even dream of.
“The other side of that is that sometimes it’s just easier for me to go in and just do it,