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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

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,

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