“I’m excited about the Occupy movement,” says the politically-attuned songwriter. “To me, I choose to see America’s face in that – in the people down at Wall Street and Boston and all over this country that are standing up and saying: ‘we live in an inequitable system; we don’t have adequate health care; the political parties aren’t representing our interests, so we are not going anywhere until that changes’. That, to me, is – in a very elemental, root-oriented sense – America. That’s the beauty of America to me.
“How do I feel about America’s political existence,” Devine continues,” and what we do as a monolithic foreign policy giant or how the corporations have basically stolen the representational voice away from our Government process… how do I feel about the opposite end of radicalisation from the Tea Party or the disappointment that is the Obama presidency from a progressive vantage point – not great. I don’t think there’s a lot to be excited about, but I don’t think that’s America. I don’t believe that’s what most people want. What I see in those movements and what I see in those conversations with people every day on tour… that America’s really exciting and I’m proud to be a part of that, so I’m hopeful that we can keep moving forward with it.”
Much like Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes) – whom Devine has supported – the singer/songwriter writes emotive narrative-potent songs that delve deeply into social/political issues. One of the changes that Devine made for the writing of his sixth album, Between The Concrete & Clouds, was that he began with melodies and by multi-tracking ideas rather than going straight into the lyrics.
“I feel like it made the writing process more free write,” Devine ponders. “Writing in that fashion enabled me to access something a little more emotionally associative rather than intellectualise my lyrics. It felt more like painting colours and shapes or people, and I think it enabled me to ‘let go’ a little bit. I can be a little too over-thought sometimes, lyrically – words have always ping-ponged around my head. This process of having these structures that were non-verbal enabled me to get to this space where I might not have gotten otherwise, and I still think the songs are impactful and meaningful.”
Devine describes Awake In The Dirt as an exploration of how one person’s radicalism is another person’s terrorism, and one person’s American dream is another’s imperial nightmare. It’s his ability to incorporate all those ideas into the constructs of a pop song that renders him an extraordinary talent.
“I think that’s the cool challenge of the whole thing,” Devine enthuses. “You’re not lecturing at MIT with Noam Chomsky or a movement or a church or in front of some joint sectional congress; you’re writing pop music ultimately, so my thing is… I want the songs to be compelling melodically, structurally and arrangement-wise, and I want them to be sung and performed well; I want there to be deep harmonies, but I don’t want it to come across as a sermon. I want it to be something that sticks in your head.
“I’m not interested in music that’s explicitly political at the expense of the song. I’m interested in social movements and equity and people power, but I’m not interested in listening to someone harangue me tunelessly for eight minutes about it. The whole point for me is figuring out how to incorporate it all.”
On November 12, Devine will join the incredible line-up of Harvest Presents “The Gathering” at Werribee Park, featuring TV On The Radio, The Flaming Lips, Bright Eyes, The National and Portishead. “There’s no slouching on that bill,” Devine concurs. “To be included is an honour. You have to get up and bring your A-game ’cause they’re all gonna. I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”
Staying true to his principles, the first US tour for Between The Concrete & Clouds saw Devine and the Goddamn Band (yes, that’s the name of his band) partner with progressive social organisations including MECA (Musician’s Energy Conservation Alliance), Downtime, Food Not Bombs and Invisible Children.
“We were kind of the guinea pigs for MECA,” Devine relates with fervour. “We were the first band to utilise this technology on tour, which has been developed by one of the guys from OK Go (Andy Ross). You can look for locally-sourced restaurants, farmers’ markets, more eco-conscious food choices and also things like bio-diesel fuel stations – alternatives to the highway culture to counter the wasteful and unhealthy lifestyle of touring.
“Food Not Bombs is an international, pretty radical movement started by Keith McHenry. We went down to occupy Boston with him and performed some songs, and cleaned up some garbage around the camp and did some volunteer work there. What they do is in the face of police action, they feed homeless people in public places and connect the movement for eradicating hunger to the movement for eradicating warfare and inequitable power structure. I found him to be really inspiring, and we’ve been handing out literature at the shows.
“Invisible Children is a group that raises awareness and money to eradicate child slaves and warfare, really heinous, ghastly stuff. It was a really cool tour to do that and engage with things that we believe in because it can get easy to be in a bubble on tour sometimes and this helped to keep that back.”