Colin Devlin discusses his long-awaited second solo album, “High Point”
By Bob Gourley | Published on November 25, 2018
Having taken a step back from his solo career to start a family and work on other projects, Colin Devlin has returned with his long-awaited second album, “High Point.” Known for his atmospheric songs and nuanced vocals, Devlin initially earned acclaim during the 1990s and early 2000s as part of The Devlins (also featuring his brother Peter). The Devlins released four albums and had their music featured in many soundtracks, most notably “Waiting” in the first episode of “Six Feet Under.” They have occasionally reunited for concerts over the years.
In 2010, Colin released his first solo album “Democracy of One,” and earned a nomination for “Best Irish Male” at Ireland’s Meteor Music Awards that year. He received a Grammy nomination for his work co-writing several tracks for Janiva Magness’s 2016 album “Love Wins Again.” Returning to his solo work, Devlin once again worked with producer Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright).
It had been a while since your last solo album. Does “High Point” contain music spanning the years, or was it written more recently?
Colin Devlin: “Half the record was written within 2 months before the recording process and the other was written basically over the last 3 or 4 years. I think it was a situation where I’d written a lot of songs but these were my favorites. When you have a recording deadline scheduled and you know people are arriving and you know things are happening, you kind of go, ‘Oh god, let me see if I can just write some more and write the best I can.’ The closing track, ‘Lost in the Silence,’ was the last track written for the record. It was literally written a couple weeks before we started recording. You push yourself to try to make it as good as it can be. Obviously, there had been quite a long time between my first solo record and this one. I got married and had 2 kids and have been doing a lot of songwriting with other people and producing and other stuff. It seemed to me to be the right time to make a new record. Also, my record company, Blue Élan, were very keen for me to make it, too. So, there were a lot of different kinds of impetus get a move on.”
Did the newer songs prompt you to re-evaluate any of the older material?
Colin Devlin: “A few songs definitely fell by the wayside to make place for the new ones. ‘This Is Where We Are’ was written very close to recording and ‘Highpoint’ also. That kind of evolved in the studio. Sometimes a song will just work the way it is, and a lot of times we’ll completely change the song. The lyrics or melody probably wouldn’t change, but on a couple of songs, we just didn’t feel that any of the backing track was working as it should. So, we scrapped it. ‘Nostalgia’ was like that. Some things remained; it wasn’t completely lost, but basically, we felt that the very live recorded version we’d done in the studio didn’t really suit the mood of the song. So, we went back and reworked that one. On pretty much all the rest of the record, the basis of the songs is very much with the live band that we recorded in Los Angeles.”
Was it obvious that you wanted to work with Pierre again?
Colin Devlin: “I think so. We’d talked about it a couple of years ago. We’re also very close friends, so we talk quite often. He lives in Montreal, but I see him at last once a year, if he’s in LA or I’m in Montreal or whatever. We kept in contact and had planned to do it that way. But trying to get our schedules together was tricky. Peter, my brother from The Devlins, came over from Ireland, and Matt Chamberlin, the drummer who’s an old friend of mine, actually live just around the corner so that was easy. And then Jeremy, who also played with the Devlins years ago, is in a band called Fitz and the Tantrums. Luckily, they were off tour. We started to do the recording for the record and Pierre came down from Montreal. So, we were lucky that everyone’s schedules were free at that time to make it happen.”
What is it like working with Pierre as the producer?
Colin Devlin: “Because we’re very close friends, he’s not afraid to say if something isn’t working or if he doesn’t like something, which is great. It saves a lot of time. He works minute by minute, of what is happening in the room. He’s a very talented producer. He’s pretty hands-on in terms of how the song is going and how the structures are. He’s also a very good songwriter. We co-wrote some of the songs on a record together. He’s very musical and also a fantastic engineer and an amazing mixer. He’s quite humble with all those talents. I think his thing is that he likes voices and he likes to work with people whose voices he appreciates and people he likes personally.”
Could you talk about the videos you’ve made for the album?
Colin Devlin: “There’s ‘High Point’ and there are 2 others in the bag that are waiting to be edited. We shot a video for ‘Just a Fire’ and for ‘Highwire.’ A very close friend named Sebastian Lopez is a director, and he’s been a fan and a friend for many years. He’s a very successful commercial director in South America. He’s my visual collaborator in terms of videos, etc. So, I flew down there for a week and we managed to get 3 done. We were only planning to do one, but things were going so well and he talked to the crew to see who was going to be free the next day and the day after. And then I talked to the record company and we made it all happen very fast, which is always exciting and fun. He’s fantastic. I’m very lucky to have people that I’ve worked with over the years who are on the same aesthetic wavelength as me.”
How do you feel the shift towards online viewing has affected the music video as a medium?
Colin Devlin: “I think they are definitely being made a hell of a lot cheaper. So there is that difference, and it’s about being creative. It’s also very hard to get traction on any video. The ‘High Point’ video looks like it cost a lot of money. The way Sebastian and I work is that basically any budget we have will be put to the actual video as opposed to a fee for him. Obviously, everybody [on the crew] gets paid. In the past, I’ve done music for some of his commercials or short movies. I don’t charge him for those. So, we work it that way. He’s very generous with his time and his talents. For ‘High Point,’ because of the nature of the song, we didn’t feel it should be like a performance video. That why it is in this sort of natural black space. It fits the mood of the song, I think.
Your music has appeared on quite a few soundtracks – do you have any favorites?
Colin Devlin: “There are a few. The first of my favorite scenes would the scene in ‘Six Feet Under.’ In the pilot, the opening episode of the show, the whole last scene is basically ‘Waiting.’ I had spoken with the director and some people on the set afterward and they had basically just played the song all day and shot the scene around the song. That is the reason it works so well. The writer Alan Ball called me up in Dublin and said, ‘I’m just calling to make sure you allow me to use your song, because I’ve been writing the whole series to your record and it’s very important if I use it to call you personally,’ and I said, ‘Of course, of course.’ I had no idea at that stage of the success of the show. And then also an interesting one was the song ‘A World Outside’ in the movie “Closer.” It was a great scene because it’s basically Natalie Portman stripping; she plays a stripper. They go from The Prodigy into ‘A World Outside,’ which is kind of cool.”
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