- Thu, 2010-11-18 12:43
James Devlin grew up in Dagenham, and when his dreams to become a footballer didn't quite work out, he turned to his next passion; music. Lining up alongside a host of UK urban MCs and producers including Ghetts, Wretch 32, Scorcher and DJ Unique, Devlin attempted a full album release a few years back following his debut 2006 mixtape Tales From The Crypt. This first attempt didn't quite work out, and instead ended in mixtape number two, The Art Of Rolling.
Regular slots on Flava and Rinse FM saw Devlin's profile as a smart, current, witty MC rise. The start of 2010 saw Devlin named one to watch in the BBC's annual 'Sound of' list and following an August release of his debut single Brainwashed, Devlin's debut album Bud, Sweat and Beers was released in November.
I Like Music caught up with Devlin to find out how he feels now his debut is out, who his biggest musical inspirations are, what it's like working with Labrinth and why he's made no plans for the future.
"I Like Music because… good music is timeless.” Devlin
ILM: How are you?
Devlin: I'm good. Very busy.
ILM: It's been a mad year for you...
Devlin: I know. It feels like it was christmas last year only five minutes ago. It's proper gone quick.
ILM: What have been some of the highlights for you?
Devlin: Signing the contract. Doing 1Xtra Live, doing the MOBO's, that was massive. This album coming out as well.
ILM: How does it feel to have the album finished?
Devlin: It feels like a relief really, do you know what I mean? There's been a lot of hard work, a lot of people have worked hard around me to get it out. It's out. It's out now. It definitely feels like a weight off my shoulders. We can promote this album then get back in there for album two.
ILM: London City has now had over 2 million views on youtube...Where were you at when you were making that record? Have you changed since?
Devlin: We was independent then. We was doing those videos with 360 and my management team, we was getting all the videos out. I wasn't signed then. So that really got a lot of attention when we shot London City. That's when the label showed interest when they saw how many youtube hits I'd had. From there really, the change is that it got me signed. Now it's a year later. I can't believe it is a year later! It's just crazy. The progression has been tremendous really.
ILM: How would you describe your process of writing? Has that changed?
Devlin: I just like to write anyway. I find I like to be in a quiet place on my own or in the studio, working off the vibe of a new piece of music in the studio. That can trigger me off. I like to sit down and have a real good think about what I'm going to write about. Literally, current affairs, things that are in my mind, things that I've got opinions on. Stuff that's happened to me in my life and things I've seen, I just try and write about them. To keep it real to me self. That's it. I can't tell you...there's no great big formula. I just try and stay focused and stay current really. I always try and put my heart into my writing, I always try and do my best.
ILM: Do you complete whole songs easily? Or do you keep notes, keep editing certain elements?
Devlin: Sometimes you find you can just write a track, it'll come to you quite easy. I could have a track written in half a day, three hours sometimes. Other times, you'll write a verse and chorus and it'll be a bit tricky. You'll have to come back to it, so I might leave it for a week or a few days. Then I'll come back and finish. It dependes really. Sometimes I have an easy time, when my brain wants to work for me.
ILM: Did you have a lot of tracks to chose from for the album? How did you decide?
Devlin: We've made so much music over the last year, we had a big selection to chose from. In the end we just had to narrow it down. I sat down with my manager and team, I had songs that I preferred. We just sat down and tried to make it as strong as possible. We got a load of music that we didn't use, so we got a load of left-overs for B-Sides, Mixtapes, maybe even a second album. But yeah, we made a lot of music, sat down and tried to select the best of everything.
ILM: What were some of the highlights whilst putting the album together?
Devlin: The album Bud Sweat and Beers...that was really the equation for it! We had long nights and hours in the studio, grafting away, and that is what we come up with. I tried to take the pressure off myself. To enjoy it and write about stuff I wanna write about. Somehow or another we pulled through. Over scrutinising is bad sometimes. I just try and enjoy my music. We tried making the album before a couple of years ago, it didn't work. I don't think I was ready. So we put out a mixtape called The Art of Rolling. This time, I think I'm ready. I think I've learnt enough, I'm in a good position and I was ready. Hopefully people like it.
ILM: How would you describe the process in the studio with certain tracks?
Devlin: I remember on Brainwashed, I re-vocaled the verse about a thousand times. I was saying to my boy Lewi, I need to get this tight, I need to get this tight. I just did it over and over. I can also say, the one song that really means a lot to me on the album is Finally, with me and my boys Dogs and Ghetts. They're the two people that I've come up with over the years, so that song...that's a bit emotional. That song means a lot to me.
ILM: Out of all the people you've worked with, who have been some of the most inspiring?
Devlin: My boy Lewi White, definitely. Labrinth... It's just been a pleasure working with everyone really, everyone is so talented in general so...
ILM: What was it like working with Labrinth?
Devlin: Labrinth is so full of energy. You have to be productive in that studio! There is so much energy around him and ideas. It's a pleasure to work with the man, there's never a dull moment. We got a little beat going, he got a little beat going rather, and yeah man, I hadn't really done a song about women as such, or talking about subjects like that. So we just done the tune. Thank goodness it come out well. It was an absoulte pleasure to work with Labs.
ILM: Who do you listen to? Who are your biggest inspirations?
Devlin: I respect so many artists. From Bob Marley to Eminem, to drum and bass to garage. I just love music in general. I can't say I idolise anybody, I just have a lot of respect for a lot of people. I listen to lots of music.
ILM: What do you think of the UK music scene at the moment?
Devlin: I think it's brilliant. There's a lot of new artists that are blowing up and I've come up with them over the years in the underground scene anyway. So...just to see people that have worked hard without much at all really, cracking on and getting success, they deserve it. All the new people breaking through deserve it. I think the UK music scene is looking strong at the moment.
ILM: How do you balance mainstream success with your underground roots?
Devlin: I don't think there's much to balance. I just try and keep respect for what I do. If I can have respect for my music when I walk out the studio, then I'm happy, do you know what I mean? People seem to like what I'm doing. I don't really scrutinise what I'm doing so much, I just try and do it. I'm not looking to change the equation too much, I'm not looking to switch things up really. I've done quite well off the back of what I've been doing so, as long as people keep showing love for me, I'm just going to keep doing it.
ILM: How are you finding fame? Are you getting recognised now? Has that changed much this year?
Devlin: Yeah definitely has. I can definitely say I'm getting recognised a lot more. It's good. You got your pros and cons, haha. It's hard sometimes when you're out and you're just trying to get something to eat. But to see that many people supporting, again, that's only a blessing.
ILM: What would be your advice to younger artists that look up to you?
Devlin: If you definitely wanna do this, then you got to get serious about it. Dedicate to it and be prepared to make a lot of sacrifices. Be prepared for a rough ride, that's all I can say. But if you're focused on doing it, just like anything, you've got to work hard and it will come.
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Devlin: Been listening to my boy Ed Sheeran, he's very taleneted. I've been listening to old school Slim Shady. Diana Ross! Haha! Everything mate! I been listening to my album a million times!
ILM: What are your future plans? Where do you see everything going next?
Devlin: Do you know what? We're making no plans at the moment. There's no need to plan. All we do is keep going on how we been going on. Working hard. That's it man. Respect the music and keeping the work rate. Try to keep fresh ideas coming and that's it. There's no trends over here. I'm just going to work hard and keep my head down.