Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Kevin Devine is such an avid fan of the New York Mets that he named his first band Miracle of 86 in honor of that baseball club's surprising victory overthe Boston Red Sox in that year's World Series.
But Devine is far more than a fan of The Great Game. He's an astute songwriter with a knack for merging personal and political concerns into heady, literate songs that just drip with significance. Beginning with 2002's Circle Gets the Square and continuing with the recently issued Between the Concrete and Clouds, Devine has created a fascinating body of work that fruitfully mixes folk music with indie and alternative rock.
Speaking from his tour van and in anticipation of tonight's show at Dada, Devine spoke to DC9 about his love of all things Nirvana, as well as his takes on the baseball playoffs and next year's presidential election.
Why did you decide to cover the entire Nevermind album by Nirvana and make it available as a free download?
I think the reason is kind of simple: That record is pretty much the skeleton key for me. I am 31, and I was 12 when that record came out. That was the record that made me want to play music in any kind of way. I don't think I would even be talking to you if that album hadn't come out. When I recorded my version, it was a way to have a lot of fun and revert to my teenage years.
Have you heard the recent four-disc reissue?
I've heard some of the Butch Vig mixes and a bunch of the demos. I just prefer listening to the original album. All the extra stuff is cool, but I feel like they are kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel at this point. Whatever is worth hearing is already out. I don't think there can be much more out there. With Nirvana, we may be at the saturation point.
Can you believe it been nearly two decades since Kurt Cobain's death?
It sure feels closer than that. For people my age, with our type of emotional complexion, Cobain was our guy. It was like he signed a contract to be our representative. The contract gets broken because the dude didn't want to sign it in the first place. He had his own drama. I think his death was a cautionary tale about celebrity and the fragility of the human psyche. His death cast a pall over many of us. Cobain certainly had a great cultural impact.
Your music has been described as indie rock, alternative rock and folk rock. Do you care for any of those labels?
I think it's probably indie rock. Most of my career has been as an independent artist. However, I did make a record for Capitol Records that was a failed experiment. It wasn't a problem creatively, but it didn't get me on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. I think parts of my music can be folk, and parts can lean toward punk or something more abrasive, and parts nod a little towards country. They are ultimately just songs. I think what I perceive as a strength is probably perceived as a massive pain in the ass for anyone who is asked to market my music.
I understand that you are a big baseball fan, specifically of the Mets. Since they didn't make the playoffs, will you now cheer for the Rangers?
I know that this won't curry any favor in Dallas, but I was charmed by the Tampa Bay Rays because it a small market team with little money. They came out of nowhere to get into the playoffs. But you guys got a good club! I would like Milwaukee to make it to the World Series since it's been 30 years since they got in. Those guys can hit. Everyone on the Brewers can hit, but I don't know if their pitching will hold up. I am not invested with any of the remaining four teams. I don't want to talk about the Mets. That's another whole interview that would take two days.
You majored in journalism in college. Did that have any kind of influence on your songwriting?
I think so. More than anything, that course of study was about critical thinking, about training yourself to see both sides of an issue. I think the best songwriters are the ones who have the most capacity for empathy and who can inhabit the people they are writing about. Sometimes, this can take you to some uncomfortable places. I find those kinds of places fascinating. I think the curiosity that journalism fosters helps me have the willingness to seek out both sides. I hope that's representative in my songwriting.
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You don't shy away from political issues in your songwriting. Do you have a prediction for who will face Obama in 2012?
I am not sure yet. But, whoever it is, whether it's him or her, they are going to have a lot of questions to answer. There are a lot of discontented people on the right and on the left. These are people who are not having their questions answered by either major party. I, for one, think that it is an exciting time. The conversation needs to be broadened. I don't think these two parties represent most people. Whoever wins the election will have a lot of explaining to do.
What do you think about the associate of Rick Perry calling Mormonism a cult?
If people use those [religious] traditions in a positive way, I think that is great. If they use them in a way to smother people and keep them down or cast judgment on them, then that is not right. I am not a religious guy, but I don't want to belittle people who are. I don't know how you could choose which religion is more cultist than the next. I think that more recent religions, like Mormonism and Scientology can come across as more cultist, but they have a limited history. Many other religions have had thousands of years to saturate and we just accept them a little bit more. I am not behind any candidate who is going to advocate policy choices based on his or her God. I am great with people having a relationship with spirituality in their personal lives, but I don't think you can legislate from that place. Romney does seem like a pretty uninspiring guy. And Perry seems like he just can't get out of his own way. It's almost like a war of attrition to see who will screw up more.