The first thing we notice about the multifaceted Devonté "Dev" Hynes — aside from the fact that he's fantastically well-dressed — is that he makes the most out of every moment. Over the past year, the New York-via-London artist has been behind such Internet-approved hits as Sky Ferreira's "Everything Is Embarrassing" and the entirety of Solange's latest EP. In addition to his work as a producer and songwriter, Hynes has also seen success as a solo artist, first as Lightspeed Champion and now under the moniker Blood Orange (years before he was a member of the now-defunct British band Test Icicles). Outside the realm of music, Hynes also has a laundry list of pastimes. Over the years, he's worked as a consultant for Jay Z's label Rocawear, drawn comics, and trained competitively as a soccer player. ("It's kind of what I was meant to be doing.") When we mention that he has an especially distinctive fashion sense, he just laughs and brushes it off with an, "I'm glad you think so."
Considering the amount of projects Hynes has been linked to (we probably haven't even scratched the surface), it's amazing that he can stay focused on one task at a time. The key could be that he attacks everything he does with the same breezy-pop sensibility. "Usually, I have no one in mind when I'm just writing. Sometimes I think about writing it for myself, but eight out of 10 songs I write are better sung by someone else," he says. In this way, Hynes can move from project to project while putting his stamp on everything he touches. Asked if he ever wished he kept more material for himself, he just shrugs. "I don't think I have, actually. I don't have a problem with giving a song to someone else who wants it."
Right now, though, Hynes is channeling most of his energy toward finishing the new Blood Orange record, which is set to drop later this year via Domino. "I just want my album to come out," says Hynes, who earlier in the week had been skateboarding around the city, playing an unmixed version of the record for fans. (Seriously, how does this guy have time for all this?) We caught up with Dev in Tompkins Square Park, where we chatted about what inspires him, his heroes, and the philosophy he's developed while working in the industry over the years. "Just have fun," he says. If only it were so easy.
Taking It Easy
"I guess I only recently realized that music is something that I could actually make a living out of. Before…I don't want to say it was a hobby...I was always just playing cello, or piano, or guitar. But, it's only now that it’s ended up being what I am doing. Still, I’ve learned not to take being a musician too seriously. Sometimes, you go in the studio with some people, and they're pulling their hair out and freaking out. You just have to explain to them that it's just music! It's completely important, but it's also not important. You could change someone's life if someone loves it, but if you don't — if that doesn't happen — no one is going to die from you not completing your vocal take."
Songwriting With Synesthesia
"I guess I just try and make what is most pleasing to me, palate-wise. A few years ago, it used to be more — not mechanical — but more like a checklist of things I wanted musically. Not necessarily what I see as pleasing to myself. Nowadays, it's kind of completely selfish. Just colors and textures that are soothing to me."
"I’d consider myself more of a songwriter than a producer, I guess. I have a pretty particular production style, yes, but I care more about writing songs than I do about producing the songs. I'm happy to have other people produce songs that I've written, but it's usually just quicker for me to produce it and play all the instruments. That said, I don't usually have a problem giving my songs to other people."
“If I think a song’s not working out, I tend to leave it. Then it gets rehashed and used in some other way. I try not to stress out about it. It's kind of rare that I'll start working on a song, and it will be unfinished. I always just finish it; even though, I probably shouldn't. Even if it's technically not right, I keep it as a song — a finished song — so I can go back to it and maybe rework it. Or I'll be in the studio with someone, and it will come up, and I can mold it to them, and I can use it as a skeleton to work with. I have probably touched 200 songs that haven't been released...of varying quality"
"I guess I actively surround myself with things that I really love, so it will always pour into what I'm working on. Just think about when you're fan. When you're younger, what the person looks like ties into your love for them in some way or another. Whether one is more important than the other, it just collectively works. So, I dunno, it's not really anything I think about, but I can see how it influences me, because of the things I'm still a fan of."
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Grooming by Andrew Colvin.