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Artist Spotlight: Devin Kennedy talks debut album and finding his creative spark

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Devin Kennedy’s music is on the verge of global attention- after four new singles, a successful winter tour supporting Daniel Seavey and his debut album out this summer, the multi-genre savant is on his way to well-deserved recognition. We spoke with Kennedy about his upcoming album, future tour plans and making music with no pressure.

Atlas Artist Group: The first three singles from your upcoming album are out- how did you decide that these three were going to be the first taste of your new album?

Devin Kennedy: It’s really step by step- I’m independent, we’re on the fly and we’re just a lean and mean team. We’re very agile with our decisions based on what’s happening in my world. I’ve been working on this album since last fall and through the fall I was just home really writing and producing everything and trying to finish as much as I could going into the new year and I did not have it done going into the new year because nothing ever happens on time like that.

I ended up going on tour with Daniel Seavey in January and at the tail end of that tour, it just felt like I needed to get a new song out. I looked at- what do I have done already, what do I really love from this upcoming album? The song that was the most far along that I had in a place to actually release was “Love You Anymore”, which was my first single of the year. When we were on the road, I just decided to play it for the fans one night just in DC just like let’s see what happens.

These fans don’t necessarily know who I am, they don’t necessarily know my music, but let’s see what the reaction is here with the song. It was completely mind-blowing. They were hanging on every line. They didn’t even know my music before they walked into that building, and they definitely don’t know this song and for them to be so excited and so passionate about the song…it was really an amazing moment for me.

The second I walked off stage, I said to my manager, “we have to put it out, when’s the fastest we can put this out?” So that one came out a little earlier than anticipated, just coming off the tour and everything. That was in January and seemed like the right song to lead with and then we came back and we shot a bunch of music videos and we were kind of figuring everything out. If I had it my way, I think I’d release every song as a single but I am excited to put out the album and I just chose my favorite ones off the top.

 I’m putting out a few of my favorite songs I’ve ever made. “Frequent Flyer” is coming out this week, which is- I think I’m gonna say right now- it’s my personal favorite though it’s always changing. I love “Fine Wine” and “As Is” as well and we paired those with some super cool videos that I was excited about too.

Atlas: You mentioned a bit of this already, but what was the creative process like for this album?

Kennedy: Like I said, I went and started the album in the fall with a few friends. I wrote a few of the songs earlier in the year, but really just focused on writing a lot of the songs [with] just acoustic guitar first and focusing on getting lyrics right- writing from a title and building a whole story around the song. Then the production is like a whole other thing that takes like 10 years after that. We were writing a lot of the songs through the fall- we went away to Joshua Tree for a little bit with the same crew that I’ve been writing a lot of my music with. We went away with a lot of just beats and track ideas to write to and then just a lot of titles and different concept ideas.

Right when we got there, all of that went out the window and we were like, okay, well let’s just write something. We’re in this whole isolated kind of moment [and] feeling in the desert which you can’t really feel unless you’re there. It inspired a whole different feeling in the music and we just didn’t use anything that we had prepped before we went there. The process there was really focusing on writing super meaningful songs and only writing a song if it felt like the story was worth writing- not just writing to write. 

And that was the process. After we wrote everything, I would say we came back from the desert with about 75% of the lyrics and melodies written out and chords and such. Then we come back and spend three or four months producing the songs and building a whole other world around the world that is the song and trying to dress the lyrics and melodies up correctly with the track if that makes sense. A song can be made or ruined by the production sometimes. For me it’s just about going and going and going until I get it right- until I can get what I hear in my mind into the song.

Atlas: With all of your different training and skills in music, how did you end up landing on your sound and deciding that this is the direction you’re going to take?

Kennedy: I was doing a lot of rock music when I was younger. When I was in high school, I wanted to be in a pop punk band and things like that. I really grew up on that music. My first concert was Paul McCartney and my second concert was John Mayer. I’ve always really admired super musical, amazing solo artists and songwriters first. When I got into college, it really opened my mind to different genres and being open to you know, what does it look like if I’m not in a band anymore? What does it look like if it’s just me and what does that sound like? And it took some time to find that. I mean, I love all sorts of different music, but I gravitate towards songs first and that’s really how I’ve tried to mold my sound- writing a song that’s worth writing that I love the story of, and then building everything else around it.

For a while it kind of felt like I was chasing what I heard in other artists and now I just make it without thinking about what it sounds like. After it’s done I can view it objectively and decide whether it’s a me song or maybe not a me song.

Atlas: Can you give us any more spoilers for the album? What do you hope listeners take away from this body of work?

Kennedy: Spoilers are we’ve done a video for just about every song so there’s more videos coming out. One along with “Frequent Flyer” and then a few more with the album. Really was focused on the visuals for this album- brought on a great creative director to help put together the vision that I saw for the project and that really elevated the visuals. I’m really excited for everybody to see that.

I want people to find their own stories in the music. I think there’s a song for everybody on the album and there’s a lot of different feelings and a lot of different emotions. I would encourage everybody to listen to the whole thing and come to the conclusion of what they think is the story that they can gravitate to the most, because I think there’s a song for every kind of emotion on there. I’d be excited to hear what people gravitate towards after listening to the whole thing as opposed to singles.

Atlas: Are you planning on taking the show on the road when the album’s out? Do you have any show or tour plans?

Kennedy: Yeah, we’ve got a few things cooking right now. I’m excited to get back on the road this year. When I went out in January it was just an amazing experience to see everybody and go to new cities I’ve never been to before and meet so many new people. That is what I live to do. I would do it every day of the year if I could. I can’t wait to go back out there and do that. You could definitely count on me to never stop touring.

Atlas: When you’ve been writing a lot or for a while, do you ever get to the point where you need to spark your own creativity? How do you jumpstart that process?

Kennedy: Yeah, there’s a couple different parts of it. [With] going out and touring, it’s next to impossible to write on the road with just so many moving parts and pieces. That is a nice kickstart- really any time away from writing because when I’m home, it’s really all I will do. I will sit in my studio all day and I will make a song and then my day will end and I will do it again. So when I’m on the road, I can’t write and that’s nice because it turns that part of my mind off for a little bit and I can enjoy all this music I’ve been making and what I’ve been building. So that’s nice.

When I’m not on the road, it’s really, again, just time away from actively making music and just really living life. That’s not something that I’ve been really that good at in the last five years. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of refocusing my priorities in the last few years and knowing when I need time away or when I’m not necessarily feeling like I’ve got a lot of good ideas coming at any given moment. I might need a few days away. I might need to go hang with my family for a few days, you know? At the same time, I don’t really get into a mindset of writer’s block or I try not to be too critical of my own ideas. I try to just make stuff with no pressure and then view it after. It’s not necessarily that I don’t feel inspired at certain times, it’s just that everybody needs a break every once in a while.

Atlas: Do you have any final thoughts you like to share or is there anything you wish you got to talk about more that you might not get asked?

Kennedy: That’s a good question. I am putting out my debut album this year, and I’m very excited for everybody to hear it. What I just wanna make clear about my project…is I’ve always wanted to do exactly what I’m doing right now, which is have this be my job, make music, go play it live, and then just rinse and repeat. Right? What’s next for me is that I will never stop. It’s me- no one stands in my way. I’m independent, I’m just doing my thing here. I will always be me and you can see me at a live show as soon as possible.

This is the last single coming out this week, and then the album will be out June 8th and then [I’ve] already got the next songs on lock after that. So everybody stay tuned.

Stream “Frequent Flyer”, out now and watch for California Rain, coming June 8! 

Story by Olivia Khiel
Photo Credit: Bowen Moreno

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