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A Quietus Interview

Lightspeed Champion Dev Hynes Interviewed: Nice To Meet You!
The Quietus , November 5th, 2009 06:15

Stevie Keen was delighted to hear that Lightspeed Champion were about to release a new album early next year so she piled down to Abbey Road Studios to have a word with Dev

Lightspeed Champion, AKA Dev Hynes, has had a busy year. His new single 'Marlene' is due out in January and his second album, Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You, is set to follow in February. He’s also got plans to record and tour his side-project, Blood Orange, tasters of which have been appearing on his website.

Becoming more open on the subject of his synaesthesia — a condition that allows him to ‘see’ music as shapes or colours — he’s commented that it makes composition relatively easy for him so he feels the need to impose ‘rules’, to make it a challenge.

We caught up with him at Abbey Road Studios, where he was busy with the mastering of the follow up to Falling Off The Lavender Bridge, where he was keen to talk about X-Factor, country rock and being an Englishman in New York.

So who has collaborated with you on the new Lightspeed album?

Dev Hynes: It’s weird. I have various kind of rules for the album, so the rule this time was I wanted to write everything but not necessarily play. I wanted the same group of people to play all the way through the album so different personalities came across so it was more like a band in the sense of older records, well older solo records where someone writes it all and they sing but then they’ve got this really good band behind them, I wanted something like that. I don’t know if it did, yeah it did. The guys in Spacecamp, they played all the way through the album. But due to time and constantly having to just get stuff down it became different. I really wanted to not play on the album but ended up having to. It’s difficult because I intentionally try to write difficult parts that I physically couldn’t play, which is why I wanted other people to play. So what ended up happening was a lot different. I played a lot of piano and organ stuff on the album and I’d end up doing guitars and I even did like some drums on the album and it kept transforming. The guy that produced it was a guy called Ben Allen, he recorded like the Gnarls Barkley record and like Mace and Lil’ Kim and stuff. He actually had just done Animal Collective’s record just before this one and so yeah it’s a good sound, I feel good about it.

Was the album recorded quickly intentionally or was it due to time constraints?

DH: Well we kind of just had to, but it’s good because I have a really short attention span. So it’s good in that sense but it led to months of laborious work, but everyone did their best and it sounds cool, I think. It’s an interesting sounding album.

I’ve heard that you’re working with Diana Vickers, is she on your album?

DH: She’s not on my album no, that’s another rule. I wanted it to be one male voice and then have a group male voice around it, because last time I really wanted it to be one male one female kind of thing so that’s why Emmy The Great sings, kind of like Gram Parsons, Emmy Lou, Stephen Mackie thing. But with this album I wanted an English feel to the album. If you think of Queen and stuff like that, I wanted that male vocal with a group of lads behind it, that kind of feel. So she’s not on the album but the weird thing was they approached me to just write songs, which I’m happy to do. I’ve written songs for a few other people and I want to do it a lot more, so I did a couple for her, they’re not finished yet but I keep meaning to get to it. But they’re interesting songs they’re kind of, I don’t know how to describe it but interesting, slightly orchestral. She’ll be cool I think.

What did you think of her on the X-Factor?

DH: I didn’t see it. I missed like all of it, which might be a good thing, maybe. I try to not look up stuff so I can kind of not be subconsciously biased or anything. I have no idea what she was like on the show at all.

So when you go to write a song do you have an exact idea of how you want it to sound or does it change as you go along?

DH: I actually know how I want it to be. I kind of envision it, I can write it in my mind and then lay it out however, so I can kind of write in those forms. like sometimes I’ll just write it down with no instruments and sometimes if there’s just like a keyboard I’ll just write it on a keyboard, but for the most part I know exactly how it’ll all sound and I’ll just do it, but sometimes it changes.

On your blog you talk about your synaesthesia, does this mean you have a picture in your head of how the song will be?

DH: Yeah that’s usually what it is. I just kind of work it out in my head and I just put it down. I guess it’s lucky, in a sense because I really don’t need much. I used to just write with a laptop so I can physically put in the notes and then I upgraded to like a mini Oxygen 8 keyboard. That’s pretty much how I write, it’s quite strange but it tends to work out for the most part.

You also said that you find composition relatively easy so you impose ‘rules’ on yourself, what rules have you imposed for this album?

DH: Yeah so for this Lightspeed album I wanted to flood it with ideas to just keep going past the point where you’d normally stop yourself and I wanted a British theme so I listened to a lot of Michael Nyman, a British composer, who uses a lot of repetition in his compositions but there’s a royal feel to it all, like baroque even. There’s quite a few and they’re all weird.

Your new album sounds a lot more upbeat.

DH: It is a lot more upbeat, actually yeah that is something, it is a lot more upbeat and I wanted it to be kind of funny. it’s weird because with the old album, I haven’t quite placed it yet, some of it’s kind of sad and every time there’s a sad moment I try and make it funny. It was like a Brian Wilson thing, he said he wanted to make people laugh because it’s the purest emotion, that’s definitely something I wanted to do so hopefully people hear the moments that I think are hilarious. On the last album no-one noticed the lines that I did like, that I think are funny, so maybe my sense of humour isn’t as good as I thought.

Maybe it was too subtle?

DH: Yeah maybe, these words I think aren’t subtle, they’re funny words, but yeah it should be interesting.

Do you think living in New York has changed your sound?

DH: Kind of, I actually wrote most of the songs in New York not too long before the album was done. I changed my mind with what I wanted and decided to write new songs so there’s a lot of songs that haven’t been touched that were going to be on the album but I didn’t want them on there. I felt they were too about the place. it’s funny because it’s probably changed it in the way that I wanted it to sound really British. That was what I was really trying to do and I wrote a load of these like piano concertos and decided to only keep a few for the album. I get into phases of writing so things from that period tend to sound the same, so there was a point where the whole album was going to be covered in like these orchestral minute long things and I was like ‘No I can’t, they all sound the same, no I can’t do that’.

I was at one of your gigs in Bournemouth years ago when you said you wanted to be in a soul and funk band...

DH: Oh my god yeah. I think that’s actually going to be the next Lightspeed record [laughs], I’ve actually written two songs for it but I’ve got so much to do I’m just trying to put it off. I’m doing so many different albums, I can’t add another one, it’s not healthy. But I do want to do a soul and funk album, I really do. I want it to be in the same kind of vein as the I Want You Marvin Gaye album, which is like the one album that he didn’t write, but Marvin Gaye arranged it. So I want to do something like that, like percussion heavy.

The Blood Orange demo on your website is quite funky, is that where that sound comes from?

DH: Kind of, that one’s more like early eighties kind of funk and stuff like that. That was what I was kind of trying to strive for, like the last days of disco. That album, I’ve done just over 20 songs for it and I think I’ve actually got the track listing now and I’m going to record it within the next couple of months. I think that’s going to come out next year or something.

With the Blood Orange material, is that something you’re going to continue to work on but when it’s done it’s done or...

DH: Yeah, I think I’m going to tour it though. I’ve been playing Blood Orange shows in New York because I can just play them anywhere really. It just kind of works, one was in a garden, one was at a friend’s exhibition. But I feel the whole energy kind of works, the music can cross vibes. I think it’s just because it’s different music, it’s written with live in mind so it works with lights and stuff.

Why have you chosen to have Lightspeed as one thing and Blood Orange as another with a different name?

DH: I don’t know, I always do that. But the Blood Orange stuff is the biggest response I’ve had from people to stuff I’ve played, it’s different. I kind of even sing differently, much more calculated and it has its own life to it, but it’s weird because everything I do is just equal in my mind, like whether that’s Test Icicles or whether that’s Lightspeed, even like doing songs with Diana, it’s just always on the same level so I’m just trying to get that across. But I don’t know if it’s working. But this year’s been good, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve done and I forget it’s all coming up.

Is that just music work?

DH: Let me see if I can remember everything here, ok there’s a comic coming out in November for Control, Alt, Shift, which is this kind of charity that’s done this comic, graphic novel thing, it’s a collection so I’ve done a comic in that with my girlfriend Nicole and also there’s this competition I wrote a script for the shortlisted people to do and I’m judging that with Marjane Satrapi who did Persepolis and it’s going to be launched and there’s going to be an exhibition in November, then I wrote a story, a book called Loops which is coming out bi-annually by Faber and Faber, and then I’ve done a t-shirt design, a t-shirt of Steve Martin and Marvin Gaye performing together and then the Blood Orange album and then I’m also writing this album for two cellos to perform, which I’m going to do at some point, I don’t know what to call it. I’m really opposed to using my name so I don’t want to do that, so I might call it Lightspeed just because I can’t think of anything else and yeah, that’s going to be performed at something, it might be a photo thing I’m doing, but that’s pretty much it. I feel like there’s more but my mind can’t calculate it all.

Do you think you’ll ever just stop and take time out?

DH: That’s the thing, this year was my time out but it doesn’t happen. I just want to write a lot more whether that’s story lines, comic lines or musically. I kind of just tag-team things on the wall in my room ‘till they’re completed so yeah it’s all cool, it’s all interesting.

You posted a cover of '(He’s) The Great Imposter' on your website and said it does everything you wanted to do with Blood Orange, what was it about that song that appealed?

DH: It’s more like oriental melodies and different kind of chord structures and melodies. I’m just trying to sprinkle that across everything because when it clashes with more traditional western melodies it’s just a scary, interesting feel, like it just pulls something and it’s weird because that 'Great Imposter' song does and there’s moments in it that are just like ‘oh my god, it’s just crazy’. It’s just a crazy song and it’s just the kind of thing that I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to put in the kind of disco feel because I just feel like mixing all of those and it’s really nice to listen to. So yeah that 'Great Imposter' song really blew my mind when I first heard it, it was so fun to cover, I’ve got an iPhone and it’s actually the only song on it. The original not mine, I wouldn’t listen to mine.