Ever since I was first introduced to Devonís music, I have been really intrigued by him and, to be honest, I have sometimes thought that the person behind the music was quite disturbed on an emotional level. I thought that meeting and speaking to him would clear things up for me and at least let me decide why the music continues to haunt me once I have finished listening to it and makes me wonder what is really going in this personís mind.
Actually, speaking to him has actually made things worse, it has put even more questions in my mind. Let me explain: When going to meet Devon Graves, leader of the Dead Soul Tribe, I expected to see him sitting in some dark reclusive corner, with his head in his hands like Rodinís Le Penseur (we were in Paris, after all!).
Well, nothing could have been further from the truth, or so I thought, anyway. Devon was talkative, funny, expressive and outgoing. In fact, after the gig, which I was fortunate enough to see in a very odd club in Paris (that is another story!) Mr Graves was running around like an inquisitive schoolboy, which was fantastic for those who wanted their newly-acquired Dead Soul Tribe albums signed.
Somehow, though, I donít believe this is the only Ďfaceí of Devon - active extroverts donít tend to change their Second names to ĎGravesí too frequently. Happy-go-lucky types donít tend to pen albums with titles such as ĎA Murder of Crowsí. Maybe he is a man of extremes, maybe he releases all his negative energy and feelings through his music, thus cleansing his soul and leaving him to enjoy life. Who knows? However many interviews one has with him, I doubt one would have enough time to really get to know him. This is a partial insight into Devon Gravesí world and some of his thoughts on the new Dead Soul Album, ĎThe January TreeíÖ
GRTR!: I think the new album sounds a lot like 'A Murder of Crows', but it does seem to develop and progress throughout. Did you actually have ideas ready for this album when you wrote 'A Murder of Crows'?
Devon: Yeah. When I was working on the second album, I stumbled on a melody for 'The Coldest Day of Winter'. I was working on a different song at that specific time, but I liked this melody so much, that I kept it and now it is part of our new album. It is not an accident that some songs sound like our previous effort, because I think that when I made 'A Murder of Crows', I stumbled across my own style. It was kind of a breakthrough to me, because is seems to be the place where me, my new fans and my own fans seem to agree. That album did really well, so I thought that what I have here is where I have to reside. There is a formula to it, you know? It revolves around these tribal sonic rhythms.
The extra ingredient to our sound is that I lock two separate timings, one over the other, in some instances the bass counts to two or four, and the guitars counted to three, something that created a strange hypnotic timing. This is a formula that I now call Tribal Metal or Tribal Rock - whatever youíre more comfortable with. And yes, on both the second and third album I have embraced this style, which I have only started to explore - thatís why you get this sense of progression.
GRTR!: Since weíre talking about the rhythm, where did you manage to find Adel?
Devon: I auditioned a bass player and a drummer years ago, when I first moved to Vienna, and took them into this mock band. One day, as we were leaving this rented studio, Adel and some friend were coming in. The bass player I had with me at the time told me 'This guy plays the drums, this guy can really play', and I told him 'well, why isnít he here then'?
Anyway, I worked with this other guy for seven months, and he was in the conservatory. He could write down any note that I would ask him to play. He was really precise, but the music just didnít have it. It was missing something very important, and I knew that the problem was with the drummer. I never got over this, and I never forgot what Karl (bass) said about Adel, so I went to him and I said 'hey man, can you give me this guyís phone number'?
When we finally contacted him, Karl told me 'hey man, I donít think that this is going to work out. This guy hasnít even touched a drum kit for a year, and he doesnít even know whether he really wants to play anymore, but he said that he will come down'. We all met, sat in this room, and I knew right when he sat down and he just hit the stare drums I thought 'ok, here we go'. So I played the song called 'The Haunted' (note: taken from the bandís first album 'Dead Soul Tribe'-2002), just me and Karl, and I told Adel 'donít worry about what to play, Iíll just play the part and you can play whatever you want'. He, of course, didnít play the song the way I had written it, but believe me it was so much better. I just stopped right in the middle of the song and I told him 'hey, do you want to be in a really good band?', and he just sat in his chair chewing his chewing gum, nodding his head. For days I would wake up being so happy just for having met him - now heís like my best friend.
GRTR!: Do you think that this is a good band then?
Devon: I think that this is the best band in the world (laughs).
GRTR!: About the new album: has the media attention towards 'The January Tree' been as you wanted it to be? Are you satisfied with the reception of it?
Devon: I donít want to say that itís the best one yet, but I donít really know how to take the media. I think that I really have the wrong attitude about it, because my record label is saying 'hey man, it is doing so great' - it is number three in the Metal Hammer magazine, and also number three in the Rock Hard magazine...ok, so who is number one and two then? (laugh) Iím laughing, please write that he laughs while he says that (laughs).
GRTR!: Is it really such an important issue for a guy who has also played in a band like Psychotic Waltz whether he is number one or fifteen in the charts?
Devon: Well, you know...I donít really think in these terms, but the truth is that when you find yourself at number three, you are really curious to find out who is at numbers two and one. What I notice is that we have this appeal that is quite consistent, because we seem to be number three everywhere, but bands that are number one in one magazine, are number eight in the other, you know? I find that we appeal across the world to a very wide audience.
Now we are doing support for a group like Threshold, and hopefully we will manage our way to at least half of their crowd. Last night a guy came up to me and said 'I came here to see Threshold, never heard of you guys before, and when I saw you guys play...wow!' I think that numbers are flattering if the numbers are some of the very first ones and stuff. I think that anyone would be lying if they said that they didnít want to have them, but they are not in my mind when I make songs. I just want to touch people, I just want to reach them and it doesnít really have anything to do with what number I reach or how much money I make or whatever.
It has to do with the feeling that I get to have in this life, and the more you get to know me, the more you see what Iím talking about when Iím saying this.
GRTR!: Ok, to continue that idea about Threshold, itís just a personal curiosity of mine...Threshold have played in the United Kingdom quite recently, but your tour seems to have skipped the UK. Why is that? Is it just because you donít like playing in England?
Devon: Oh no! It wasnít our choice. Iíve never been to England, and Iíd really want to go. Well, my guess is that it was not cost effective to have us go all the way to England to begin with. Perhaps they thought that it would be better for us to meet Threshold in Germany and start our common tour from there. Maybe they didnít want to see us beating them up in front of their friends...no, Iím just joking (laughs).
GRTR!: Another personal curiosity of mine, for which I have my theory as to why you did it: why did you include 'Just like a Timepiece' in the new album?
Devon: Your theory is correct (laughs). Listen to the 1993 version and listen to the version now, and you will find the answer for yourself.
GRTR!: What audience and in which country have you found to be the most enthusiastic so far?
Devon: It has been really good in Hungary, but it has been absolutely unbelievable in Greece, and there is no question about that! I have talked to our Greek fans about this and I said 'what do you think it is' and I had a very interesting answer from one guy who said 'itís because weíre really passionate people, and weíre not afraid to express our feelings'...it was a really good answer!
GRTR!: So you definitely wouldnít shy away from going to Greece again.
Devon: No, no I look forward to it. You know we played one concert there in Athens, and it took me two weeks to get over that feeling you know? I got home with tears in my eyes, because I...this is what Iím talking about, this is what I want out of this. This feeling is just unbelievable, and it either starts from the band or from the crowd - Iím not really sure. Then it reflects backwards and forwards and it grows, it grows, it grows... This happens to a certain degree in every concert that we play. I donít expect it so much tonight - I have only played a couple of times in France, and people here seem to be quite indifferent. Theyíve never seen Dead Soul Tribe, but theyíve seen Psychotic Waltz and I donít think that they could have cared less! Maybe they really enjoy it and hold their excitement in and donít want to express it... I donít know, I really donít know. They should though, because there is something missing when the power doesnít form. Everybody leaves high - everybody leaves feelings the next day and has changed a little bit I think.
GRTR!: Well, it is the same for us in the audience when people are just standing, sort of blankly looking at the stage.
Devon: You know, they get the same show - I still do my thing, but it might seem a bit inappropriate because Iím a really passionate performer. If I have to act that way and sweat in front of a standing crowd with scowling faces Iíll do it!
GRTR!: What do you personally get out of playing or writing music? Do you feel like it is a good way of expressing your inner self, or do you want to use it as a podium in order to express your opinion and ideas on things?
Devon: I guess that itís a little bit of both. The music is the vehicle for the lyrics, and the lyrics are what can convey us - whatever message I may have. The melodies convey the feelings of this message, but in all...I say again...all the wealth that you will obtain in this life will not be found on your bank account - it will be found in your heart. Everybody realises that when they come to the time when they know that they are going to die. This is when you realise what life is really all about! Itís not about what you gain, itís not about what you can buy - itís about what you have felt in this life, and playing a concert for example is one of the greatest sources of joy, itís really overwhelming! Itís unbelievable, and Iím so fortunate that I get to spend my life doing this.
Every step of my life is in pursuit of some kind of feeling, you know? I think that this is the same way for everybody, but they may not even realise it. When people go to school and they study to get a real job, what theyíre really doing is that theyíre making a plan which they think that will lead them to happiness. I think that theyíre carrying their happiness wherever they go, and they could be searching the wrong way for something that they have been carrying all along. Music is one way of proving that itís inside you, and if you feel such a feeling by listening to music then you are opening a gift that has been inside you all along.
Everything is about energy - energy that resides in you and energy that resides in me. There are of course other ways to do the same thing, but this one is the best in my opinion.
GRTR!: Have you witnessed a change in your songwriting since you moved to Austria?
Devon: I do a lot more of it (laughs), because it has become my job when I moved to Austria, you know? I finally got to the position when I can make a living out of this, so I concentrate on it now a lot more. I donít know if it has changed, I just think that is has developed. I still believe that some of my best music I wrote fifteen years ago. I wrote a song twenty years ago that is the biggest ovation getter that we ever had from Psychotic Waltz till now. This three chord song called 'I Remember'. This is really something to have never been famous, to never have been a star and to have a song that has lasted that long...it only occurred to me about a year ago. Pop stars, most successful bands donít even get that, so...I donít know about change, because I still mean that song today and I still love it today, and Iíll play it tonight. Itís all part of me and it is just a journey that continues and continues!
GRTR!: A question about Psychotic Waltz now. There were a few releases under the name of the band, and Iím referring to 'Live Archives' and 'Dark Millennium' that the band has not approved of...
Devon: 'Dark Millennium' was approved by the rest of the members - I was the only one that didnít approve of it. My only objection about those two releases was quality control. The fans loved it evidently, but I wonít even listen to it - I have never done so. It was just a way of somebody in the band to get some money to pay for a certain obligation of his. Same applies with the re-issues if you plan of asking me about that too. I think that Norm got a chance to re-issue those records, and he did it without my permission. I wouldnít have objected since these records should be out there. I think that he did it because he needed some money for something that occurred, and I hope that it paid them back - itís not a problem for me. Itís just that I now have to sign them all... (laughs).
GRTR!: Well, we actually never bought them, because we didnít know whether you would have approved of that.
Devon: I wish that more people were like you!
GRTR!: Your recent participation in Ayreon. What was that about? Did you enjoy working with all those different musicians?
Devon: Oh God, it was the most fun I ever had in doing a project. I never knew him - I didnít know who he was and I wasnít in all about working with Ayreon how everyone expected me to be, cause I simply didnít know him! I agreed to do it because of the level of quality...he sent me an e-mail saying 'do you want to do this'? I said 'I donít know' because a lot of people ask me and if I like the music I say yes. I think that he sent me the song 'Into The Electric Castle'... it wasnít really the music for me, but it was so well done! I really donít know how he manages to find all those really talented people...with the calibre of the musicians that he was working with, I was actually quite honoured for having him ask me.
It just seemed like something really good to get involved with. He sent me my parts for 'The Human Equation', which he kind of done on his own. He made something like demo versions where he sang by himself, and if you were to send me something like this right away I would have agreed 'no problem'. This was very different from all the older albums that he sent - this was something like listening to 'The Wall' from Pink Floyd or something. I went and spent three days at his studio, and I feel like I made such a wonderful friend with him.
Heís so funny, and we share the same stupid sense of humour! There was nothing else there but laughing and recording. He is also very cool at the way he produces, mainly because he knows what he wants, but at the same time he encourages your ideas. When he likes your idea, he is really happy about it...he is really such a wonderful guy!
GRTR!: Letís talk about another wonderful guy here: have you ever met Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull?
Devon: I have never met him, but I wish that I could!
GRTR!: What would you like to ask him if you had the opportunity to meet him?
Devon: On my God, I donít know! Iíd ask him if itís ok that I play the flute the way I do, because I pretty much rip him off (laughs). Iíd play him 'Black Smoke and Mirrors' and Iíd ask him if I owe him any money (laughs). I would like to know his opinion - I never ask peopleís opinion, but I would like him to offer it.
GRTR!: Do you have a message to the fans and the musicians that admire your music?
Devon: I do! Itís all in there (he shows me The January Tree). You read the lyrics, and you will find whatever message that I have to give -itís there. Also, some of the things that I said in this interview, when I talked about the quality of your life and what creates that - I think that itís really important. I donít think that I have anything else to add - I have talked too much anyway (laughs).
GRTR!: Thank you very much Devon for doing this interview!
Devon: Thank you, Emily.
Interview © 2004