Interviewing Devon Graves, frontman and leader of the unique atmospheric outfit Deadsoul Tribe, is one of the most intimidating experiences that any music journalist can ever expect to undertake. That's not because he is a difficult person to talk to - on the very contrary: Devon has so many interesting things to talk about, indulging in topics such as Music, Religion and life in general that it's easy to loose track of what is being said and of any sense of control over where you want the interview to end up!
For the benefit of our readers, seeing as this is a unique opportunity to understand a few things about this great artist, my colleague Emily Dgebuadze and I decided to provide you with the full script of the interview that took place at the Backstage area of Colos Saal (Aschaffenburg/Germany) on the evening of the 6th of December 2007. Enjoy!
John: Hi Devon, nice to do another interview with you. Let's begin by talking about the tour that you are currently undertaking. Are you satisfied with the reaction that you've so far been receiving?
Devon: Yes, the reaction is really good and I am happy about that. I'm not so sure I can differentiate the reaction to the new material over the 'old' live - I do not see a difference by what people tell me of the new album Everybody who has responded to that seems to have put it onto a whole new level, though, and that makes me really happy. As far as the gigs go, I think that they like all material equally.
John: You don't tend to go out on tour for a very long period of time and when you do, you normally tend to focus on Germany and the surrounding countries. Is that something deliberate from your side? Why do you not consider a wider European tour?
Devon: I think that it just has to do with our level of popularity at the end, or the lack thereof. We would tour for a year if there were enough places willing to book us and if we had a big enough audience. I just think that we haven't really broken through yet.
I suppose that we could play a lot more if we were to take lower fees, but the thing is that to tour you probably need more than a thousand Euros a day to pay for the bus and the crew and so you have to find venues that can at least pay that. We are at this level where that's really the hinge point between what they are willing to risk and so therefore we don't get a lot of opportunities to play as much as we would like to.
John: Well, you do indeed strike me as the kind of person that would never jeopardise quality over quantity anyway...
Devon: If I set my mind to making a Pop record, it doesn't mean that success and fortune will follow that, you know? I think that some people are just born to be famous, regardless of what it is that they do, and I don't think that I'm one of those people, you know? I've been doing this for a long, long time and I have an audience out there, but it's not a very large thing - it's not very big.
It is consistent, though, and the thing that
really puzzles me is that how I could never be a famous person, yet
I wrote a song twenty years ago that for these people that do follow
us is...they remember it. They remember the music, they remember my
ex band (note: Psychotic Waltz).
We are talking about underground music that's been
over for almost ten years now and people are still waiting for it to
get back together. There are a lot of famous bands that have come
and gone and haven't been remembered for as long.
That's a very strange situation that I find myself
in, but I'm used to it now and I accept it as it is. I have no
imagination that tomorrow I'm going to sell a million records, you
know? If that was going to happen, it probably would have already
happened, you know? I think that what I have is probably all I am
ever going to have, and I guess that it's enough.
Emily: That's interesting, because when we last spoke to you, two or three years ago, at that point you said that it would be great to sell a million records, it would be great to be No.1. Did you just come to this conclusion now, recently?..
Devon: I had reached that conclusion back then. I still say it would be great to sell a million records, it would be fantastic to play in front of twenty thousand people, but that's just not on the cards. So far that hasn't happened and I don't see why that should change, you know?
Sometimes I wonder if the difference isn't about me and what I do but about some sort of management, because I never really had a manager. I think that that's the difference between the bands that do get to the next level, having somebody in a powerful position that can open the doors that we cannot open for ourselves.
Emily: Would you be prepared, though, to compromise your individual space and time for that, let's say, extra public activities that you will have to do in order to become big as a band? We sort of perceive you as quite a private person, and there is obviously some sort of balance that needs to be struck.
Devon: I don't know if I understand the question. If you mean like change what I'm doing musically?..
Emily: No, I think that in order to become bigger, to play stadia and sell millions of copies, you kind of have to 'sell your soul' somewhat and do exactly what the music industry tells you to do. We don't perceive you as the kind of person who would do such a thing, if you know what I mean!
John: And that kind of attitude would have somehow ensured that people would not be remembering your music twenty years from now
Devon: Well, nobody has given me an opportunity to say 'hey, if you put on this silly hat, you'll be on MTV", and I don't know ifI don't know where I would draw the line, but let's just say that musically I do what I want to do and as far as playing, I play as far as I'm invited and I would like to play more. I don't know if I would enjoy touring for two years, you know, because I have children. I hate to kiss my daughter goodbye and say "Ok, honey- I'll see you when you're seven", you know? As far as the balance goes that you're talking about, there's still more room for the band to do more. There's more room - I have a lot of days off!
Emily: You mentioned earlier that a lot of fans that you've spoken to are talking about the new album on a higher/different level, and you in fact have spoken about your new album as being something completely different. Why do you think that it's so different? What is it exactly about it that you perceive as being different from the previous albums?
Devon: I deliberately have forsaken a lot of trademarks that I have put into the sound - something that I was calling 'Tribal Metal', and it really revolved around interlocking time signatures and a lot of tom work on the drums.
When I discovered that formula, I really liked the sound but when I delved into it and started making albums in this way, people liked it at first, but then they started getting the idea that I'm running out of ideas and it just came to that point when I even had a talk with the record label and said "now is the time, the critical time, for change".
I thought: OK, what I'm going to do is specifically not make a song where Adel (note: Moustafa: drums) is playing the toms. I'm going to not make songs that have one time signature on the bass and another time signature on the guitar - I'm going to just do things a little bit differently. I thought that energy would be the key, so I made the pace of the songs faster, and I found fast rhythms that I like. I was never really a fan of this fast kind of metalnot really my thing.
I liked more the Black Sabbath doomy kind of thing, but I have in the meantime discovered rhythms that I really do like a lot, and even though we play the songs fast, just putting a half time on the snare puts it where I like it, and as long as you have the kick drum really busy, then it still has a high energy.
I play a lot of syncopated guitar riffs with the kick drum and I'm singingwell, I sing a lot like I have sung before, but I sing stuff a lot more aggressive than I ever have. Even in the Psychotic Waltz days I've never sung things as aggressive as "Psychosphere" and I also started experimenting with a lot of low singing - something I kind of got the idea from an old White Zombie song, on the last album they did so yeah, I have been experimenting with my voice a lot and been experimenting a lot with these production techniques, using strange effects and things.
A lot of layer vocals, choirs of vocals, a little bit of Steve Wilson
influences, yeah, I have expanded in all these directions. The common denominator in most of them is a lot more aggression, in most cases...
John: I think that we both found that the new album, especially in comparison with your previous two efforts, is more coherent - a collection of different songs that come together as a strong unit. We constantly felt like listening to one huge piece of music that was 'travelling' in all sorts of different directions. Is that also another example of the different musical approach that you used fro the creation of "A Lullaby For The Devil"?
Devon: I hear this, what you say, a lot and I cannot really say that I did this on purpose- that's just the way that the album came out. I just wrote as many songs as possible, and maybe that one common thing of trying to reach for something new is what indeed ties them together. I couldn't tell you the ingredient there, because that was not a conscious one.
Emily: I think that for "The January Tree" you had a very specific influence that created the lyrics and reflected your state of mind at the time. Did you have a similar influencing factor for "A Lullaby For The Devil", or was it just various influences that were responsible for its creation?
Devon: I decided to kind of lighten up on this whole "Anastasia" thing - not talk about it so much anymoreit's still the core of my system of beliefs, but I just don'tI think that if people want to get into that, it's a lot better that they read those books, you know?
I recommend that, but I don't think that I need to drag it into my music anymore. It's not just that "Anastasia" thing - it's a whole system of beliefs that end up in my songs and it's still there, butI don't know, I think that I took each song individually this time and sometimes I sing absolutely nothing. The song "Psychosphere" is just absolute nonsense!
John: Having said that, though, there are some really interesting 'messages' in "Any Sign At All" and "Fear" that many people could see from a certain religious point of view.
Devon: I am not a religious man
John: I know - that we have already established. You are a Humanist though, seeing as you believe in the power that human beings have in controlling their fate, right?
Devon: Yeah, that I do. I have been writing "Any Sign At All" over and over again, over many albums and it's always saying the same thing. People are looking for this power outside them and that is what religion teaches you - it teaches you that you don't have the power and that you're nothing without God and whatever you need, just pray to him. I just believe that whatever power you have has already been given to you.
Everything you're looking for does reside in you and looking outside for itif you're waiting for it to come from the sky, you might end up waiting forever.
John: Are you by any chance referring to the lyrics of "Stairway to Nowhere"?
Devon: There is a song called "Shattered Sky" in an old Psychotic Waltz album, where I wrote exactly the same story. It's just something that bears re-telling from time to time.
John: Do you find that people are normally happy to read the lyrics of your albums or are they just happy to simply invest in the rhythm and melodies of your songs? Is it important for you that they understand your lyrics?
Devon: I really don't know. The lyrics are for me and anybody that wants to get into it, that's all the better, you know? The thing is that it's me believing in what I'm singing that makes what I'm doing real and this is why I can sing with such feeling, because I mean what I say and I'm trying to communicate that. If people are listening, to be honest with you, I really don't care. I really don't care - I just want to make what I'm doing is genuine for me. I just want it to be something more than entertainment and if it's only entertainment for the audience, that's fine also. That's fair enough! Those lyrics and that little bit of meaning, that's really for me.
John: Coming back to what what were talking about in the beginning, about the ability to sell millions of records
Devon: I think I have to work in a record store in order to do that (laughs)
John: I believe that people are not willing to look for anything other than entertainment in music nowadays.
Devon: I think that the Heavy Metal audience is a little different, you know? I think that the Heavy Metal audience does listen to the lyrics and I do get a lot of compliments for lyrics from them.
Not everybody is listening and not everybody cares and not everybody wants life to be anything more than sitting in the chair, eating chips or whatever. Not everybody is reaching for anything more than that, but there are those who are and we do connect and that one or two times on tour when that connection does come, I really feel some sense of gratification.
John: I agree with you, but it's not only Heavy Metal fans that attend your shows and buy your records, right? Your music is quite capable of reaching a much wider audience in my humble opinion.
Devon: I would hope so just what I've noticed about the metal audience and part of what I like about these audiences, as opposed to the Pop audiences, is that for them the music is somehow everything to them, you know?
The way they dress, the way they wear their hair - it's all about this lifestyle. Now, I don't know where I really fit in with this lifestyle, because there is like this schism between like death and meaning and then there is this partying 'thing': getting drunk and living decadently and that side of it that I don't really relate with very much.
But, it's just that thing that the musician either side, the music is really important - the music is really the core of things and when they put the CD on they really listen to it. They listen to music - they collect it. It becomes part of them and with the Pop audienceI don't know if anybody puts onI don't want to pick on Britney Spears, but it's the first name that comes to mind
John:I can pick on her, if you want!
Devon: I don't know if anybody puts on a Britney Spears record and just sits down and listens, you know? I think that they put on this music and there is also all forms of Pop Rock where they put it on and they start talking, partying and drinking...they bop their heads or whatever, but they don't really care about the music itself - they are there for really another reason. The Heavy Metal audience is a lot more focused on music itself and at least when I play before these people, at least I have their attention.
Emily: I had a question that I think you partly answered, but I want to paraphrase it slightly. You said that you write the lyrics for yourself and that is generally the impression that I have, but would you say in general that everything that you do with Deadsoul Tribe is for yourself, or is there a certain element to gratify your fans?
Devon: My philosophy is that, if I can be happy with it, then that's the only chance I have that somebody else will be happy with it. I don't mean for it to sound like a selfish thing, that it's only for me - it's just that I'm really hard to please with music. I'm a tough critic and if I love it, that's the only chance I have of thinking that other people will love it as well and so I think that I set the bar higher and higher for myself every year. So, I write to please myself - I write to feel a response on my own skin and if that happens, then I feel like I have accomplished the best that I can do.
John: If you were to look back at your career so far and the albums that you have released, in relation to the artistic vision that you have and which motivates you as a musician, how satisfied are you with what you have achieved so far? What's your ultimate goal, if any?
Devon: I'm pretty satisfied in general, but I'd like to get a better kick drum sound (laughs). It's not Adel's fault, no - it's not about the drumming, it's about the production. I'm the producer and the hardest thing for me to get is a kick drum sound that satisfies me, but I think that I have discovered the secret after I've already mixed and released this album.
I made a remix of the song "Psychosphere" and I was "Oh God, I want to kill myself", because this album could sound so much better. Musically, I'm happy with what I've done - I cannot say that I love everything that I've done, but I'm really proud of it all and the favourite things that I've done would be "A Murder Of Crows" and "A Lullaby For The Devil". Each other album has something that I love equally, but those two albumshave something for me throughout the whole album that I really feel I've touched something special. I'm not sure if I really answered your question here.
John: What are your plans regarding the band's immediate future? Any ideas of how you could better support the release of "A Lullaby For The Devil"?
Devon: Other than improving the kick drum sound (laughs)? The marketing thing isn't my job, you know? I would really like this band to fall into the hands of somebody that could carry it further, you know? I don't know if that means record label or managementI really don't know the answer, but I think that we deserve to at least be heard by more people. I think that if we were heard by more people, we would gain more fans, but I think that we're missing this exposure.
I would like to see that increased, but as far as the band itself is concerned I'd like to do some different things, you know? I actually want to make some movies. I want to make a movie about Deadsoul Tribe first, but I want to make movies that do not say anything about movies, like comedies. I won't be acting - I just want to write these movies and film them and stuff. I already have two screenplays I'm writing at the moment
I just want to have some variety in my life. I love this music, but as we spoke earlier I have a lot more time on my hands. If I just sat waiting for gigs or making albums, I would be just sitting on my hands for a long time, man. I think that it's going to be a while before the next Deadsoul Tribe comes out. I really want to stop writing and I have - I stopped writing any music since I finished this album.
It's been a few months and I haven't really picked up the guitar to write. I don't even want to - I want to completely clear my mind and I want to go into something completely different, just for a little while. I just want tojust want to focus, because I think that was the problem with after I did "A Murder Of Crows" and I did "The January Tree", I didn't have this time to stop. And so what ended up being is those three albums were really just one big album - it was the same sound and I just continued writing in the same habit. I didn't leave any space between these records. I was writing one just after I was finishing the other - it was just one constant process. I really need to stop this momentum and just sit back a little bit and focus on what I want to do. I need to take my mind into something completely different and then once I get sick of making moviesI guess that the Deadsoul Tribe movie will be enough and then I will be ready to write music with a fresh heart. I do know what I want to do with music - I know where I want to go.
This album has given me a good indication of how good this direction really is, but I want to take it much further and I don't want to make the same mistake I made when I found the style on "A Murder Of Crows" and then repeated that stylethat was misinterpreted. I don't understand it because most of the famous bands that I know found a sound and they kept repeating that sound - that's their thing and that's what made them famous and worked for them. When I tried it, it seemed to be as a style defining our limitations. I think I will go with the Bruce Lee 'the style of no style' (laughs). That's the way to go.
Emily: Would you be surprised to know that, even though you did have some fresh ideas and sounds with the new album, it is immediately recognisable as a Deadsoul Tribe effort? I walked in one day after work, I heard just three notes and I said to myself "that's definitely the new Deadsoul Tribe album". Are you happy to hear that, or would you have prefer that not to be the case?
Devon: I don't care - I like the fact that you liked it. I don't
care if I can 'hide' from you or not (laughs). I already know that
that's not a possibility, you know? I think that I seem completely
different now than when I was with Psychotic Waltz - like absolutely
two different worlds, a complete different approach.
When I wrote my demos, right when I left Psychotic Waltz, I really
wanted to know if I could get a record deal because for my music -
not because of my association with my former band. So I made these
demos, singing completely different and playing a completely
different music and then I started sending these demos out under the
name Devon Graves, not Buddy Lackey.
All I said was that I was the singer of a band that's kind of popular and that I was now doing something else, so I asked them to let me know what they thought. I was getting the same response from everybody that "the music is good - maybe we could do something together, but tell me what happened with Psychotic Waltz" (laughs). So I know that I can run, but I certainly cannot hide. I guess that's a good thing too - to be identifiable!
Emily: Well, it means that what you have created is unique - the sound is unique to you and I guess that every artist would want that.
Devon: I guess that that is what the ultimate goal for every artist - what you would have wanted to happen. I know a lot of bands that do not do that, a lot of bands just copy the bands that they like and that is why I kind of lose interest in all these sub-categories of metal, you know? The ones that are being defined by the drum beatit's become really cliché.
Even down to the style of performances, you know all that headbanging?
Somewhere along the line, someone came up with that and that somehow became the way to perform and to me that'sit's killing the individuality, you know? In the 60s and the 70s, every band had their own sound, their own look - OK, they all had long hair, but they had their own image, their own way of dressing and their own way of singing and their own way of performing. You look at Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple/Rainbow/Blackmore's Night), Jimmy Hendrix , Ian Andreson (Jethro Tull), David Bowie or Alice Cooper - they all have these excellent shows and they all have their complete own way of taking the stage.
When you go to see any of these guys or their bands live, you see something that only can be found with them. Now bands are simply banging their heads and theythere's no more unique ideas - everybody just copies everybody else and that goes even beyond metal music. Rap is the same, Hip Hop is the same where they are all just standing doing the same sh*t (note: Devon pretends to be a rapper here and makes some really funny moves) - they didn't used to do that before. Black people didn't use to act like that before the late 80s, but now they all have the same attitude and now you have white bands trying to have the same "yo, yo homie" kind of thing and it's all so fu*king stupid (note: uncontrollable laughs from everyone involved in this interview).
I don't know, man - it's something that's laughable in all these cultures you can look at it and seeyou can easily look at that and say that these are bad people. They want violence, they like to be gangsters and have this negative attitude. I don't think that these people are really like that - I think that it is an image that they just keep on copying and copying and so why should you see one band and another and another when they are all kind of doing the same thing? That's just what I find, so when I'm on stage I'm trying to bring back some of that uniqueness - bring something to the stage that is worth bringing and that could be what's holding me back, you know? Maybe if I bang my head and go along
John: Well, if that's the case, I really hope that Deadsoul Tribe retains the status of a cult band because I am one of those people who are fed up getting constantly exposed to all these 'no'-bands, if you know what I mean.
Devon: Well that's not where I'm coming from, you know, the whole headbanging thing. I never understood it - it seems bad for you. If I had really nice hair, maybe I would see things differently though. I do like to see bands do the 'wind mills', though - I think that that's cooler than sh*t. Have you ever seen the band called Forbidden? (note: I absolutely adore this cult 80s Thrash Metal band) Now, that is a sight to be seen - that is awesome, butI don't know man - all of that is fine. The problem with this whole thing isn't headbanging - the problem is the lack of individuality.
John: Devon, I believe that it's now time to finally let you get some rest. Before we go, though, can you recommend a few books that would help provide us with an insight of what is happening in the 'strange mind of Devon Graves' - books that we will hopefully manage to obtain without having to spend half our lives looking for them on the Internet?
Emily: We tried to locate those "Anastasia" books without any luck so far.
Devon: I think that they are trying to make these books hard to find. There is someone out there that doesn't want you to have this information!
Emily: What's the name of these titles again?
Devon: The author's name is Vladimir Megre. His first book is called "Anastasia" with an 's', not a 'c' and then there is "The Ringing Cedars of Russia", which is his second book and then his third book is calledI don't remember the name right now (note: the title is "The Space Of Love") - there are nine of these books. I think that the first one is a really good way to start - a really good way to identify with where I'm coming from.
My system of belief is just basically centred around nature. What I find is not just "Anastasia" - you can look at the Dalai Lama, you can look at Mahatma Gandhi or even Jesus himselfBudha, andwhere there is this truth, all these truths from all those different directions, they all fit together. They all might be talking about different subjects, they all might have a differentI'm missing the wordthey might be focusing on a different point, but they all fit together. They all fit together and once you find a piece that doesn't fit, then you know that you can discard it.
I think that I might be going out on a limb here, because I really am a believer of Jesus and a real opponent of the Bible. I think that the Bible is made by powers that are really up to bad things. There's a lot in there that is not consistent with nature, you know? When the Lord is leading the people through the wilderness to the Citythat's a little bit strange to me. When he says "finally I now brought you to the city that I've promised you, now take your swords and kill everyone and it's yours" (note: these are obvious references to the Old Testament) (laughs)
John: That's why you wrote a song called "Goodbye City Life" after all?
Devon: Yeah...you know that when the Lord led the Hebrews out of Egypt, he appeared as a pillar of smoke in the day and as a pillar of fire by night. He made a rain of frogs, caused disease and caused starvation and said to the Pharaoh "I've showed you all my miracles and you still don't believe?".
I don't believe that this is the Creator - I believe that this is some wizard doing some tricks, becausethis smoke of fire is not a miracle, disease is not a miracle, starvation is not a miracle. We can do all of these things - men can do all of these things. The miracle is when a flower opens. The miracle is that I breathe in and that I breathe out and that I exist that I have life.
The miracle is everywhere around you, until they cut it all down and build their cities, you know? Miracles are everywhere, in how beautiful everything in nature really is. In how stunning it is to see a tiger or a bird or the blue sky and the ocean - absolutely everywhere that you look, there is something to be seen that is breathtaking and something has put inside us the power to appreciate this. This is the miracle, the miracle is there and we don't see it anymore anda pillar of smoke?
Really impressivereally impressive...I just think that there are some really bad things going on - all that stuff that began in Egypt five thousand years ago which continues today, which wears today the face of George Bush. Back then, it was the face of the Pharaoh. But it's not George Bush, it's not the Pharaoh - it's the people behind them. The Pharaohs were trained by the priests.
The Pharaohs were chosen by the priests - they were taught from a young age how to be the Pharaoh and they always had to consult the priests. The priests took the decisions and the Pharaohs would simply tell the people and that is exactly what is going on now. George W Bushit's very easy to look at this guy's face and want to throw up, but the thing is that he was selected because he fits the image that they require and he is an easy face to hate.
It was the same with Hitler, Mussolini and all these people. Why is it that our world leaders are these kind of people? There's something that is going on today that's been going on for five thousand years - it's not these men that's started this sh*t. This sh*t has started a long time ago and the Bible describes the history of all this and this person that calls himself 'The Lord' is behind it, soif you look at my religious beliefs, you can call me and look at me as a Pagan, which basically means that II don't want to say 'worship' - I hate that word
John: What about 'celebrate'?
Devon: Celebrate is a fantastic word! My beliefs are always rooted in nature. When nature can support an idea or an example then that idea or example is true and when nature cannot support this then it has to be false.
If there is a 'Creator' creation is evidence of the creator and what we've built on earth is what's killing us, what's destroying us! When I read in the Bible that God is leading us to these places, treating the wilderness as a horrible place and then when we get to the city we have to take our swords and kill everyone.
John: I believe that you will find many 'Romantic' writers of the 18th century sharing quite a few of your beliefs there, Devon, and the fact that the vast majority of the civilisations that indeed contributed something special to humanity were pagan in origin kind of speaks for itselfwe can really go on forever talking about things like that, so, thank you for doing this interview - I hope that you always find a way to express whatever there is in your soul.
Devon: Thank you both.
Interview © December 2007, Emily Dgebuadze and John Stefanis
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