The vast majority of twentytwo-year-old Londoners would probably count losing their virginities and developing the endurance to drink ten pints without falling over as major achievements. But by the time he was that age, Devonté Hynes had already toured the country as a member of Test Icicles and had enough tenacity to realise that despite the band’s short-lived lifespan, he was in danger of being held up to it forever. “I think there’s an unhealthy thirst for newness in London, rather than nurturing what already exists,” he explains. “It’s in all fields. If you falter, you’re essentially done and to me, that seems crazy because people I look up to may not have done their best work until they were forty or something.”
Recognizing that, he upped sticks and moved to New York where he has been for five years, slowly developing his reputation as a solo artist (via work as Lightspeed Champion and Blood Orange), producer (for acts such as Theophilus London and Diana Vickers), and songwriter (for Solange and Sky Ferreira). It’s a body of work that’s made him one of New York’s go-to guys for performers who are seeking out a source of creative magic. Having reached the ripe of old age of twenty-seven, Hynes explains to Clash how he has grown from a London has-been to a highly regarded talent around the world.
Did you plan being a producer or songwriter?
No, but I can pinpoint a couple of moments where I think it started to happen. The first was when I was doing the second Lightspeed Champion album (‘Falling Off The Lavender Bridge’) with a producer called Ben Allen. I had a lot of ideas for that album and was doing a lot of it myself, but I was also relying on outside opinions. When I was younger, I used to do a lot of things by myself but on that album, I took in a lot of opinions. I still love that album but I think there were a lot of things I should have done myself. The other was when I wrote songs for Diana Vickers. I demoed them all myself and didn’t hear anything for a while. Then I got an email out of the blue saying: “What do you want for your producer/ songwriter fee?” I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ It was when I realised they were down with my stuff and that kind of spurred me on.
Do you think you’ve found a long-term partner with Solange?
I hope so. Working with Solange was the big push for me. She had confidence in me to write and produce for her, which seemed crazy to me. But she was relying on me to do stuff and I had to get more confident in myself. We met in LA about three years ago when I was producing Theophilus London. She was living in LA at the time and he asked her to come in and sing the hook on a song. She came down and did the song really quickly, and then I played her some of the songs I was working on. Within about a day, she asked me to come to Santa Barbara to write. There were other people involved at first, but pretty quickly it ended up being just me and her.
Is the break-up theme to Solange’s EP more informed by your experiences?
Definitely. Solange is actually pretty happy but at the time we did those songs, I was reeling from my break-up. It’s all the way through that record. It’s funny, but the song ‘Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work’ was written after someone cancelled a tennis match on me. I walked to the court at 7am in all my tennis gear and got the text that they had to cancel. So I walked straight back to my place and wrote that song. But it still fits in with the break-up theme! I suppose there’s more than one way to get jilted. Solange’s gift is channelling that feeling.
This is an excerpt from the April 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.
WORDS: Hardeep Phull
PHOTOGRAPHY: Bella Howard