QSC Aspiring Interview: L Devine talks debut album Digital Heartifacts

Olivia Devine, better known as L Devine, opens up to Headliner about freeing herself from the creative shackles of the music business to produce her debut album Digital Heartifacts.

For a number of years, you have been releasing singles and EPs. Does your first full-length record represent a departure from all that came before?

Maybe some people will say it’s a departure but it’s hard for me to notice that. For me this feels like a really natural place for my music to go. It’s a slight redirection, but it feels like a natural progression from my previous releases before this. Especially for fans of the EP I put out a couple of years ago called Peer Pressure. I feel like this is more of a grown-up version of that. That EP was when I got more into a storytelling style of writing and going a bit left of centre from the mainstream pop thing. And the production feels a bit more experimental, and it feels to me a lot more authentic. It’s more cohesive than anything I’ve done before as I’ve dipped my toe into a lot of genres and had my fingers in different pies. Now it feels like I’ve stuck to one pie!

How did the approach to writing change with this album? Did knowing you were writing for an album shift your creative perspective from writing singles or an EP?

When I first met Julian Flew (co-writer and producer) and we started working together, I was leaving my previous label and managers, so I was on my own and didn’t know what was going to happen in terms of my career. So the start of this album came out of a necessity to keep going. Then when I found we had this great chemistry I released this should be it. I felt like if I don’t make an album now I don’t know when I will. It was the first time in a while I’d had the opportunity to cut everything else out and just focus on making music. I’ve never really worked with someone where both of us felt like we wanted to commit that amount of time to making an album.

Tell us about working with Julian and his role on the record?

When we first met we were managed by the same people but had never worked together. When we did our first session together we wrote a song called Eaten Alive. And I hope he won’t mind me saying this, but at the time he was just starting in his career and hadn’t done heaps of sessions and I think that worked in my favour. I was used to being in this big label where I had an A&R guy who could pull me into any session, and he was amazing, but I was being put into sessions with producers who had done massive tunes, and that was always a bit intimidating for me and made me feel like the other person in the room always knew better. So, it took me a bit of time to find my voice and be assertive in sessions like that. With Julian it was an opportunity to really say what I wanted to do. He let me do my thing and that was really refreshing, and our tastes really aligned, and we bonded over music.

I think the role of a producer is 90% listening. Sometimes I go into sessions and if I get the vibe they aren’t going to listen to me and if we don’t have that chemistry, then they just aren’t going to get it. Julian has this musical language where he can really understand what you want, and he just gets it. More so than anyone I’ve worked with. And we’ve had three years working together now.

You have to trust your instincts and be independent in your decision making. L Devine

How different were the circumstances around making this album compared to previous releases?

Not having any label or management around made a huge difference. There were so many opinions around me before; after a session you’d share a balance of a song with a handful of people for feedback then you have a meeting about the song you’d written. There was none of that and that probably compromised my skills as a decision maker. [Pauses] one of the biggest pieces of advice I’d give to a songwriter is that you need to be on it with decision making. You have to trust your instincts and be independent in that way. So becoming more in tune with my own instincts as opposed to asking some else if they like it was a big change for me. Now I can’t imagine going back, having someone else telling me what’s what.

You relocated from London back to your hometown of North Shields when making the album. What impact did that have?

A huge impact. When I moved to London I was 19 years old, straight out of school, which is a crazy time, especially for a queer kid. You can spend years pretending to be something that you’re not and trying to fit in. When I moved to London and signed a deal I thought, that’s it, I’m finally myself, but in reality, it was that all over again. Some of the clothes I wore and how I was on social media and in interviews… I don’t want to say I was watering myself down, but I had an idea of what an artist should be. And when I was growing up I never thought of myself as a ‘pop star’, so I was maybe trying to be that a bit too much.

And in London I wasn’t surrounded by any of the people who really knew me, so coming back and being around my family and the streets I grew up in… it felt like one of those cheesy films where the girl comes back from the big city to find herself again [laughs]. That was lush and you can hear in the writing that I could be vulnerable because I wasn’t embarrassed to talk about myself in an honest way. I could talk about myself and how I felt about myself and being around friends and family really helped.

Tell us about your upbringing. When did music first enter your life?

I can definitely think of some pivotal moments, like when I first picked up a guitar. But the feeling you get from creativity as a kid… I remember I got so much out of that compared to the kids I was playing with. I remember how much I just loved making stuff up, even putting on little plays with my cousins and pretending to be something else or making up games. I always wanted to make stuff up and music was just another avenue of that.

When I was about seven years old, I used to hang out with this kid who was my best friend called Niall, and his dad was a guitar teacher. I remember going to his house one day and he was like, I’m a punk now, and he played me all this punk music, like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The undertones’, so it was like, we’re punks now [laughs]! And I remember watching the film School of Rock and that blowing our minds! So we got guitars and formed this band called Safety Pins and we put on little shows for our family and friends and stuff. I even wrote out a contract and got one of our friends to be the manager [laughs].

When did music start to become more of a serious pursuit for you?

I packed it in as soon as I got to high school, which is so sad. In primary school I was burning CDs and giving them to people, and as soon as you get to high school it was like, if I keep doing this, I’m going to get bullied, which is so sad. You do anything to fit in so I dropped music and didn’t want to draw any attention to myself.

I guess I probably picked it up again when I was about 15. I was in the closet as well and that was when I started having romantic feeling for people, so I couldn’t talk to friends like I usually would. So my way of talking about it was writing songs in my room and I fell in love with songwriting again. But it was pretty private, and I didn’t tell anyone about it.

Then one day I put a video on YouTube of a cover, and it got about 8,000 views overnight, so I started uploading more and my dad really championed me, saying I should do some gigs and he’d take me to open mic nights. I went to this place called The Surf Café and did my first gig there, and then started working there, so I was surrounded by load so of live music. That gave me a bit of belief in myself, and my dad really helped me with that, and I thought, I could try to go for this.

Listen to this interview in full below.