ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 16, 1997
By Steve Newton
The music industry moves fast these days. As soon as there’s enough consumer demand for the next version of, say, No Doubt, some band with a slim blonde singer and quirky-looking bandmates rolls off the assembly line. I know, because I saw it on TV. Thanks to the vast and immediate selling power of rock videos, made-to-order bands can be banged together, buffed up, and sent out shiny and new to the CD showroom in a matter of weeks.
Not all bands are forged with a particular market in mind, though. Listening to an advance copy of the Devlins’ sophomore release, Waiting, it’s clear that they can’t be easily slotted into any niche of the music scene.
“It’s sorta weird,” says Colin Devlin, the band’s 27-year-old singer-guitarist, lounging in the local offices of Nettwerk Productions. “Everybody’s goin’ like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s the perfect time for your record!’ and we’re sort of goin’, ‘Well, whatever.’ We’ve always just done exactly what we wanted to do, you know, because life’s too short.”
In this world of video-driven cash-grab bands, it’s refreshing to hear Devlin’s be-true-to-yourself philosophy—and to believe he means it. It’s probably this sincerity that impressed Nettwerk boss Terry McBride, who signed the Devlins to the management arm of his Vancouver-based record company after seeing the band open for his biggest client, Sarah McLachlan, on her Fumbling Towards Ecstasy tour.
“We basically had no management at the time,” explains Devlin. “We were just sorta on tour ourselves. When we met up with Terry, we really liked him and he wanted to manage the band, so that was it, really—he took it from there. And it’s great, because Nettwerk is really well organized, you know. They’ve got it together.”
The Dublin-based group has been living in Vancouver, on and off, for the past six months, discovering such local delights as breakfast at Sophie’s Cosmic Café and the best CD prices in the world. “A&B Sound is amazing,” raves Devlin, “like 13 bucks for a CD!”
His recent purchases include the latest discs from Björk and Ben Harper, but he hasn’t just been sitting around listening to tunes. For the past couple of weeks, his band—which includes his older brother Peter on bass, sampling, programming, and vocals—has been rehearsing for a tour with Paula Cole, which includes a show at the Orpheum on Wednesday (October 22).
“It’s brilliant,” enthuses Devlin of the gig, “ ’cause we haven’t had a record out for a while, and tours are very hard to come by. The great thing about performing in theatres, for me, is that if you’re crap, everybody knows it within five minutes, and the opposite is also true. If you’re good, you can really draw people in.”
The Devlins caught a lot of people’s attention four years ago with their debut, Drift, which was recorded in New Orleans by Canadian producer Malcolm Burn. It was deemed “stunning” by Rolling Stone and “superb” by the New Yorker.
The band continued its Canadian connection by having Canuck producer Pierre Marchand (McLachlan, Greg Keelor) helm Waiting in a small town outside Montreal. The resulting music tends toward the subtle and atmospheric side of rock, with Devlin’s rich guitar textures leading the way.
“It was very liberating to do all the guitar on this record myself,” he reveals, “but I think if I was a session player, I’d be fired in about 10 minutes. I kept saying, ‘Oh, maybe we should get somebody else in to play these parts,’ and Pierre said, ‘No, no—you can do it.’ And even though the record’s sort of mellow, there’s still heavier elements on it, which are an important part of everything.”
With Marchand’s help, the Devlins manage to subtly integrate both heavy and mellow shadings into the pop mix, which features a guitar-based gracefulness that hasn’t been heard since U2’s The Joshua Tree. This leads me to wonder if that biggest of all Irish bands was much of an influence on the group.
“Well, they’re big fans of ours,” notes Devlin. “Like, the Edge said that Drift was his favourite record of the year. He loved it, and he was actually going to do some production on this album. Originally, we were gonna do it in Dublin and he was gonna do like a Brian Eno–type role: come in every coupla weeks and just have a listen. But as it turned out, we ended up goin’ to Montreal and doin’ it there.”
With career direction in Nettwerk’s capable hands, serious critical acclaim, and kudos from the Edge, it appears as though the Devlins have already made some inroads toward success in the music world.
“Yeah, well…I don’t know,” ponders Devlin. “I don’t need the money, and I don’t really need the fame. I just really want to make good music, you know, and that’s the path we’re gonna take.”