Johnathan Devoy is the most versatile musician I have seen in some time.
Regardless of your musical ability, you can learn something from this man who has as a classically trained vocal from a young age and a lifetime of dedication and personal learning experiences he shares in his craft.
This interview goes a little longer than normal as there were several bands playing a New Years Eve Gig at the Basement in Canberra. Jonathan stole the stage as a solo artist (Chris Cornell tribute), front man for From Love to Violence and the final 90s rock show leading in to the new year.
From Love to Violence fans, you can start listening from the 9:40 minute mark.
Keijo Interview with Jonathan Devoy
Keijo: So I’m with Jonathan Devoy, that’s the correct pronunciation?
Keijo: Solo acoustic, so if I’m talking to Jonathan it is a solo acoustic thing yeah?
JD: if you’re talking to Jonathan it’s the solo, if you’re talking to Devoy it’s the band stuff and everything else. It’s where I kind of need more of an alter ego
Keijo: so I’m here on New Years Eve, I’m at the Basement, it’s rockin, I’m loving the atmosphere. I mean, Belconnen in Canberra needs this kind of thing, do you play Canberra much?
JD: I play this room more often than most. I’m from Nowra, play a lot in Sydney, about this room we talk a lot. We say this is the best venue in the wrong town. We are quite jealous of a place like this. The band I sing for, they are from New Castle and they’ve got the Cambridge and the Little Ballroom and stuff like that, Sydney has got the Annandale and even that’s sort of sliding by the way side. The Basement has been here for so long and has come up and has just sunk what’s needed back into music. And if this could happen everywhere, we’d be fine. There would be so much shit going on in this country that we’d be proud of. We wouldn’t be complaining about “oh it’s the pokies fault, or it’s the lock out laws fault” we’d be going “no, we are going to cool venue’s seeing cool music”, that’s what we’d be saying.
Keijo: that’s awesome, because being a Canberra boy, I’ve been away and I’ve come back and I’ve had the same impressions and been talking to other artists aswell and they are like “Canberra, you can’t play here and you can’t play there and there are no venue’s that are supporting it and I come here to the Basement here in Belconnen.
JD: there is nothing but support
Keijo: nothing but investment into live music. I can’t see one single poker machine,
JD: not one, it’s a beautiful thing.
Keijo: It’s really good. You describe your Genre as “Awesome”
JD: yeah. OK, here’s the thing about music. It’s the only language we all speak and it’s the only thing the entire human race has in common apart from the heart beat. We tell our stories this way, we teach our children this way, we tell each other how we are really feeling this way. So if I say it’s awesome, that’s probably true, based on that sort of philosophy I feel, I get to play music and people listen to it, that is awesome. It probably sounds more arrogant than it’s meant actually now that I think about it, but it’s just because I love it that much. That’s what it’s about. Every mother f..ker can go like this (nod), everyone can nod their head, everyone’s got a favourite song, even if it’s a terrible song, everyone’s got one. That’s the shit that’s important, so when I say “what’s your genre”, it’s music, so it’s awesome. That’s what I mean when I say that.
Keijo: I love that. I actually love that philosophy, I’m going to create a new genre called “f..ken awesome”. Jerk, INK, Melody Black, that’s your heritage, is that still going on?
JD: that’s my past. None of those things exist anymore but they serve their purpose at the time, they did it’s thing. Everyone moves. Lino D was the bass player in those three bands. I’ve been playing with him for 15 years. How boring would life be if it was the same. And as much as I love and miss playing with those guys. I love playing with – not those guys as well. We’ve got to evolve.
Keijo: so you’re playing 3 sets tonight
JD: FOUR !! I’m singing for the 90s band at midnight too.
Keijo: reminder, it is new years eve. We’ve seen a lot of heavy stuff, in fact when you first came on as a solo acoustic. You had the harsh vocal. and I thought that was great. So I’ve done a little bit of singing in my time and I notice you are sipping on VB and stuff at the start of a 4 hour something set. How does that go for your vocal?
JD: ask me in an hour? I was classically trained from the age of 4. I have my AIM SA in classical singing which is the highest examinable level through the AMEB, through the conservatorium in Sydney. If I get a little bit more drunk I will start singing with the bad habbits, but it’s all about taking care of your instrument. As you say, I was sipping on it. If I was skulling it, then there’d be a different story. I’ve been doing this since I was 7 years old, so that’s 32 years really. I’ve figured out what works for me. But if we were to speak again at 12:30 it’d be (very quite struggle to speak).
Keijo: OK, because I thought you were super human there for a while, this guys a freak.
JD: the voice is a muscle, like any other. You train it.
Keijo: so, in that acoustic set, you had quite a bass heavy sound. Was that you pushing that on your guitar or did you just rely on the house to do that.
JD: well I’m playing a guitar, it’s a Crafter, but it’s a longer scale for lower tuning. And it’s a fat body. So you are able to get a heavier, acoustic sound without beating the crap out of it and breaking the guitar. But as a result of that, with a PA as good as the Basements there is a lot of extra bass because I don’t have one of those feedback stoppers and a million dollar acoustic guitar, it’s just a $1,600.00 acoustic guitar. So bass is going to happen but it’s the nature of a big room like this as well so you just push through it.
Keijo: most players would love a $1,600.00 guitar
JD: a heavy sound on an acoustic, I tune down because it’s a little easier to sing and I can put a little more of that grit and turn it into my own thing.
Keijo: at the start of some of the songs, I heard a tapped recording, there’s an Irish guy talking about some depressing.
JD: he’s actually from Manchester, he’s from movie by Mike Lee it’s called Naked stars David Thewlis who is actually in the new Wonderwoman film. Did you ever see Dragonheart with Sean Connery? He was the little bitch arse prince. The movie is him asking questions and consistently being disappointed by the answers he gets. So have you ever thought, but you don’t know, but you might have already had the happiest moment in your whole f..king life. You don’t know, but you might have. So what do you do, I mean shit, it’s New Years Eve. It’s no point bitching about 2017 anymore, now it’s about what are you going to do to make 2018 better? And that’s why I was using samples like that because the first one at the start of the set was from the picture of Dying Grey, which is a book by Oscar Wild and it’s basically this guy makes a wish, his portrait ages instead of him. All of his sins are reflected on the portrait and then what that does to his soul. so it’s kinda like we are tearing apart for our art is the point of the whole thing.
Keijo: and did you write the song based on that or did you chose that based on the song?
DJ: I just love the damned movie. It seemed appropriate. And a bit of interest, how do you make an acoustic gig not boring.
Keijo: absolutely. It drove me straight in. If there’s a limbic part of the brain that gets engaged, that’s exactly what you did. so well done.
DJ: glad to hear it.
Keijo: Accapella. You had some kinda recording, something you made earlier, what’s that about?
DJ: the pedal I was playing those samples through is the BOSS RC 300, it’s a looping pedal. You hit something and it keeps playing over and over. So what I did, instead of wasting everyone’s time individually singing in all of those bits and making this loop and boring everyone. I just recorded it before I came here and sang to that. It is all my voice, I just did it before I came.
Keijo: multiple tracks?
DJ: three parts and 2 bass parts so 5 part harmony, which I’m then singing over the top of but it was a cover of Alice in Chains, Nutshell. Which I’m going to put on my new solo album as well as recording From Love to Violence and everything else. I’m a musician, that’s what we do, we just record.
Keijo: So you came back and you did the Chris Cornell thing. What’s that all about, are you a massive fan?
DJ: I have a tattoo on my arm that says I’m only faking when I get it right.
Keijo: I’m going to take a photo of this and put it online later.
DJ: It’s a line from Fell on Black days, ultimate song writing idol. Bowie, Prince, Scott, Weiland and Chris Cornell, I lost all my hero’s in the last 5 years. So that’s what I was saying when we were playing, we still have their music so lets enjoy the stuff we still have. But yeah I’ve been doing that for a while, the old Chris Cornell he’s so much fun to sing. His shit comes from the same place I’m always talking about, the heart.
Keijo: I tried to cover him myself one time, I obviously had too much VB I didn’t sip it.
DJ: you’ve gotta sip it, treat it like wine.
9:40 min From Love to Violence
Keijo: You came back and possibly the first time that I’ve felt alive and awake tonight, From Love to Violence. I f..ken loved that set you guys did. I mean, you’ve got the keys, the modular stuff, it’s all electronica in the background…
DJ: and it’s all played live. No click tracks, no tapes, no nothing. Everyone’s playing everything on there. I did the click track thing with Jerk, and that’s great. But we can jam, we can actually play our shit. And if it takes longer, it takes longer, we don’t have to worry about a tape running out. It’s live, it’s electronic but it’s live.
Keijo: I saw the logo, and you’ve got like this metal, like actually forged metal bloody logo on the guys synth
DJ: our bass player makes all our stuff, he made my mike stand, he’s an artist. a pure artist with metal. Scrap dealers love it when they see him coming let’s put it that way.
Keijo: So he’s playing like an extra long Gibson guitar?
DJ: It is, it’s the ‘thunderbird’
Random crowd guy: you are f..ken amazing, Chris Cornell was awesome and what you just did then was sick too
DJ: you wait I’m doing the 90s one in a bit too
Random crowd guy: really, you are getting up again, dude your voice was f..ken awesome bro
DJ: really appreciate it hey, thank you
Keijo: he’s recording an interview
Random crowd guy: (waive’s goodbye, thumbs up)
Keijo: the drummer Reg
DJ: yeah, how good is she
Keijo: she’s awesome
DJ: she’s the most unique drummer I’ve seen in my entire life, I keep forgetting to turn around and watch her because every time I do I’m like WTF. I used to play drums in a band and she is the best drummer I’ve seen in this country for a while you know what I mean, jesus christ.
Keijo: absolutely, I mean she had everything really flat set as well
DJ: yes, she has the most unique set up I’ve seen too. I’m not even going to try.
Keijo: and there’s more cymbals than drums
DJ: and her cymbals are cleaner than mine. I’m like, I gotta clean my cymbals man. The whole band like, these guys, I’ve never, sorry, never is not the right word but not for a really long time have I been allowed to be myself in a f..ken band. These guys have saved my life, I’ve been wasting the last 3 years doing shit I really, for fun, but I should have been doing what I do instead of what I was doing and these guys it’s like I can’t speak highly enough of them. So we are going to start recording an album very very soon. They have an EP with their old singer. I just came in and they were like “can you sing for us” and I was like “yes, yes I can” because they’re f,,ken awesome. But also, believe in the music, believe in the thing it’s where I belong, I still stuff I’ve got to get out of my system.
Keijo: I’m still moved by the performance, and speaking of the performance you guys went the extra mile. I’ve got photo’s for everybody, it’s make up it’s outfits
DJ: It’s props
Keijo: it’s theatre, it’s props, it’s pure entertainment
DJ: That’s the idea right ? we’re here to be entertained. What else are we here for? we’re really not going to change the world. We are going to change the world immediately around us, so that’s all we need to worry about, we’re having fun, the people watching us are having fun
Keijo: slightly controversial question. Is that a marketing ploy that you do that?
DJ: no. There’s no point marketing music anymore. People are going to buy it or they’re not going to buy it. Marketing is changed, the beast is changed. I mean what I have learned in my time is that people watch bands more than listen to them when they are in a live environment. So a shitty mix, that sort of stuff can get forgotten if “f..ck man”, those guys, I didn’t know what was going to happen next, all that sort of stuff. You wanted to watch everything the whole time. How did it sound. Don’t remember. That’s not such a bad thing at the end of the day because nobody really remembers your music. They go, “I like that band” and they look into it. And then they go, oh that’s the song I really liked, yeah that one, and it does that thing, cool. That’s the more we play the more this spreads it grows, if you build it they will come. If they don’t come, I still had fun, we’re still enjoying it.
Keijo: I loved it, I felt it, I’m looking at you now and talking to you and it’s real people. This is not theatrics, made up, it’s not marketing.
DJ: I used to get accused of that about 15 years ago in Jerk. I’ll show you the f..ken scars man, they are all real, every single one.
Keijo: he’s showing me tats right now.
DJ: you know what we should be doing, drinking.
Keijo: we’re going to go and have a drink together,
DJ: we are going to watch some bands too
Keijo: I’m loving this stuff, Jonathan. Best band I’ve seen tonight, by far. and I look forward to hearing everything you do from now on.
DJ: Thank you very much.