L Devine

After trading London living for her hometown of Whitley Bay, switching record labels, and gearing up for her debut album release, the last few years have been filled with substantial changes for L Devine a.k.a Liv Devine. It seems, however, that every step in her musical journey has prepared her for this very moment, after finding a cohesive sound that continues to warp any preconceived notions of the pop genre.

The 26-year-old’s debut EP, Growing Pains (2019), acted as her breakthrough hit due to her innate ability to resonate with listeners through her introspective songwriting, especially heard on fan-favourite, “Like You Like That”. Not many artists can share music that charts the human experience so well, it feels like they’ve opened a window into the listener’s head – which is what Devine not only does but extremely
excels at.

Following a successful string of EPs, the GAY TIMES’ Elevate Emerging Star in Music honouree’s forthcoming album, Digital Heartifacts, has propelled her signature alt-pop sound to new heights while continuing to share her queer perspective on her own terms. Using this newfound freedom, she has pushed her distinctive creativity in all areas to further limits. We only need to call to mind the inventive and instantly popular accompanying music video for “If I Don’t Laugh I’ll Cry”. Sharing her complicated
feelings about life as well as her love for kebabs, she’s an artist after our own hearts.

With her highly-anticipated tour on the horizon, this will see Devine take her sound to all corners of the U.K., enabling the intimate live atmosphere that this album was written for.

In conversation with 1883 Magazine, L Devine shares more about the making of her debut album Digital Heartifacts, thoughts on the North East’s music scene, the inspiration behind her kebab featuring music video, and more.

The past few years have been full of big changes for you. You’ve moved home to Whitley Bay, changed record labels, and are now releasing an album. What made you decide to release an album around 6 years after your debut Growing Pains EP?

With the EPs, I hadn’t really found a sound where I felt like it was truly cohesive. I loved that they were an opportunity to genre-bend and explore all corners of pop, so they felt like a bit of an assortment in the way the songs are on the EPs. In my head, I always had the intention of making an album that sounded like it was made altogether at once. Obviously, I did make it over the course of the year but I made it with one person. There’s definitely a theme running through it. That’s why the album’s come now because I finally did that.

As you say, moving back home, parting ways with my old label, and becoming independent, it all kind of met together perfectly. This is probably the most ‘me’ project I’ve ever done because I’m independent now. I’ve moved home and I’m surrounded by the people I grew up with. It’s like going back to basics in the best way.

Which events over the course of your life have caused the most writing material?

That’s really interesting. I don’t know if it’s so much events. This is really cliche but it’s probably introspection. A few years ago, when I was writing all of those EPs and stuff, I didn’t have much time to do much inward thinking because I was so busy and on the go all the time. I was learning the craft of songwriting. I was always looking for something in songs that the whole world could relate to. I wasn’t as inspired by myself as much. It was only when we had those two years where the world kind of stopped, that I really got to do some thinking.

Parting ways with my label and moving back home, those are two events that did inspire and impact the writing of this album. But I think it was more the thinking and rediscovering myself that I had to do after those two events.

I’ve read that the idea for this album came from a collection of things that you had on your laptop.
I was wondering what is your favourite ‘digital heartifact’ that you own?

That’s so interesting. It’s funny. There was a period when I was going to do an account of Miscommunikaty, and post lots of screenshots, soundbites, and bits from my laptop under the pseudonym, ‘Miscommunikaty’. But then, it was on the line of being a bit too revealing. I don’t mind revealing all parts of myself but if I’m dragging anyone else into it, then I’m not allowed to do that. I ended up putting that to the side for a bit. When I was going through and trying to collect bits for that, I found some screenshots that I’d taken from a past relationship as a way to analyse myself in a way. It’s funny when you’re in it.

You don’t realise your patterns and the way that you’re wired. You’re just kind of responding to someone as you would. After you’ve written an album about it and then you go back a year later and look at those things, and look at the way you talked to someone about your feelings, it’s so obvious. So, maybe screenshots of text messages. Sonically, a lot of the samples are made up of on the fly voice memos and stuff. There are a lot of voice memos that are really special.

Your music feels so personal, did you ever second guess releasing any tracks like Miscommunikaty?

I always think when you write really personal stuff, you kind of think, “Who the fuck is going to care if it’s about me and not about everyone else?” But I think when you do write really personal and vulnerable, in turn, you write your most relatable stuff. Sometimes when I’m writing so detailed about my thoughts and feelings, like “Why would anyone care about this?” But then once you put the song out, you’re not alone in feeling that way. Everyone actually feels like that.

I’ve heard that “Laundry Day” is your favourite track. Is it still and if so, why?

It’s definitely one of my favourites but it changes all of the time. It always happens that once you’ve released them, your favorite becomes the ones that aren’t released. There are definitely a few gems on the album that I’m excited about everyone hearing on the 2nd. I love “Laundry Day” because it has this double meaning. It’s divided into two people in a way. On the surface, you probably think you’re in a relationship that doesn’t meet your needs and doesn’t treat you very well, but actually this person hasn’t done any of those things. The real meaning is that it’s my insecurity and me projecting those things onto someone before they’ve even done any of those things. They might not even feel that way about me. It’s more me projecting my fears of someone not being able to deal with my mental health in a relationship, and being scared of that before that’s even happened.

I think the different meanings are really important and what makes it so special.

That’s what’s so special about songs. Everyone can find different meanings. There are quite a few songs on this album where there are different layers to it. I think that’s always fun, as someone who appreciates songwriting, to not get everything on the first listen and it takes you a few listens to get it.

What are your favourite lyrics that you’ve written for the album?

There’s a few. I guess, “Doing mind-karate, fighting feelings off me”, and also from “If I Don’t Laugh I’ll Cry”, “A fine line between cracking and harmony”. That sums up my way of thinking at the time. Probably those two but there are a few unreleased ones too. I love the lyrics on a track called, “Hater”.

Do you have any fun or unexpected stories from making this album?

That’s a good question. I’m sure there are so many. I’m trying to think of some serendipitous moment, like he tripped on the keyboard and his nose pressed this key. You know what I mean, like my dad rang me and gave me the title of the song. There isn’t really anything like that. I think “Laundry Day”, people don’t know that I probably posted online that I wrote those lyrics as a poem two years before in lockdown when I was, like pretty depressed as I’m sure a lot of people were. My room was just a fucking tip and it totally reflected my head.

I wrote the chorus lyric that was pretty much that poem and I took that and wrote this whole idea of the relationship around it. I guess that’s a fun little anecdote. Also, Bully, the last song of the album, wasn’t going to be on it. We’d finished the album and everything was in mix and then me and Julien [Flew] had two days to write and finish that song. People were a bit pissed off that we’d turned in a new song.

I love your music video for “If I Don’t Laugh I’ll Cry,” which involves a stolen kebab and a kebab love
story tattoo. How did you think of the concept and is a kebab always your go-to at the takeaway?

With that one, it felt kind of obvious to do something in the world of comedy as the title of the track is, “If I Don’t Laugh I’ll Cry”. I was kind of inspired by the idea that the funniest comedians on the surface, that can make everyone laugh and are kind of class clowns, behind that there’s the capacity to go to quite deep, dark places. Feel sadness on the flip side of the humour and the joy that they bring everyone else. I wanted to start the video in a comedy club and the idea was that I get up to do my first stand-up and I
absolutely tank it.

I’m faced with the options of whether to deal with the rejection in a healthy way, or go on this debaucherous night out and make loads of bad choices. Obviously, I chose the night out. It made for a really funny video. Definitely with a side of cheesy chips and loads of garlic sauce.

On your Instagram story, you shared a photo of your kebab love story tattoo with the caption,
‘Things that would send Shakespeare into a coma’. After writing an album that explores the
complexities of human emotions, what does love now mean to you?

That’s so big. It’s funny, obviously, a lot of the songs on the album are about yearning and longing. Unrequited love and my trials and tribulations of that. But when I stand back and look at the making of the album, the reason that I got to write these songs was because of the people I was surrounded by in Newcastle. So, when I look back at the two years of making that, it’s less about the heartbreak and more about being with my family all the time and moving back home reconnecting with all of them.

Making really deep friendships around here. Getting to make an album with Julien as well, who produced it and co-wrote it with me. I’ve found a life-long best friend in him. While the lyrics are kind of longing, yearning, and heartbreak, there was actually so much love around making this album. I don’t know what it means to me but I definitely feel it.

Your track “PMO” is really powerful and it’s something that most people can relate to. What made
you want to write it as an album track and how did you find putting your feelings into words?

At first, it wasn’t something that I set out to do. In the back of my head, out of my other EPs, I was always really proud of Daughter. Obviously, after playing gigs the last couple of years, I noticed how much that song connected with people. I guess that was the song where I felt like a storyteller, and I think that song opened doors for me to write the way I have on this album. So, I was like, “I do want to do something like Daughter where I’m telling a real clear story.” But I never wanted to force it and I think this kind of ‘love triangle song’ started off and came about. I realised that this is a reoccurring insecurity and jealousy of mine, and this is something I get angry about a lot. Men not taking my relationships seriously and me being more threatened by men in relationships, and feeling more inferior to them because they’re not threatened by me. It’s really complex.

It’s not just about one thing, there are so many layers to it. It was tough to write about it as I didn’t really know if it was about one thing. It kind of wasn’t. It’s all of these unique feelings. That’s why I like it as it feels really human. It’s not perfect. It’s not me trying to make a statement and come off unscathed. It’s a statement about misogyny and homophobia but I’m also telling you about my insecurities, my jealousy, and my imperfections in a situation like that as well. I’m proud of that one. It’s fun because I’ve never done an angry song before as well, so it was good to really shout down the mic and be pissed off about something.

What is your proudest moment in your career so far, would it be writing “PMO” or something

That’s definitely up there. I’m proud that I just didn’t succumb to any of the pressures to write songs that everyone would get instantly. I was always kind of second-guessing myself throughout the album, as we talked about earlier, “Is anyone interested in my head? Why would they be?”I went from writing pop songs that have these really universally accessible messages, to jumping to stuff that’s more inward-looking and self-reflecting was scary. I’m proud that I committed to that jump.

It must be hard thinking of what you want to write and not thinking about everyone else, as well as moving away from London where a lot of people move to and finding your own way back?

Definitely. Well, I did that a few years ago when I first started. I was 19 when I moved straight to London. At the time, I really needed that. Newcastle felt different to me then because I needed to go to a big city, especially as a queer person. I think it’s a rite of passage to leave your small town and be able to surround yourself with people who are more like you. Now, I’ve come back way more comfortable in myself. I don’t think I could’ve stayed here and done what I’ve done, but I’ve come back at the right time. There’s so much buzzing about this area now.

There are loads of artists popping up now that have given other up-and-coming artists the confidence that you can make music around here. It felt important to me to come back because it’s still kind of indie-centric up here. Coming back and making pop songs like I used to write in LA all the time, I like the idea that the songs I wrote over there are no fucking different to the ones that I wrote here. To be honest, in my opinion, the songs that I write downstairs in my studio in my basement are better. I think that it’s cool that you can write pop songs from your bedroom in the North East.

Which artists from the North East are you admiring at the moment?

There’s so many. I mean it goes without saying, Sam [Fender], has absolutely paved the way for so many artists around here. I love a mate of mine, who I’m working with quite a bit called Sweets. He’s so good. There are a few people. My friend Heidi Curtis is yet to release some stuff but I’ve heard a lot of the tunes and they’re wicked. There’s loads of stuff bubbling around here.

What would you like to do next and can we expect any collaborations?

I would love to do some collaborations. I would love to get some of these songs remixed next, that would be really sick. There are some really good opportunities to turn these into some sick more electronic or dance tunes, so that could be cool. I’m just excited to play shows. I think this album really lends itself to live stuff. I’m excited to do that and get cracking on with the next album. I’m already back in the studio writing.

Is there anything that you can tell us about that?

Not really, I’m just blowing the dust off. It’s funny when you’re at this stage where you want to get a head start on it but I’m so in the mode of still talking about Digital Heartifacts, and I’m still living in that world. I’m half in that world and half out. It’s a weird one when you’re starting to write more stuff when you’re already in something else, but we’ve got a good couple of songs that I’m really buzzing with. Hopefully, it won’t be another three years.

Is there anything that you’ve never been asked but wished that you had?

That’s a crazy question. I never really find myself thinking, “I wish someone would ask me this.” I’ve never had a marriage proposal. No, I was just trying to think of the most obvious question that I’ve never been asked. I don’t know. If you’ve got a really random one, then shoot?

What was the last song that you listened to?

These are so opposite but it was either ‘Into My Arms’, [by] Nick Cave or ‘Me & You’, [by] Cassie.

L Devine’s debut album Digital Heartifacts is out now. Follow her by clicking here.

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