Ahead of two online shows over the next two weekends, David Devant & His Spirit Wife speak to Vessel, Foz and Professor about their first album in 15 years, soundtracking lockdown with their new AA single ‘Taking My Time/When Nature Calls’ and having one of the most rabid fanbases in the business…
It must be good to be back playing and recording together after a lengthy break… What made you decide to re-group?
Professor: We never de-grouped. I don’t think there’s been a period of more than 12 months in the last 29 years that we’ve not been gigging. So not so much re-grouped as swirling back into the warm thermals. (that’s an aeronautical reference, not winter clothes). But there was a moment when we all realised there was a chance to do some new recordings and there was definitely keen interest in it.
Foz: We’ve never un-grouped, but surely the best time to re-group is when the rest of the world is ungrouping.
So it just developed into recording a new album (2019’s Cut Out & Keep Me’)…
Professor: It evolved very quickly, in a couple of weekends of recording and then stretched languidly over about three years of tinkering and faffing. I guess we were slightly taken by surprise at the possibilities and delights of doing it totally DIY at least in the recording stages.
Vessel: Devant has always stood outside time and space. We’ve always been in the middle of something rather than before or after.
Foz: Very slowly. It literally took ten years to write, starting with the title track “ Cut Out” which was written the week after we finished our third album in 2008
How do you think your songwriting changed across that time? Is the process the same as ever or is three a new dynamic at play?
Professor: We’ve been amazed at how seamless the development has been. The dynamic in the band had always been extraordinarily diverse but it’s testament to Vessel’s songwriting and all our diverse creative endeavours that people are saying this album is the best yet.
Vessel: Devant has always made any kind of songwriting possible. It’s part of that always emerging feeling. Songs are a way of speculating about being in the middle which is where kindness and magic empathy emerge. When you hear a song or even think of a song it’s a totality a kind of Aesthetic realm. It’s different to a parallel universe because it’s within this one for the duration of the song. We also tried to write more from scratch on this album. For ‘Data Streams’ I turned to the Colonel and said right play a bass line and it grew from that. With ‘Sublime’, Foz had this toy piano at his house that played a very weird scale and that became the basis. I was very conscious of trying to have nothing to go on and trusting that things would emerge. It felt very special when the chorus for ‘Sublime’ emerged as we all played around especially because the lyric is about this feeling of having nothing left to hold. But even with songs I’d turned up with, the band makes it the song it is because we have such a strong intensity of feeling together.
Foz: Musically, every song on ‘Cut Out…’ was different. ‘Sublime’ stared with a Thai toy piano and a melody on the recorder, ‘Weatherman’ started with the musical saw, ‘Sally’ just sort of emerged fully formed from a jam around a Stooges-like stabby rip, ‘Data Streams’ from the bass line and ‘This Train’ from a programmed drum track made by the professor.
What about the lyrical concerns? They must have developed as you’ve got older….
Vessel: That’s possible, but I think you can learn a lot from your younger self creatively. Not knowing what you are doing is how a song feels alive or emergent. ‘Taking My Time’ is such a simple song that I thought, ‘hey that’s really profound.’ There’s always been a contradictory element to some of the songs. ‘Sublime’ is a very emotional song and when I realised that the word sublime would make the chorus work I actually thought of the concept of “the sublime” as a total cop out. I mean the sublime, I felt, is the rational mind’s construction to control our sense of feeling that is beyond conceptual cognition. It’s like wearing colourful chinos at the weekend. However, the song transformed this into something actually very emotionally resonant.
Tell us about the new AA-side single – the main track ‘Taking My Time’ dates back to your early days but never got officially recorded, right? It must have been weird dusting off something from another age…
Professor: I think it’s like when you have something to eat, like a slice of cake, or maybe a biscuit and you put the last bit of it down somewhere while you do something else. Then you get distracted and fail to finish the cake or biscuit, but somewhere deep in the back of your mind you always know something wasn’t ended. You don’t feel complete. you remember how nice it tasted but can’t think where you put it. We found our biscuit.
Vessel: I agree in my case it’s the last sip of tea. I have an inbuilt sense of how much tea’s in my cup no matter where I walk in relation to it. There’s nothing worse than returning to a cup you felt had tea in it to find it cleared away. Luckily ‘Taking My Time’ hadn’t been cleared away.
Foz: Probably the first and has always been my favourite Devant song, It just got forgotten about as we wrote new songs
It feels like there’s a lockdown theme to the two tracks, with ‘Taking My Time’ being about the upside of the crisis and the other side, ‘When Nature Calls’, being about mourning. Is that about right?
Vessel: That’s very insightful. I hadn’t quite seen how the two songs could act like that. With ‘Taking My Time’
it feels like quite an enlightened state and that’s what I mean about learning from your younger self. With ‘When Nature Calls is perhaps a more experienced voice. I feel like modernity has this sense that humans are a detached intelligence but this detachment is just a means of organising things. Really, we are part of nature even when we use sophisticated thinking and technology. So I’m the same as a crawling insect. Nature and death are not really these things we observe from a critical distance and in times like this our actual entanglement with the cosmos is more obvious. I like how every song is a way of becoming entangled because meaning is felt like an insect or organism not just a brain.
Was it a challenge recording the songs and making the videos under the restrictions?
Professor: I think we’ve all been so fascinated by what this period means creatively, personally, and for everyone, that the challenges of working on the music and films during this time have been a really joy. The real challenges have been elsewhere.
F: It’s actually a lot easier than going into the studio, less time pressures, personally most of the guitars on previous albums were recorded while the rest of the band were down the pub, so it’s still me by myself with an engineer looking slightly exacerbated, asking would you like to do that again? Recording in a studio is a bit like going to the dentist.
Vessel: I have to agree with Prof here. Lockdown has been a lot like I feel all the time creatively. Making stuff is what I live for and the collaborative possibilities are truly joyful. Lockdown has made grieving a strange and intense process (as if it wasn’t already) but it’s also a time for substantial new possibilities if we can let go of old habits
You must be itching to get playing live again, but in the meantime you’re doing a couple of online shows for Save Our Venues and the Mental Health Foundation. Are they causes close to your heart?
Vessel: Small venues are a space where idiosyncratic creativity can be shared. As a young teenager I had some intensely formative musical experiences in dark back rooms of pubs. I think digital technology has made it easier for “that which everybody knows” to become the predominant voice whereas music surely is more of an unknown realm. All done by kindness is a motto that has carried us throughout our journey. Kindness acts through the unknown.
Foz: Devant in itself is a cause we are fighting and our fans fight for, so we are very supportive of people who take action to create a better world, all done with kindness
Professor: :Of course live music is enormously important for many many reasons, and we’ve always been blessed in the UK with a vibrant but very finely balanced relationship between musicians, venues and audiences. It’s unthinkable to allow all that to disappear because of this current situation. Clearly there are other bigger concerns to deal with at the moment but we disregard the arts at our peril.
After all, you are renowned for your fanatical fanbase… They even seem to have their own words to some of your songs!
Vessel: I didn’t know that about the words. There are some great covers online. I especially like the work off ‘Colincidence’. But we’ve somehow always allowed the audience to be part of who we are. At our first gig we shook hands with everyone as they left through the room’s only door. This idea of the emancipated spectator is actually really, really vital to a collective spirit but we arrived at it through enjoying what we do rather than reading Rancier.
Professor: I’m sure we are not alone these days in thinking of the people who follow us as a kind of family. We’ve been through quite a lot together and understanding that we create meaning for each other makes it a joy to share the kindness.
Finally, what’s next for David Devant & His Spirit Wife? Will you be doing more lockdown tracks if the whole thing drags on….
Prof: : Definitely. I think we’ve only just got started. All new forms of working are interesting to us. Just got to keep pointing in the one direction for more than 5 min. Put that phone down!
Foz: More new songs for our Lockdown album due to be released in 2030!!
Vessel: I don’t think we’re ever going back so part of that boldness in moving away from old destructive systems is letting go of everything. So who knows, maybe a 24hr feature film?
- David Devant & His Spirit Wife play a benefit for Save Our Venues 9pm BST on Friday June 12 and Balcony Festival from 6-9PM BST on Saturday June 20,.
More details: https://www.cutoutandkeepme.com/