By Cam LindsayAs a member of the self-destructive Test Icicles, Dev Hynes wasn’t exactly in a position to demonstrate his songwriting chops. That band’s abrasive, slapdash genre-hopping was punctuated by an implosion just months after the release of their debut full-length. Needless to say, Hynes had his sights set on something else. That something eventually became Lightspeed Champion, which finds him at the other end of the spectrum, disregarding rampant clanging for lush, orchestral pop. Hynes took time out of his schedule, which includes a stop in Toronto on March 4 at the Horseshoe Tavern, to answer some questions regarding his past, present and future.
I’d like to start by talking about your former band, Test Icicles. Two years ago I did an interview with your guitarist Sam Mehran just before the album, For Screening Purposes, came out here in North America. I was stunned because he basically told me then that you guys were gonna break up. What led to the break-up? And how long were you guys functioning as a band knowing it was gonna end? I think we actually did break up after our third ever gig... We didn’t play for ages after that, it was more a project. I only ever really do projects, I still love and put everything into what I do, but it's best to look at it like that rather than the typical idea of a band, like a painter that does different exhibitions, but only a bit more shit.
Do you still embrace what that band did or do you try and keep a distance? Neither. It's just there. I think other people think I have more of a problem with it than I actually do. I don't have any problems with it. Do you still keep in touch with Sam and Rory [Attwell]? I guess, no more or less than other people I knew a couple years ago.
After Test Icicles you started Naked Babes with Tom Vek and dudes from Semifinalists. What happened with that? Great name, by the way… Ha ha. The name was Ferry [Gouw]'s idea yet again. The song titles were pretty cool too. "Centurian Hard On" was one of them I think. Yet again, another musical project. I can't do bands. Same for a lot of my friends.
Before you settled on Lightspeed Champion you were involved with a number of different acts. Are those still active? I dunno, I’m still in lots of different acts. Lightspeed is whatever I do by myself, as long as it's not hip-hop, because I have a different name for that act. So Lightspeed’s always existed. It can be anything, as along as it's just me. As for other acts… God, I don't even know where to begin!
What led you to decide on and stick with Lightspeed Champion? Do you feel it's a new beginning for you? Not at all. In my head Lavender Bridge is like the fourth record… Or at least the fourth generation of songs. If people like what I do and show enthusiasm for it and want to put it out then I just let them, I get excitement from writing and recording, then I'm happy.
You were born in the U.S. but live in London. Is London gonna remain your home? If so, what keeps you there? I'm actually homeless, I don't live anywhere at the moment and have no plans to move in anywhere... Fuck, I should sort that out I guess, but I’m touring all year. Yeah.
How did you end up in Omaha? And what made you choose Mike Mogis? I'm guessing these two may go together... I didn't choose Mike Mogis — I was in no position to choose producers, no one wanted to work with me, and I wasn't even sure I wanted to do an album. I even contemplated just putting out the garageband demos. Mike was given a CD of my songs by Laurence at Domino, then he called me up and we got talking. Then we spoke on and off for around ten months. He had finally built the new studio in Omaha, and invited me out to record, pretty crazy actually.
When I first heard you were working so closely with Saddle Creek artists, I expected you to end up releasing this through their label... Was Domino always in the cards? I've been on Domino for a few years now, they paid for [the record]. There was no Saddle Creek involvement apart from the musicians, and even that was kinda coincidental.
The album's pretty magnificent, especially in its arrangement. Was there a lot of planning involved in how it all came together? Or did having so many people involved with it just add to its grandeur? Ah thanks! There wasn't really that many people involved with it though, four or five max. A lot of people came in to do the choir bits but that's it. I don't write in the studio. I find it weird when bands do that. It took us two weeks to record the whole album. I wrote those songs soooo long ago, it was just a case of getting it down. I make albums because I have songs rather than make songs for an album. Y'know? Obviously I’ll eat my words when the next record comes out in seven years time. Elastica styleeeee.
How does your live set-up work? Who's touring with you? It changes. A lot. The core is me on pianos/guitars/bass, Martin on bass/guitars, Mike on violin/bass/, Anna on drums... We all sing. That's the main group, and then sometimes female singers, sometimes members of the band Semifinalists... Whoever wants to really — I'm easy.
You write songs about Zelda, a piece of lavender you were attached to as a kid, The OC and well, crunk, which all reveal you have a sense of humour but you're also not afraid to reveal your personal side. Did the abrasions of Test Icicles have any effect on you opening up as a songwriter? Nope. Ha ha. I literally just write whatever's in my head, kinda like breathing. I don't tend to think, it just happens. Maybe I should start thinking though, and then I’ll be able to write a good song for once. Ha ha.
So was everyone you know listening to crunk? When I first read that song title ("Everyone I Know Is Listening To Crunk”) I thought maybe you'd give crunk a go - no? I like some crunk. It was more a nod to all the white middle class DJs I knew at the time mimicking Lil Jon. Man, I have such out of date references on this album...
You have four official bootlegs according to Wikipedia — one of which, I Wrote and Recorded This In Less Than Five Hours I've heard. How do fans get a hold of those? Do you authorise them? Oh wow!? That's so funny! Ha ha. Erm, I’m sure if you Google it they'll come up. There's a lot more... A lot more shit.
Are projects like I Wrote and Recorded This In Less Than Five Hours something you intend to keep up? Or was it just for fun? Both. I do it almost every day when I’m not touring or busy. I tend to either show no one or like two people. If you imagine someone plays football, and they play games against their garage door every day, it’s kinda like that. Ha ha.
Love the video for "Galaxy of the Lost." It's drenched in cuteness: kittens, muppets, pastel fluffballs. Who came up with the concept? What's it like working with muppets? Was it hard resisting to have the one take a bite out of you? Ha ha. Ferry and I came up with it. It's actually the story of the song told through the power of muppets. We had no money for it too, so it's all our friends we called in the morning who weren't hung over controlling the puppets.