Martin Devaney – More than “the dude in the flannel shirt in hip-hop band”
Punk rockers turned alt-country twangers are a dime a dozen, but what exactly does it take for a former hip-hop and jazz artist to turn to the contemplative singer-songwriter lifestyle?
Ask 22-year-old Martin Devaney, a charming, bushy-haired, sweet-voiced tunesmith with a pocketful of Bob Dylan comparisons and the gift of song. His music is as diverse as he is young, and as poetic as it is melodic.
Devaney’s musical background suggests his influences should lie more in the realm of Bach and Miles Davis than the artists he cites as inspiring forces: Dylan, Springsteen and Dan Bern. He started playing violin at age 5, soon graduated to clarinet, and played saxophone in his high school band. A classically trained musician, he performed in various jazz outfits with three friends who eventually backed him on two solo albums: Josh Peterson (guitar), Kevin Hunt (drums) and Sean McPherson (bass).
Before Devaney turned to the guitar, however, the four were a part of a popular St. Paul jazzy hip-hop crew called Heiruspecs. “I don’t play in those bands anymore,” says Devaney, “but I still go to hip-hop shows. It was an interesting thing being the dude in the flannel shirt in the hip-hop band.”
Three years ago, Devaney started writing original material, and last year he made two full-length albums of emotional, heart-on-your-sleeve songs — the country-rock oriented Somebody Somewhere (released in March) and the more introspective September (despite its title, released in December). “This album [September] is a singular representation of one period of time for me,” Devaney says. “I like this record and I support it, but it’s almost like I want to get a restraining order against it. I don’t want to bum people out.”
Since the recording of both of those albums, Devaney says he has re-evaluated his artistic direction — partly in response to the October plane-crash death of liberal Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone. “Since that Wellstone crash, I think a lot of people that I know have gone through a period of re-examination,” he says.
“I thought about the music I was listening to, and how it compared to the music I was listening to a year ago and the way that times are right now. It led me to thinking about what kind of purpose music has in my life.” The result, Devaney says, is that he wants “to write music that’s going to light a fire under people’s asses.”
He’s also concerned about playing for all-ages audiences in addition to the over-21 bar crowd. “I’m really careful to remind myself that those formative years are when your needs and desires are set,” he says, “where you are really impressionable and idealistic and even naively passionate about something. That’s a real important impact on people’s lives.”