Having been involved in a variety of musical incarnations since his teens, Devon Williams travels delicately back and forth through decades of influences in his solo work, always maintaining a notion of carefully styled pop. His sound, though sweet, is surprisingly big and lush, making for a diverse and intoxicating listen.
Your latest album, "Euphoria," has quite a bit more of an '80s influence than the more chamber pop-leaning debut record, "Carefree." Is that what was inspiring you when writing this record?
Well, my tastes have been pretty split between orchestral pop and chorus-y guitar pop rock. So, the first record was kind of a focusing in on that. For "Euphoria," that focus was the same, but I spent way more time making the songs more dense. I didn't mean to make them dense; whatever was happening in me told me it needed more and more. I was definitely listening to Cleaners from Venus a lot and kind of had an epiphany. I had all these songs, no real band, and I didn't know where to start. I looked at Martin Newell's [of Cleaners from Venus] work and thought, "I'd much rather have recorded versions of these songs than let them sit on the shelf in my mind." So, I just started recording everything and happened to like the outcome.
Though I just mentioned the '80s overtones, your production is definitely on the subtle side—no funky synth bass or crazy Phil Collins drum machine tom fills. Do you think those kinds of more over-the-top styles are something you'd ever incorporate in your recordings somewhere down the line?
I just recorded what came natural. When you're wrapped up in a song recording at home, it's hard to look at it objectively. I have, however, ceased to even see my production values as '80s. I mean, bands like M83 or whatever that song is from the movie Drive, are so of that period. But they're modern too; I'm not sure if it's because the production is cleaner or what.
Right, they are almost pure pastiche.
Yeah, I've always loved chorus-y guitars. Something about hundreds of guitars in unison is pretty.
Keeping to this era, I've read somewhere you've said that some of the first bands you ever got into were hair-metal and glam bands. Perhaps those are another, more subconscious influence?
I don't think it's subconscious, really, at all. I kinda don't talk about it because people don't "regard" it well. I'm totally serious. "Hysteria" [by Def Leppard] is an immense sonic album. Forget that some of the songs are cheesy. I've heard "Pour Some Sugar on Me" a thousand times. I don't like that song, but a couple months ago, I listened to ["Hysteria"] and just got lost in the production of it.
Me too! I just recently I've delved into the whole record; I'd only known the singles.
[Their producer] Mutt Lange also did The Cars' "Heartbeat City," and you can hear the similarities in production. But The Cars, for me, lacked the emotion.
In my mind, your song "Tower of Thought" [from "Euphoria"] and the Def Leppard track "Hysteria" aren't so different…
That's funny, someone else said that riff was Def Leppard-ish. I don't know if I would draw similarities or even say that I'm influenced by those bands. I don't know how to write power ballads. But I love guitar parts, and those are abundant in '80s hard rock pop. To me, a riff from The Church's "Starfish" album, "North South East West," is similar to "Hysteria" (the album)… massive riff. But my guitar playing when it comes to leads is more Paul Westerberg and Marty Willson Piper than Def Leppard's Steve Clark.
You were just out in the UK playing shows—does it feel like people "get" your music more over there, considering your sometimes Anglo-leaning style?
No way. There was a riff in a new song that we were playing, and I immediately got so self-conscious. Like, "Oh brother, they think we're trying to rip off The Smiths." But that was all in my head.
So, almost the opposite in your perception!
Yeah, we got a good reception, and it was nice. My main concern is that we don't really sound like the record when we play live. Before it was something that I thought was okay, but now I think it's a waste of time. I work on the recordings a lot, and to not give it that attention to detail makes it feel like two totally different things—one, that I love creating, and two, fucking around.
If you were able to only record and release songs constantly, and not do the tour cycle, would that be your preference?
No, I love touring. I love travelling with my friends, I love seeing friends. I do like playing shows too, but I think from here on, I gotta get it right. Personally, I'm just not that into live music. It's not how I enjoy music. An experience is one thing, but I've been to loads of shows, and it's all diminished returns at this point.
I know you've been somewhat bicoastal for the past year. For you, how do the two coasts compare?
Right now, I can't get out of LA fast enough. Maybe it's because I know I'm leaving, and I'm not committing to anything. But I also am just ready for something else right now. I think New York is beautiful and busy and dirty. I like LA because I'm from here—and I have really great friends here—but I need a break from it. Also, I would never want to start a family here, so I may as well get outta here now.
Do you not feel connected to the music scene in Los Angeles?
Well, there are cliques in LA, but I try not to get caught up in that. But then again, there are great bands that I'm friends with that aren't friends with each other. Like Catwalk and The Soft Pack and Sea Lions. Also Burger Records is not so far away, and they are doing something unique. They are like a family; I feel like they're my family. And they like lots of different stuff. The really cool thing is they have created this community, and the younger people are starting bands and actually have a place to go with it.