Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Midday Show host Cheryl Waters, is “Another Bag of Bones” by Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band from the 2009 album Brother’s Blood on Favorite Gentlemen.
If you were to look back and tell your grandkids what the music scene was like today, how artists survived, and even succeeded, in this post-major label empire, digital downloading culture, you would do well to cite Kevin Devine as an example. The New York native has weathered the music industry like few have. Whereas many bands have folded under an unadvantageous contract or got lost between mergers, Devine has managed to piece together a burgeoning career through persistence, innovation, and by writing damn good songs. His roots began in the Staten Island emo/punk scene with his first band Delusion, which was followed by The Miracle of 86, until finally he was making a name for himself as a solo performing artist while in college at Fordham University, taking advantage of as many open mics and gigs as possible. Kevin Devine released his first album on the Brooklyn-based emo-centric Immigrant Sun label and then his next two on Triple Crown Records, a Warner Music subsidiary. Following the traditional next step to full-on major label, he signed to Capitol Records for album number four, but was dropped in as many months when Capitol merged with Virgin. And that could have been the end. No label. No support. But Kevin Devine had been building his fanbase while opening for his friend Jesse Lacey’s band, Brand New. Further tours with Manchester Orchestra and Chin Up Chin Up added more fans, and, for lack of a label, he started posting demos of new songs on his MySpace page, reaching an audience he hadn’t found before. Classic story? It is now, but too few deserving bands weather the storm the way Kevin Devine has. After three years, he’s released a new album, Brother’s Blood, on Manchester Orchestra’s label, Favorite Gentlemen (it’s run by frontman Andy Hull and drummer Jeremiah Edmond), with distribution by Sony/RED. It’s a scenario you couldn’t have witnessed ten years ago: a friend-focused independent label and giganto-corporate promotional support. And the priority is on the music itself, rather than who has the best image to sell. Devine has always been an exceptional songwriter, combining personal history, social observation and political opinion in emotive (but not emo!) songs that recall Death Cab for Cutie pop, Neil Young squall, and Simon & Garfunkel folk rock at various times. Today’s Song of the Day is just one of those songs that blend the personal, observational, and global: phrases like “collateral damage,” “cost of war,” “conflict diamond,” and “mission of identity” point to some larger message (i.e. how poorly we’ve made our time on earth), and indicate “the whole damn world turned inside out,” but there’s nothing here to be done about it — rather just let the whole thing burn. In the song, there’s an inherent relief from the burden of responsibility that we seek at times, even when we know that we shouldn’t sit back and let bad things happen. It’s a message echoed in the album’s next song, “Hand of God”: “Cut yourself some slack against a deck so stacked / I mean come on now, you’re just one man.” Rather than preach a particular message, Kevin Devine’s music does what good music should: it makes you rethink the things you’ve come to expect.
Rather than going it alone these days, Kevin Devine has put together a band — a “Goddamn Band” really — and is currently touring with Miniature Tigers and Brian Bonz and the Dot Hongs (Brian is also part of the Goddamn Band). They’ll be at Chop Suey this Thursday, May 21. Check out more tour dates on their MySpace page, and if you haven’t seen this posted earlier, here’s the video of Kevin Devine’s performance of “Another Bag Of Bones” from when he was live on the Morning Show with John Richards:
video by Louis Sparre