Devon Church is a singer-songwriter hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba and based in New York City. He was, for many years, a multi-instrumentalist, co-writer and producer of the dreampop duo Exitmusic, In 2018, the same year that Exitmusic released its swan song, The Recognitions (felte), Church released his solo debut, We Are Inextricable (felte). Having gigged throughout the US in 2019, Church recorded his latest offering, Strange Strangers, while seeking refuge from the global pandemic in a barn in rural Pennsylvania. Strange Strangers is out April 7, 2023.
Delicate Steve is an LA-based artist whose latest record After Hours is out now; Devon Church is a singer-songwriter from Winnipeg who is now based in Ridgewood, Queens. Devon’s new record Strange Strangers is out tomorrow on felte, so to celebrate, the two friends found some time to catch up via a shared Google Doc. Below are their notes to each other.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Steve: Devon Church, how are you?
Devon: Bit of a bleak misty day here in Queens, Steve. I’ve been trying to coax myself into going for a walk but right now I’m playing my guitar. I’ve been doing this open tuning, John Fahey kind of thing a lot lately and I love it but it’s a challenge to not just always play variations of the same thing.
Anyway, so you just moved to LA and wound up on the same block in Silverlake that I lived on in 2005. How’s my old street?
S: I think it’s OK. I’m so curious how LA felt 18 years ago. It’s raining here today. What was the music scene like back then? The Echo? Satellite?
D: Well, I lived by Sunset Junction right before and after the Intelligentsia Coffee opened up (is it a La Colombo now?), and that felt like a major change. All of a sudden people were lining up for half a block to get a latte and it kinda stressed me out honestly. But I loved all the flowers and neighborhood cats in that area. One day I’ll never forget is when Griffith Park was on fire and you could see it from Sunset Blvd. and helicopters were dropping pink dust on the fire. In LA you always feel the possibility for some kind of cinematic, apocalyptic event. Not that NYC is immune to disasters, but you can’t see them as well, the view is more hemmed in, and there aren’t those mysterious hills looming above you.
My old band, Exitmusic, started out in LA and we played The Echo, Spaceland (which is now the Satellite), the Smell. There was a couple little gallery spaces in Echo Park whose names I can’t remember. Those were the spots that made it feel like a scene. And it was really fun and diverse. We’d play with folk bands and electronic bands and shoegaze bands. That’s totally normal now, but I grew up listening to punk rock in the ‘90s when genres were still very siloed. Plus there was more of an actual local scene of people from LA and the suburbs. I remember playing with Avi Buffalo at a bowling alley in Glendale when he was probably 18. And Bobb Bruno from Best Coast wearing a rabbit costume playing sad music on an SPDS. Or Eddie Chacon’s old band with his wife Sissy. Stuff like that blew my mind.
S: You’re in Ridgewood now, and it seems like there is a nice local scene happening. Are you feeling fulfilled playing shows these days?
D: Yeah it’s starting to seem a bit healthier and shows are happening in an organic way that I didn’t feel too much pre-COVID. I don’t know how to account for that exactly, because rents certainly didn’t go down! Moving to Ridgewood has been good for me because there’s a few cool venues here and a few local spots to hang out — but not too many, so you have good odds of bumping into someone.
But honestly I’m a socially awkward homebody and I gotta work to pay the rent so if I want to write or practice music or maintain any kind of halfway healthy routines, I can’t really go out too much. Plus I’m a cranky old man, you know. If I go out and have a few drinks I’m liable to start lecturing the youngsters about the evils of capitalism and imperialism, or about some esoteric Buddhist concept (as you know from experience). I’m just glad to have a few friends who put up with me!
You spent a few years there without a fixed address and living in some interesting places. The desert, Greece, now LA. How has that been, and have the warmer, dryer climates had any affect on your music or mental state?
S: The music making part feels the same no matter where I live, because it’s always spent in a room in front of a computer surrounded by instruments. Somehow I ended up making my most distorted record [Till I Burn Up] in Woodstock minutes from The Band’s Big Pink house, and my most easy listening record [After Hours] in a basement with no windows in Brooklyn.
You recorded this album in a barn in Pennsylvania right? What was it like working in the countryside after bedroom recording in New York for so long?
D: Oh, it was incredible. I had mostly written the songs while still in New York actually. The only true “pandemic song” on the record is the instrumental closer which I made while getting over my first dose of COVID in April 2020, and it is a bit of an outlier stylistically. After that we camped out at (girlfriend now wife and collaborator) Ada’s parents’ place in rural PA. It was amazing to be in one place from the beginning of springtime to the first snowfall. I got really into birds watching, geeking out on weird plants and mushrooms, watching the water levels of the creek rise and fall. I also got really into my Buddhist practice which I think had a huge impact on my ability to dive into such a big project without getting too neurotic about it. I mixed it myself, which was probably a bad idea! But I just got so deep into it I wanted to see if I could do it.
It was also cool that people were so free to collaborate remotely, that felt like a lifeline. Getting those slide guitar parts and leads from you for a couple songs was awesome, and the string arrangements from Jesse Kotansky. It was pretty funny putting together these kind of opulent arrangements in the loft of a barn where flying squirrels would emerge from the walls at night and just stare at me while I was working. My studio actually began to smell like flying squirrel urine after a while.
Anyway I don’t know if my location affected the sound of the recordings or not but it was sure nice to be able to take my time working on these songs rather than try to squeeze in sessions before or after work and without the distractions of living in the city. I also wrote a whole other album while I was up there that I still have to finish!