On Tom Petty and the Fragility of Personhood

A conversation between Kevin Devine and Petal’s Kiley Lotz (plus, a track premiere from their new split).

On September 28, Kevin Devine will release the ninth installment of his Devinyl Splits series. This time, he’s opposite Kiley Lotz (Petal) covering Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Open” and “You Got Lucky,” respectively. Here, stream the premiere of Devine’s cover while you read his and Lotz’s discussion of the physical, psychological, and financial pressures inherent to working as an independent artist (and, of course, Tom Petty).  
—Annie Fell, Associate Editor, Talkhouse

Kevin Devine: Can I talk to you about a real life thing right away and then we can also, as we go through this, determine what’s too real and what’s OK?

Kiley Lotz: Yeah.

Kevin: I figure it might be okay to ask you this, because it was something that was on social media and stuff, but I just wanted to see how you were feeling.

Kiley: Aw, thanks. Yeah, it’s totally OK to ask. I’m doing a lot better. It’s a slow recovery, which has been so frustrating. So basically, they thought I had meningitis, which was pretty scary. They did the spinal tap, which was so crazy. You’re awake for it, it’s nuts. I felt my spine juice dripping down into my butt crack.

Kevin: The phrase “spine juice” really indicates the depth of the waters in which we are swimming here. That’s fucking crazy.

Kiley: Yeah, it was crazy. So, no meningitis, thank goodness. They needed to make sure I didn’t have some other weird, scary stuff, like MS or Lyme disease. All those things came back negative too, which is great. It turns out that I had just a really, really bad, atypical migraine.

I had worked this wedding, assisting a wedding planner—it totally kicked my ass, and the next day I was really, really sick all day. The side effect of [the spinal tap] is you get this thing called a lumbar puncture headache. People who have epidurals from having kids might have this. It’s supposed to go away after a day or two, and mine lasted for a week. It’s a debilitating headache where the only time it goes away is when you’re laying completely flat. Basically, that’s because your spine didn’t fully heal, so it’s just leaking spinal fluid into your cavity.

Kevin: Oh my god!

Kiley: Your brain doesn’t have enough juice to bounce around. It’s just dry up there, which isn’t good. So they do this thing called a blood patch, which is really insane—it’s basically like another spinal tap. They take clean, sterile blood out of your hand and inject it into the area where you had the lumbar puncture. And your blood [is] like this patch—it blocks the leaking. You go from having the worst headache of your life to feeling so much better within minutes.

Kevin: Like, as soon as soon as it’s done? Wow. Miraculous science.

Kiley: I know. Bodies are insane. I was awake for that too, which was pretty crazy.

Kevin: Oh my god.

Kiley: But the recovery time for the blood patch is two weeks. I’ve been on bed rest for a couple weeks now and I am slowly getting my mind back. I lost it, I think last week, and now I’m retrieving it piece by piece. I had to cancel a bunch of shows, which was frustrating, but, at the end of it, it’s like: I could either try and play these shows and prolong this recovery process or I could just let myself heal.

Kevin: No, it’s absolutely always [OK]. I don’t want to speak for you, but I think in general, the people that we know that occupy the spaces we occupy—there’s a mix of a few things in there. There’s a sense of pride on some level; you show up for work, or whatever. You and I have talked about that sort of thing before in different context, about touring and stuff. You do what you have to do.

This isn’t a sexy thing to talk about out loud, but there’s also some economic insecurities here and there. Sometimes, you’re like, “Fuck, I need that money to pay my rent,” or, I don’t know, in this case, on some level, to be involved in helping with this medical procedure; So I understand that. I kinda think from the outside, this is a no-brainer. I was shocked that you did the Okkervil [River] show—it was so close to it.

Kiley: It was. I mean, I was feeling pretty good. But then I did a show in Philly the next day while sitting down. Yesterday and today have been really rough, I definitely pushed too hard. I went back too soon for sure. It’s good to know, but you’re absolutely right—I got my medical bills in the mail and I’m like, Fuck, I have to pay these. I haven’t worked in three weeks; I haven’t been able to. I was working from home as a copywriter, and I couldn’t work on my computer because the light was so painful.

It’s a weird sort of negotiation and compromise you make when you choose this as your career, right? I mean, I feel like I’m absolutely certain I’m not the only person who’s been in this scenario, or something like it.

Kevin: No.

Kiley: Whether it’s family or kids or whatever, you have these responsibilities and it’s scary when it actually happens. You’re like Shit, what do I do? Do I cancel a couple shows now so I know I can be healthy to go out on tour? It’s like, yes I need money now to pay for my medical bills, but you know what? I also can make sure that I’m healthy to work long term in the future. It’s a difficult choice.  

Kevin: It’s the right one.

Kiley: Yeah, I have a good partner and we’re figuring it out. And I have health insurance through the marketplace—thanks, Obama, for that one. Hopefully that doesn’t go away anytime soon. It’s not great insurance, but it’s enough where the medical bills are daunting but not absolutely—

Kevin: Like, crippling.

Kiley: Exactly. It’s like, Oof, OK, have to figure this out. But it’s not terrible. I’m grateful for that. It’s an interesting negotiation you make with yourself when you’re walking into the industry. You don’t sign up for it thinking I’m gonna have stability.

Kevin: Oh no. No, no, no, no. And it’s funny that can wear so many different masks. I had to cancel a show in April that was act of God stuff. There was a late season ice storm in the St. Catherine, Ontario, Canada and then Buffalo, Niagara Falls areas, and all the roads were shut. I got there, and I had this really funny conversation with the promoter. When I called him leaving the town I was in prior, I was like “Hey man, all the news outlets on TV are saying that exact area we’re going to is pretty dangerous right now,” and he was like—perfect punk rock—”I don’t know man. I’m looking out my window and it looks fine right now.” I was like, “All right, cool.”

And that’s where the staring contest comes in a little bit, ‘cause I was kinda like, Well if, he’s not gonna cancel it, I don’t think I’m gonna. I guess I should go. Also, that’s X amount of money, and there was some unexpected stuff that went on in the past year that I needed to make sure I was prioritizing. When I got there, he was like, “Yeah, it’s pretty bad. I think you were right.” And I was like, “I think so too.” So we ended up canceling it, and he was great and it was the right thing, but in that moment, there’s something about the instability.

I have something in me sometimes too—and I don’t know if this is also, like, a buried Irish Catholic thing, or something—that they’re gonna hold it against [me], “they” being some nebulous every/anyone. I don’t know who that is—the promoters, the audience, peers.

Kiley: Yeah I’m friends with them, too. I know this group.

Kevin: You know this council. There’s more kind, loving voices on the council now, but there’s still some serious motherfuckers up there. There’s also the, “They’re not gonna have you back.”

Kiley: Your one chance and you blew it.

Kevin: Exactly.

Kiley: Even though the circumstance is completely out of your control.

Kevin: Yeah, you have a fucking rare migraine that reads potentially like MS, and you’re like, “Maybe I should get to the show.” Or they’re closing borders and highways and I’m like, “I don’t know man, I think I should probably play that 75 minute set tonight.” If you’re adjacent to independent music, I don’t think anybody’s thinking about security or stability; you enter those waters for different reasons.

If you’re mega fortunate through some confluence of… Well, what? Luck, circumstance, also relative privilege, and access to all kinds of things—maybe you can approximate something like stability over a long enough timeline. But even from here—38, relatively established independent music career that is, in a lot of ways, beyond my wildest dreams—I’m like, You’re still, like, one real bad hospital bill away from total disrepair. But then again, so are half of my friends that took far more traditional paths through their professional and economic life. That’s just the sad state of being an American right now.  

Kiley: I know. It’s unfortunately not a unique situation to be in. And, we’re afforded certain privileges because of whiteness or background; I had health insurance until I was 26, right? And then you get booted. But even that alone—the fact that I had health care for 26 years is not guaranteed for many people. You’re always trying to keep it into perspective and just be patient with yourself; counting your blessings, but also acknowledging the ways that the industry could be better. That’s something that I spend a lot of time thinking about.

I’m just hoping that at some point when I have more down time, to do a little research with labels that are within our sphere—whether it’s Polyvinyl, or Run for Cover, or ATO, or something like that—and just asking what structures could be put in place to help the wellness and stability of artists. What is realistic? What isn’t realistic? Because I feel like there’s gotta be some better ways to do things in terms of helping with mental health and addiction and preventing abuse.

How hard would it be to put HR into the label structure? Is that an unrealistic idea? I actually have no idea, but I am really interested. I just feel like if there is a level of dialogue that can be happening—an accountability between artists and label, and label and artist to ensure that conduct and health and wellness and education are at the forefront of those relationships, then I think it’s worth at least trying to see if it can help.

Kevin: Sure, and even separated from the built in prompt that culture has been offering up in the last year around this stuff, this is a community that, to whatever extent, kinda was and is thought of as a place where progressive ideas can germinate and be a proving ground. Some of that’s been obviously challenged, and in some instances more than challenged—exposed, or whatever.

I think the independent music community is the place where, from a ground up, root level place, it could start, ‘cause everyone is kinda in the same boat. It’s slightly different once you get into larger structures. There is a little bit more of a—by necessity—bottom line oriented approach to things. Even if it’s unintentional, capital can be dehumanizing to some extent. Whereas, I think on the independent level, everyone’s kind of, in theory, a little bit more arm in arm. And so my thoughts with that is that it would make sense—rather than it just being some kind of, like, evolving-on-the-fly self-policing job amongst peers and artists—to also have the people who are partly responsible for the maintenance of those artists’ careers and wellbeing be involved in developing those structures.

Kiley: I feel like when you’re a part of a creative community like independent music, you want to think that you’re exempt from those same patriarchal structures that are in place in the rest of our country and the world, and that’s just not true.

Kevin: How could it be?

Kiley: Right. I mean, it’s an industry, so innately it operates under those parameters. When I see people coming forward and saying their stories, and musicians in our community having to address their behaviors, I think the anger is entitled and true and a strong motivator. But then I wonder, for me as a survivor too, what can we do to prevent this going forward? Maybe it’s nightlife training and consent training happening at the label structure, just like at any other job where you might take the course, sign the paper saying you understand what you just learned. Because at least everyone seems to be aware financially how contracts work—maybe if we put this behavioral thing in the contract perspective, then people will take it more seriously. If it’s not enough to just understand that certain things are a problem, then how do we make it more important?

Kevin: I do think there are great resources, like MusiCares, but I think that a lot of people don’t even know how to get to those places. MusiCares is great—I can’t say enough good things about them—but you need more than one thing.

Kiley: It can’t be the fix-all.

Kevin: Exactly. And this is a generalization, but there are a lot of fucking wounded and damaged people that do what we do. There’s a lot of us who are attracted to it because, on some level, some aspect of it made us feel saner or safer or more understood or less outcast and there was room for us to move through some of our stuff. But songs can’t be the end of the therapeutic, curative prescriptive plan for a person. [On tour] you’re gonna to eat shitty food, you’re gonna drive long distances in cramped conditions, you’re gonna get paid next to nothing and, sometimes in lieu of food or money, they’ll offer beer.

Kiley: Someone recently asked me “Do you feel like you benefit from [writing about your mental health]?” As if talking about mental health was trendy. I was like “Oh my gosh, if that were the case, I should be rich.” My suicidal ideation is not paying my bills, certainly. I’m not profiting off of it. I was a little baffled by that question. In my mind I wouldn’t look at artists as the people who are monetizing themselves. That’s crazy!

Kevin: I think that there’s endless smaller more available examples, but I think about the things I grew up liking. For me, such a weird mold to get cast at such a formative age was watching the Kurt Cobain thing happen as a kid, and falling in love with that band and with what that guy was saying. That struck me at a certain age with certain inclinations and a certain disposition as something that felt a little different than what Axl Rose was saying. That’s the first person I ever saw who was in a platinum rock band saying things like, “If you’re a homophobe or a sexist or a racist, please burn our records and don’t come watch our band play anymore.” Things like that, that you’re like, This is not a perfect person, but this is at least a person who is trying to have some sort of code inside a structure that is pretty codeless. He was also a damaged, traumatized young person who was a drug addict and had not had access to appropriate mental and emotional health facilitation, or had not allowed himself access, because he was intelligent and insulated by success eventually.

To me what’s so fucked when you start to consider that situation and all sort of iterations of it that I’ve known both as a fan and as a human moving through this industry since then is, the sadder and angrier you are, if it’s compelling and charismatic, the harder the people clap; If it’s successful and makes money, the more you get paid. You said something before about profiting off your suicidal ideation, and that you are not. Even if you were, history indicates that is not a long term profit model.

Kiley: No! Exactly.

Kevin: I don’t mean that to be glib, but that shit does not respect or care about someone’s intelligence or sweetness or kindness or emotional intuition or capacity for introspection. That shit will overwhelm great people. The cynical thing about the way you were approached—and I don’t know the person, I don’t know all the context about that specific instance—but that line of thinking is the idea that someone would fake it.

Kiley: Exactly!

Kevin: Yeah. And that’s a little—

Kiley: That’s dangerous.

Kevin: By the way, that’s not to say that people don’t do stuff like that. I guess there were a whole lot of bands from Los Angeles in 1992 that traded in spandex and Aquanet for flannel shirts and a certain kind of shine for gloom that’s performative—that’s aesthetic. But if someone’s faking something like that, then there’s a mental health issue there too on some level, frankly. That might be getting far field. But I understand why that would be a question that would catch you in your tracks and be like, “Wait, what?”

Kiley: Growing up, I looked at Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin, Freddie Mercury—those were my heroes in terms of vocal performance. Those were musicians I looked up to. Fiona Apple—all these astounding writers, and singers, and performers. Not all of them went through this, but in particular, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston were clearly very much publicly struggling, and they were ridiculed. Just mercilessly. It’s so sad, because beyond their talent, they’re human beings. It’s like, we can laugh someone into oblivion and then they die and we’re like, “Aw, it’s so sad.” It’s like, What on earth?

Kevin: They become proxies for a certain kind of sadness, and there’s a kind of retroactive halo-fitting that happens. It’s like, No, these were just fucking people. There’s something really toxic and dangerous in there, as well, about what we expect from celebrity culture, and that if you’re in that world you agreed to be the object of both adoration and ridicule that are in equal measure ridiculous and unfair. And then further, if you have any, any, any circumspection or complaints about any aspect of that experience, then you’re a privileged, ungrateful asshole.

Kiley: Right.

Kevin: The tragedy of a Whitney Houston, a Kurt Cobain, an Amy Winehouse, or whoever, is you get everything you think someone could ever want, and then you go, “Oh, I’m fucking miserable. This sucks.” Then what am I going to do? I wasn’t happy before. I’m not happy now. I guess that’s when seriously drastic things take hold for people. It’s fucked up.

Kiley: I had an acting teacher in New York call it “compare-despair.” It’s so real—you can’t help but look in the lanes next to you, and that’s the industry side of it, right? You’re constantly comparing yourself and feeling like, I’m not doing enough. Or, I’m not doing this cool thing, or that cool thing. Do I suck? None of it’s real.

Kevin: That compare-despair thing is a phrase that I’ve heard in another context. Another one that usually gets said with it is “Comparing other people’s outside to my inside”—looking at somebody and going, “Oh they’ve got it figured out.” No one has anything figured out. Most people are just scraping and trying to figure it out as they move.

It’s also a question of, what is success? I think about that all the time. It makes people crazy. I think Rihanna is fantastic—so does everybody—[but] success doesn’t have to look like that. I also think David Bazan is fantastic, and success can look like that too.

Kiley: Yeah!

Kevin: I had somebody else say to me once in a compare and despair, “Hey, do you realize that if you’re doing what you’re doing, you are one of, like, two percent of people who have ever picked up an instrument and tried to do anything with it that actually got to the place you’ve gotten to?” We don’t think that way about it because we’re looking at it like, Well what about so-and-so who is doing such-and-such thing? I feel like that’s an inside job, but it’s also industrially and culturally supported and driven deeper and deeper into you all the time.

Social media can be a tool for a lot of really wonderful things, but what it mostly seems to be is a place where a lot of people project their anger and insecurity, and also their idealized version of themselves. In that place, we fitfully look at it and drive one another crazy thinking somebody else’s life is better than our life, but that person is putting that up there because they think your life is better than their life. It’s just this endless cycle.

Kiley: Right, exactly!

Kevin: I don’t know. I end up feeling like a 38-year-old 85-year-old about it, because there’s a part of me that’s like, Do you just get off of it completely?

Kiley: Well now it’s part of your job in this way. It used to just be shows, and then it was MySpace and shows. Now it’s so much more than that.

Kevin: Now you’re expected to be a digital marketing executive.

Kiley: Right, right.

Kevin: You know, a content provider, and influencer, and entrepreneur; have a shoe line. It’s enough to just try to write good stuff.

Kiley: I think some people can do that, and that’s sick. You know I’m on the SAVAGE X FENTY website with a full cart the day I can finally buy Rihanna underwear. You know what I mean?

Kevin: Sure.

Kiley: When I was acting in New York, it was the same thing. It was like, OK, is my idea of success being a movie star, or is it consistently working on plays? Is it working with people who are writing new work? You get to kind of decide that for yourself. Also, it’s fluid and it can change at any time. You’re goal-setting. When I took a time-out last year to just get healthy, I stopped touring for a couple of months. I was so terrified to do that. There’s this thing where you feel like, If I don’t tour, I’m not relevant, and there’s people who depend on me. That’s not what happened at all, actually.

I think that’s something I have to keep into perspective—yes, there’s people who depend on me, and I depend on myself. I want to make good work and tour, but that doesn’t mean that any one person should negotiate wellness. I think when you finally have that really difficult conversation of “What does success look like for me, and am I OK with that?” then it kind of takes a ton or pressure off. Or, it gets really inspiring and you’re like, Cool, I have this idea in mind. I’m going to try this. If you fail, that’s OK. At least you tried.

Kevin: Right. And stepping away from something like that can actually open other things up that you couldn’t have seen from right up on top of it. Wanting to do good work and having people depend on you is great, but also, at what cost and to what end with respect to your long-term goal? If you push yourself really hard right now, but you’re not in a place where that’s sensible or healthy, you could be fucking yourself. If you see it as a marathon, you have to be kind of be girded for a marathon. Sometimes that requires: “I need to take a break.”

I think that’s all so different than it was 10 years ago, and radically different—like, industrially unrecognizable—to what it was like 20 years ago. It’s a whole different everything, you know? I wish somebody had been able to get to any of those people we were talking about before and be like, “Hey, go away. We’re stopping this for two years.”

Kiley: You can take a break.

Kevin: I don’t care if it’s some multi-million dollar industry that’s crept up around your songs that has to grind to a halt for a little while; We’re going to put a pause on that and see what happens when we come back to it, you know?

Kiley: Totally.

Kevin: I think being able to do that for yourself when we’re existing at the level at which we operate is… You know, you have to prioritize that experience, because I think the thing is not that people don’t care about you, but no one knows what you’re dealing with better than you do. If you’re able to have some kind of perspective about it and be able to pull the cord for yourself, that’s going to be one of the greatest tools afforded to you.

Kiley: Absolutely. It’s great when people acknowledge that they’re people. I want to go back to David Bazan for a second. I remember him tweeting something once that was like “I’ve been doing this for a long time”—and I don’t know the exact tweet, but it was something like, “Sometimes it’s hard to want to keep doing it.”

I remember thinking, Oh god, so many of us wouldn’t do what we do without you. His records, once I started listening to them, really expanded my mind about what can be done with songwriting, and the way his voice has changed over the years or the way he’s introduced new instruments or sounds. And the guy can write a hook, holy crap. There’s something to that, putting in that time. It’s easy to think that your efforts can maybe go unnoticed if you’re in the realm of comparing yourself to other people. The truth is, you just don’t really know what your effect might be.

Kevin: Absolutely. I feel like what you’re talking about is a body of work. There are some people who are built to come fully formed at the first party they arrive at and have something that looks like a hit, and then there are some of us who are developing constantly forever. I like pop music as much as anybody does, but the kind of person my ears perk up a little bit about—it’s that kind of person. I feel like I’ve identified at this point that that’s the kind of person I am, somebody who is trying to make a 50 year conversation, if I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to do that. I know it sounds ridiculous, but—

Kiley: No, not at all. Look at Aretha Franklin—her discography is massive. She was performing well into her 70s.

Kevin: Totally. We were on tour together when Leonard Cohen passed away, and that’s the kind of person, too, where I don’t know if that dude ever sold more than 100,000 copies of a record in an industry where that’s like selling 7,000 records now. He made an indelible imprint on the culture, and he did it for 50 years. Somebody else who is like that is Tom Petty.

Kiley: Tom Petty!

Kevin: You were one of the first people I thought of for this [split], after we did the tour for this round of the splits. The reasons for that are maybe self-evident, but they’re worth saying out loud: I love your music, I love your songs, I love you. I love the way I see a bridge between you as a person and the things you embody and care about, and the way you articulate yourself in song both lyrically and aesthetically. I like that you, to me—and I could be oversimplifying or misunderstanding, but something I find very bracing and direct about what you do is that in embracing and repurposing your vulnerability and experience as a fucking person, it translates to me as a kind of real strength in your music. The strongest thing a person can do is acknowledge the fragility of personhood.

I think you do that. You also do it in a way that is tuneful and well-crafted, and evolving, and developing, and I think your last record is the best record you’ve made. I think all of these things. I think that in doing so, aesthetically, you’re also articulating something really important about the experience of being a person, and a particular kind of person too.

Kiley: You’re going to make me cry!

Kevin: [Laughs] Well, that’s OK. It’s what I think. Part of the deal with this series is that all of the people I ask are people who are busy people who live lives and are touring musicians—up and down the chain from people who are just getting started, to people who are quite successful commercially, and everything in the middle. If they’re willing to commit the time to record and give a song to it, I’m down for whatever they want to do. I’ll dictate the terms if someone would prefer that, but I’m way into being like, “Well what do you want it to be?” When we had that conversation, you suggested Tom Petty. Do you want to talk about why?

Kiley: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you. I love you so much. I love your split 7” series very much; I love the people you’ve done them with. I think the idea of letting each one stand on its own as its own thing is just so wonderful and unique and great. Tom Petty passed away last fall. I think we started talking about it a couple months after that.

Kevin: Yeah, I think so.

Kiley: I just think he’s one of those really prolific and interesting artists, because he does have a body of work, and I think he was someone who was willing to admit his mistakes, which I really love. [He was] willing to grow and [had an] understanding, as someone who has a public relevancy and persona, that there is some responsibility there. He was willing to acknowledge that. I think that’s important. I think everybody has one memory associated with a Tom Petty song.

Kevin: One hundred percent.

Kiley: For me, when I first started to go to intensive treatment for my mental health disorder when I stopped touring, I would get up super early to drive to therapy. It was like a half-hour away. It was a huge life change—I moved home with my parents, I was 26. I kind of turned my life upside down to get healthy. I was driving in the very wee hours of the morning, and “Free Falling” came on the radio. I was just driving and crying and feeling really grateful in that moment to have the opportunity to get healthy, that I was still alive, that I could drive my car alone to treatment and have a moment in my car listening to this song.

His way of articulating those emotions—he wasn’t super wordy, but it was specific, and it really lands. His songs just land. It was a really easy choice for me to be like, “Let’s do this.” I was curious about what you would pick too. I just love talking about his work, so it was really exciting.

Kevin: Hearing what you did with “You Got Lucky,” which really made it feel like yours, speaks not only to your ability to translate it, but to the sturdiness of the song. I feel like a good song allows itself to be translated. He is so specific, but also there’s an accessibility to it that separates him from a lot of those pantheon songwriters.

I love “Into the Great Wide Open”—that’s kind of a music industry song that he manages to pass off as, just a kid in LA—a dreamer song. He’s really talking about the bullshit of the myth, which we’ve just spent an hour talking about. I remember when I was a kid and I heard that song, I didn’t know what an A&R guy was. “The A&R man said, ‘I don’t hear a single’.” I remember thinking, “That’s cool. I don’t know what that means, but that’s cool.” Then later being like, Oh, that’s, in a sentence, dismantling your life’s work.

Kiley: Yes!

Kevin: There’s something in the way he sings that that’s just cool and iconic and Tom Petty, but he also is singing it from the perspective of knowing something, you know what I mean? And letting you in on what he knew. I love that too.

You having chosen him—beyond the fact that it’s two songwriters, a kind of tribute to somebody who was titanic in that world—kind of makes you revisit his whole thing, and look at it and really see what was going on there. You don’t think of him in a certain respect the same way certain other writers of that caliber get talked about. He says so much with so few words, I feel like. I’m not doing that right now, but he was very good at that.

Kiley: [Laughs] It’s fun to do the sort of musical gymnastics of trying to arrange something and make it your own, but also maintain the integrity of the original work.

Kevin: Yeah, you don’t want to fuck it up.

Kiley: Yeah! It’s terrifying for sure, but it’s so fun. I love arranging covers for that reason, because it’s a fun way to stretch your brain a little bit, but also try and pay homage to those people and those songs. Whether or not you play them or record them for people, it’s such a great exercise in musicianship—doing the sort of literary homework of breaking down a song and the words. I’ve been out of college for a long time now—

Kevin: It’s kind of nice to have an assignment every once in a while.

Kiley: I don’t know if I do that enough anymore. I read so much, and then I just was like, I don’t want to read a book ever again. I still love getting a CD and pulling out the liner notes, and sitting and reading along. That was my favorite thing to do as a kid, and I still love doing it now. I do think maybe this is a good moment for me to put a little check on my to-do list—I should do more of that, because as I’m writing now, I find myself so critical of what I’m writing. I’m worried it’s not complicated enough, or it’s too simple, or it’s too wordy. I’m driving myself insane. I think I should take a step back and maybe, I don’t know, watch a movie.

Kevin: Yeah. I feel like when I’m in that space, I need to step away for a minute. I’m sure from outside, I would engage with whatever you’re working on and be like, “No dude, you’re fine.” Also, I think we need to take a breath. Sometimes I can’t have perspective from right on top of a thing. Sometimes I don’t need perspective because you’re plowing through it and it feels great. Sometimes something takes longer and feels a little bit less apparent and obvious, you know?

Kiley: Yeah.

Kevin: I think that’s OK to take a minute there and catch your breath about it. My fear has always been that I was never going to write [a song] again. I finish one and I’m like, “Well, that’s the last one.”

Kiley: I’ll never have another idea.  

Kevin: But so far, they have continued to show up. You’ve got to chop at it, but also stepping away from it can be a form of chopping at it too. Sometimes you’re chopping at rebar, and sometimes it’s some kind of really nice yielding wood. When I’m dealing with the rebar, I need to get the fuck away from it before sparks light me on fire, or whatever.

(Photo Credit: Left, Shervin Lainez; Right, Katie Krulock)

Kevin Devine is an independent singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, New York. He plays alone, with his Goddamn Band, and as a member of Bad Books. The first run of his Devinyl Splits, released between February 2015 and March 2016, consisted of six split 7” singles, each featuring Devine and a different partner.  The series, released by Bad Timing Records and Devinyl Records, returns in 2018 for another run.