Interview: Dev Hynes Talks Collaborations, Not Using Email, and Wanting to Work With Eminem

By Brendan Klinkenberg

Devonté Hynes has reached a rarefied level of cool. His coolness is such that it’s hard to imagine being him, instead you imagine just being friends with him. It’s more plausible that way. Or, if you’re a musician, you dream of working with him. With every move he’s made over the past few years, Hynes has become the producer of right now by mining the sounds of the ’80s, not for any retro appeal or nostalgic impulses, but for classic songwriting that seems tougher and tougher to find these days.

His solo work as Blood Orange aside, it’s his collaborations—immediately recognizable both for their singular sound and an instant-classic aura—with a wide-ranging cast of artists from Solange Knowles to Sky Ferreira that have caught our ears. They’re also what makes his participation in the Getting Out Of The Garage competition so exciting. Hynes will be producing a three-song EP from a band or artist that wins an open-call competition. The results could sound like anything, so we got him on the phone to talk to us about what the process could be like.

What made you want to get involved with this “Getting Out of the Garage” Project?
I always want to work with people and I’m always interested in seeing what can happen when two different worlds meet with the same intention of creating music. So it just seemed like a cool thing to do. I have a pretty limited tight-knit group of people that I work with usually, so I just want to see who else is out there that I can work with because I want to get in touch with people.

That makes sense. What makes you so versatile that you can just go outside of your normal group and work with a completely different artist? 
Well, I hope I can [Laughs]. I’m going to have to wait and see if it does work out, but I think I can do it. It’s more that I’m just extremely curious as to what’s going to happen. I kind of do everything I do as kind of an experiment so I’m just waiting to see what goes down.

That’s really cool. What are you going to be looking for in a new artist? What’s going to stand out in this competition for you?
Well I’m big on songwriting. That’s kind of my thing, like, melody, chords. Something that sticks out to me is something that doesn’t seem like it’s particularly following a trend so much, you know?

Definitely. When you say you’re big on songwriting—when you’re producing, are you more hands-on in playing instruments and helping with the songwriting? Or are you going to be more hands-off and just kind of in an editorial role?
It really depends on what they want. I’m adaptable. I’ll be as hands-on as they want me to be and if they want me to back off and essentially create a net for them then I’ll definitely do that too. It really just depends on what they want from me; I just want to help out. So if that means not really working on the songwriting and focusing more on the production tip I’ll definitely fuck with that.

It’s weird actually because most people I work with, I know. I’m friends with them or if I’m not friends with them I try and make sure I’ve kicked it with them a few times before we start.

How much does social chemistry affect a collaboration for you? For this project I’m assuming you’ll never have met the band. Could that make it difficult?
Yeah. It’s weird actually because most people I work with, I know. I’m friends with them or if I’m not friends with them I try and make sure I’ve kicked it with them a few times before we start. I hope I get on with them. I’m sure they’ll be nice [Laughs]. Yeah, it’s really big with me. It’s a big part of how I do it.

Outside of this competition how do you find people to work with? 
It’s really usually via friend or people that I listen to and reach out then try to hang out with them.

So you’re not taking email submissions or anything like that?
No. I mean, sometimes I’ll run into someone on the street and they’ll ask for my email and I give it to them [Laughs]. But usually that doesn’t tend to work out, mostly because I’m really bad at checking my email. That’s the main reason. Yeah, it never seems to really pan out that way.

Has that worked out for anybody yet?
[Pauses]

No [Laughs]. I’m really bad at checking things. It’s a problem, like it’s a real problem I have.

Well, you seem to be doing alright without email.
I think so. We’ll see.

Are there any up and coming acts out there that you’ve been especially impressed by lately? 
I really like… My friend’s in a band called Cable, and I love those guys. Yeah, Cable are pretty good.

Do you have a dream collaboration that you haven’t made happen yet? 
Not really. I mean, I love Eminem, but I feel like that won’t ever happen.

That would be crazy. 
I’d probably die if it does.

Good luck with that, I’d love to hear it. I’ll see if I can help out, pull some strings [Laughs].
[Laughs]. Thank you.

How does producing for other artists and doing this kind of collaboration affect your solo output? 
I don’t know, actually. I’m not sure if it does—I mean, I’m sure it does because everything affects everything. But I’m not aware of how it does. It’s probably a good thing because I’d probably be too conscious of it if I knew, but I guess it makes it so that I don’t feel tied down to anything at all. You know?

Yeah. 
For anything that I make or that I work on I feel as if I can do what I want, which is a good feeling.

So you don’t have to consciously keep them separate? You kind of just do what you do naturally?
Yeah, it’s rare that I sit down and I’m like, “This is for myself.” It’s something that really never happens, actually. It’s more just I’ll work on things and sometimes things gravitate towards me. Usually towards the end of the process.

The last thing I wanted to ask you was about Guyana—my family’s from Suriname, and I’ve never been able to go back and visit everyone back there.
Oh, cool.

What made you want to share that experience and attach it to your music? 
I’m not sure, really. I mean, the song was originally influenced by Guyana and the word ‘Chamakay’ is originally like a slang word in Guyanese. I mean it was all pretty sudden. I don’t know that people are aware, but it was all just like two weeks ago.

No, I had no idea it was that recent.
Yeah, the video was edited two days afterwards. It was pretty spur of the moment, and I just really felt like going out and getting in touch. Time is always of the essence so I felt like I should head over there.

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    That Everything is Embarrassing joint is hot. I wish the radio was as diverse as the music blogs. Someday…