Devon Gilfillian Press Conference

What is your favorite lyric from your single “The Good Life” and what was the inspiration?

My favorite lyric is “All the colors show what it really means / to be beautiful.” The reason why I wrote the song was out of frustration that our leader—our president—was banning Muslims from the country, building a wall at the Texas and Mexico border and dehumanizing people. And to me, any leader, anyone in power that is dehumanizing is wrong. And in that moment, I wanted to write a song about how beautiful it was that people come from a different country and a different religion and different race and background and that’s where that came from.

In what ways do you personally feel that you should use your voice and platform to speak to the current turmoil that we have?

I think as a Black artist, especially, right now, I feel it’s essential. I feel more empowered in this moment than I have—as a Black artist—than any time, really. And I think that this country has so much work to do. And I don't have hundreds and thousands of followers, but I have do have a couple hundred-thousand listeners that are listening to my music at least, even a million or so. But as far as the demographic that I have, the 18, 19 thousand followers I have on Instagram, 90% of them are white.
I think it’s important not only for, black people, white people, brown people, everyone, to educate and to know about what is happening right now.

And for me, as a person with a platform, as an artist, I definitely think it’s time to speak out and say, ‘Black lives matter. Trump is the worst.’ I’m not scared anymore. I feel like the woke moment is happening, and I personally want it to happen for everybody. Everyone’s woke on their own level and everyone’s waking up on their own level, which is great, but I think as an artist, that’s what we’re here for, is to create love in the world. And that’s what my mission is and in order to do that we have to fight racism and get Trump out of the White House.

Are you writing, are you getting ready for another album, what have you been up to?

I played 186 shows last year and really haven’t had time to sit in one place and nest and reflect and cook for myself more than I want. So I’ve just been, you know, dipping in and out of reflection and depression while trying to really teach myself more production on Logic and Garageband, and sound engineering and cooking; cooking a lot more. Trying to exercise, I love just walking around my neighborhood, like going for super long walks and seeing my community that’s around me.

And I think that this time is so precious that we have right now, that we’re never gonna get a moment like this again to sit and reflect and figure out what is… me figuring out what is wrong with me. Like, going to therapy for the first time and really trying to better myself as a human before everything gets cooking again, you know, ‘cause it is gonna get cooking again. Might be a minute, but… and reimagining what being a musician is right now, you know, without playing live music to people. That’s been a huge thing, figuring out how to connect with people in this weird, digital space.

As a Black artist, how is the movement affecting your music creation right now?

I think that, the Black Lives Matter movement, just everything that’s happening right now… this whole awakening of changes that need to happen in this country… for me, it all leaks into my music, just like it did with “The Good Life.”
I had a great conversation, and Moses Sumney was in it, and he said that he doesn’t necessarily want to write about protests, he doesn’t want to write that. He just wants to be a Black artist that writes about what he’s feeling in the moment. And, as a Black artist, there is a feeling of ‘I have to write about the times and put protesting into my art’ but for me personally, I like it, it fuels me, and it does inspire me. So there’s for sure songs I’m writing that are reflecting the moment.

Do you have other passions besides music?

Cooking is definitely a huge passion of mine. The past few weeks, I kinda went into a slump of some fast food and ordering out and whatnot but I love to cook, my mom taught me how to cook. I got a pasta maker, I’m trying to make my own ramen right now. That’s my mission right now, is making perfect ramen noodle. But yeah, that’s a big thing.
And, like I’ve said, I’ve felt so empowered to dive into production and Garageband and I’ve never, like, you know, felt like I’ve understood the production process as well as I do now and that’s been awesome, having that time to make an entire picture. So yeah, that’s big.

Outside of ramen, do you have any favorite meals that are your go-to?

I’ve actually been, like, soy-marinating my own eggs and doing the whole thing, you know. Making a pork-miso broth the other night… ‘the other night,’ like, a month ago, really.

Devon, are you doing, like, contact-less pick-up, like…

Yeah, it’s all contact-less. I pick it off a shelf most of the time, like outside, like wherever. It’s either chicken parmesan or ramen. Those are, like, my fat boy comfort, take me right back to my middle school days when I was just thick and happy.

I understand that when you first moved to Nashville, you intended on just finding work as a guitarist. What inspired you to go from playing other people’s music to beginning to write your own?

It’s funny because I did look at myself as a guitar player for a long time and I really gained confidence as a singer in college and, you know, didn’t really find myself as a songwriter until I moved to Nashville. And, really, I had a couple songs that I had written on SoundCloud, and then I met John, my manager who I work with and plays drums with me—I met him at City Winery and he heard my SoundCloud and he was like, ‘Dude, what’re you doing! Like, you need to focus on your stuff.’

I’d always kind of felt like a supporter, the helper, the behind-the-scenes kind of guy. But, you know, I really gained confidence as an artist after John was like, ‘Dude, time to write, man. Time to invest in your vision.’ And that’s when it started. I started writing more and just, getting my chops more as a writer, too. There’s when the confidence came.

Do you sort of remember the first moment where you were like, ‘oh, I have a song in my head and I want to write it down,’ or something akin to that?

You know, I definitely remember… I remember the first song that I recorded that I got out, that was like the most complete vision of what was in my head, and that was actually “Home” that was on my first EP that I put out, but it was a demo of that. I remember recording that in Nashville in 2014 onto ProTools and I was like, ‘Wow! This is it. I did it. This is a whole song… And I like it! I don’t hate it.’
So yeah, I remember that, that was that moment.

Your debut album, Black Hole Rainbow, carries a consistent theme of getting through tough times and looking towards something better in the future. Are there any personal experiences you went through that compelled you to take this narrative stance on the album?

Absolutely. I mean, throughout writing the record, I broke up with my girlfriend at the time and kind of had to learn how to love myself and figure out navigating that and figure out in order to love someone else, too. That was a huge thing in that, in knowing that you’re in a relationship that’s not working and you have to go your separate ways.
And also, this whole election, this past four years of our president definitely sank into the record. I know that through darkness and through really messed up times, we come out the other end stronger if we’re present and that’s what I wanted to portray in the record, and so yeah, all those things.

For this past album, you were able to work with esteemed producer, Shawn Everett. What was it like to work with such a master in the business, especially for your debut album?

It was a dream. It was a dream come true. In the whole sense of like—Shawn, he’s like obviously this wizard and he’s up there, you hold him on this wizardry pedestal, and he is that. He comes down and he sits down on the ground, pretzel-style, with you and he’s like, ‘Let’s get weird, like, I have no ego and all I’m here to do is to push sounds into the craziest universe that we can.’ And, it was such a privilege. And it was just so fun. And light. And happy. There was no ‘I want this!’ or ‘I want that!’ Like, it was all, ‘Oh, let’s throw this rock against the wall ‘cause it’s gonna make a cool sound and then light it on fire or something. Let’s do it. Let’s push the boundary.’ It was cool. It was amazing.

If COVID didn’t turn everyone’s world upside down, what would you be doing this summer?

We would have Bonnaroo, we would’ve played Firefly Festival up in Delaware. I went to Firefly back in 2011, 2012, and… there were so many festivals and so many fun hangs we were really looking forward to.

Mostly playing a lot of music, we were gonna be on tour with Fitz and the Tantrums this August and then this other band, Illiterate Light, which is awesome, we were gonna tour with in September. And, so, that’s it. But it’s ok, though, it’s alright. This is the world that we’re in and like I said, everything happens for a reason and if Covid didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have been paying attention to George Floyd and Maud Ahmery and Breonna Taylor and all of this injustice that’s happening. I would be playing at Bonnaroo…
I think that protesting is more important than music right now. I mean, it’s all important. It’s all important. We need music, we need both, but we need people to want to protest as much as they want to go to a music festival. And, that’s my opinion, but yeah.

Are you planning on making up any of the tours?

You know, I hope. I hope that 2021, we can get back on the road. That’s the plan. The plan is to get out as soon as possible, but only if it’s safe for everybody. We’ll see.
Off of your album, do you have a song that is your personal favorite?
Thank Me Later is actually my favorite off of the album. I love how stripped-down and personable it is. It was one of my favorite songs that I wrote. I wrote it with my friend Jonas, we literally just sat for four hours and talked about the relationship crap that I was in and that it wasn’t right. I was like, yknow, sometimes, it’s like you just gotta go your separate ways and thank each other later and it was a seamless song. The vision of it was right there the whole time. So yeah, that’s my favorite.

How did Philly inspire you and your approach to music?

I would say that living in Philly, a couple of different things inspired me. My dad, he played in a band back in the 80s called Café Ole and they were like, kind of like this R&B, smooth R&B kind of thing, but he also played Stevie Wonder and mo-town, Ray Charles, and all that kind of stuff. That was what I was getting from my dad.
And then, on the street, with my friends, they were listening to like Ludicrous, Pharell, and Kanye, mostly hip-hop. As a kid, I was getting those influences, and really, I didn’t dig into what the Philly music scene was doing. I didn’t get into, like, the Delfonics and everything, you know, that Philly soul sound that Thom Bell was creating at the time until later in college. And even, digging into The Roots in college, and that kind of stuff. But, you know, I wish I got to hang out with War on Drugs and that kind of cool scene but I was just like, a lil college kid playing four-hour acoustic sets in bars at the time, so.
But yeah, I kind of pulled from the kids that were listening to on the block and then my parents and then fell in love with guitar at 14 and that’s when I started hanging with kids that were playing rock music and classic rock and Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin and that kind of stuff. So, that whole hodge-podge came together.

Your album creates such a great atmosphere, more of a Sunday morning kind of feel to me, so where do you dream of your music being played?

My record is funny because I feel like when I write songs, they do always have this kind of, like, mid-tempo blues kind of thing and I want to push into like a stanky club. Like, I want people to be able to get down and kind of shake to some afrobeat jam or whatever gets people moving. But, I do also love the idea of putting the other side of the record on, yknow, the B-side, and you’re cooking some eggs and dinner with your boo-boo thang and then later on, on that side, it gets into sexy mode, you know what I mean?
I want to go from dance mode to cooking to sexy mode, all in one. I think of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. You can dance to it, you can make love to it, and also it’s got a great message, you know. That would be my goal.

You said you basically grew up with your dad, listening to a lot of soul sounds and I know that he was a wedding singer so that obviously impacted your sound as well, but did the mix of afrobeat have anything to do with your upbringing?

Honestly, I really didn’t get into afrobeat until I moved to Nashville in 2013. And, this is the power of just random people coming into your life and just giving you three names of people to look at.

This dude just came—I was at a concert—and he came up to me and he was like, “Fela Kuti, Antibalas, Daptone Records.” And I looked them up, and I consumed everything I could listen to, and at the moment, I fell in love with afrobeat. And this guy, I haven’t seen him—I saw him like, two months ago at a coffee shop and I was like, “You like, rocked my world, musically.” And that’s the truth. Seven years ago, it was, when I fell in love with afrobeat. And it just says, I don’t have to grow up in Africa to love afrobeat, right. You just have to love it and understand it and study it, and I’m glad that that came to me.

How did the idea of stripped-down sessions come to mind?

Just being at home, and cooped up, and trying to figure out how to reach people and connect with people was definitely the reason why I came up with the stripped sessions. I started off just playing guitar by myself in bars for three, four hours, getting Miller Lites thrown at me and whatnot. I think there’s something special and intimate about solo performing for people and I definitely miss that. That inspired that whole thing… I wanna play for my people. I miss y’all.

You’ve mentioned previously that your album, Black Hole Rainbow, is your journey towards emotional health. What self-care practices do you usually turn to when things aren’t looking so rosy?

I start with exercise, walking, and feeding myself, too. Like, giving myself the right nutrients. I think that is number one, because there’s so many days I find myself forgetting to eat and I wonder why I’m so anxious and I think that’s the bottom of the pyramid, right, is you have to give yourself the nutrients so you can go to the next level so you can focus on what you need to focus on. And I also just had my first therapy session yesterday. You know, I studied psychology in college, and it’s funny. It’s like studying kinesiology and never going to the gym. I’m like, alright. It’s time. I’m thirty now. I gotta get some therapy, be a healthy human and deal with my problems. You know, go to the gym. Go to the brain gym. I think that’s important.

So how have you been liking therapy? Is it something you think you’ll stick with?

It was so refreshing. Like I said, I’ve only had one session so far. It was a very introductory session, but, just having someone that you can tell all of your thoughts to no matter what they are, I think is so, so essential. Like I said, it’s the beginning of the journey for me in that regard. Music has definitely been my therapy in the meantime, but I think therapy on my life side is only going to help therapy on my music side.

Is there one message in particular you want listeners to take away from “Black Hole Rainbow”?

I think the main message is that it’s important to be present in those moments of darkness and to reflect and to look at what’s happening and really understand the emotions that you’re going through, and you’re the only one, really, that can do that. And you are surrounded by people that love you but at the end of the day, it’s your job to recognize that love and harness it and push through the hard time. I want people to feel empowered within themselves, to say, ‘yes, I am in a dark place, but it’s okay.’

Press conference held by 1824 at Universal Music Group