Exclusive Interview: Devlin – “I’m up to be judged again.”
On the eve of his third album 'The Devil In', we catch up with Dagenham's sharpest lyricist...
Since cutting his teeth as part of The Movement back in 2006, right up until 2013’s A Moving Picture – his second major label release – things were moving non-stop for Devlin. The Dagenham MC had given his all to the fans via his sharp-witted and realist lyricism, from spraying bars in youth clubs right through to crafting big singles with Ed Sheeran.
Yet he reached a point where he struggled to put pen to paper any longer. He needed to live some life again, in order to have subject matter to write about. In the past few years, except from a few rare guest appearances, we’ve heard very little from Dev.
Yet he’s always known when to strike, showing up to remind MCs to take things down a notch while they were at their most materialistic, or to bless Wiley’s rumoured final album with some ‘Holy Grime’.
And now, after escaping the clutches of writer’s block and, at times, sitting on the brink of madness, Devlin is ready to unleash his third body of work, The Devil In, into the world. In his own words, he’s “up to be judged again.”
How do you feel about finally getting The Devil In out there?
Good man. I’d say that it’s probably been a bit too long. I took some time out. Been away for a minute, so I think some of my fans are happy to have me back.
How does it feel on a personal level? Is it exciting or nerve-racking?
Probably a bit of both, man. Bit of nerves, but of excitement. You’re up to be judged again; loved or crucified. Back in the game. But that’s obviously an exciting thing.
Would you describe making this album as therapeutic for you?
Probably not, no. I was living with my producers in some mad f**king mansion house out in the sticks. It was just mad times and I don’t know how the album got made.
How long were you working on it?
I weren’t making music really, for a little while. I done a film called Anti-Social, that took up some of my time. Then Term & Ratchet started giving me beats and got me back on the music. That’s how we ended up living together. They had a studio there. That’s how it all came about, really.
Your music has always felt cinematic, how was actually getting and making a film?
It was quite daunting, but I suppose doing video-shoots and that helped me a little bit to prepare. But there’s quite a lot of people in the room. Then when they say, “action,” you’ve got to be in character and carry that. It was really enjoyable doing something different, something new. I suppose, if it was right, I’d be up for it again in the future. If the part was right. But I enjoyed it.
What’s your writing process like?
When you said, “was making the album therapeutic?” I suppose it’s never therapeutic. I’m thinking of ideas all the time. Your brain ain’t stopping. You’re always looking for that something you’re missing. You almost find yourself crazy looking for the song sometimes.
Sometimes I’ll sit in the studio, just play the beat. I’ll get lines in my head and I’ll just go and drop them on the mic. I’ll drop a couple of lines, sit back, think of the next, drop them. Other times I’ll sit down for hours and days and weeks with a pad and pen. I’ll get stuck in certain places. Some lyrics I finish in half hour. It’s never one set process. That’s why it’s not so therapeutic, I suppose. You try and keep chipping away. Then sometimes it comes naturally. It’s strange.
You talk about writer’s block on the title track. How do you get over something like that?
It’s very frustrating, you drive yourself mad. I suppose that’s why I took a little time out. To go out and live some life again, not being just writing and making music for years. I was only young when I come through and and cracked on. I’ve been doing it so many years, I think I had to go and live a couple of years of life. Go and get some material to write about again.
You led the campaign with ’50 Grand’, and as MC’s continue to become more successful, the message behind that felt very timely. What inspired you to put that out first from this album?
Every record I hear is just, “I’ve got this, I’ve got that, I’ve got women, I’ve got chains, I’ve got riches.” I just wanted to do something different. Skepta was on that vibe, I’ve always been on that vibe really. It just made perfect sense with Skepta at the time. He was taking things back to old-school and he jumped on the track, and I think he smashed it.
I wondered whether emotionally some of this album was difficult to create? It feels very vulnerable and you’re really putting yourself out there…
It was a mad time in my life, I think, and this album Term and Ratchet dragged it out of me. We made it and now I’m up to be judged again. Judged and loved and hated and rated, or whatever. You’re right, though. To be fair, about the vulnerability, you’re right in a certain way. Even when it comes to women everything’s “fuck this b***h.” So maybe, yeah, an element of vulnerability was shining through.
There’s also a strong theme of return, of making a comeback on the album. Obviously you’ve described having a really hard couple of years. I wondered what motivated you make a return?
Friends, really. People that just got a hold of me. People who loved me. And to be fair it’s the only thing I really do good, I ain’t got much of a choice. So I had to pull my finger out and come back. As I said, it’s nice. It’s been a while. Come back fresh, different, older and wiser. And come have a f**king pop again, come and make an impact.
What are you most proud of about this album?
I don’t know, man. It’s a strange question. With my music I said, “Once I’ve made it, I feel a little bit detached from it.” I can’t help but feel that way. I can never be proud of myself. We made an album. There are pretty exciting times to come. But, for me, I want to push the album now. Make it go as good as possible and keep making music. While, of course, I’m writing the next project. Try to keep it moving. Rather than dwell too long.
Devlin’s The Devil In is out now.
Interview by Grant Brydon.