Returning to New York City and it's surrounding ocean-side locales for what now has become an annual late summer visit, noted UK pop singer Janet Devlin graciously took time out on Thursday afternoon, August 15 for a catch-up interview. Nearly three years had passed since initial contact was made with the Northern Irish singer-songwriter, and a number of questions had been developing in that time, just waiting to be asked.
While details on the follow-up to her highly acclaimed debut record “Running With Scissors” have been scare (with only snippets of info emerging), she has confirmed it will be a full-length concept album called “Confessional.” Meeting up with Janet in the midtown Manhattan office of her US Publicist Reybee (with OK! Good Records represented as well) Janet and I sat down for a Q and A covering a wide variety of topics.
After our initial pleasantries I remark on how well she edits her videos, whereby she reveals all of that is self-taught through studying YouTube tutorials.
D: That's interesting and a good point. If you want to learn something (these days) all you have to do is “google” it.
J: It's just my personality, because asking for help was one of the biggest complaints from my teachers in school - “refuses to ask for help.” Whereas now I'm living in the age of [makes typing motion on computer search engine] how do I . . . ?
D: Exactly. As a writer, the second I'm not sure of the spelling of a word . . . the info is right there.
J: I use Siri for that, where I'll say 'hey Siri and say the word, and that will google it straight away.
D: I haven't mastered Siri yet, that's how behind I am.
J: That's only on my laptop, not my phone. My phone Siri hates me – hasn't a clue – doesn't understand me at all.
D: I accidentally put it on sometimes and then yell at it 'I don't want to talk to you' – and it almost says 'you don't have to be so rude.'
J: Ha, ha.
[Update: I've now started using Siri for these searches as a result of this interview and have found it quite useful - so, thank you Janet!]
D: So - You - Janet Devlin – on the internet – through OK Good Records and Reybee PR made me aware of your existence, 'cause I confess I was not aware of the whole X-Factor thing.
J: Yes, sure – that is a UK thing.
D: You are a professional that has grown up over the last 8 years in the public eye [at which point Janet leans her head back and makes one of those cartoon faces of woe and we laugh] - It's good too, though.
J: It's cool. All my awkward moments are on the internet, I love that.
D: It has to be wonderful to be 24 years of age and still at the beginning of your musical career that includes a film out now as well called “Songbird.”
J: Yeah, that has won awards now, which is really random. I never thought I'd be acting and never thought I'd win music awards for the movie either, so yeah that's insane. Good fun as a project. I didn't obviously do it for any lacking of stuff, I just did it because I had seen an independent crew that had the same passion for making things as I did.
D: That would be the team of Tommy Draper and Sophie Black?
J: Yes. So I think my background in independent music – it's that thing that if you're not doing it for the money, you're actually doing it because you really, really want to. So you're willing to give up more time per actual reward – so they're exactly the same with that mentality in the movie world. It was a fun experience and getting to write songs in character was really fun as well.
D: You say now that you listen to a lot of Podcasts.
J: Yes, I do.
D: They are a Zeitgeist of our present time. There are new one's popping up daily and have gone a long way in replacing what radio once meant to us. It's the * new * radio.
J: For sure. What I like about them is the same as how YouTube has replaced television for a lot of people. That is, you as the consumer get to choose get to choose who your host is. Instead of a big corporation saying 'here's your host,' just deal with it. We get to pick and that's one of the reasons I like them.
D: It's definitely created a new golden age of having everything out there at your fingertips, and you can pull from so many different sources. You do have companies driving many of these podcasts now. iheartRadio is a big one. I understand that you enjoy listening to the Joe Rogan Experience.
J: I do indeed, I am very much a big Joe Rogan fan.
D: His is the No. 1 Podcast out there right now.
J: I think it's the biggest and I would say the most influential as well.
D: He is just a relentless ball of energy.
J: I get a lot of stick for being a fan of his from some of my, shall we say over-intellectual friends who dismiss what he does.
D: Is this because he had guests from both sides of the political spectrum on his show? That he won't censor who he has in this regard (even though he himself identifies with the left)?
J: No it's not really the political issues, they just don't get it and think he's kind of stupid. I like that he asks questions that are sometimes silly but other times you think 'that's so simple it's genius.' Especially when he has really intellectual people on, sometimes he has to ask really easy questions for everyone else listening and I really appreciate that. I also like him as somebody to look up to in regards to – I'm a mad lover of a schedule – and I love working out – and I like that he's also someone who works out and still has a creative existence.
D: He is very well known for both of those things.
J: Back in the day there was this weird divide between creative and athletic types. You had to be one or the other. I quit all of my sports teams back in school because I was going to pursue the creative world – which is so dumb.
We moved on to discussing the challenges of being an artist while still addressing necessary business and commercial aspects.
J: Like not getting paid, working a regular 9-5 job, still create enough music to make an album, make an EP, make merchandise – all that kinds of stuff – but you're not reaping the rewards of it. That is way purer than someone who is like a commodity.
D: You wouldn't trade what you have now for that purity? Because the goal is to break through. You want to be heard by more people.
J: As human beings we always want the next thing. We're always in constant pursuit of more and bigger and greater – and we forget to go 'although what I'm doing right now is pretty darn cool.'
D: I'll tell my local musician friends [who are playing small shows at ground floor level clubs] that it's no knock on their ability. Often times I'll say the bigger act with the better equipment that comes in and plays on the bigger stage with the nicer lights – they're actually not as good as you are, but it comes across as 'better' because of all those other things involved in it.
J: Size of audience and listenership has no correlation to how good you are. Some of the best musicians I have ever met in my life have been friends of mine in-the-middle-of-nowhere Ireland who don't even play gigs – and they're like the best musicians I've ever met. We talk about it in regards to like – 'you need to play this song – you need to do this – it's a great song – and they're like 'I don't wanna' – and I used to be like 'that's insane!' But now I'm on a different appreciation for them. I'm like 'you are making art for you, and that is cool.'
D: It is cool. But – Janet Devlin – the . . . YouTube Creator, celebrity [she laughs] – she's on a different path. She's on a path to . . .
J: Whatever this is.
D: OK, so you are here in America, and OK Good Records has turned their attention to you. I understand there is an album slated for 2020 – in the spring?
J: Looking like it.
D: Is it complete? Is the record done? Or do you have to write another song for it?
J: No, all the writing is done, and all the songs are at a level now where it would take a producer about a week to get everything for mastering.
D: After the release of your debut album “Running With Scissors” and this present moment in time, there was a period where you indicated you were going to call follow-up album “Holy Water.” What made you veer away from that.
J: I always toyed with the idea if it was going to be the actual name of the album or it was just going to be my working title. A lot of my fans know me as someone who loves a good working title. “Outernet song” was “Size Zero” until the day of release. What people don't see is the thousand and one emails that go back and forth for any single song or any single album or any single artwork, so you're very bored of the name of the something before it even comes out. It was just a working title, and also I got some feedback friends of mine who said 'it sounds very religious.'
D: Well, it seems like you haven't really lost that theme much at all.
J: True, going from 'Holy Water' to the album being called “Confessional” is similar. There's something about the phrase 'holy water' is a loaded one for me. It's not for anyone else, but for me it's the idea of cleansing.
D: Did you have the album completed at any point and then decided to scrap the whole thing and start over? Declaring 'I'm different now – this is 4 years in the making – I'm not that person anymore – I must write all new songs.
J: Oh, my God imagine – no my team would murder me. No, no – I was very, very, very set on what this album was and what it's supposed to be – the concept – all these things. It's a weird one, when you make a concept album, you're the only one accountable for all the questions that need to be answered. But yeah, nothing was changed. It's not a modern sounding record. It has contemporary elements, but hopefully it shouldn't date. Because I'm an independent artist I don't have the luxury of making contemporary pop music.
D: You don't really want to.
J: But even if I felt like I wanted to – because sometimes it's good fun to write pop music.
D: I thought “Running With Scissors” had many pop elements in it.
J: Gosh yeah. But without the contemporary sounds, the current sound that is in all the pop songs at the moment.
D: You never autotuned your voice, which would be a horrible thing.
J: Oh, God yeah. Actually, there is one bit on the song “Wonderful.”
D: Which part? Not the “doo doo doo's?”
J: No, “I want to let you in” I think.
D: Well that's probably the most pop song on that record.
J: Gosh, yeah. It's not a deep track.
D: Yeah, but it immediately follows my favorite song on the record - “Things We Lost In The Fire” which is a piano ballad and to me it's lyrically the best composition.
J: Thank you! They're very opposite.
D: Exactly. Which is why I thought you put them in the order they run on the album. Thinking, 'we've got everybody crying here, we better lift the mood!'
J: You do that, really yeah – you try and give albums journeys.
Moving on to other topics, my own recent studies into the evolution of language – and specifically the languages of areas that make up the present United Kingdom – lead this this next line of questioning.
D: How similar is the 8th, 9th and 10th Century Celtic language to the Welsh language. It comes from the same source, right?
J: I know nothing of Welsh. I know that the Irish language and Scottish are pretty close. Irish language is so bizarre in the sense of – you think that vernacular and dialect change a lot for, say – England. You go to different parts of England and they have lots of different accents and words for things. But, in Irish language, there are so many different variations of words just going five minutes down the road – it's ridiculous.
D: [I attempt to retell from memory an anecdote to Janet - from the book on language I'm reading and it's reference to what some call “Irish logic.” The clearer version goes as follows:] The story is told of the raiway station at Ballyhough. It had two clocks which disagreed by some six minutes. When an irate traveller asked a porter what was the use of having two clocks if they didn't tell the same time, the porter replied, “and what would be wanting with two clocks if they told the same time?”
J: [rolling her head back and grinning], she simply states “I love it.”
D: What we always thought were the English literary giants are actually Irish. James Joyce, Spenser, Swift, Wilde, Yeats and one named Synge who I'm not sure the correct pronunciation of that name. Is is like “siiiinge?
J: That's how I would pronounce it. I haven't heard of them. That's terrible – shame on me.
D: Everybody can't know everything, and besides you are busy writing songs and things. We can't spend all our time studying history, although honestly, there is a part of me that would love to.
J: I spent a month at this time last year trying to read James Joyce's collection of work. I took a trip home and just bought his entire body of work. I got stuck on one of his books that are notoriously hard to read.
D: Because it's written in the language of the way he wrote at the time, which is English, but Irish-English.
J: Yes. So I understand why my American and English friends really struggle to read it. The book is Finnegan's Wake. But when my Irish mates and I are struggling, we just read it out loud and we're like ah yes of course.
Serving as a reference source for some of the questions in this interview (and an overall enlightening dive into the subject) is the first edition of The Story Of English by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil.
Additionally motivated by my own Irish ancestry, the meticulously researched and entertainingly told information therein delivers a goldmine of knowledge. The story of English in Ireland throws up many questions: what is the source of our fascination with the Irish voice? Why is Irish literature in English so impressive? And, most elusive of all, what has been the exact influence of the Irish on the English language itself?
The marriage of Gaelic and English constructions is the chief characteristic of Irish speech. It is well illustrated by a conversational sentence describing the marriage of a young couple who had courted each other at the church gate: “Tis an aise to the gate they to be married,” which could be translated into “did you know that for years before they were married, they used to meet at the wooden gate?” The Hiberno-English sentence is a more or less direct translation of the Irish “Is mor an suaimhneas don gheata iad a bheith posta,” which rendered literally in Standard English comes out as a wooden and almost meaningless, “It's a relief to the gate that they're married.”
Janet's own County Tyrone (itself an anglicization of Tir Eoghain, Land of Owen), exemplifies the collision of the two languages. There are Gaelic words which are quite widely used in Tyrone. One that we are all familiar with is banshee. This has no English equivalent. Literally, it means 'fairy woman' – bean (woman) si (fairy). In one area of Tyrone banshee is associated with a little white-haired woman who has the ability to transform herself into a white cat. Another Tyrone word is keeny, meaning 'to cry, in a wailing way.' It comes from caoine, 'wail' . . . and is associated with the idea of death.
Tyrone English has many of the other typical marks of the Gaelic influence. There are local construction like sevendable for “wonderful” (literally, “seven-double, meaning doubly lucky). Unlike the Scots and the English, the Irish have never had a dictionary of Hiberno-English. Many words and phrases commonly used in Ireland are not to be found in any Standard English or American lexicon. The Elizabethans were eloquent before they were grammatical and the same is true of the Irish. Their English lives on the lips of ordinary people and in the minds of the Irish writers who can use it and play upon it without hindrance. Other areas, like for instance the Wexford region sustains an extraordinarily rich vocabulary, part Anglo-Norman English, part Gaelic. A “parsnip” is a neape, an Old English word that would not be strange to a Scotsman today.
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While waiting for Janet's new music to arrive, be sure to check out her previous single release "I Lied To You." The song emerged from a poem she wrote a few years ago, serving as an apology to the ones she loves. Recorded at Metropolis Studios London and mastered at Abbey Road, Janet combined her long term musicians with a lush string orchestra to deliver her personal vision of the song.
Check it out right here:
Get the song here:
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Keep up to date with everything Janet Devlin related via her official website:
UPDATE: Janet has now revealed significant info regarding her new album! Janet states:
Hello friends! At LAST, the time has come for me to unveil the big news about what I’ve been working on for the longest time!! I’m very proud and extremely excited to announce details of my upcoming album, Confessional, and all the wonderful elements that make up this project. I’ll let you watch the video to find out more, but needless to say I’ve put my heart and soul into this and I hope you’ll come with me on the journey. Consider this to be the first piece of a much larger puzzle - so stay tuned to this channel and my socials and hold on tight as the next six months are going to be full of surprises and somewhat revealing!
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