Devon Williams is the singer and songwriter who leads Devon Williams and the Grunge Gods, Devon Williams and the Fuck-Ups and Devon Williams (with Allen Bleyle, Jessica Espeleta, Greg Arnold and/or Adam Payne) among others. He is also playing guitar in Lavender Diamond, and he reviewed Lavender Diamond in the second-ever issue of L.A. RECORD. L.A. RECORD is proud to release his first 45. (Click here to order the 45.) Devon speaks during an interrupted game of cards.
Who is the grungiest grunge god?
Allen Bleyle. It just runs through his blood! I don’t even like grunge—maybe when I was really ignorant in early high school, but the guitar stuff is not even that interesting, and the only reason I acknowledge it is Allen. His essence is grunge.
Does that make him difficult on long car trips?
No, it’s not a physical thing. It’s not a smell.
It’s a state of mind?
On a real musical collaboration tip—Allen is the only person I can really play with. I feel like some of my musical sensibilities lean toward the middle of the road, and it’s his zing—his grunginess—that makes what I do interesting.
How do you mean middle-of-the-road? Like James Taylor?
Good melodies are discardable. You can make one and get rid of it. It’s all in the delivery or whatever. James Taylor? God, I hope not! God, he is terrible! He is terrible! Don’t get me wrong—he had that song about his friend dying of heroin, but whatever it is, let him do his own thing.
What singer-songwriter do you most wish could take you under their wing?
I have a really standard answer because my favorite ‘70s songwriter is Clifford T. Ward. He’s really fey in a way—really earnest, and you can not deny his earnest nature. Home Thoughts is the record. He’s my favorite. Not every song, but he’s real earnest and he means it.
Is earnesty the priority?
What’s the lowest priority? Haircut?
No, there’s something even lower. It has something to do with Los Angeles. This is where you just insert an editor’s comment and tell everyone what you think of Los Angeles because I think we probably feel the same way.
What has been your most serene moment with Lavender Diamond to date?
We were playing at a really fancy jazz club in Seattle and Becky looked really great and the backdrop was like twinkling lights, and I really felt it was beautiful. I was actually looking at her and sometimes she looks back at me and we smile because it’s kind of funny, and so we had that moment and I was thinking, ‘This is so beautiful.’ And then she did something and the mic came unplugged and just dropped. A lot of people can’t handle an uncomfortable experience like that, but she just laughed. It was really good—I don’t wanna give too many compliments because that’s not what I do, but she handles things really well.
What has been your most meaningful personal interaction with Kirsten Dunst?
Fuck you! How about that? Fuck all that! Fuck that interview you did where the guy was talking about rock ‘n’ roll and fuck Topanga hippie guys I can’t understand—don’t even!
What was the best-executed audience-Devon interaction?
I don’t wanna give a long answer but I had a problem with delivering some of my own songs—I had trouble figuring out the best way, like I could play really loud and that might feel really good, but I don’t know if that’s what I wanna do. And at the peak of my frustration, we were playing a show and I think I looked like I was frustrated and about to give up—
What’s that look like?
Flinging both hands into the guitar and being like, ‘I wanna get outta here!’ And after that a friend that was watching was like, ‘What’s your problem? Why are you acting like such a baby?’ And I was like, ‘I’m not a baby!’ And she smacked me on the head—I was really mad, but… point taken! But I held a grudge for a while—I think I’m still holding it now!
Have you settled on the ultimate line-up for the Devon Williams Experience?
Allen went away for the summer, and the truth is I need Allen. In the meantime—I thought I was gonna put the band thing on hold til he got back, but Adam and Jessica are just—Adam is the best! And Jessica is the most constructively critical person I could play with. I’m not trying to say the other people I play with aren’t awesome, but Allen and Jessica and Adam are really patient with me.
What are the three most important things you ever realized about your own musicianship?
That I can actually play guitar—I don’t have to worry. I know that I can play guitar. I feel I’ve been playing long enough now that I can afford myself the opportunity to say I’m good at it. And I think also that it’s hard to be like, ‘Hey, I really wrote a great song!’ Like—maybe I wrote a great song? But I shouldn’t be able to look back and say, ‘That was all great! I’m a great guy!’ As long as you hate some things you did, you’ll always have room to improve. And the third one—want a funny one? That it really sucks to play other people’s music, and I’m really good at tricking people into playing my music! And surprisingly, a large amount of my friends that are good musicians—I’m able to trick them! It’s really flattering. I was thinking about Jessica for six months before I asked her—she’ll tear me down! She’ll tear YOU down! Print this—she should do something because whatever she does will be awesome and everyone will support her!
Is she a grunge god?
No. Thank God. Nobody wants to be a grunge god. If you don’t know if you are a grunge god, you’re not a grunge god. Kind of like the Rosicrucians. They say ‘One becomes a Rosicrucian; one does not join the Rosicrucians.’ You have a choice to become a grunge god, and it’s a choice one makes with purpose. It’s a way of life. At the same time, I’m proud not to be a grunge god. But I might be a Rosicrucian.
What are you most proud of about yourself?
I’m tired of giving you cheesy answers.
Your ability to love?
That can be the Lavender Diamond answer.
What’s one thing in your heart you know you will never learn?
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to step out of myself. And I’ll never learn how to do Photoshop, I’ll tell you that much! In my fantastical dreams, I could be a really good layout person. Or proofreader! Holy shit, proofreader! I wanna know those marks!
The Rosicrucians of publishing.
On that point, I want to seriously stress that musicians rest on their laurels too much. If you sit back and rest on the fact that you can sit back and write and people will like your songs, you’re doing a great disservice to yourself and your community. People should make themselves available in service to the larger community and even their immediate community—if you’re not useful… My problem is that in L.A. people are allowed to be self-indulgent, in art and music and commerce or whatever. The fact that you can go and play a show and act like all these people like you—half the people at shows don’t even like music! It’s a bad perspective. I’m working on a new point of view which is that musicians should not be allowed to make money.
As a representative of your record label, that is great news.
I’m a musician—that’s my skill! And as a musician I need to make some kind of money, but me just sitting in my bedroom writing sappy songs—that’s not gonna cut it! I’m not gonna stand up for that! Life is confusing in a way—you never know if you’re doing the right thing, and if you do what feels good and it’s helping you, you don’t wanna fuck it up. But everyone should really try to do something to serve someone else—a self-sustainable community! It’s not too idealistic—people have to function outside of the grid that is taking over!
What’s a successful local example of what you’re talking about?
I’m really talking about personal services. If a person is doing something for themself and the community, that’s good. Off the top of my head, a place like the Smell—that’s obvious! Or Lovecraft—that is awesome! That could be exactly what I’m talking about—people with a passion for working on that kind of stuff. At night people all turn into assholes—nighttime makes everyone turn into shit!
Like werewolves but assholes?
I’m not talking about the Lovecraft people—I’m talking about ‘nightlife.’ I’m glad I have a night job—I go out in the day and make money at night. The idea is to stay in touch with the things you love doing—to deal with it yourself! What I learned from booking my tours is—I book some shitty tours! But I still choose them over big tours because I know what I’m getting into. Real people don’t really go to shows—the shitty places I play, I meet more real people than any other place. That’s why I’m self-defeating in a way. I’d rather do something poorly put together and learn something and meet real people. I hate having to put myself out there and be like, ‘Hey, I’m really great!’ Everyone says that—when I’m supposed to schmooze people, I cannot do that!
We share your admiration for idealistic ineptitude.
How would you spend your dream weekend with Harry Nilsson?
Well, we’d go to the Troubadour… We were talking at the shoot—when did they decide to use that cover? But you look at the other ones and maybe this is the best—I mean, Sandman, with him on the beach and that fake crab? He’s out of control. He’s totally awesome. I can gather that he’s probably like an ego maniac, so maybe the less I know about him the better.
What is the worst part about L.A. RECORD?
How many friends of ours can I talk shit on? That interview with the guy talking all the rock ‘n’ roll shit—that’s what I’m talking about. Hello? I have to work a job, asshole! I don’t go around like, ‘I’m rock ‘n’ roll! Iggy and the Stooges!’ That whole thing is dead. Man, so many things that would be good to say. Steve Gregoropoulos is the best arranger ever.
And a good food critic.
When we’re on tour, he eats the gnarliest shit! He ate deep-fried cow testicles. Don’t even forget—he is a guy of the world. If it’s cultured and if people take some time in preparing it, he’ll show appreciation. He’ll eat the fucking food!
RECORD RELEASE PARTY FOR DEVON WILLIAMS ON MON., AUG. 20, WITH TODD C. AND THE BIBLE CHILDREN AT FAMILY, 436 N. FAIRFAX AVE., LOS ANGELES. 7:30 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. WWW.LARECORD.COM.