ABOVE: FLORENCE WELCH AND DEV HYNES. IMAGE COURTESY OF MSN/WIREIMAGE
To say Dev Hynes is a musical chameleon is an understatement. You may remember his former musical acts: first as a member of the teenaged dance punk band known as the Test Icicles, and then as the shy, high-school-nerd solo act under the moniker Lightspeed Champion. Currently, Hynes is channeling the subcultures of New York City as the sultry, suave, and Prince-like musical performer Blood Orange. Aside from his personal musical endeavors, he’s worked alongside the best and brightest up-and-coming acts in the music biz, namely Solange Knowles, Theophilus London, and Florence and the Machine, as both a producer and writer.
In his latest venture, Hynes has teamed up with Florence and the Machine’s golden voice, Florence Welch, for a duet and complete recreation of her recently popular “Never Let Me Go.” The original, a grand ballad soaked in gospel vocals, now takes on a drum machine and is suddenly reincarnated into a late ‘80s R&B pop song. For the first time ever, we hear Hynes sing—really sing—and surprisingly he is able to keep up with Welch’s soulful, audacious pipes. Not an easy task, to say the least.
To go along with our exclusive premiere of the track [above], Interview spoke with Hynes about his recent tour with Florence and the Machine, his relationship with the songstress, and his next piano and cello-based performance project.
CHELSEA BURCZ: You’ve recently been touring as the opening act for Florence and the Machine? How has that been going? I heard it was just you and Alan Del Rio Ortiz in a car driving along the tour stops?
DEV HYNES: That’s really what it was. Occasionally, there would be some guests in the car.
BURCZ: What kind of car was it?
HYNES: There were three different cars. The first was a white Chevy Malibu. The second one was some navy blue Honda. The third one was a white Mustang convertible. That was the one I liked the most. [laughs]
BURCZ: I also saw you on a motorcycle?
HYNES: Oh, that was from before. I took a trip to Barstow.
BURCZ: Do you have a motorcycle license?
HYNES: [laughs] No. I also made a music video with that, which is going to come out in a month, for “I’m Sorry We Lied.” We are making videos for every song. It’s like, why not?
BURCZ: Do you think you’ll do a video for the duet with Florence?
HYNES: Probably not. We were thinking of doing something but, nah. I’m pretty strict with videos, at least the imagery stuff. I don’t ever want to half-ass it. I don’t ever want to just scramble something together, which is what that would be, because they are crazy busy. That being said, we are working on a record together.
BURCZ: When is that happening?
HYNES: God knows. We’ve been saying it for a long time. Eventually, one day. We are planning to do it, actually, maybe in the next few weeks. We both want to, we are just both so busy.
BURCZ: You’ve known Florence for some time now. How did your relationship begin?
HYNES: I guess I was 18, so eight years ago. That’s kind of crazy. I think I met her around Elephant and Castle in London. There was a venue there where our friends would put on parties. We became really good friends and would record these albums together and give them to people, put them online or whatever.
BURCZ: Did you produce her current album?
HYNES: No. I wrote stuff on it. It was more things that carried over from when we hung out all the time. We used to write in my bedroom the strangest fucking songs, or covering Green Day. And then we would play house parties, just me on guitar and her singing. We would do pop-punk covers, The Stooges, The Walkmen, it was really all over the place. We would call ourselves Team Perfect.
BURCZ: Did Florence personally ask you to open for her on this tour?
HYNES: It’s Florence, and I couldn’t say no. I did one tour with Chris Taylor and that was it for me, that was all I was going to do. And then Florence asked, and if it was anyone else in the world, I would have said no. But I love Florence, and I love Rob, who plays guitar for her. We have all known each other for so long. It was a chance to hang out with them and play venues where I wouldn’t have. I saw it as an experiment. It’s not often that someone plays these venues fully on their own. Even if it’s a solo artist, they have someone with them. I tried to do it solo and I tried these screen projections, like an experiment… It was also too weird singing every day. That is actually the weirdest thing. Out of all the weird things out of this tour, the weirdest thing for me is singing every day.
BURCZ: Did you have to get used to it?
HYNES: It makes me feel like a singer. And I don’t view myself as a singer, but I guess I now am, because I am singing every day. And it’s been hard, like I lost my voice the other day—not actually lost it, but I’ve had to really watch out for it. It’s been interesting realizing that I have to really sing out. I’ve been enjoying showing this music to these people who have not heard it before. I think it’s kind of interesting in a scientific kind of way. I don’t mind either way the outcomes of the shows I’ve played, I just genuinely find it interesting seeing people’s reactions.
BURCZ: So is this duet finally something to show after having this relationship for a while? Or how did it come about?
HYNES: Actually, it’s a song of hers on the album that just came out, “Never Let Me Go.” It started off as a remix, but I’m not a big fan of remixes. I do a lot of them, but when I do, I always try to make them interesting. I like to blur the line between remix and cover version and new song. So, I basically wrote it, using similar chords and things, but keeping the exact same structure, wrote new melodies, and added a bunch of things, took stuff out, replayed everything, but using all of her lyrics. We played it together a few times, and then I decided to hand it in how I did it, and then decided after that we should just do it again to make it good.
BURCZ: How would you describe the duet versus the original?
HYNES: I kept the gospel feel a little bit. Basically, on the first Whitney Houston album there is a bunch of songs produced by Jermaine Jackson, and some of those are duets with Whitney Houston, like multiple on one album. I was basically going for that. So it’s soulful, it has that ’80s soulful feel to it—it’s still pretty gospel-ly, and I do some singing on it. Some “real singing” from me.
BURCZ: How was the transition from Lightspeed Champion to Blood Orange? It’s been a while now that you’ve left Lightspeed behind. How do you feel about it?
HYNES: The transition mainly for me has been performing. I stopped performing for a long time. I played lots in New York, and the US tour ended yesterday, and that’s kind of it. There’s no more dates planned, and I’m not planning any more.
BURCZ: Are you leaving Blood Orange behind and starting a new project?
HYNES: I’m not leaving it behind, but I don’t have a plan. The next performance I will do will actually be piano-based or cello-based. It’ll just be a performance rather than a recording. When I get back from this tour, the next live performance will be me playing piano.