Photo by Shervin Lainez
Origins is a recurring new music feature in which an artist charts the influence of their latest hit single.
Kevin Devine has long been comfortable living between two worlds. Shifting between the intimate and frenetic sides of indie rock is what the Brooklyn songwriter has always done best, after all. Last year, he perfectly bridged the two halves of his talents on Instigator, an album as full of screaming power chords as it is sincere lyricism. For his latest project, however, he’s focusing on the softer side of his craft by stripping down his last record to its beautiful core.
We Are Who We’ve Always Been is Devine re-exploring Instigator to bring out the true heart of the songs. By pulling away all the indie rock noise, this new version highlights the intimacy of the lyrics. Even songs that were already on the softer side, like “No One Says You Have To”, take on a much more touching air in this new form.
With help from The Mynabirds, Devine reveals “No One Says You Have To” to be one of the greatest folk number he’s ever written. Breathing heavy and low on slow strings and piano notes, there’s a sad comfort in the new rendition. The tripping flow of the chorus (“I say I can’t race forever/ Can’t raise the rock so high/ She said, ‘No one said you have to’/Let go and take your time”) is even sweeter here, like the gentle touch of a close confidant telling you it will all be okay.
Take a listen to the stripped down version of “No One Says You Have To” below.
We Are Who We’ve Always Been is out October 20 via Procrastinate! Music Traitors and Triple Crown Records. Pre-order it here. For more insight into how he approached this reimagining, Devine has shared the Origins of “No One Says You Have To”. Read on for his five-song playlist of acoustic tracks that inspired him to write his own delicate song of acceptance.
Simon & Garfunkel — “Bleecker Street”:
The version of this song that’s on the reimagined record is a reaction to the original version from Instigator, which is differently delicate, spare, built around two acoustic guitars, one nylon string, one in Nashville tuning, one deep, one chiming, and a close vocal harmony. There’s an immediate awareness when you’re dealing in that territory that you’re gesturing at Simon & Garfunkel, and you just try to do justice and make it yours. I heard this as a sophomore in college and have since totally loved this song, its subtlety, the overnight feel of it. “I watched a shadow touch a shadow’s hand,” gets me every time.
Sinead O’Connor — “This Is To Mother You”:
“No One Says You Have To” is kind of about being blind to yourself, or sealed off from the freedom that comes with being seen, and how love and trust and generosity and a good mirror can help lift that, can remind you to lean into self-forgiveness, to let go of self-pity. It’s in spaces a dialogue about that, about ego and expectation. This is one of the very best and warmest songs there is about gentility & acceptance. It’s kind of the other side of the conversation.
Elliott Smith — “I Don’t Think I’m Ever Gonna Figure It Out”:
The other pole in my head when you’re nimbly finger-picking is this lane of Elliott’s music, and always will be, as, for me, he is its standard-bearer. There’s some funny and self-deprecating stuff in this song, too — “Yeah, yeah, I know” — which maybe reminds me a little of the bit in my song about “knowing” I’m “underrated.” One of his many perfections.
Bob Dylan — “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”:
Maybe my favorite love song, at least the first two verses, and in some ways the character sketched precedes the one I’m speaking to, or who’s speaking to me: elemental, patient, at peace with themselves enough to remind me to seek that within myself, too.
The Mynabirds — “The Golden Age”:
Laura’s so good in so many directions, which is what drew me to approach her about working together on this — I could hear her in my head. One thing I really love is that she’s not afraid to use music as a vehicle to speak truth to power, and I love even more that she’s willing to examine the efficacy of that in the process, because, like all things, it’s a layer cake. This is beautiful and sad and true and feels classic and is one of my favorite songs released this year.