“make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”— Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild (via feellng)
PropertyOfZack launched Inside during the summer of 2013 with Run For Cover Records. We’re bringing you the first part of the second installment of the series today with Kevin Devine.
What we’re striving to do with Inside is to bring you incredibly in-depth content from your favorite artists, labels, and companies in the music industry with insights and details you would never be able to find in a normal interview or story. It would be hard to explain the importance Kevin Devine has had on the development of PropertyOfZack over the years, and we’re honored to have him as our second Inside feature.
While part one featured Kevin Devine telling his own story, part two is the first half of an oral history of Devine’s entire musical career, as told by bandmates (The Goddamn Band), tour mates (Jesse Lacey, Andy Hull), and collaborators (Rob John Mathiason, Rob Schnapf). Enjoy a comprehensive look at Devine’s career through Brother’s Blood this week, and look for the rest next week!
Chris Bracco (The Goddamn Band): Mike Skinner and I went to Binghamton University together in Upstate New York. We were both in bands, and our paths would cross from time to time. At the time, I was in a band called Wookiee, and he was in a band called Sidedoor Johnnies, among a handful of others. Near the end of my senior year, our bands decided to release a compilation CD together, along with two other bands from Binghamton. I used to record my band and other bands in Binghamton on 4-track recorders at the time, and this is where my love of recording started. I personally think learning on a 4-track is the best way to learn, because you have to figure out the best ways to work with it’s limitations which leads to a lot of trial and error and experiments.
Anyways, after graduation, Mike and I kept in touch, and our bands would play shows together. When the rest of my band graduated college the next year, we all moved into a house in Queens at 80-20 Margaret Avenue in Glendale. It was at this house that 80-20 Studios started. By this point, I upgraded to a digital 8-track machine and a 16x4x2 mixing board, and kept recording my band and some others in our basement studio. At the time, Mike was living in Williamsburg and we still kept in touch, and we started playing together doing these spaced out jams and art installations. Through Mike, I met our friend Will Quinnell, (Will introduced me to my now wife Amy!) who worked at Sony Studios in their mastering department. Will helped us with some mastering and we hit it off as friends. We both also loved recording.
So Mike, Will, and I decided to pool our resources and get bigger better recording equipment. We upgraded to a DA-88, DA-38 and an 8 track Pro Tools system that was synced with the DA-88 and 38. So we built up a 24 track recording studio in our basement in Queens with a 32x8x2 mixing board. To give you a visual, this house we rented had a finished basement that was probably decorated sometime in the late ‘70s. Wood paneled walls, some carpet, some linoleum tile, and we also put a pool table down there. Around this time, Mike started playing drums with Miracle of 86. The first time I saw them perform was one of Mike’s first shows with them at Brownies in the Lower East Side.
Mike Skinner (Miracle of 86, The Goddamn Band): I hadn’t been playing for a few years, and I had a practice space that was a smaller room in a bigger space, and the person in the larger room was Walter (Schreifels) from Quicksand, who ran a label and offered to help me find a band. I ended up meeting Kevin and the other guys in Williamsburg and joined Miracle.
He and the other guys were so young — they were just really eager kids to me. He was still in the stage before he was comfortable with how good he was. I knew he was a top talent, and I don’t know if I would’ve stayed with a band if I didn’t think they were going somewhere. We were reaching in a lot of different directions.
Mike Stuto (Brownies): I owned and operated Brownies in the East Village until 2002. We used to do emo shows — well they weren’t always emo, but we became known for that — on Sundays, so with bands like Taking Back Sunday and Brand New. I was the bartender on Sunday nights. I owned the club and did some booking, but I wasn’t the main guy. I wasn’t a big fan of that sound, and I’m still not.
Kevin started playing Brownies in ‘99 and 2000, and the first or second time Miracle played, they were second on a bill of four bands and drew a lot of people. Any band that drew like that got a second chance.
If you asked me what band that played Brownies would have “made it,” I probably wouldn’t have picked Miracle. But even when I was miserable and cynical about what I liked, Kevin broke through that. There’s a lot of disingenuous bands when you book shows in New York City, but Kevin was always genuine. He played here when I was at my lowest and angriest at running a rock club.
John Mathiason (Manager): As bizarre as it sounds, I used to manage a band called Weston from Pennsylvania, and I met Kevin through my cousin, because Kevin showed up at one of Weston’s last shows at Brownies in New York. And I didn’t know who Kevin was. I was with my cousin and Kevin starts heckling the band from the back of the bar, yelling things like, “Play your old shit!” They’d just come out with this new record, and the old fans really hated it. Kevin was yelling that, and I lean over to my cousin and I’m like, “I’m going to kick that kid’s ass if he doesn’t shut up.” My cousin was like, “No, no. That’s Kevin Devine. He has this band called Miracle of 86. I want you to listen to it because I think you’d like it. You should manage them.” So Kevin had this band called Miracle of 86. This must have been like 2000… oh boy. 2000. So yeah, we’ve been working together for about thirteen years.
Chris Bracco: I thought they were great. I loved the energy and the songs and thought that Kevin was awesome at screaming/singing and had a great sense of melody. I also liked that they didn’t just play punk/emo/fast songs, there was dynamics in the songs and set. This was something that I always loved about bands like Jane’s Addiction and Smashing Pumpkins. A short while later, Miracle was going to be recording a new record, so Mike suggested that they use our studio in Queens to record some demos and that I could engineer them. The guys showed up one weekend and we recorded about 14 songs. From the time they walked in, I really liked everyone in the band. They were four different personalities, but they really worked well together and I really loved the music. After recording these demos, it turned out that they needed someone to record and produce the official record, so they asked me to do. We recorded it over some weekends and nights throughout the summer of 2002.
Mike Stuto: I don’t think Kevin realized that his draw was big enough to make demands he didn’t make. It got to the point that the first band we’d call was Miracle, and if he knew the band on the bill he’d be psyched, and if he didn’t, he’d trust us. What made him special was a combination of having a good band, working hard, and a good relationship with promoters — you could tell he promoted his show. He was just the nicest guy in the world. He wouldn’t take a show without thinking first: he was always reliable.
Mike Skinner: We were drinking pretty heavily and doing other things, so it was a very wild time — blurry and frenetic. The first record done with Miracle was in a basement studio with Chris Bracco, and we were trying to capture the songs without losing the feeling of playing them live. It was effortless (all of our heads were in the same place) and it happened pretty quickly — maybe in about a week. I don’t remember anyone fighting, and we thought it was good enough to go on tour. The reunion shows we did reminded me a lot about how I remember that as an unblemished time for me.
Chris Bracco: During this time, I learned that Kevin also recorded as a solo artist performing songs that didn’t fit the Miracle sound. When Kevin decided to record his next solo record, Make The Clocks Move, he asked Mike Skinner and I to produce it. We didn’t have much time to make this record, since Kevin had a solo tour lined up in Europe, so we kept it spare and we recorded and mixed it in about a week. This is something that we repeated on future records: record in about seven days, then mix them. At this point, I was really impressed with his songwriting. He had a great sense of melody and his chord structures and guitar parts were simple yet complex. He was also great at putting a lot of feel into his vocals. I also started to realize what an amazing guitarist he is. I don’t think he gives himself enough credit regarding his guitar playing. During down time he’d always be noodling with some Elliott Smith song and learning these intricate songs. I credit him for getting me into Elliott Smith.
Jesse Lacey (Brand New): I met Kevin in 2001 or 2002, and I only got to see him with Miracle once, and mostly I knew of Miracle of 86 because they were on this Fadeaway records comp that a couple of friends had put out, and I always associated them with being from somewhere that was vague and not New York City, or some of them were from Queens maybe, but some were from Connecticut or somewhere. I don’t know if that matters, but back then the matter of where your band was from always preceded you. And because I could never figure out where they were from, I could never figure out who they were.