In 2011, a timid, 16-year-old girl from Northern Ireland walked onto the X-Factor UK stage and entranced everyone with her cover of Elton John’s, “Your Song.” Throughout the competition, her nervous energy dissipated into a quiet confidence, and her endearing personality and interesting voice led her to place fifth overall. Since the end of the show, Devlin has been able to display more of her personality through her songwriting (this year’s LP, Running With Scissors), music videos (the beautifully animated “Creatures of the Night”), and live shows. With the support of new and old fans alike, Devlin is set to have a very busy—and successful— 2016.
You grew up in a small rural town in Northern Ireland. What led you to your love of music? How did your childhood surroundings and experiences influence your sound?
With the isolation of where I lived I found my self drawn towards music and poetry as way of passing time. But also due to the permanence of beautiful scenery and forestry, I found myself easily inspired to write. My love of music came from my inability to express myself verbally. Listening to music and writing helps me understand how I’m feeling and somewhat explain my emotions. With the massive influence of folk/country music in my upbringing I was drawn to telling stories and using more traditional instruments in my own music.
You released your debut album, Running With Scissors, this year and co-wrote every track. Was that always your goal as a musician? Did you have any particular inspirations behind the album or stories you really wanted to tell? Was it difficult for you to be so personal?
With my lack of confidence I was drawn to the idea of a co-writing so that I would have another person there to keep me on the right track and to push me to finish a song, as I tend to allow negative thoughts to stop me halfway through my creative process. I wanted to write every track on the album though, as I felt I had a lot of stories to tell. It can at times be hard to be completely honest within a song because in the back of your mind you know people will listen to it and judge. But once you forget about that, you can be a lot more honest in your expression.
The album has a great mix of fun, upbeat tracks (“Creatures of the Night”, “Wonderful”) with more emotional ones (“Things We Lost in the Fire”, “Delicate”) Was this a conscious decision? Do you have a personal favorite track from the album?
It was a conscious decision in some way. I didn’t want to bring people down by having an album full of only sad introspective tracks. Still, the upbeat tracks aren’t as upbeat as they appear. There are dark undertones within the meanings of the songs. My personal favorite song from the record would have to be “Whisky Lullabies”. It was a difficult track to write due to it’s honesty but it was also the last track I wrote for the album, which makes it particularly special.
You currently have 344k followers on Twitter and 217k on YouTube. Does social media have any negative or positive effect on your creative process? Does it ever feel strange or limiting to have so many strangers following along with your life and your work?
It’s very positive most of the time. You feel like you’ve a little team cheering you along the way. I must admit at times it is strange because in real life I don’t know that many people or socialize often, so the ability to turn on my computer and always have people to talk to is refreshing.
You recently supported Heffron Drive at a couple of their live shows in the US. (We saw you at the Webster Hall show and you were AMAZING!) Tell us more about that experience. Any funny tour stories? Favorite and least favorite parts of being on the road?
Thank you! That was my first experience of touring the states and it was always a dream of mine to play shows in America, so before the tour even started I was already super excited. I don’t have any downside about touring. I suffer from very bad insomnia and for some reason on the road I sleep like a human. I love everything about it really, the traveling, the sight seeing and performing/meeting new people every night. As I’m not in relationships I don’t get the downsides that most people get, so it’s only pluses for me really.
Your time on the X-Factor was memorable from the very beginning, due to the fact that you came in with such a nervous energy, yet still managed to amaze the judges and the audience with your beautiful performance. Do you still deal with nerves before a show? How do you manage to overcome them?
I still do, and possibly even more so than I used to. I’m not very good with dealing with them to be honest, I’ve come to learn that there’s not much I can do about it. I have come to understand that they are a good thing though, that it shows that I still care a lot about my performances and have a drive to make them the best as I can. It can sometimes be hard to see the positives when you’re laying in a ball on the dressing room floor too scared to move but it’s worth it when you can make people have a good night.
Tell us a more about your experience on the X-Factor. What did you learn that has helped you as you’ve launched your solo career?
I learned that it was okay to be myself. For years I struggled with the idea that no one liked me for who I was and that I was too weird for people to ever really accept. But from going on the show and being me and people actually liking me for being myself it made me realize that being different is actually a good thing and that I should embrace it.
What’s coming up for you in 2016? Any plans for a new album? Tell us more!
I just finished making a Christmas EP called December Daze that’ll be coming out in the holiday season. On one of the tracks “Happy Holidays.” I decided that as I wrote the song myself, I’d have a go at playing as much on it as possible. So you can hear me playing drums, ukulele , glockenspiel and sleigh bells. I’ve also been writing for my second album.
Hopefully the record will be coming out some time next year! I won’t mention the album name but it’s all about soul cleansing and confessing sins so it gives me an opportunity to tell all my deepest secrets within music.
-Interviewed by Lauren Mahaffy
See more from our Winter 2015 issue below!