Devonté Hynes is always writing. Even in the gaps between the albums he records as Blood Orange, there's proof of his relentless work. In the almost two years since Cupid Deluxe, he recorded the gauzy soundtrack for Gia Coppola's film Palo Alto; released songs with Tinashe, Heems, and Carly Rae Jepsen; and, most recently, dropped 45 minutes of new instrumental music that was supposed to be for another film score. (He tweeted that he was fired from the project.) This is in no way a comprehensive list, and each project has only increased anticipation for the third Blood Orange album (which he's teased on his Twitter).
At a special De Nolet presented by Ketel One concert earlier this month, Hynes spoke with Complex about the inspiration behind his upcoming album, how it's going to be more explicitly concerned with the political and the gross injustices of the last two years. He was glad that the evening's event had afforded him the opportunity to play new music and to explain where his next project is coming from.
Interview by Ross Scarano (@RossScarano)
In April, you tweeted about a piece Rembert Brown wrote for Grantland about his experiences in Ferguson, saying that you had written a song based on that piece. Is the song explicitly about Ferguson?
Yeah, it pretty much is. A lot of times when I write, my lyrics are pretty much stream of consciousness, and I'm spending more time this time around [on the lyrics]. But I just write out a lot of words, so because of that usually, rather than having songs about a thing, it's usually six songs are about three or four things mixed up, rather than being too direct. But [this song] was pretty directly about Ferguson and essentially stemmed from his article. I was reading these James Baldwin interviews, and I think that when I wrote that song, something had happened that day. It's actually fucked up, because there's so many different crazy shit, and I'm trying to remember which incident it was.
That speaks to how terribly the last year, two years, have been.
Is it a kind of protest song?
Not really. It's more of a mourning song. And there aren't a lot of vocals. I did it with these two kids, Onyx Collective—it's a jazz crew from Harlem. Isaiah [Barr] is the saxophone player and kind of the leader of the group, and Austin [Williamson] is the drummer. We went into the studio—I was playing keys—and we tracked a live take. So the song is a live take with some overdubs from me, some overdubs from Austin. It's pretty much a jazz song with very sporadic vocals. The lyrics aren't that hopeful, they're more contemplative, almost like shock-contemplation, like when something dramatic happens in your life—like a death—and you're at the point where you're just bullet-pointing things [in your life]. You're assessing. And the song has that feel. The vocals are saying these things out loud, to yourself.
Will the album be more preoccupied with the events of the moment, with politics?
It definitely is. I've always kind of had this in my mind. It's easy for me to make music by myself and just put it out there, so it's more fun to get these kids in and try and make something. And the other side of that is, once I have music, what's it even doing? It's not a case of wanting to change the world. It's more of a case of, if you're gonna speak, people are gonna listen to you, so speak things that are really on your mind. If I have this very tiny platform, I might as well fucking say something. So it is deliberately, lyrically about that. Not in a blunt way. But in a way that, if you have these feelings, then you know. And if you don't, you'll probably have no clue that any of that stuff is even about that.
You brought up James Baldwin, who of course is an American who spent much of his life overseas, and you emigrated to America from England. How does that give you a different lens?
He would say that he never was able to see America until he left it, and I was talking with someone recently who is American, who grew up with very strong negative views about America, and I asked them if they feel differently about the country now that they've traveled. Because I view England differently being away from it then I did growing up. To use a physical metaphor, if you're in something, you can't see it. So that is something I do connect to, with Baldwin. And one thing I like about Baldwin more than other writers is, he wasn't ashamed to talk about his misunderstanding of who he was when he was younger. He wasn't ashamed to talk about how he did try and reject who people thought he was. But then grew to understand that he could reclaim that image, re-appropriate it and own it. That's something that, even before I read Baldwin, it felt like something I was doing and going through. That's actually the main theme of the next album.
Reclaiming your identity?
Yeah, and exploring a lot of different avenues of African-American music. Not even lyrically, just on a musical tip. Going to all these different corners of jazz, or house, or hip-hop. I've always done that before, but this time the main thread is going back to my younger self and early influences, and really new ones that I've maybe never fully committed to.