Name: Maryanna Devlin
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Recent Release: Maryanna Devlin's new album A Great Many Things is out September 30th 2022.
Recommendations: I think everyone should hear the song "Jesus Shot Me In The Head" by Hiss Golden Messenger on his album Bad Debt, and I think everyone should read East Of Eden by John Steinbeck. You need to push through the first 75 pages or so because it's a little wordy, but then the story gets really interesting.
If you enjoyed this interview with Maryanna Devlin and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I have always been an avid singer. I've sung just to entertain myself, or others probably since I was like five. I didn't start playing guitar and writing songs until I was 21.
I'd wanted to be an actress since I was a kid; I studied theater in New York but switched to music a bit later. I was extremely influenced by Brandi Carlile at the beginning, as well as Josh Ritter.
What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
There is something about the type of music I play, acoustic folk, that relaxes me like nothing else, which is very good because I have high anxiety.
When listening, my favorite stuff is usually acoustic-based, just to keep me relaxed and to help me to focus. It was definitely therapeutic on many levels for me.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I don't see shapes or colors but have heard that some people do. Very cool.
I would just say I am very able to focus and kind of let my brain go a bit more when I listen to music. The music I like is often very lyric-driven, and hearing other people's stories helps me understand myself more, which inspires me to write.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
When I first started, I compared myself a lot to other artists. I realized at some point that just being yourself is the only way you can make good art, and it takes so much pressure off.
If I am ever writing and I think 'that isn't a good song' or 'it's not a real song,' whatever that is, I just let it go, push through, and allow myself to make what I am naturally inclined to make.
Later on, I try to listen with a critical--but fair--ear, to determine if it's crap, or if it's something that could be cool.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please. What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
My sense of identity is tough. I have asked myself this question for years--'who am I?'--and I have never landed on anything very concrete. That's because we change constantly, but at my core, I am an honest person, and I try to be a good person.
I am drawn to artists who are like that. Artists who tell the truth, and you know it when you hear it. The key ideas behind writing music for me are 1) Be yourself, and 2) Tell the truth.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music?
Originality is very important to me, but it's not something I strive for because that always sounds like crap.
But when you are just being you, you are automatically original.
Are you interested in “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I wouldn't say I am interested in music of the future, but I'm not against it. I like singer-songwriters, I like storytelling, and I hope that always sticks around forever.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My most important instrument is my voice. My guitar playing is nothing more than a means of supporting my voice.
Back when I started writing, I was too shit to play my guitar in front of people, but I wanted to play my songs for people. I think I tried to play with some other guitarists, but I realized the way I play really supported my singing and the words I wrote, like they belong together.
So I had to do it myself, I had to get over being shit, and just play.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Haha, I am a typical writer--procrastinate until the mood strikes me, work for an hour, do something else. Sometimes it's a word I hear that inspires me, or a note I play, or a phrase, etc … Sometimes I have to process something very difficult.
Now that I am a mom, it's actually a bit easier because I have to use my time very wisely. If I have time to write, I have to use it. I enjoy writing at night. Something about being alone and no one is really listening helps me.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I have a song called “Matt Dillon and Diane Lane”, and that's an example of when a phrase just came into my head--in this case, it was "I'm Matt Dillon, you're Diane Lane," so I wrote a song around that.
Another example of a song where I had to process something was a song called "Gravedigger." I don't remember the initial impetus for writing the song, but I had to write about how my dad wasn't taking care of himself, and I essentially didn't want to sit around and watch him slowly die, so I moved to Nashville to get away.
He died two years later. That was a song that helped me swallow that tough pill and helped me recognize that I had to protect myself, that I had done all I could for my father for a very long time and I had to let him go. Sometimes it's like that with a song.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I listen to music alone, and I make it alone.
I would like to change this because I'd like to write for other artists one day, and co-writing can be important in that regard.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Music has the incredible power to heal the listener, and we need that desperately in our world. I write about our world problems often, but it sometimes starts out as something personal for me, and I realize it has a double meaning pertaining to the world at large.
My song, "Beautiful Boy," which is on the album, started out as a song about my brother, who I lost a long time ago, and about how he was lost, and it ultimately became about the system at large that lets people slip through cracks.
It is to me an anthem about protecting youth, because although my brother didn't take his life, many things played a part in his death, and a lot of those things can be traced back to how our society works in the U.S.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Music is the only thing that helped me begin to process the death of my brother, and difficult things like my father's addictive behavior growing up. I needed it so badly and I didn't even know it.
As far as other people's music--listening to Brandi Carlile for the first time was the whole catalyst for me learning guitar and writing. Without her, I don't know if I would have come to it.
It's two-fold with Brandi because I obviously became a huge fan, and her lyrics helped me process and learn about myself, which in turn helped me to keep writing and keep processing and learning about myself through my own writing. I owe a lot to her in many ways.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I don't know enough about science to really comment on this, but I will say that writing is the only known form of time travel, which is a big theme on my new album; there is a mysterious element to music that relates to the understanding of the universe, and that is what science tries to do. Maybe they are much more connected than we know.
I will always remember a quote I read over 10 years ago from Albert Einstein about Mozart; he said that Mozart's music "was so pure that it seemed to be ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master."
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more mundane tasks?
I express heavy emotions and complex questions through music, that I can't even really verbalize through speaking. Sometimes I think I am the most inarticulate person when I talk.
I am a very creative person though, and I don't always want to go there with music, so I create in other ways. Cooking and baking also stimulate my mind and challenge me, and also you get instant gratification from it because you get to eat something. I might have a cafe one day, not sure yet.
I went through a phase a long time ago where I had to decorate birdhouses. It was kind of crazy. I would buy all these pre-built bird houses, and I would sit with my glue gun and paint and decorate the crap out of them ...
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I think we are all connected to the core of the universe, and that core is something that is not only present in the universe but is present in our spirits.
I think music resonates somehow with that core, and when we hear music we connect with the core of the universe, or the creator, or god, and arriving there must have something to do with vibration and sound--but again, I don't know enough about it.