Interview with Debra Devi

What if Sheryl Crow played guitar like Hendrix?  Debra is the singer/guitarist for rock power trio Devi (with bassist Maxwell Feinstein and drummer John Hummel),  and the band’s debut album, Get Free, is getting her rave comparisons to both artists.

Devi's latest CD "Get Free" bursts out of the gate with the powerpop gem “Another Day” and closes with a six-minute cover of Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” that shows off the trio’s fierce spontaneous jamming.

JamBase calls her “a supersonic fret-burner who writes hauntingly memorable songs” and Crusher UK praises her “deep, space-rocking guitar tone, furious unvarnished leads and soul-searching experimentation during her expansive guitar solos.”

Guitar International editor Matt Warnock adds, “It isn’t often I come across an album that’s so good I have to listen to it multiple times in a row.”

Debra Devi is a rock musician, American Blues Scene contributing editor and Huffington Post blogger who was inspired to write her award-winning book, THE LANGUAGE OF THE BLUES: FROM ALCORUB TO ZUZU, by her deep love for the blues. She grew up in Milwaukee, where she saw blues legends like Koko Taylor, Son Seals, John Lee Hooker and BB King perform in both clubs and cornfield concerts.

Devi is also the lead singer/guitarist for the rock band DEVI, and a Fender Girl Rock Nation artist. She's a former associate editor of Blues Revue magazine, and has also written for Rolling, Guitar, Guitar School, Guitar World and The Village Voice.

Interview with Debra Devi, lead singer and guitarist for the rock band Devi

Scott > Hi Debra, thank you for agreeing to do an interview w/ my website Guitarz

Devi: Thank you for interviewing a female guitarist!
Scott > Give our readers a short but descriptive label for your style of music.

Devi: My rock band, Devi, plays guitar-driven, ‘70s-loving rock. An Italian music magazine described us as “Sheryl Crow meets Queen of the Stone Age,” which is pretty funny.

You can grab a free download of our debut album, Get Free, at:
Scott > What's going on in your music world these days?

Devi: I’m working on a new EP, Every Story Has a Song, with Devi bassist Maxwell Feinstein and drummer John Hummel, who are an incredibly powerful rhythm section. Max is my Jack Bruce—only nicer and funnier--and John is the bastard lovechild of John Bonham and Ginger Baker.  They also both have great hair, which of course is what’s really important in a rock band.

This weekend I’m performing with kirtan singer Wynne Paris at Jivamukti Yoga Center in Jersey City. We’ll be singing in Sanskrit and English. Wynne has a beautiful new album out called Kirtana Americana.

Recently I played in Elliott Sharp’s 12-guitar Syndakit Ensemble with cool NYC guitarists like Ben Tyree, Angela Babin and Lily Maase, and I recorded some blues-rock slide for the upcoming song “Chatterbox” from Carmen Sclafani’s classic-rock band Wiser Time.

Scott > Where do you live, play live, and record ?

Devi: I live in Jersey City, which was just named the most diverse city in America!

It’s gritty and funky and full of a multicultural collection of artists, musicians, dancers, DJs who support each other and party together. Check out artists like Dylon Egon, Miguel Hernandez and Kayt Hester; and bands like Kiwi and Black Wail. That barely scratches the surface of what’s going on here.
Scott > Are there a lot of places to play your style of music in and around your area? If so, could you name some venues?

Devi: Jersey City is starved for venues because of some archaic zoning laws – but our new arts-friendly mayor Steve Fulop is working on that. Meanwhile, we have underground concerts thrown by local folks like Dancing Tony—who is single-handedly responsible for much of the music and mayhem in town; John Fathom at 660 Grand; and Mike Moebius of Moonlight Mile Studios.

We used to play at a tiny much-loved sports bar, the Lamp Post, where Candice Leger was booking killer rock shows - it would get completely jammed! There’s a cool punk bar called Lucky 7s and The Dopeness has just started booking bands. There’s also a wonderful theatrical venue and gallery called Art House where Devi played New Year’s Eve.

Tons of people cram into any place in Jersey City that puts on a show. This scene is ready to explode!

Scott > So please tell us of any new musical project that you are currently working on?

Devi: We’re mixing our new EP. I’m very excited that it’s being mastered by Rob Fraboni, who is an audio genius. He makes everything sound so warm and velvety! We just released the first single, “Butterfly,” as a teaser for the EP. Check it out below!

We also just multi-tracked and videotaped a show at Arlenes Grocery in NYC. What I’ve seen so far is pretty slamming, so stay tuned to our YouTube channel!
Scott > What is the name of your latest musical endeavor and tell us how that came about?

Devi: The new EP is called Every Story Has a Song. It started as demos we recorded at SST Studios in Weehawken, which had been flooded by 15 feet of seawater during Hurricane Sandy. We were the first band to come record when they reopened so they could test their gear, which has been painstakingly cleaned and restored.

The recordings came out so well that we decided to make an EP. We’ve done additional tracking with Anthony Krizan at Sonic Boom Studios in Raritan NJ and at our rehearsal space, the Tantrum Room in Hoboken.

I’ve been mixing with Wayne Dorell, who also mixed our debut album, Get Free. We just recorded a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Mary Had a Little Lamb” at the Tantrum Room that might make it onto the EP, too.
Scott > How do you come up with your songs? Is it one song writer or more of a collaborated effort with other musicians?

Devi: I’ve written all the Devi songs so far, although our bassist Max is a terrific songwriter so I’m looking forward to collaborating with him. And I know John Hummel has some heavy rock riffs in his curly head – we just have to get them out!

I write songs when I have a strong feeling I can’t articulate. I pick up the guitar and play it until something emerges that expresses what I’m feeling, and gives me some relief. Then I spend a few days struggling with the lyrics – that involves a sharpie and a sketchbook, and lots of scrawling and crossing things out.
Scott > How often when you start an idea for song, does it actually get finished?

Devi: I almost always finish a song. That doesn’t mean it’s a keeper, though. I only know it’s a keeper if I play it for Max and John and when I’m done they’re smiling.
Scott > I was wondering if you ever hear music in your dreams and turn them into songs?

Devi: I do hear music in my dreams but it usually escapes me when I wake up. Prince has shown up in my dreams and shown me some beautiful chords that I was able to remember. I was hoping we would make out, but nope.

Prince probably doesn’t ever sleep. He just astral projects into musicians’ bedrooms at night and drops science.
Scott > Are you a schooled guitar player or a self-taught guitar player?

Devi: I’m self taught. I learned by playing in punk bands and asking people to show me stuff. I learned to solo by looping chord progressions on a little Casio keyboard and trying to find notes that worked. I’m also very inspired by the blues, as anyone can probably hear.

I’ve decided this year to become musically literate! I’ve started studying guitar and music theory via Skype with Tobias Hurwitz, whom I met at the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival & Workshop in Bigfork, Montana, where he was on the faculty. He’s a master teacher and an incredible guitarist. He plays for the Baltimore Ravens football team!

So far I’m loving it – even the theory!
Scott > So, what type of guitars do you play and why?

Devi: My main guitar is a candy-apple red 1985 American Strat that I customized with jumbo frets, a mirrored pickguard, 2 Seymour Duncan Vintage Rails and a Humbucker. I also play a 1992 mahogany Les Paul Special that I keep tuned to C#G#C#F#G#C#, and a 1964 Gibson acoustic.

I play classic rock so why not stick with the classics? I do have my eye on the new Stylus from Westland Music Group created by luthier Aaron Green. I played it in Montana and it’s freaking spectacular. 
Scott > What type of amps do you use? Do you use different amps for the studio vs live shows... If so, why?

Devi: Live, I’ve used a Marshall head and 4x12 cabinet for years but I’ve recently been seduced by Engl Amps. They sound more powerful and are more versatile than anything else. I’ve made the switch!

In the studio I use lots of amps – whatever’s gonna get me the sound I hear in my head. On Get Free I used a Marshall JCM 800, Orange AD30, Fender Hot Rod Deville, Fender Blackface, Fender Bassman and a Mesa Boogie Rectifier.

On the new EP I’ve used a couple different Marshalls, an Orange, a groovy lime-green Ampeg head, that Hot Rod Deville and a gorgeous white Vox AC30.

I’m an amp slut.
Scott > Do you have any endorsement with instrument and gear companies?

Devi: I’m a Fender Girl Rock Nation artist and I’m also now endorsing Engl Amps! I met Engl’s Artist Relations Director Michael Berger at NAMM. He had listened to my Get Free album and showed me that I could use one Engl amp to reproduce live all the tones I get in the studio—from the sweetest chime to the most massive crunch. I was sold.

Scott > How did you first get into the music business?

Devi: I don’t know that I’m “in” the music business. I make music but so far I’ve been fully independent.
Scott > Who have been your main influences on your career to date?

Devi: Seeing Bonnie Raitt live first gave me the courage to pick up an electric guitar. She remains a wonderful role model in every way.
Scott > How has your guitar playing evolved over the years?

Devi: I started in a hardcore punk band when I could barely string three chords together. But I’d always had this mad secret passion for lead guitar. Over time I began picking out lead guitar breaks and gained more confidence in my soloing.

Today I love to jam. Feels like flying!  Sometimes I fall on my face but that’s part of the deal. My motto is “Dare to suck.” If you can’t laugh when you mess up and shrug off the inevitable humiliation, you’re taking yourself far too seriously and you won’t be able to grow.
Scott > What are you listening to these days?

Devi: I’ve been on a massive Freddie King kick.

Scott > Do you have a dream car?

Devi: A red Mini Cooper with its own matching jetpack.
Scott > I also don't want to forget this... Tell us about any other things you may be in involved in or any special interest besides music that is close to your heart?

Devi: I practice yoga and meditation, and strive to eat a diet that is compassionate and kind. If you’d like to cut back on meat, but don’t know what you’d eat, check out my friend Sharon Gannon’s gorgeous vegan cookbook, Simple Recipes for Joy. 
Scott > I would like to thank you for your time and candor with our loyal readers and keep on fighting the good fight to bring us some awesome music.

Devi: You’re most welcome, Scott! Thanks for running this awesome guitar-loving blog!

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