Oyster #98: Blood Orange Interview
"I don't really claim to know what it’s like to be a girl."
As a musician, Dev Hynes has been many things — one third of UK dance-punk trio Test Icicles; lone-wolf roots-pop act Lightspeed Champion; songwriter for Solange Knowles, Florence and the Machine, and The Chemical Brothers. His latest incarnation is Blood Orange, an eighties-influenced solo effort with swoon-worthy vocals and sorrowful surf guitar riffs. As the primary sentiment seems to be heartache, we decided to grill him about romance. (Sorry, Dev.)
Alice Cavanagh: You’ve got quite a romantic thing going on at the moment — compared to when you were doing Test Icicles, at least — so let’s talk about romance.
Dev Hynes: Sure.
Why the change? Was it due to a personal experience?
I’m not sure. I feel, aesthetically, one of the things I really like is that in the eighties people became obsessed with the fifties: that almost teen kind of lust, the do-or-die kind of mentality of teenagers in the fifties — teenagers anytime, really. The idea that you fully love that person. You don’t even really know them, but you love everything.
Cool. So, if we’re talking about teenage romance, what do you think is the most romantic song of all time?
I’m a big Del Shannon fan — the lyrics to ‘Runaway’ are really amazing. A lot of the lyrics around that time tend to reside on the more bitter side of things, but the lyrics to ‘Runaway’ capture that romantic feeling we were talking about.
A lot of your songs are written from a female perspective. Do you find it easy to get into a female character?
Yeah, I probably find it easier, but I don’t really claim to know what it’s like to be a girl. I have such a weird almost romantic-movie view of stuff when I write, and so it’s all from that perspective — to the point where it’s almost incredibly one-sided in the way that a movie character has zero depth. Like, they’re either good, or they’re bad. They’re heartbroken, or they’re whatever — which we’re not like in real life, but for movies and art and stuff that’s just what people do. It’s kind of like the equivalent of painting a one-sided picture. But I do like doing it from the female perspective, for some weird reason.
The album makes it seem like there’s a lot of heartache going on. Can you remember the first time you had your heart broken?
Yeah, it wasn’t that long ago. Maybe three years ago? Two and a half?
Oh, that’s quite recent! No teenage heartbreak?
No, I guess I was pretty good at distancing myself [laughs] and making sure that I didn’t really like someone, so if it ended, then it was totally cool. Which is quite… I don’t know what the term would be for that!
Why did you do that?
[Laughs] It’s pretty dark, I guess! Yeah, I don’t know why I do that.
What’s a good break-up song, then?
Like, when you had your heart broken, were there any songs you played over and over again?
Maybe just, like, Fiona Apple.
Maybe that helped you get into a female character…
Yeah, I guess! [Laughs]
Can you remember the song you lost your virginity to?
Um… let me think. Um, I think it was, like, a Megadeth record.
[Laughs] Yeah. It was either that, or I remember a girl put on the Rancid album …And Out Come the Wolves [laughs], and I remember not being happy about that, thinking that was kind of fucked up.
Not really helping the mood?
Just like, “Rancid? Really? God.”
OK, last question. What would be your ideal first date?
I tend to go to the opera quite a bit, so I’d take someone to the opera.
That’s very classy.
Yeah, that’s kind of my vibe. Then maybe walk through Central Park and finish up at this sandwich shop called Porchetta, which is in the East Village. And that’d probably be it.
Is that a sandwich shop that has a lot of cured meats?
It only sells pork sandwiches [laughs].
So you couldn’t be dating a vegetarian, then?
[Laughs] I guess not.
Photography: Rene Vaile