Interview: Lightspeed Champion
Fri, 29 Feb 2008 11:52:08
Lightspeed Champion Videos
When spaz-rock trio Test Icicles disintegrated just a few short months after riding a tidal wave of buzz back in early 2006, the indie community didn’t log too many hours mourning their demise. The general consensus was that their dysfunctional approach to songwriting mirrored their dysfunctional band nuances.
Yet from those ashes has risen an unlikely hero in Devonte Hynes, who’s recently released his debut album under the moniker Lightspeed Champion, entitled Falling Off The Lavender Bridge. Recorded in Omaha, Nebraska, Hynes teamed with Bright Eyes and Cursive producer Mike Mogis to create an orchestral pop album that not only sounds pretty, but shows a clever depth to Hynes’s thought process. His lyrics are quirky, poignant, and thought provoking—something that Test Icicles never achieved, making Falling Off The Lavender Bridge a promising debut.
Before we get into your album, I read that the name Lightspeed Champion was from a comic you used to draw?
Yeah it is. I used to draw it in math class, kind of to pass the time. They kept pulling me in the top group [the highest math level] and I kept protesting; I used to draw it because I was bored. I used to come up with a lot of music phrases that would be used down the line.
[At this moment, a fan approaches Devonte outside the radio studio in London and asks for a picture or autograph]. Adoring fan?
Sorry. That was really weird. I get really embarrassed.
Not a problem. So, what did Lightspeed Champion do?
He used to solve math equations and eventually save the day. It was pretty bad if I remember correctly.
Falling Off The Lavender Bridge was recorded in Omaha with the Bright Eyes / Cursive contingency. How did that relationship strike up?
Laurence [Bell, founder of Domino Records] asked what I got, and I’m kinda of always making music; its kinda, like, to pass the time. I’d given him loads of these songs—some pretty weird stuff. He’d gone to LA to see someone, and he bumped into Mike [Mogis] and Conor [Oberst] and gave them my CD. And pretty soon, like the next day, we started talking. But it was a good ten months until I went out there. It was January 2007 when I went there.
How long were you out there for?
Couple of months. But it took us about two weeks to record [laughs]. The other months we did nothing [laughs]. I don’t think we needed to spend much longer. I’m always writing songs, and I feel like you should make an album because you've got songs, not the other way around.
The sound is such a different style than what was happening with Test Icicles. Have people been surprised by that?
It’s weird, a lot of my friends know I do a lot of stuff. We were all in different bands. A lot of them were kind of bad jokes. Originally the songs [on Lavender Bridge] were a bit more grunge/guitar based. I was listening to a lot of Archers of Loaf and Sloan, things like that. That was the original idea. But after a few years of having the songs in my possession, I wanted to make them more interesting for myself.
Did you write the string parts?
All the songs were written by me, and I had string arrangements written in horrendous fashion. Nate [Walcott] turned them into something that’s actually good. I wrote some things for clarinets that were impossible for them to play.
You were born in Houston, right?
Could that be the source of some of the country sounds on Lavender?
[Laughs] Maybe it was sort of subconsciously coming through. If anything it’s much lamer than that. When I was 12, I had a minor, four-month obsession with The Dixie Chicks—not some great Gram Parsons records. That might be where it comes through. I think the country influence... well, I’ve been a massive Fleetwood Mac fan. It could be country, but it's not, you know? It’s more the kind of things that are influenced by country.
This seems so different than a lot of other stuff that has recently come out of England. It seems that it could be a bit risky, in a sense.
It’s weird. It kind of goes in part with the album cover; I liken it to when I kinda came to terms with my hair. It's odd, and I’m not sure people get it actually.
—Michael D. Ayers