NPR

Lightspeed Champion: 'Life Is Sweet,' And Sundry

A solo piano etude is one brightly colored gem in a jewel box of a new album by the British musician known as Lightspeed Champion. But don't be lulled into repose: The other cuts range from hard-pumping punk to Greek chorus theater to street corner doo-wop.

"I was convinced that this was the most 'together' record, like, compiled," says Lightspeed, whose given name is Devonte Hynes. "I was convinced that, in my weird mind, that these were all songs that sounded the same. And it was only afterwards, looking back, that I was like, 'Wow, I guess I kind of failed that mission.' "

Hynes' new album as Lightspeed Champion is called Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You. In an interview with host Liane Hansen, he says he was inspired by solo artists like Todd Rundgren, Serge Gainsbourg, Marvin Gaye and Harry Nilsson.

"I wanted to evoke emotions of old solo artists who I look up to, and who I respect," Hynes says. "Because I feel like the connotation of a solo artist now is someone with an acoustic guitar playing [Bob] Dylan covers, or something."

Hynes spoke on melodramatic pop songs, teaching himself how to arrange backing parts, and the derivation of his stage name.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(Soundbite of music)

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This solo piano etude is just one brightly colored gem in a jewel box of a new CD by the musical artist known as Lightspeed Champion. But don't be lulled into repose by this charming piece because the other cuts on this recording range from hard-pumping punk...

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: To Greek chorus theater.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DEVONTE HYNES (Musician, Lightspeed Champion): (Singing) Hard to be the one who's always feeling sad. Oh, just stop complaining. Oh, just stop complaining.

HANSEN: To street corner doo-wop.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HYNES: (Singing) Please don't waste me, in this love I've had enough...

HANSEN: Lightspeed Champion is the moniker of 24-year-old Devonte Hynes. His new CD is called "Life Is Sweet! Nice To Meet You." And he's in our New York bureau. Nice to meet you.

Mr. HYNES: Hey, how's it going?

HANSEN: Very well, thank you. Do you want me to call you Lightspeed or do you want me to call you Dev?

Mr. HYNES: You can call me Dev.

HANSEN: I'll call you Dev and then I'll ask you about your name in a little bit.

Mr. HYNES: Cool.

HANSEN: But you are unabashedly a fan - obviously a purveyor - of pop music. I mean, some people get embarrassed when they say the word pop, but you don't.

Mr. HYNES: I don't know why anyone would. It's, you know, if something's good, then it's good, you know?

HANSEN: It's not just the songs, though, I mean, the lyrics, but it's the orchestration and the arrangements, I think, that create this complicated sound on each one of your tunes.

Mr. HYNES: You know, I wanted to evoke emotions of old solo artists who I look up to and who I respect 'cause I feel like the connotation of a solo artist now is, you know, someone with an acoustic guitar playing Dylan covers or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HYNES: 'Cause when I think of solo artist, I think of Todd Rundgren, I think of Serge Gainsbourg, I think of, like, Marvin Gaye or, you know, Harry Nilsson.

HANSEN: I mean, your references, I mean, Todd Rundgren and Marvin Gaye are not two records I would put in the same bin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HYNES: I can tell you that, well, they're actually two of my favorite male singers of all time. I feel like there's a thread somewhere there and maybe it's, like, Philly soul or something.

HANSEN: Yeah. I'll just take one example, "I Don't Wanna Wake Up."

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Want to Wake Up Alone")

Mr. HYNES: (Singing) If you love me, if you want me, don't ignore me 'cause I don't want to wake up alone.

HANSEN: I mean, has a real doo-wop sound, '50s, or even '80s when it got kind of revived, "ABC." I mean, were you influenced by the songs that you heard either on the radio or, you know, otherwise?

Mr. HYNES: It's really amazing you picked up the '80s influence because no one's noticed that. 'Cause that's one of my favorite eras of music when it got, like, totally revived in the '80s. And that's something that I'm always trying to evoke and mix.

HANSEN: You like the big sound.

Mr. HYNES: Yeah, I really loved it when, yeah, when that style of songwriting came massively back into fashion.

(Soundbite of song, "I Don't Want to Wake Up Alone")

Mr. HYNES: (Singing) All that I ask of you, if you love me, if you want me, don't ignore me 'cause I don't want to wake up alone...

HANSEN: Did you study arranging or did you teach yourself about writing parts and putting the whole epic thing together?

Mr. HYNES: I taught myself. I really just, I just always had this thing where I felt like there's always a way to get to the point that you need to get to. And it may take a few years or just maybe a day of just, you know, just literally sitting there and working on it. And "There's Nothing Underwater," that's on the album.

There's two oboe parts. I remember when I was doing those and Sally Wall(ph) is the girl that played it. And she came in and she was kind of politely telling me that it's kind of an impossible song because she needs to breathe at some point. Yeah, luckily I say it's all a learning process and it's so fun.

You know, I'm aware that there's people that are masters of their instruments. And, you know, I know what I want, like, I know the part that I want, but there's stuff that I wouldn't think of because, you know, I don't play bass every day of my life.

(Soundbite of song, "There's Nothing Underwater")

Mr. HYNES: (Singing) Every second that you run away makes me miss you more and more. Haven't eaten for days and days. Torture (unintelligible). I miss you...

HANSEN: "There's Nothing Underwater," one of your lyrics is, you know, I haven't eaten for days and days, you know. I mean, are pop songs, I mean, are they coming from a place in you that, like, almost a burning hunger? I mean, you feel like when you listen to the old pop tunes that, you know, whoever was singing was going to die if the girl or the boy didn't get back with them.

Mr. HYNES: Yeah, no, definitely. This album, more than the last one, I always spend a really, really small amount of time on my lyrics, 'cause I feel that if I spend a lot more time on them I'm just going to be trying to get the same point across but probably in a worse way. This album, I wanted to tap into, like, the melodrama or, like, Del Shannon and the kind of old, like, I kept having these visions of, you know, when you get home from school and listen to a record and you feel like it's really, you know, life or death, like, no matter how trivial the situation is.

(Soundbite of song, "There's Nothing Underwater")

HANSEN: We're talking with Dev Hynes, the musical artist known as Lightspeed Champion, about his latest CD "Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You."

You also work as a graphic artist, right? I mean, and you love comic books. And you're a real multitasker, you do a lot of stuff. Tell us where the name Lightspeed Champion originates.

Mr. HYNES: Yeah, it's a name of a character in a comic I used to do when I was in school. It was in my math class and I just draw kind of more than the work I did. So, I just drew this weird sci-fi comic that was about this guy that solved, like, math equations.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: A math genius superhero.

Mr. HYNES: My problem in school was that I would get in trouble and obviously the teacher would call my mother in. And it's funny 'cause we actually just spoke about this recently. I'd always tell her, like, don't worry, I know right now that I'm not getting the grades, but I know that at the end I will get it 'cause I know what I'm doing. I just have trouble paying attention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: You are a self-described synesthete, in other words, you see sound. How is that reflected in the music you make?

Mr. HYNES: Well, the thing is for a long, long time I ignored it. And it was only being in the last couple of years I've really started to kind of play around in regards to what I see, to what I create.

HANSEN: Is there an example of that, because when you're talking, I'm thinking about Sir George Martin who used to say that he thought about Beatles arrangements in terms of colors, a similar sort of thing. Is there a tune on this CD that you find you applied that to?

Mr. HYNES: Probably the "Middle of the Dark" and the loop that ends the album.

HANSEN: Oh. What were you seeing? Because I can talk about, but I have no idea what it's really like. What is it like?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HYNES: It's kind of like banners on a stick, where it would be like kind of like a ribbon, you know, like at end of a stick?

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. HYNES: Maybe like a color. It's kind of like a ton of those.

HANSEN: Oh.

Mr. HYNES: You know, kind of, like, swirling around.

(Soundbite of song, "Middle of the Dark")

Mr. HYNES: The reason that loop happened is because, well, we were practicing 'cause we were tracking a lot all the songs on the album live. So, we were practicing the bridge in the song "Romart" on the album and so to practice it, it was, you know, stripped down. And we were just kind of going over that bit, just going over it. And it was just so beautiful for me, and that's probably the most spontaneity that you'd get from me in a studio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Lightspeed Champion, aka Devonte Hynes. His latest album called "Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You" is on Domino Records. He joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you so much. Good luck with this.

Mr. HYNES: Cool. Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of song, "Middle of the Dark")

Mr. HYNES: (Singing) Please take me home again, my love (unintelligible). Please take me down again, my love (unintelligible)...

HANSEN: You can hear a few full tunes from Lightspeed Champion at our Web site, NPRMusic.org.

This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular