For Dev Hynes, Every Sound Is A Color
Devonté Hynes is a musical shape-shifter. On his first album, he went punk with his band Test Icicles. When he went solo under the name Lightspeed Champion, he switched to a folk-pop sound with strands of country. In his latest incarnation as Blood Orange, Hynes transforms his sound once again into slinky synth pop.
"People seem to think that if you do lots of different things over the course of a timeline, it means that you kind of disregard what you did before," Hynes says in an interview with NPR's Melissa Block. "But that's not true of me. I still genuinely like everything I did as much as I liked it when I released it. ... I see no reason to not just try everything. I feel like we all have such varied tastes and to not try our tastes is a crime."
Cupid Deluxe, Hynes' new album as Blood Orange, follows several years of songwriting and producing for other artists, including Solange and Sky Ferreira. His appetite for variety and exploration is paralleled in his approach to living with synesthesia, a condition that links the senses — such that every sound he hears is associated with a color.
"When I was younger," Hynes says, "I wanted to just, like, throw the whole paint can onto the canvas and just see what would happen. ... Whereas now, I'm kind of enjoying it and exploring the interesting scientific part of it as much as I can, and trying to celebrate it and invite other people to enjoy it."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Devonte Hynes is a musical shape-shifter.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY TEST ICICLES)
BLOCK: In his first album, he went punk with his band Test Icicles. The he recorded solo under the name of Lightspeed Champion, folk-pop with strains of country.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG BY LIGHTSPEED CHAMPION)
BLOCK: And now his latest incarnation, Blood Orange.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLOOD ORANGE SONG)
DEVONTE HYNES: (Singing) But you look away and I look to you. That's where we are. And what we saw...
BLOCK: And Devonte Hynes joins me now from New York. Welcome to the program.
HYNES: Thank you.
HYNES: That was quite a ride.
BLOCK: You think so? Well, I wondering if you would think that's a fair description to call you a shapeshifter. What do you think?
HYNES: Yeah, it was cool to, A, hear those pieces of music and B, hear them together.
HYNES: You know, it's funny because I think, as a general rule, that people seem to think that if you do lots of different things over the course of, like, a timeline, it means that you kind of disregard what you did before. But that's not true of me. I still genuinely like everything I did as much as I liked it when I released it.
BLOCK: Mm-hmm. And do you see continuity there as you listen to those?
HYNES: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I feel like other people may not. But I see no kind of reason to not just try everything. I mean I feel like we all have such varied tastes and to not just try our tastes is a crime.
BLOCK: Let's listen to some of the first cut on the album. This is - and I don't know if I'm saying this right, "Chamakay?"
HYNES: Yeah, that's right.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHAMAKAY")
BLOOD ORANGE: (Singing) If giving left me lonely, if giving was my friend I'd keep in all the old themes. I keep in all the sense. But now...
BLOCK: Is there some gender-bending going with the lyrics here, because it sounds like you're singing from the perspective of a woman, right? We hear your voice. We also hear a female vocal. But it sounds like you're sort of crossing that divide.
HYNES: Yeah, I'm definitely keeping it ambiguous. And there's not as much of a heavy meaning behind ambiguity. But it's more just emoting the feelings that I was having for that song. I like the idea of the male and female voices combining and working out these melodies together.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHAMAKAY")
BLOOD ORANGE: (Singing) And I'll never leave you just to let go. Say, I'll never trust you if you're thinking that it's just a game. I see you waiting for a girl like me to come along. A girl like me to come along...
BLOCK: I'm talking with Devonte Hynes. He records under the name Blood Orange.
Here's one of the things that I think is the coolest thing that I've read about you, which is that you have synesthesia, right?
BLOCK: The condition where your senses are linked and I'm going to ask - have you explain it a little better to us.
BLOCK: But you, if I understand this right, you are seeing sounds in very distinct ways.
HYNES: Yeah, I associate every sound with a color and vice versa.
BLOCK: When you're just walking around and hearing music or hearing sound, are you also constantly getting sort of a stream of color images everywhere you go?
BLOCK: Yeah. Wow.
HYNES: Yeah. I'm pretty good now at being pretty focused. Before, when I'd talk to people, I'd tend to look away a lot and I'm still fully concentrating on what they're saying. But there's just a lot happening. So it's hard for me to not look at the sounds that are going on, as well as this conversation that would be in front of me.
BLOCK: So in New York, where you live, does the sound of the New York City subway have a color?
HYNES: Oh, it's a - yeah, that's kind of like a greenish - greeny-yellow because it has like C in it and C is more yellow for me. It's kind of close in sound to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
BLOCK: Whoa, what do you mean?
HYNES: I mean there's obviously a lot of sounds happening, but it slightly forms some kind of chord. I wonder if I've got - I remember - I have a notebook that I always carry around. I think I wrote - OK, yeah. I said it's a G-ninth.
BLOCK: Wait. So you went to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building and you are hearing a certain frequency, or a certain buzz, or a certain chord at that level.
BLOCK: Wow. And what color would that have been?
HYNES: It was slightly green but I wrote in my notes that there's shades of gray in it.
BLOCK: That's really fascinating. So you're picking the stuff up all the time.
HYNES: Yeah. It's nonstop.
BLOCK: Does it feel like it - I mean I know you're used to it. This has been your life. But does it feel like it enriches your life?
HYNES: Lately it has. I mean it definitely aided the music in a different way when I was younger. You know, there was a lot of palettes, I was throwing a lot of colors. I was throwing on, just like, throw the whole paint can onto the canvas and just see what would happen. And just arrange, arrange and score, score, score and just layer, layer, layer.
Whereas now, I'm kind of enjoying it and exploring the interesting scientific part of it as much as I can, and trying to kind of celebrate it and invite other people to enjoy it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT IS WHAT IT IS")
BLOOD ORANGE: (Singing) So are you smoking again? Don't tell me, baby, you can't work this out. I've wasted moments in the SoHo nights and lost it all. Time will tell if you can figure this and work it out. No one's waiting for you anyway so don't be stressed now. Even if it's something that you've had your eye on, it is what it is...
BLOCK: Do individual voices have colors? I mean as you're talking to me, does my voice register with you as a particular tone?
HYNES: Yeah. Yeah, it does actually. It's...
BLOCK: Do I want to know what it is?
HYNES: Yeah, no. You stay in this reddish camp but there are yellows in it, as well. It's a good kind of texture, which makes sense because it's radio and...
HYNES: ...radio voices have a solid, even texture.
BLOCK: Well, Devonte, it's been really fascinating to talk to you. Thank you so much.
HYNES: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: Devonte Hynes records under the name Blood Orange. His new album "Cupid Deluxe" is out this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH")
BLOOD ORANGE: (Singing) I never was in love and know that you were never good enough. Fall asleep right next to me, you know that you were never good enough...
SIEGEL: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.