|Interview with Devotionals - A Devotion to Sound
- by Shauna Keddy
Although the San Francisco duo Two Gallants are known for their tales of murder and outlaws in the Wild West, Tyson Vogel and Adam Stephens have recently branched off into very different solo projects. I spoke with Tyson and his band members about his new project, the Devotionals, whose first album came out yesterday on Alive Records. Vogel teamed up with violinist Anton Patzner (who has played with Bright Eyes and Judgment Day), cellist Lewis Patzner (Judgment Day), Andrew Maguire (vibraphone player from Honeycomb), and drummer Jeff Blair.
Deli: Does Two Gallants and the Devotionals come from a similar place?
Tyson Vogel: “Personally, I feel as much honesty in each project. It is a very different angle I am taking with the Devotionals though. Otherwise, it would be incorporated into material for Two Gallants. Adam and I kept each other going for so long, but there became a need for personal conservation, it came naturally for us to branch off into solo work. We had been touring for six years nonstop. We were building our music careers, but the other side of our lives was being neglected.”
Deli: Can you talk a bit about your musical influences?
TV: “When I was eighteen I was introduced to the Blues. It was when I was in art school in Portland, my life drawing teacher gave me the basics of Blues recordings. Adam introduced me to John Fahey’s music around that time. I was interested in realness of emotion, and the artistry of expressing emotion, which is what lead me to enjoy, and be influenced by, some classical musicians like Rachmoninov. I like the experimental angle of melody. These compositions for the Devotionals come from very deep emotions. When you don’t have any vocals in music, it really allows you to flesh out the emotions in the song. It’s like being a classical composer. People are used to hearing vocals, and it takes letting go to just listen.”
Deli: How would you describe the San Francisco music scene?
TV: “I feel like there is a Renaissance happening for bands in the Bay Area. There are a lot of independent art galleries popping up. It is a very interesting time to be here,” said Tyson.
Anton Patzner: There are so many different bands! We play with a lot of acoustic folk bands. There was a great scene at BlueSix [the venue is being shut down].”
Andrew Maguire: “I really appreciate how interwoven it is. I moved here two years ago from Miami. I was playing with friends of friends, and I meet Emily [Ritz, lead singer and songwriter of Honeycomb] when she opened at the show I was playing at. That is how I started playing with her and Kacey Johansing—”
AP: “I met you when I was playing with Belltower. I heard someone in the crowd playing tambourine during our set and noticed it was you. You were kind of hesitant standing in the back, but we thought it was great!”
AM: “I started plating with Sonya Cotton, and then the Devotionals.”
Lewis Patzner: “The Bay Area has a ton of culture, so the music community is great. I feel like I can do whatever I want and there will always be collaborators and an audience. It feels really tight knit, but I've probably worked with more bands then the average guitar player”
Deli: Did each of you want to be a musician when you grew up?
AP: “My parents are musicians, so I wanted to be an actor, or somehow be in filmmaking. I loved performing, being in my friends movies and acting in plays. I did always want to be an artist though. I then saw it is still a performance to do music at the professional level. I think of myself as more of a composer though, I love working on film scores.”
AM: “It wasn’t until I was halfway through college, when I was playing with ensembles and orchestras, that I realized I wanted to play with bands. People really appreciated seeing bands play this kind of music [with such varied instruments] and it is a big treat for the bands.”
TV: “I used to think I wanted to do something with functionality, like carpentry. I mean I wanted to do music, I was always very drawn to it, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it as my career. I didn’t get my musical taste from my parents—they are more into the Phil Collins, musicals, and Neil Diamond type stuff. We did always take road trips, which are all about listening to music. And then I found Guns N’ Roses and everything changed.”
"Even though it sounds clichéd, it was easy to always hide behind the drum set, and to be the leader of the band is quite different. It had taken a bit of time to get used to, but I am so appreciative of the people I work with, because we all lean on each other.”
Deli: How did you met and come together as a band?
TV: “Our producer, Alex Newport, introduced Anton and I. He knew Anton and recommended him to work with us for The Scenery of Farwell. Then we first played together at Treasure Island Music Festival…I was meditating on the Devotionals album, and I just decided to call Anton. I thought he would be perfect.”
AP: “I was really busy scoring a big documentary, and working on Judgment Day stuff, but when he played me the guitar parts, I thought, ‘I have to do this’.”
Jeff Blair: “Two years ago, Tyson played me some of the core tracks from the Devotionals record as it was developing and hinted at putting a band together, I went down to the studio [Center of the Mile] and sat with him and Donnie [Newenhouse] listening to a few tracks before the recording went off to be mastered. Tyson and Anton and I started playing some shows and the whole experience has been expanding from there. This has been my first opportunity to perform with cello and violin.”
Deli: What do you love about music, or what was a recent highlight of your musical career?
JB: “The things that draw me to music really are all the sounds that we have learned to ignore in our daily lives. The sounds of the urban space, like the sounds of feet in crosswalks and the rhythm of subway escalators; even the sounds of nature have been tuned out, I think it’s rare that we actually pay attention to birds chirping in the city.”
"These sounds tend to pull me in and out of being present. At times they distract me from the task or conversation at hand, and at other times they serve as reminders to stop, take a moment and remember that I am alive. I guess I hear them as an invitation to slow down.”
"I feel like I am surrounded by a lot of new creativity; it kind of feels like a different life for me. I listen very differently now and find myself sitting in the spaces within music. I am finding the music of Devotionals tells a story that mirrors many of the recent changes in my own life.”
AP: “Well the obvious answer to that question is always 'the drugs and the chicks'.”
TV: “Of course [he and Andrew laugh]. Life should be interactive. Music gives you such a great opportunity to work with others, in such an ethereal, emotional, and creative way.”
AP: “When Bright Eyes did the seven nights in a row at Town Hall in New York City—that was great to be able to collaborate with so many guests. Conor is all about bringing the guests on stage. We had Lou Reed and Steve Earl. Actually, at one point Steve Earl turned towards me while I was playing and said ‘Not bad…for an amateur.’ Even though he called me an amateur, it was such a great compliment! He has played alongside some of the greatest fiddle players of all time.”
LP: “Sight reading Tchaikovsky String Serenade with a bunch of strangers (who could really play) at the Revolution Cafe in SF. That is how music should be. You meet, shake hands, and get down music making. It also reassured me that my training is worth something. A jam session with a bunch of rock guys can be fun, but to play a masterpiece at sight you need sheet music and chops.”
Deli: What are your touring plans for the album?
TV: “We might do a tour of house performances, or at least venues for quiet listening.”
AP: “Living room performances are great.”
The Devotionals album full lenth self-titled release is availible now through Alive Records. The Devotionals will perform at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on July 23rd, and at the Bottom of the Hill in SF on August 6th.