L Devine on leaving London, independence and (finally) releasing her debut album
Before there was L Devine - the genre-crossing, unapologetically queer pop artist who burned bright as one of the great British pop hopes at the end of the last decade - there was Olivia Devine, a burgeoning singer-songwriter from Whitley Bay on the edge of the North East coast who once, famously, sold her car to move to London and get a record deal.
She got her record deal and across four Eps - 2017's Growing Pains, 2018's impressive Peer Pressure and 2021's two-part Near Life Experience - dipped her toe in a variety of genres; from Bruno Mars-esque funk (Naked Alone), 80s-adjacent synth (Peachy Keen, Nervous) and stuttering electronica (Peer Pressure).
But in the last few years, Devine hit a crossroads. She split with her label and management, trading in the chaos of London for the comforts of her home in the North East. After a period of cooling off from her time in the system, now it's finally time for her to unveil her years-in-the-making debut album, Digital Heartifacts, out next year via AWAL.
Her first record as an independent artist, Digital Heartifacts trades in most of the recogniseable pop shades for a startingly honest and personal body of work that riffs on alternative pop (Sugababe's Overload with its nonchalance and style has been named a reference) and indie-rock, a far cry from her one-time peers like Dua Lipa.
"Especially for queer people, you can't wait to leave your little hometown and go to London," Devine tells us as we catch up over Zoom. "But I think you do get to an age where you appreciate that smaller life, the slower pace, just that sense of community and people who really, genuinely, accept you for who you are."
It must be the weirdest feeling knowing that the album is going to be a real, tangible thing that people can order
It's pretty scary! It's just kind of hitting me now that people are going to listen to [the album]. It's been my own little world, my private secret. It's starting to feel very real now. But that's the point, right? This is what I wanted!
Seven years in...
It is mad, yeah. I put out my first EP in 2017. But I think this just feels right. I'm putting this album out as an independent artist, I've arrived at the point where I'm fully in the driver's seat and think that's the right way to do your debut album. Obviously, I've done the EPs before this, but this is by far the biggest and most cohesive project I've ever done.
Listening to the album in full, it definitely feels very different from the stuff that came before it; quite lo-fi, very indie rock, it actually reminded me a lot of the last Clairo record
I actually don't think any of those things were actually intentional [from the beginning]. It happened really naturally, I didn't know what I was writing for [at the start]. For every artist, their dream is to an album. I parted ways with my label [Liv was previously signed to Warners] and the management that I'd been with for all that time, so it was like for the first time in five years it was just me again. I was making the music, purely, just for me. Usually, I'd have to send it to my A&R and bounce it around, but there were no outside opinions. It was just me and Julien [Flew, co-producer of the record] in my flat in Newcastle.
I guess it turned out quite lo-fi, but I think it's a bit rough around the edges. It's also super personal because I didn't have anyone else in my ear. That's the point of a debut album, isn't it? It's an opportunity for me to really tell people who I am.
Looking back now, you released three great EPs under your old label, but you always seemed on the precipice of doing something massive, with Peer Pressure and Naked Alone especially
Naked Alone was a massive pop banger. Originally, I wanted to pitch it out to other artists but everyone kept saying...
Keep it for yourself?
Yeah. [The label said] it was a really big tune [and I had to keep it]. I'd just done this really heartfelt, electronic EP [Peer Pressure] but I'm not a pop-funk artist, right? I always play Naked Alone at my gigs, but I don't really know how without it feeling like a gimmick, or pastiche. I guess after [Naked Alone was released] everything got a bit confused. It was kind of like, OK, what kind of artist do I want to be? The first two EPs [Growing Pains and Peer Pressure] were rooted in a really strong identity, but I got to a point where I just didn't know I was anymore. But, you know, I got to work with some really lovely people and my team were amazing. These things just happen.
I actually think the entire album sounds like a sequel, sonically and lyrically, to Daughter from the Peer Pressure EP
I've been saying this! I think the album really jumps off the back of Daughter and Peer Pressure. Lyrically, those are my favourite songs of mine. The album really takes me back [to that place].
It also doesn't escape me that a lot of the girls who came up as the same time as you - RAYE especially - have found their own groove and lane releasing their music independently, where they all got a little lost in the major system before
100%. RAYE's story is so inspiring. I think she shows that parting ways with a major label isn't the end. It's been framed like that for so long, you get dropped or come out of your deal and people are like...well, this is the end for me. When, actually, it's just the beginning. It's a really powerful time! RAYE has totally set the tone for independent artists recently, like you have the courage to go indie now. I think it's really, really cool. I love putting out my stuff through AWAL and being in complete control. I actually feel like a proper artist for the first time ever.
As for the songs that no-one has heard yet, I think Hater is my favourite
I'm really glad you like that one. It's like you said earlier, this is a super confessional album and I mean this is truly vulnerable, to the point where, like, I'm slightly scared about how people are going to perceive me after they hear it. But it was a really fun one to do, like it says on the tin, it's all about my inner voice and very intrusive thoughts, but it's dressed up in humour! It's almost got an Irish jig vibe.
The latest single, Laundry Day, is also the album's closing track - I really like how you're symbolically washing yourself clean of everything at the end
You know what, I've actually never really thought of it like that. I'm a bit worried people will take it too literally. I'm not speaking about a partner that's said all those things to me. I think that's obvious. It's me being very insecure about my mental health.
Digital Heartifacts by L Devine drops February 2nd 2024 via AWAL.