Even the Devics arent sure what their name signifies. Singer Sara Lov and pianist-guitarist Dustin OHalloran just liked the way the word (pronounced DEE-vicks) sounded when they overheard a friend use it in 1991.
Its something that we thought meant something and ended up being something else, OHalloran says.
She explained it as this kind of mythological angel, says Lov, who eventually found an enigmatic allusion, in Geoffrey Hodsons nonfiction book Kingdom of the Gods, to a protective muse who helps struggling artists. Research also indicated that devics could be a type of eye infection, or that it might have originated with a legend about a caravan of horses that disappeared while carrying gold through treacherous Balkan mountains.
People can apply whatever they want to Devics, says drummer Evan Schnabel. Were not tied to any one meaning.
The Devics grand, melancholic ballads are similarly mysterious and ambiguous, not evoking any particular decade or neatly aligning with retro movements. Lov does occasionally linger in her phrasing like Billie Holiday, and her glassy, ethereal cooing on Three, from the Devics second CD, If You Forget Me . . ., recalls the Cocteau Twins. Yet theres something distinct and pure about the way her rueful voice slinks through OHallorans sparse, shimmering guitar chords, then soars unrestrained above Schnabels stormy tom-toms during the buildup of Ghost, from The Ghost in the Girl EP, the groups third and most recent CD on their own Splinter label.
Lovs just as beguiling on My Beautiful Sinking Ship, with lyrics that swing and sway to the tidal waltz of Ed Maxwells upright bass and OHallorans demented cabaret piano. The sea is such a great analogy for emotional things, says OHalloran, who has tattoos of sea serpents, ships and a compass on his chest and arms. It can be the most beautiful, tranquil thing one moment, then suddenly its out of control.
The Smell of Ink might be the strangest track on The Ghost, with Lovs shell-shocked poetry delivered breathily against a haunting soundscape of shifting textures from OHallorans accordion and Maxwells samples, programming and bowed upright bass.
I was doing a casual-type gig [with another band], Maxwell says, and I was warming up with the bow, and I heard the whole thing in my head right then, and I was like, Oh my God, I gotta go home and record this. I remembered it through three sets of jazz.
Maxwell joined the Devics a year and a half ago, before the recording of The Ghost, after moving from Vancouver to Hollywood with Canadian rockabilly combo the Rattled Roosters. With the exception of Maxwell, whom Schnabel calls our token professional musician, this is everyones first real group, though Schnabel is proud of a brief stint in Dead Alumni, his high school heavy metal cover band. OHalloran and Lov met in art class at Santa Monica College in 1989, invited Schnabel aboard a couple years later, and released Buxom, their first CD, in 1996. OHalloran also sings in Mephisto, a theatrical side project with Aaron Embry and Brian Bell (Weezer, Space Twins) that Lov describes as a Tom Waits kind of vibe with violin, cello and banjo.
The new EPs wistfully gloomy version of Gershwins The Man I Love marks the first time the Devics have recorded a non-original song. We mess around with some things, but we never perform any of them, says Lov. We tried Happiness by Tones on Tail, but its hard for me to sing somebody elses lyrics. I want to sing what Im feeling.
The question is -- with lyrics like Im just a sad girl and I wish I could keep this beautiful mood lost (from Blue Miss Sunday on If You Forget Me . . .) -- is she feeling okay? I dont think Im sad, Lov says. If I wasnt doing music and expressing these things that I have inside myself, I would be sad. Because I get them out, I feel better. I just put it out on everyone else and make them sad! Ive had people say, You guys should write a happy song. But my job is to write this kind. When I get introspective, I write a lot, and when Im happy, I do other things.
So is it in the bands best interest to make Lov unhappy? We try to keep her sad as much as possible, destroy her love life, Maxwell says. Were pretty brutal on ourselves.
Devics play at Spaceland, Saturday, May 27.