Jason Gregory

19:07 14th January 2008

Lightspeed Champion

As he peers down the lens of a tiny handheld video camera, tenderly flicking the pages of a glossy comic book, Devonte Hynes is in his element. He’s talking about what he later describes over a cup of peppermint tea as his “favourite intake of information”: comics. If London’s Forbidden Planet had a stereotypical customer, then today Hynes may just be it. In his trademark woollen hat, thick rimmed prescription glasses and rainbow coloured jumper, he looks, and is, the ultimate enthusiast.

“I think, when I was younger,” he says, whilst pouring an alarming amount of sugar into his tea, “there was a comic book store near my school, so at lunchtime, then after school, I’d go there...” Hynes comes to a sudden stop, the sugar dispenser held in suspense over his cup. “God I hope this is sugar,” he gasps. “God I’m really bad at doing that, I really hope it is.” I promise him it is, picking up the adjacent salt shaker to reassure him. Looking relieved, he continues pouring.

Hynes is as engaging to talk to in the flesh as he is to watch during his live performances as Lightspeed Champion: his sometimes solo, sometimes band pseudonym. Whilst he was at the Shaftsbury Avenue chain of Forbidden Planet - where he’s a regular enough visitor to recognise the manager with whom he has only been formerly introduced to for the first time today - to film a spot for his record company, Domino, he’s talking to me in a cafe over the road about Lightspeed Champion’s debut album, ‘From Under The Lavender Bridge’, which is out later this month.

One of 2008’s most anticipated releases, from one of 2008’s most anticipated artists, ‘From Under The Lavender Bridge’ is an album of quaint country melodies and fiddly warm guitar solos which are often juxtaposed with lyrics which are quite the opposite. “I didn’t intentionally plan it but I’m kind of glad it happened,” says Hynes about the albums’ juxtapositions, which are perhaps most evident in the song, ‘Galaxy Of The Lost’, which contains the line: “Guzzle down, My neck will burn as we kiss and I’m sick in your mouth / I know you want more.” Hynes continues: “I’ve always been a big fan of that kind of thing because it really shows, I feel, what people take when they listen to music, do you know what I mean? Because there are some songs which are quite big and people seem to ignore the lyrics – it might be the melody and chorus or whatever – and then there are some people who love songs because of lyrics, so I try and suck everything in.”

Although the album and its city tales of romance, hangovers and sexual frustration was mostly penned in London, it was recorded in Hynes’ native America alongside Bright Eyes comrade Mike Mogis. It was in Mogis’ studio in Omaha last year where ‘From Under The Lavender Bridge’ finally came together – nearly three years after Hynes first began writing the songs which would eventually appear on it. “It’s weird I lived at three different locations between during when this album was written and recorded. I was in these places for a long time in my life. I lived in Whitechapel for a couple of years; I lived in Chiswick for a year and I’ve lived in Dalston for the last year and a half. I’d lived in Dalston for half a year before I recorded the album. So all those places and different mind frames, I guess you can hear them on the album, which is quite strange.”

Hynes was born in Houston, Texas, but as his previous declaration shows, he’s lived somewhat of a nomadic life. From America his family moved to Edinburgh before eventually calling the London suburb of Essex home. Listing off all the towns of Essex he’s lived in, Hynes says he left school at 16 because he “needed to get out somewhat.” As he embarked on a new found independence in London, which was supplemented by “various horrible jobs” including cleaning, one thing, or to be more precise, unfathomable love, remained constant: music.

“Yeah, the weird thing is that, I was talking to someone the other day, it’s never something I’ve wanted to do as a living,” he says, with his usual guileless sentiment. “It’s such a love of mine – it’s never something I’d thought about [doing for a living]. I used to make albums in my bedroom all through school and I’d give them to my friends and people who wanted them, but I never sent anything to a record company and I rarely played gigs. I was in a few bands, even now, the gig side of things really bother me. I’ve never been a big fan of the whole live thing.”

Lightspeed Champion

Of course, those who know 22-year-old Devonte Hynes will be aware of this. Before Lightspeed Champion he, and two other similarly young and intrepid individuals, gripped the music industry in 2006 in the blink and you’ll miss them band, Test Icicles. As they shaped and subconsciously laid the foundations of the electro-inspired music scene which finally became commercial last year, Test Icicles built a formidable fan base -  “I don’t think anyone actually believed we were going to stop, they thought we were just joking.”

I ask Hynes, who doesn’t try to deflect questions about his previous group, if Test Icicles felt like his apprenticeship in the music industry. “Yeah, literally,” he responds, emphasising each syllable. “It was such a strange thing. We were only seventeen and we were suddenly touring, it was a really...it was a really weird feeling; we didn’t really know what we were doing. People around us were expecting us to do things and we just didn’t,” he pauses, before recounting an example of exactly what “didn’t” means. “I think we had like five practices in the whole history of the band, we just didn’t understand why people would want us to do certain stuff, like singles, we used to play them and never play them again.” Hynes chuckles.

He maintains that Test Icicles didn’t have a second album in them because “we were never going to try and push anything, it was all such a natural thing; so it was a natural end.”

And so Hynes set out on his next venture: Lightspeed Champion. Well, sort of. In a similar ad hoc way to which he found himself joining Test Icicles, Hynes discovered the fundamentals of his current guise forming without him. “[With Lightspeed Champion] I didn’t go to Domino and say ‘I’ve got this thing, I wanna put it out’. Lawrence from Domino was like...he knows I’m always writing and recording and he wanted to hear what I’d done so I gave him CDs, loads of CDs (he gestures what “loads” look like with his hands) of the stuff I’d made and somehow he convinced me to do an album.”

He continues: “Even then I didn’t want to talk to producers - it just felt weird. Even kind of behind my back they gave a CD to Mike Mogis and they called and spoke on the phone and even at that point it was another eight months before we even went out to record the album.” Hynes stops. “I never feel like there’s a rush because it’s such an intense thing for me. I get so much enjoyment from it already.”

I ask, somewhat tentatively, if Hynes doesn’t feel the need to rush because he’s concerned about what people might think of his music. Only recently, he answers. “I never used to be before,” he adds, his brain almost audibly ticking over. “Now it keeps playing at the back of my mind.”

This realisation that people are suddenly watching, and caring, about  what he does has also made him have second thoughts about his online blog: Lightspeed Champion. Originally intended to be an outlet for him to “supply some information”, the blog has grown – with a similar cult following to that of his previous band – to become a place where he tells people, including his mother, much to his surprise, almost everything “about nothing.” He explains: “Usually when I’m out I’ll think ‘yeah I should sit down and write about that’ and when I sit down I forget and kind of end up writing what I’m thinking about at that moment which may not actually be something that occupies my mind all the time.”

Hynes has hours to waste as well. During our meeting he announces that he went to bed at 9am (the same day) and got up just after 11am – “I felt the best I had in the morning for a long time,” he says, showing no evidence of tiredness. This bizarre sleeping pattern is not uncommon either. During his typical "two hours sleep", you’d be forgiven for thinking that Hynes' creative side shuts down; instead it's actively more vivid than ever. I remind him about a blog he wrote about Lil Kim almost a year a go to the day which recalled an unexpected meeting of minds that took place solely in his dreams. He looks up. “That was an odd period of dreaming; that one in particular. That was actually in a car, I don’t know if I mentioned that, but it was on a really long highway and I was just having an argument with Lil Kim with two other people in the car.” The dream ended when someone snapped Hynes’ D12 necklace. “It’s something that you probably would do as well,” he concedes.

Although his debut album is yet to arrive in record stores, it’s not surprising to hear Hynes say that he’s already thinking about what to do next. “I’ve always wanted to write a song from someone else’s perspective and at Christmas I wrote one - it’s from the point of view of a Brazilian prostitute,” he reveals. “I played it to the drummer in my band and it’s like, it’s really pop, the song is so poppy. I want it to be on the next album, it’s like four chords all the way through it. Really bright, quite summery.”

Hynes, who is physically enthusing about just how “poppy” the song is, suddenly drops what was a bombshell for his drummer and a recurring theme in his song writing. “The lyrics are like so depressing - my drummer said she felt really down after she heard it. I was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.’” And there, in a snapshot, is the struggle of Devonte Hynes: comic enthusiast, impromptu musician and sleepless creative.