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Devlin makes songwriting look easy

Colin Devlin will be on stage at the Mercury Lounge on Saturday night as part of this year’s CraicFest.

By Colleen Taylor

For Colin Devlin, songwriting is a process that moves between the practical and the spiritual. The emotionality of music drives him, but so does his children’s schedule. He has to get up at 4 a.m. now to find composing time and inspiration, he told me, but he is thankful for the influences his children have had on his songwriting. Devlin’s debut solo album, entitled “Democracy of One,” explores the depths and layers of the emotional self through simple, pared-back acoustics. This week he’ll be playing as part of CraicFest, the music and film festival in New York City, held on Saturday, March 3 at the Mercury Lounge.

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Much like the CraicFest itself, which bridges New York and Ireland, Devlin is a man of two nations, traveling between his native Ireland and his current hometown of Los Angeles. But he insists that “Ireland will always be home for me spiritually.” Likewise, his musical interests and influences vary between American and Irish: from Prince to Van Morrison. It’s not only their songwriting that matters for Devlin, though, but their personas as well.

After leading the alt-rock band “The Devlins” with his brother Peter throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Devlin embarked on a solo career in 2009 with “Democracy of One,” an album that showcases his songwriting as a solo artist. For Colin Devlin, the songwriting craft all comes down to one simple driving force, the emotion of a song: “If it moves people emotionally, really that’s the key, regardless of the perceived commerciality of it.” Unsurprisingly then, when Devlin sits down to compose his own songs, it starts with a sense of his own mood, and he follows that feeling as inspiration. He explained his process: “it usually starts with a melody, which informs a mood, which informs the lyric, so it’s very much improvisation and a feeling to begin with.”

“Democracy of One” is indeed an emotional journey of an album. Like all great singer-songwriters and Irish balladeers, Devlin’s songs and vocals affect the listener. You cannot help but feel melancholy with “Refuge,” a sense or romance with “Emelia,” or uplifted with the title track, a pop-folk-acoustic mix that is also one of my favorites on the record. But for Devlin, “The Heart Won’t Be Denied” is his favorite: “It’s a simple live acoustic and vocal take on the record but as far a songwriting goes, it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of.” Devlin may call it simple, but I call it making the very challenging task of writing music look easy.

Now Devlin is gearing up to release his second, yet to be titled solo album. The album was, for the most part, recorded live in Montreal and L.A., and it features his brother Peter, the bass player from the Devlins, on instrumentals. But before he releases the album in September, Devlin will take the stage this weekend at the Mercury Lounge for Craicfest, where he’ll be joined by Natalie Clark and Count Vaseline as the three headliners. Find out more at thecraicfest.com.