Photo Credit: KENE O
A few weeks ago, we had an inspiring chat with the super talented R&B/Soul singer Devin Tracy. We touch upon his recent move to LA against the backdrop of the pandemic, musical inspirations, collaborations, and how he's channeling his energy as an artist in 2020.
I've been listening to your music for quite a while now. I heard you first on Soulection's White label featuring J. Robb back in 2017, and on Sango's "In The Comfort Of" in 2018. And, I've been keeping up with you since, but for those of us out here that haven't had the chance, Can you tell us a little bit about Devin Tracy?
I'm a singer-songwriter from Florida that grew up on a lot of R&B, Soul, and house music. I'm just a very chill, vibey type of guy. I write all of my stuff. I ventured out to New York a couple of years ago and stayed there for eight years. I feel like that was the place where my music took off in a way. I wanted to further my career here in L.A. I've always wanted to work with Soulection. When they first started, I was like, "Oh wow, this is great." But they all lived in L.A., and I was in Florida at the time. I've dreamed of working with Sango, Evil Needle, and Kaytranada. Up until now, I've worked with two out of three, which is dope. I'm still working my way to work with Kaytranada. But besides all of that, I am just a singer-songwriter. I create good vibes, and I move based off of feeling and energy.
Growing up, which artists have made a large impression on you?
I grew up listening to a lot of old school music like The Temptations, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, etc. I also grew up around a lot of hip-hop like Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and A Tribe Called Quest. My dad used to own a whole bunch of CD cases and records in the closet, our garage, and in the patio. I used to go out there and just discover music, you know? What influenced me heavily was a lot of female artists like Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, and Gladys Knight. They all have such a wide range vocally. I didn't want to sound like that because it's females, but I wanted to emulate that in a way to be like, "You don't see no other male doing that. " Chaka Khan has heavily influenced me; I love her vocal arrangements and the way she sings. I love how she goes up on stage and sings her face off, even with smoking (I don't smoke cigarettes, though). I told myself growing up, "I just want to get up on stage and be able to bust a note," you know? You have to practice to get up on stage and sing like that and, you have to have been singing for years. Now, when I get up on stage and sing, it just flows. I'm now that artist who can do that because it comes with practice. Your vocals are muscles, and I exercise mine daily.
Creation and states of flow are sometimes elusive for artists, and it's easy to get stuck in a rut. What positive rituals do you practice to help circumvent this?
I grab inspiration from everywhere. I've been learning how to play the guitar. The pandemic hit when I just got to L.A, so lately, I have moments where I'm stuck in the house, and I just feel like I don't know what to do or where to go. I haven't been inspired to write as I have before, but I discovered that I had to go back to how I started with music to feel inspired again. I've been listening to a whole bunch of R&B and Soul music, but I've always been influenced by a hip-hop sound. So I've now started to listen to my favorite hip-hop producers again. Just the other day, I was listening to Pete Rock and J Dilla. I love J Dilla's arrangements and his beats. I've been listening to a lot of Madlib, too, and gathering information, energy, and inspiration from Hip-Hop and R&B. That's kind of what I've been doing lately, just going back to my roots and to how I started so I can move forward again.
For sure, it can be so inspiring to go back to how it started. Especially if it's J Dilla.
I met J Dilla's brother, Illa J, two years ago at a show. I was on the same bill as him and met his manager. We spoke, and he was like, "Devin, I've heard of you." I almost lost it because I was like, "Oh my God, I'm such a fan." So I did my song, "Something 2 Say," and I believe he and J Dilla produced that. It was on my mixtape too. I just took the beat from a project and put it on the mixtape because I've always just wanted that sound. I think Andre Power from Soulection heard it, and out of nowhere, it just blew up.
So, when people heard my project, they could tell that my inspiration came from a lot of Hip-Hop & J Dilla."
I also noticed that you covered one of Pete's songs called "Over."
Oh, Yes, I did. It was on a mixtape that I released back in 2015-2016. I created "Over" because I just wanted to create a feeling. When I did the Pete rock record, I was literally trying to reach out to him during that time because I'm such a big fan of his production as well. He's such a dope ass producer. I hit him up around that time and didn't get no response. So me recording "Over" was my way of trying to reach out to him just in case someone heard it. Pete did hear the track. I reposted it on my Instagram a year after, and I tagged him. He saw what I did with it and commented with a "fire" emoji.
Have you been venturing out into the studio these days, or are you just mostly working from home?
Just a little short story: I moved to L.A. in March, around the time the pandemic hit. It hit New York first. Right when I landed in L.A., New York was already covered with the pandemic stuff. And then, probably about two weeks later, L.A. shut down as well. I remember March 16th was the day that everybody was like, "Yo, We got to shut everything down just to play it safe." I was here in L.A. for like two months. On May 1st, I flew back home and stayed there until July. I stayed with my older sister and helped her with the baby and the dogs. During my time home, I recorded a lot of my music in my sister's garage with a podcast mic off of Amazon and recorded vocals in Garage Band. For two months, I would send my vocals to producers that would send me music. Fast forward to now, and I'm back in L.A., meeting a lot of the Soulection crew. I've made a couple of friends since I moved back and have got myself a studio apartment. I tried to record here in my apartment, but it's too spacious. I've been recording music with this producer/singer-songwriter named Paul. He's really dope. Doing things with him has opened up more doors to people opening up their studio for me to come and play with them. I've had a couple of studio sessions set up. But while in isolation, I've just been writing and creating a community of friends/creatives like myself.
Yeah, I'm sure it's hard moving around and figuring out how to navigate a social circle during a pandemic.
Yeah, It's so difficult, but navigating things is also a little bit fun. It's annoying, but it can be fun because you can figure out what works for you and what doesn't. You can see all the different opportunities that come with working with certain people, especially with moving. I already have a collective of friends here in L.A., even though they're all spread out. It was already slow here in L.A., but now, it's become even slower because of the pandemic. It's a little bit hard to get people to be in one place, and even if you do, it's either during the day or closer to the evening time, when people are ready to go to bed. So I was like, "Ok, this is crazy!" It is hard, but it's an adventure that I appreciate because I decided to come out here to do this and grow in my craft.
As an artist and a songwriter with 2020 as the backdrop, what themes and narratives are you keen on exploring with your work going forward?
It's very interesting because, you know, with all the stuff that's going on, I'm trying to grasp on to inspiration from different directions. I'm also trying to be careful of where I grab my inspiration because not all inspiration is good inspiration.
I've been very cautious of whom I get in contact with or who I keep myself around, especially with all the crap that's going on in 2020. When it comes to writing music and creating songs, I'm either shadowing other people's relationships/friendships or writing things based on what I've been through leading up to now, you know?
My recent song, "Easy," was about my last relationship. I wanted us to be together, and it was a letter to say, "Hey, let's not break up." But, we broke up, and now I'm just over here like, "Wow, ok, I'm sad, but I'm growing in my sadness, and I'm sitting in my feelings."
Lately, the majority of the songs that I've been writing have been about growth. It's been about past relationships, being angry, and being upset.
You shifting out to L.A. - Was this just for the music, or was it a lot of personal stuff as well?
I would say a little bit of both. Something kept calling me to move to L.A., you know? Whether it be God or the Universe. I was sitting in my room in Brooklyn, feeling like I needed to be somewhere else. I was writing "Favorite lover" and "For me" at the time (This was way before the pandemic). "For Me" is about leaving and doing what's best for me and hoping that I can be someone's favorite lover. When my Ex and I broke up, I was like, "This is the chance I' ma take ." I was like, "Let me go right ahead and just leave." So I packed up all my shit and just left. It's weird how it all happened because I was working at a perfume shop at the time. I just quit my job and started packing my things. I made my decision in a month. This was in February of this year, and I was like, "I'm leaving. I have got to go. I'm ready to go". I made the decision-decision in January when I was on tour with a good friend. Our last stop was L.A., and it was our biggest show. I remember just being in L.A. and breathing in the fresh air. It felt so refreshing. That day after the show, positive things just started happening, and I felt like that was God's way of saying, "Devin, you could just be here." When we left L.A. to go back to New York, I remember having this uncomfortable feeling. And so, I started to pack my things and look up different places. I hit up friends here in L.A. and ended up staying with a friend for a while. Everything happens for a reason, and I got a chance to explore and experience L.A., and to see if I wanted to live here and look where I'm at now, I'm back. Many positive things started to happen in L.A.; my song is getting picked up, and I've met different artists.
It's a silver lining to an otherwise bizarre year. I'm happy that you were able to move to L.A. and explore this. It just sucks that the pandemic ruined it a little bit. But there are so many other things that have happened despite it.
Yeah. A lot of people have had a lot of wrong did to them during this pandemic, and a lot of people have had good things happen to them and vice versa. And I would say that the pandemic allowed me to get to know who I am as an individual and an artist while being here in L.A. Yes, it may have slowed down even more here in L.A., but I needed that. I was always on the go doing a whole bunch of stuff in New York. I would have anxiety because of just how much was going on. When I moved to L.A., it put me to a halt. Once I landed, I felt like everything was moving, but slowly. I needed to learn to be patient and not rush things. I needed to learn to just listen to myself because I wasn't listening to myself in New York. I appreciate L.A. because I can actually hear myself speak.
You've worked prolifically with J. Robb and Sango on several releases through Soulection. What was your experience like working with them? Any takeaways and learnings you'd like to share with us?
Yeah, Sure. So J. Robb's hilarious (Laughs). We work together so well in and out of the studio. We met in Feb 2017 at a radio show. Another friend of mine, called Soup (They call him "More soup please" on Instagram) S/o to him --was doing a radio show and asked me to do an interview. So I was at work and was like, "Ok, bro, I'm about to leave. I want to come in and do the interview." So I left, and he said, "We have another guy here who recently just got signed to Soulection. His name is J Robb." I didn't think nothing of it. I meet J Robb and his girlfriend (at the time), and we were sitting there just chillin'. We didn't really speak. I do my interview before him and played "Something to Say" and "Over." He thought it was dope! Fast forward a week after that interview, J.Robb hits me up on Soundcloud and says, "Devin, we'll need to work together. I would love for you to be on my next project." In my mind, I'm not taking this seriously. J. Robb is a dope producer, but I didn't know who he was. So, I started to research and realized, "Oh, he's legit, dope dope, and he makes music that I love, which is incredible.
I was a little awkward, but I was like, "yeah, sure, let's do it." He sent music to me probably a month later, and I recorded all the songs in a week. It didn't take me long because I was so excited and the music felt good. From there, our relationship just flourished. At this point, we had never worked in a studio together. He only moved to New York probably two years later.
We finally got to the studio together for the first time and ended up recording "Sick.". It just felt normal and regular. He's like my brother. He's a really dope individual and very intelligent when it comes to music. I thought I was fun but, this dude is funny.
And how did you end up meeting Sango?
I met Sango at the seventh Anniversary of Soulection. I did a 15-minute set that day for close to four thousand people in one building. I lost it. I was like, "Oh my God, this is so good." I wasn't shaking, but I was really excited. At one point, we were on the same stage. He was on his soundcheck before the show started, and I got my mom there. I was telling my mom about Sango the whole time. She got a chance to meet him too.
We got to know each other, and I said to him, "Sango, I've been a fan of you for a very long time." And he was like, "Yo man, that's so dope. You have a dope voice. "And from then on, we kind of just started to be cool with one another.
He's a very chill guy. So very approachable. He's funny too. (Laughs). People tell me I'm a comedian, but the people in my circle are funny too. Through him, I met 'ESTA.' as well. Like, I've done a couple of things with ESTA. too.
Soulection is such a wonderful music collective and record label. You've done a bunch of features on the White Label with J. Robb and your Black label project with them. How did that come together?
So the Black Label came together because Soulection was doing a black label series(I don't know what they're doing with it now.) Hopefully, they continue that later on this year.
I think there are only two projects on there right now.
Yeah, there are two projects. And how that came about was that they were starting this thing and wanted to see where it would go. They said, "Devin, we want you on the next series. We want you on the Black Label, but it's just going to have a collective of artists." And I said, "Sure." It's crazy because I didn't think that the Black Label would still be played to this day, which is incredible. They said that I could pick and choose whatever producer I want to work with at Soulection.
So I said, "I want Evil Needle and J. Robb," I told them, "I'm going to bring on one of my friends, who's also a producer, too; His name is Lex." I brought him on, and he produced "Break it down." and then I had Rio produce "Easy" and Evil Needle do "Favorite lover," and J Rob did "For me" and I wrote all those songs in a month and sent all my stems and vocals to Soulection, got them mixed and mastered and then BOOM, you have the Black Label.
I just want to ask you if there's a song you could pick to describe your personality, what would it be?
Jesus Christ, you're going to laugh! You probably don't even don't know the song, but I would say Chaka Khan's, "I know you, I live you."
Any artists you would love to work with right now?
I want to work with Lianne la Havas so bad. I went to all three of her concerts when she came to New York. When she came down the first time, a friend of mine bought me tickets. She was at Webster Hall, and I went to see her, and oh, my God! She's so gorgeous, so beautiful, so poised, and her performance was incredible. I was singing all her songs because I knew her music because I studied it, and I listened to her lyrics, and I was like, "this is what I want to be. This is who I want to embody," you know? So I met her when she went backstage, and I had VIP because the girl that bought tickets for me got me VIP access as well. I remember she had a Little Dragon necklace on, and I was like, "I love little Dragon." and then I asked her this question. I said, "What can you say to an artist like me, who is a singer-songwriter?" I was referring to her writing, and I said, "how can I write music the way that you write music?" She held my hands, and she said, "just be honest, be real, and write what you feel." And that advice has still stuck with me years later. Every song that I write now has a meaning to it. And it's a feeling because that's what she does. She writes with her feelings and her emotions. And that's what I told myself I've always wanted to do. And I've been doing that. But it was almost like it was confirmation coming from her to let me know to continue. And I continue to do that, and I stick with that. But she's the artist that I would love to work with.
Are there any artists you find yourself going back to with these crazy times?
I find myself going back to Aaliyah, Amerie, Carl Thomas, and Erykah Badu. I studied a lot of Badu growing up, too. I was obsessed with her. She's not even a person I will say I go back to because she's still relevant in the industry. If I do, I find myself going back to Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild as well. I've been going back to these artists to center myself or to let me know where I came from when it comes to songwriting and singing. I'm heavily influenced by Aaliyah too. A lot of people would say, "Oh, Aaliyah was a great artist, but I always look at Aaliyah as not only a great artist but a great songwriter and singer too. Her artistry was dope. Her Entertainment was dope. She was a great actress too. She was just a wholesome and great person. You don't see a lot of artists that are like that today. You know, I was talking about that with my friend recently. There are female artists to this day who don't know it but are influenced by Aaliyah's fashion, style of music, and how she approached songs. I've been going back to her, listening to how she started, how she approaches music and her reason behind doing what she was doing at such a young age. She was ahead of her time. It's 2020, and This girl died years ago in 2001. She was legit. Twenty-two. And she was doing things that 30-year-olds are doing now. She was doing things that 40-year-olds are doing now, She was an artist that also went into acting, and she bodied both because she believed in it so much. That's who I've been going back to recently because, you know, you don't see other artists like that to this day. So her artistry is timeless. Her music is timeless. Her being is timeless. Her beauty is timeless.
Thank You, Devin.
Words by Akhil Hemdev