KEVIN DEVINE tells the stories behind each song on the self-titled album from BAD BOOKS (also featuring Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, Robert McDowell, Chris Freeman, Jonathan Corley and Ben Homola).
How This All Ends
I think this is more about mood and vibe than most of what [Andy Hull or I] would have usually done. I like the propulsive, almost “Irish sea shanty” thrust of the chorus coming out of those deep dream verses.
The Easy Mark + The Old Maid
To me, this is what differentiates a Bad Books song from a Kevin Devine or Manchester Orchestra song: what the rest of us to do the foundation. This song sounds like a lot of what I do, but those Beach Boys-ish “Aaahs” and “Ooohs,” Andy's verse harmonies and Paul Simon-y ending falsettos the guys pushed me to do are things that probably would not have been there had I just recorded it for one of my records. They're some of my favorite things on the album. We took a song I loved and made it one I really love.
This is one of my favorite songs. It's weird, dark, circular and as we just learned in rehearsals for the tour, it’s not as simple as it sounds. It reminds me of the Pixies. I'm always a fan of matched opposites, and I love the singsong delivery with dark lyrical content.
You're A Mirror I Cannot Avoid
I love Chris Freeman's Theremin-style synth part on this. It’s really haunting, beautiful and otherworldly. This is a composite, a story about seeing the worst parts of yourself in other people, and about patience, acceptance and disappointment. It’s about people.
Holding Down The Laughter
This is another favorite of mine. We got that almost Leslie'd chorus guitar effect by me playing the intro while Andy actually manhandled the tremolo bar. That's teamwork. I love the break in the middle and love the feel of the whole thing. Robert's harmony ideas were great on this one, and fun to sing. It’s a song about sex, family, death and redemption.
You Wouldn't Have To Ask
All my favorite pop music is a little skewed and set at an angle. I try to achieve that when I write pop music. Here, it's the lyrics that muddy up the water. It’s a story about character defects come home to roost, maybe the peppier cousin of “You're A Mirror I Cannot Avoid.” I'm kind of fascinated by the self-destructive impulses in all of us, by the toll those impulses take and by the idea of acceptance and forgiveness. Even in a two-minute pop song. Andy straightened out the bridge progression and wrote its first line: “How could you know if you didn't?” I love the jangle.
I Begged You Everything
This is a tricky song, winding in on itself. It’s a hall of pictures. Andy's images here are very evocative and amount to more than the sum of their parts. It was a pleasure to get to stretch out and get pretty with the acoustic leads on guitar here.
I get a chance to treble-out and play some fun lead lines over a muscular Manchester-style rocker. This song gets big in the wheelhouse and the dudes knock it out. It’s very immediate and engaging and part of what I love so much about their band, when they're rolling in this gear. Ben Homola’s playing—which is killer all over the record—really shines here.
I wrote this on Christmas Eve, 2009, walking home from buying wrapping paper. My head was somewhere else; it was here, I guess. It’s a driving song, two friends west from Austin maybe to Arizona. Across that enormous and expansive and mysterious part of America. Cormac McCarthy country. The lyrics kind of poured out. I'm partial to them, and to [Jonathan] Corley's woozy, bending walk of a bass line at the tail end.
I was in the other room talking to Andy's sister when I heard him recording this. It gave me goosebumps. It has some of my favorite lyrics he's ever written, in particular the last verse. It’s a beautiful song. alt