The Devonns dust off the golden era of 70's Chicago soul with their self-titled debut album on Record Kicks
Straight from the streets of Chicago, Illinois, The Devonns (pronounced "De vaughns") are the brand new soul outfit and the latest addition of the Record Kicks’ family, whose self-titled debut album that drops April 3rd, is an assortment of influences taking us back to the heyday of soul.
Drawing influences from bands such as The Dramatics, The Isley Brothers and Leroy Hutson, yet bringing in their own unique modern twist, influenced by artists such as Jamie Lidell and Raphael Saadiq; singer Mat Ajjarapu explains how unintentionally, the rich heritage of Chicago’s history with soul music influenced him.
“The city was at the epicentre of a lot of good music back in the 50’s all the way to the 80’s, a lot of the labels specialising in soul were based in the Chicago and we even had our own sound known as 'Chicago soul'. Through several years of crate digging it surprised me how many songs I loved were recorded in this city, for example one of my favourites is this great little song by The Natural Four, produced by Leroy Hutson ‘Can This Be Real’, and released via Curtom Records”.
The band started in 2016 after multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mathew Ajjarapu dropped out of med school and found himself unemployed and drifting. Listening to music constantly at the time, he found inspired to put a band together and create his own music. Pairing up with some of the best musicians Chicago has to offer, he founded The Devonns: the rhythm duty is entrusted to Khalyle Hagood (bass), Ari Lindo (guitar) and Khori Wilson (drums).
The release took almost two years to complete as Mat explains: “I am a perfectionist, I had a very specific vision in my head about how it should sound and I wasn’t going to rest until I achieved it”.
“This is a definitely a throwback soul record, as well as being drawn to the lush and intricate arrangements of Motown, I was also inspired by the more lo-fi works of smaller labels such as Chess and Capsoul, and I wanted to capture the magic they had in those recordings in our record, as everything feels too precise nowadays”, clarifies Mat.
It was thanks to his engineer Mike Hagler, who introduced him to Paul Von Mertons (Mavis Staples, Paul McCartney, Elton John) who arranges and conducts for Brian Wilson’s live touring show and after a 45 minute phone conversation about what Mat wasn’t keen on, on the album, he realised Paul totally understood where he was coming from.
After a few months wait for Paul to get back from touring they entered the studio with “Paul’s players” and as soon as they hit record, Mat explains: “I was getting chills up my neck, it was one of the happiest days of my life, and finally we had nailed it!”.
The introduction of percussionist, organist and guitarist extraordinaire Ken Stringfellow best known for his work with REM since 1997 who features throughout the album really was the icing on the cake for Mat. “Ken is a family friend and had previously collaborated on my older brother Phil Ajjarapu's solo album. It was incredible to be in the studio with these two giants".
Tracks such as "Come Back"; which Mat wrote in ten minutes on a $300 Daneelectro Singlecut guitar initially, came to life, with Paul’s rich string arrangements.
It still took a few months to get the recording process finished but finally after a torturous nineteen months the album was finally finished. The result is an album filled with lavish string arrangements and catchy melodies which take us on a nostalgic musical journey inspired by chic 70s soul, yet the band don’t hesitate to add their own unique and elegant contemporary stamp to the record.