Devyn Emmanuel Smith is one of my personal favorite artists of all time. Through the past couple years I have been blown away by his work under multiple aliases (Coin Locker Kid, C’est La Key, Come look with me, and Joan of Stockyards). His albums fly past any hope at categorization, ranging from abstract hip-hop to psychedelic pop music. His production is eclectic and often centered around abstract noises I dare you to try to find anywhere else. Even his most natural sounding albums (The Holy and Diluvium in specific) are full of buildups that make me ecstatic everytime I hear them. His storytelling throughout these albums is visceral and cerebral. ‘Abstract’ is simply too grounded a term to describe his writing. However music simply could not limit him, and several of his projects are complex and layered sound collages or even audio dramas acted out with the people close to him in his life. I could go on for a long time about his past work, and maybe I will in the future, but he has a new project, Me Oh Myriorama, with a brand new single called Southbound. out now. Make sure to follow him on all his socials, which will be linked down below the article. And now without further ado, here is Devyn Smith.
J.S.-First off, how are you doing today?
D.S.-I’m good! The weather has been particularly strange and it’s fairly chilly today compared to the unusually warm spring like conditions we’ve experienced over the past several weeks. Here where I am in North Carolina I mean. But yeah it’s just been wild all over really. Fascinating.
J.S.-Yeah I used to live in Virginia and I remember the weather changing at the drop of a dime, I kinda miss it compared to the eternal heat of Florida.
D.S.-Id love to visit Florida one day, it’s a mystical dream world to me that I’ve been obsessed with forever, but yeah the heat seems disturbing and I anticipate will only become moreso.
J.S.-Are you still working on a farm over in NC?
D.S.-Yes I work on a farm here.
J.S.-I’ve been working as a construction worker for a couple years now and I think there’s something to be said about a job where you’re that close to the foundational aspects of life. Building something from the ground up, growing produce from a seed to a full crop, and raising animals from birth to slaughter, theres a lot that I think can be learned from these occupations. Have you found your job to have a large impact on your art or even just your perspective on life in general?
D.S.-Certainly. I’m working at a different farm now, but I’ve made several narrative based audio albums revolving around the farm I previously worked at and the family that lives there, who are like my own family. So all that that you mentioned has literally been the subject of several projects, particularly The Midwife, although they’re more centered around my personal perspective of some of those experiences in a more abstract sense. On a literal level the grounding aspect and some of those poetic kind of terms certainly holds true, but I am cautious regarding some of the more romantic language that often accompanies descriptions of the mental affect these kinds of jobs can have on individuals. It’s highly specific and so based in deeply complicated and oftentimes disturbing situations with regards to various socio political and generational circumstances that the mental implications goes far beyond just the nature of the work that’s happening on the day to day. Things “built from the ground up” for instance actually being built on land bought from some family who had no choice but to sell it, essentially having been kicked off it several decades ago, and built with materials from a Lowe’s or Home Depot. Well that’s an example relating to farming specifically. So yeah there’s a metaphysical aspect which is what attracted me to the work in the first place when the opportunity arose, and my experiences have been as murky as anything else in a consumerist capitalist society.
J.S.-Thats really interesting, most of the time i hear people talking about jobs like these its as if they’re the last resort for someone who wants to do no harm to others. Do you think there are many careers left to engage in where you arent in some way exploiting or profiting off the exploitation of others?
D.S.-No. I feel like the nature of a “career” in general is intrinsically intertwined with exploitation and profit, so I don’t think it represents some larger sense of downfall so much as just how it is to live and think in such a paradigm. Without trying to advocate for some specific buzzword of a model, hypothetical speaking if a group of humans simply lived somewhere they were born where the people around them had a specific relationship with the landscape and other people, so as to have a system of exchange and so on with everything around them, and that was life. Then the need for all these other things and jobs and careers don’t exist in the same way, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t just be a natural way of existence for many people. What’s the goal supposed to be as conscious living creatures? The lines between survival and experience and pleasure and whatever else are very strange. An individual spends a large amount of their time possibly working somewhere they may not like in order to get enough pieces of paper or digital points to give to someone else to live somewhere so they can continue to do the same thing etc etc. Someone works a labor position, or on a farm, doing the same thing at least in the sense of any kind of farm that’s going through then motions of needing to make some kind of income in order to keep going. The point I’m trying to make is that ultimately by the time we’re out there looking for some thing to do in order to get by we may already be distracted from the ability to just exist in some way harmonious to the elements around us. And I don’t think it makes much of a difference whether you’re on a farm or in a factory when it comes right down to the fundamental question of existence itself and whether or not the truth of that experience has already been taken away. Many occupations are far more desirable than others of course, no doubt about that, but I think the language framing certain jobs or careers or whatever can ultimately distract from deeper questions regarding why things are this way in the first place. With occupations like farm work, it’s taken for granted that there’s some magical thing that connects you to everything that’s missing from the fearsome post industrial lifestyle, but ultimately I’ve seen it as being another flavor of the same mentality. The mental approach at the center of all of these things seems to have a far greater impact on the experience than the work itself.
J.S.-Excellent, thank you. These themes have been present in your work now for years, but just going off the small bit of work you’ve put out under your new alias is it safe to say you’ll be diving into them in a much more explicit way?
D.S.-I hope so! I can say one thing: In the sense of like, trying to be explicitly political or overtly using the language of like, “raging against the machine” so to speak, I do feel highly invested in moving deeper into an exploration of our species at large and the predicament we’re in as I see it. So much is happening that simply does not have to be. That’s something that can be said without judgement really. It’s unnecessary for someone to “own” something. As far as I’m concerned it’s an illusion to believe someone else owns a plot of land for instance. I’m interested in what’s been going on for so long on a global level that brings a human being, with all our supposed accomplishments - even right now, we are communicating in little squiggles (written language) over the airwaves. What brings us to pointing at a plot of land and saying we own this because it’s written in a piece of paper or whatever. It’s a mind trick and so many people seem to know this and I’ve heard a lot of people suggest we have collectively agreed upon certain rules and conditions in order to make things more manageable or whatever. Like believing in currency or the constitution or what have you. And even that’s a lie because we simply haven’t agreed to basically anything at all, at least on the most superficial material level of existence and consciousness. So in that kind of sense, like existential, metaphysical, mystical and mythical perspectives so to speak, I intend for the new work to reflect these overarching values/observations. Whereas the kind of societal question became more of a backdrop for the self inquiry by the time it became prominently introduced in the Clk material.
J.S.-As far as the musicality of the projects, would you say there are huge differences between Clk and MEOH?
D.S.-Clk was painstakingly put together in a way I reckon was fairly antiquated in the time I was doing it. Not like using reel to reels and splicing tape or anything but I was using all hardware to put things together and I think that comes through not just in the sound quality but the structure of songs as well. I’m working with DAWs now so the biggest immediate change is literally in the fidelity I reckon. That’s the technical end; in regards to the writing and stuff, I’m highly interested in the musical and sound palettes to be more indicative of what’s modern and contemporary whereas I believe the Clk material reveled primarily in a sort of facsimile of the past. Or I should say a kind of skewed or botched facsimile. But that’s hardly true either lol there’s a lot of Clk albums so it’s not true that there was an overarching style there, without even including c’est la key or come look with me. So I’m kind of just saying stuff I think sounds cool. I do want MEOH to seem more futuristic or cartoony or something though. The first album is almost finished actually and is kind of like what I’m describing now. A distorted cartoony dystopian sci-fi nightmare pop record.
J.S.-that sounds absolutely wonderful and im eagerly looking forward to it! have there been any artists musical or otherwise who have been particularly influential for this project?
D.S.-Yeah! SOPHIE has been the #1 influence, although I’m not sure how apparent that will be. SOPHIE provided a very large tapestry of conceptual framework that will warrant years of study. JPEGMAFIA is the other giant pillar of influence, particularly regarding production. I was deeply influenced by the sound of the 100 gecs record. Things like hyperpop in general and modern radio pop. Also the pop of my childhood… Utada’s album Exodus is a huge influence on the project. I hope I can explore these influences deeper in the next several MEOH releases, but this is the general gist of a lot of the musical influence this time around...I just realized the pop of my childhood is actually more like Sugar Ray or Hootie and the Blowfish. So I’m actually kind of talking about like early 2000s electronic pop / rap / rnb when I say “pop of my childhood.”
J.S.-thats a wonderful array of influences. SOPHIE’s solo work is obviously incredible but i’ve always been particularly fond of her collaborations with Vince Staples. JPEGMAFIA is extremely talented and at work as of late Ive actually been revisiting his work chronologically to chart his musical evolution and I think it’s fascinating honestly. If you’re a fan of 100 gecs you may already know them but Black Dresses is an incredible band to check out. Often taking a very aggressive approach to hyperpop i find them like a more in your face 100 gecs. So far you’ve released one single on general streaming services, nine on soundcloud, and a couple live performances on youtube featuring what I can only assume are upcoming songs from the album you’re starting to tease a bit more and more. If you dont mind me asking, can people expect more singles before the album or are you saving most of the surprise for when the project drops?
D.S.-It’s not much of a surprise actually, the album is fairly brief and will primarily comprised of what was in the live show. There’s several things I still have to finish and polish up before it’s actually ready but whenever I’ll do that I’ll just put it online. And that’ll be that! It’ll be far more brief than any of like the coin locker kid stuff but it’s what it wants to be. It has the feeling of being an introduction. On a practical level it’ll be what it is, but in the larger lore sense if you’re thinking about the bigger picture with all this stuff, it’s like a super hero origin story. I’m going way beyond your question I just realized. No, no other singles just the album coming eventually.
(Authors Note: He released a single a couple days after the interview lmao)
J.S.-Going back to the Clk work for a minute, do you think fans of Me Oh Myriorama should take the time to check it out and is it something you’re going to continue to talk about or is the new project solely where you’d like the focus to be?
D.S.-I’d love for the focus to be on the new project and at first I was kind of adamant about that. But the fact of the matter is I’m really proud of Clk and I put a lot of work into it and I barely feel the surface has been scratched regarding people getting into it. So I’m happy to continue to talk about Clk as long as people ask. I get nervous about it overshadowing what I’m doing now since it’s like, well there’s a lot of stuff, in reality there’s more Clk material than a lot of “professional” artists possibly will release in their careers. So if someone discovers some C’est la key and they like and gets excited about it and feels less interested in what I’m doing now as a result, I’ll just have to deal with it. So to answer your question more precisely, anyone who enjoys MEOH should definitely look into Clk, no question.
J.S.-The Clk works spanned across many different audio mediums ranging from music to audio dramas to sound collages. with your new work you’ve expanded to live shows as well as some of the most creative youtube videos ive seen yet. will this new project continue to cross mediums or will you stick primarily to music?
D.S.-I’d love it to cross mediums for sure. I’m happy you pointed out the YouTube videos because the visual component is one of the largest distinguishing factors of the project as a whole. So I definitely intend to keep moving forward there, and I see it as being deeply connected to the music as well. I would love to branch out into some other aliases to flesh out the world similar to the Clk work as well, but don’t have any specific plans about that at the moment. It’s likely to me that I might be interested in setting up a similar dynamic with the narrative based audio and the sound collage type thing with two other aliases, but I’m also not sure. The medium crossing might be the thing this time around. Like how Chrono Trigger was about time travel but Chrono Cross was about travel across dimensions.
J.S.-That actually brings me to my next question. Videogames seem to have been of particular interest to you in your past works, with lines referencing games such as Earthbound 2 and even a whole project that acts as a soundtrack for a game that i admittedly do not even know if it exists or not because ive never been able to find any information on it. are you still playing games these days and if so what are you into?
D.S.-Well just to clarify Mona Myth definitely exists, we just might not have access to it yet in this dimension. Also there isn’t actually an Earthbound 2 technically speaking, that’s kind of a weird intentional gaffe on my part to make that rhyme work in the song your referencing. Just wanted to put it out there that I’m aware of that. Yeah Im still playing games although it’s not like… I play games weirdly, I live the aesthetic and feeling of the games that I like so it’s more like looking at art in a museum than trying to get into the mechanics. Im particularly fascinated in Square Enix rpgs of the PlayStation 3 era at the moment, and that includes looking at tech demos of Final Fantasy versus 13 on YouTube. I have a 3DS I occasionally turn on to look at the port of the original Soul Hackers. Random stuff really. The last game I felt truly invested in was the remaster of Nier Replicant on PS4. Japanese role playing games are kind of the only video games I really like to be honest, outside of the occasional underground indie like Hands of the Killer. Things like that I mostly watch playthroughs of on YouTube than actually playing. I’m also working my way through Kingdom Hearts 3 very very slowly because I think it’s horrible. I’m really looking forward to 4 though. The game aesthetic is really important thing in the MEOHverse. Clk was kind of circling around that theme for a while and left off there by the end. So MEOH picks up there. And that’s deeply connected to just what I see happening in real time. We live in an increasingly virtual gamified reality on purpose, like a completely intentional form of mental entrapment. So it’s not just cuz I think it’s like cool or whatever, video games are a beautiful art form to me that set an eerie precedent for certain aspects of our evolution as a species, and I feel like the implications of that forward trajectory are worth experiencing and analyzing in detail. Also just the nature of freedom in general. If one were to view consciousness as a kind of soul, or to identify with consciousness, then the body, often referred to as a vessel, is understandably an avatar just as a video game protagonist, or putting on a space suit to enter space etc. So there’s something about video games that doesn’t only speak to the way our modern infrastructure is heading, with social media avatars and credit scores being tracked and monitored like coins and the point system in an NES Super Mario game. But existence itself is little different from occupying a character and going into an open world… I mean im literally just describing The Matrix and more specifically eXistenZ by Cronenberg but these kinds of observations are increasingly relevant in this particular culture.
J.S.-Wonderful points truly! i dont want to take up too much of your time i think its already been a couple hours so just two more questions. At what point did MEOH come into view for you as the next step in your artistic journey?
D.S.-Hmm well you know I think that point is literally documented in Metamorph haha. That’s the stealth 1st meoh song on that project. Then Diskclosure is kinda like setting the stage for it. The collapse of the Clk world creates the womb from which Meoh is being born. Stars explode and become the black holes from which life emerges kind of thing.
J.S.-Oh! i assumed that was a planned out tease and you had thought of MEOH far before that.
D.S.-Oh well I mean yeah you’re right. It wasn’t like impromptu in that moment but it was during that project. I knew Clk was ending and that was that. I felt it happening so I needed to help it happen and let go. These things feel out of my control in the way that you are born and you just keep growing. You can do what you can to interact with these things but there’s a greater harmony that sweeps you in and takes you back underneath. So you can fight or you can let go and flow into it. So yeah i felt all that in the Metamorph time and Diskclosure was kinda trying to have some closure and set some things up for the new baby haha. Putting a little UFO themed crib mobile.
J.S.-And what a baby it’s turning out to be! Once again I am extremely excited for the new work and would just like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me for this! Is there anything in general you’d like to say to the (very small amount of) people who are going to read this?
D.S.-I’m really happy you’re doing this project Julia and I hope that endeavors like these will continue to open people up to an understanding that reality can be what we want it to be. We don’t have to be limited by any preconceived notions of how anything needs to be. This is a very strange meandering conversation and there’s an intimacy and casualness which is nice and unrelated to this reality we’ve gotten embroiled in with schedules and time limits and numbers and this whole fake celebrity apparatus designed to distract us from the fact that we are alive and have the option to opt out and live as we see fit, rekindling our relationship with nature and remembering what we really are and where we can go. This is where my mind is right now and I hope anyone that resonates with this can feel a sense of unity and communion in these expressions, and know they’re not alone and that there’s so much more ahead of us, more than we can ever imagine, and it’s an amazing time to have the bravery to move into the unknown. Okay that's it, thanks Julia.