It’s a snowy day in Chicago with the fireplace going. At least, it’s snowing in the Zoom call with Devon Kay and his roaring, digital fireplace. It’s a warm, kitschy scene to talk about his new album, Grieving Expectation, out soon on Pure Noise Records. It’s an album he and all The Solutions worked to make it the best collection of Devon Kay & The Solutions music to date.
Kay lays out the timeline of writing, recording, and putting this album together. It was a complete group effort.
“This record’s been done for a while,” he says. “We did Limited Joy and then immediately realized that we weren’t gonna be able to tour it just because of COVID. The goal was always to put out as much stuff in a remote, but professional way. And so, we did Limited Joy and I’d already started working on Grieving Expectation. The song ‘A Little Bit’ and ‘3 Year Defeat’ were kind of holdovers from Limited Joy, or were written around that time, and then ‘Frustrated People,’ ‘O My, O My,’ and ‘S.A.F.E.T.Y.’ were all written in the same batch a year ago. So, they were sitting in a folder.”
Because some of the ideas for this record have been kicking around in Kay’s head since high school and some came more recently, the overall theme of the record is that there’s no theme.
“Grieving Expectation is bangers,” Kays continues. “We wrote all these things and we were like, this is our year. You know, we finally get to be a band. This band has pussyfooted around being a band its entire life and now we’re like, ‘Let’s be a band. Like let’s just do it.’ And so, we started doing it and it’s been working, and then COVID made it really hard to do the other essential things that a band would do, which is go out on tour. Limited Joy was like a theme about, you know, your own mortality and the blissful sadness of knowing you’re gonna die. And then this one is a lot more of like, let’s put bangers, we’ll do the next one with a theme.”
This record may sound somewhat familiar. Not being able to consistently tour hasn’t stopped them from incorporating this new music into their set, and half the new record has been slowly released as singles. That’s fine, the addition of the latest songs has completed a plan. It has created a flow. Kay puts the tracks in context:
“I guess I’m worried about people being upset that six of the 11 songs are out, but OK. I hope not, because I can’t really do anything for you there. This record is just the culmination of a plan. We had to try and make something that good. A lot of brains went into making this whole thing operate, and I hope people, when they hear the songs in the format of the record, gives ’em a better appreciation for it. ‘Cause I think this record flows really cool, and you don’t really understand how wacky and diverse it is until you listen to it back to back.
“It’s almost like a collection of snapshots from an exciting year of ups and downs, if you will. It all kind of just fell really nicely together. It’s not a long record. either; it was just kind of ride the flow of it. And then whatever that flow led to as the track listing you have now. It was just kind of, ‘How can we make it an entertaining experience to listen to it front to back?’ The majority of people who are gonna hear it front to back are probably purchasing it on vinyl. You wanna make sure that experience is good because everyone on the internet can just pick and choose whatever song that they wanna listen to. (This) was more of a feel, a flow. And I think it flows really, I think it flows really nice.”
While it flows really nice, it’s also a confluence of many rivers. Each of the writers poured their souls, like water, into the downstream current.
“This would be the first record that really was written by everybody,” Kay says. “I wrote songs and framework and stuff, but there was a massive editing process in this one. Jacob (Horn) started writing a couple songs, and then Joram (Zbichorski) was a massive editor, and so is Ryan. And then the horns were coming up with their own parts a lot. It was a lot less of me controlling the wheel and letting the team go at it, which, I think, made for a lot more … everyone has their own signature that they do now after this record.”
Kay gives an example: “It’s like, our trumpet player has this like beautiful ability to play; I can’t even explain it just, like, almost like a mariachi-style trumpet part, which, when you hear, that’s Eden; that’s his signature.”
Kay learned a lot making this record. The Solutions provided a lot of input and, well, solutions.
“They kind of exploded on this record with all of their contributions and really taught me to just let go,” he says. “And that’s what really helped with this record for my mentality. I made the band, all of them, write and step up and be cool. And then it led to this. There’s seven of us. It’s nuts. We added a member recently, like masochists.”
Devon Kay & The Solutions are nearing the size of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones,
“Nobody really knows what to do with us,” Kay laughs. “Like, as a band, when it comes to picking our genre or or calling us a part of a scene or, you know what I mean? Like, I think we’re a little too theatre rock for punk. I think we’re a little too ska for theatre kid rock. And I think we’re not enough ska for ska kids, which is, like, hilarious that I’m being bullied by ska. I was the ska kid.
“We’re chill, it’s fine. Am I gonna get invited to the big ska party at the end of the year? No, no, I’m not, but I get to at least hang out with the people who are going. We’ve just become friends and I think we’re ska-adjacent. We finally have made the stuff we’ve always been like, ‘Are we gonna put a ska song on here?’ So now it’s kind of, like, joined the rotating door of genres that we try to throw into the band. So yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see if they want us around.”
With all that going on from a massive cast of players, Kay says they manage to keep it simple somehow. “We didn’t overwrite for this one. This one just kind of came in as stuff came in as we were working on it, but we didn’t have a 10.”
Out now, as a single, “The Space In Between” was born out of what Kay calls “necessity.”
“‘The Space In Between’ happened after the record was done. We were saying was done, then we were like, ‘No, it’s not done.’ The same thing happened with ‘O Glorious, Nothing’ on Limited Joy, where the constraint of time made us think of a cooler song than something that was like super thought out. We needed something like that. So, necessity, I feel it’s really weird now I’m talking about it, necessity really drove this album.
It was, ‘What do we need so that people can see what we can do?’ We need good songs; we need another song; we need this; we need that. We need it to be released a certain way. This was, like, a proving ground record in a way to just kind of show off, like, how much we can offer. I don’t know, just, ‘Hey, we’re good. I hope you like us. Please take us seriously, even though we’re jokers.’”
With the latest song to be written, Kay admits he’s pretty stoked on a very old idea just as much.
“Ooh, I’m very excited about ‘The Optimist.’ That’s a 10- to 11-year-old song that I wrote in college, and it’s gone through all of these, like, crazy transformations, and the old bass player sent me a folder … we recorded everything together. We went to high school and college and just made music together. He sent me this email with a folder of all my old high school songs, and it was on there, and it was like, ‘Whoa;’ it blew my mind. I started working on it again, and it was that one, I’m really happy with the way it came out. It has that energy of, no restraints kind of a thing, of that, my dumb, younger brain had the ability to do.”
While ‘The Optimist” may speak to the world from Kay’s younger brain, his current brain hits with “Until The Wheels Fall Off.” It’s not all Discord, Twitch, and video games in Kay’s life. He has a personal message to send outside of cyberspace. It’s a message that rings universal,
“‘Until The Wheels Fall Off,’ I mean that one’s, like, super personal. I feel like also written with the intention that if you hear it, you can make it whatever you want. I didn’t want it to be so blatant there’s songs that are just like, ah, me, me, me. That one I felt like was meant to be a little bit more open. You could take it the way that I wrote it, cripplingly sad. At least it is to me. But also, I feel like you could, you could kind of see it with the music in an uplifting way in a couple different ways to look at it. I think of like the idea of, you know, admitting something isn’t working could also be a positive for somebody. So yeah, that one I’m real fart sniffy about, apparently. I think that one’s really up to you. It’s whatever you wanna make of it.”
Devon Kay, thinking deeper about his own life, says,
“I think that what a lot of people look at driving Direct Hit’s career; it’s been awesome. I’m super thankful for it. I’m blown away by it. But honestly, that was just going on in these really fast years. When you’re in it, it’s always hard to see the output. And I feel like, especially with music and stuff nowadays, it’s like, I don’t know. It took 10 years of doing it to then have it stop for a year and then realize that, like, ‘Oh, people care.’
“It’s hard to think, like, because you listen to music, and you see, if you like this genre, you might have heard of Direct Hit. We got to do cool stuff, but that’s still like a small, micro thing. We all still have day jobs. We all still have, you know, problems and stuff. So, it’s like, you kind of don’t always get to see it. And I think getting to see it now, when Pure Noise was interested, it was unbelievable. I’m still blown away. I’m so thankful that, like, anybody wants to listen to my garbage. It’s so hard. And it like never, never leaves my brain that some people don’t even get play outside of their garage, and I’ve got to go all over the world and play like loud, sloppy, fast rock music. It, it blows me away.”
A record of “bangers,” with no theme otherwise? From the past, young and whimsical, with no restraint, to today, introspective and new. From a plan, to a flow, onto this album, the theme of Grieving Expectation might be Devon Kay Joins The Solutions.
“I’m super thankful. Especially because The Solutions, you know, took a little hiatus from it because I was like, ‘I’m gonna focus on Direct Hit.’ That was what was going on. It felt it was the right thing. And then The Solutions came back as a way to get back with my friends and, like, just hang out and make music, never really planning until we wrote.
“And then it was like, ‘Let’s just go for it. We got time. What else have we got?’ And so, we just went for it, and now it’s here, and it’s just, it rules. I hope it keeps going, and I hope people like it. And if it doesn’t, then I’m happy that I got to give it a try. If everyone hates this record and is like, ‘Boo, cut your hair.’ Honestly, I’ve gotten to do a lot. I feel like everybody always compares themselves to other people, and that’s what I do as well. And so, you can sometimes miss how cool this is. No, I’m not cool. I’m a huge loser. I sit around and play video games all day. That’s pretty much it.”
Watch the video for “The Space In-Between” here:
Photo courtesy of Devon Kay & The Solutions and Alan Snodgrass