Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes is an endlessly, ebulliently creative soul. On his most recent album, Negro Swan, the multidimensional singer/songwriter-producer thoughtfully addresses the joys and sorrows of black and queer identities and finding beauty within and without. He joins gender-bending French chanteuse Christine and the Queens at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Thursday, April 18. I talked to Hynes about the new album, his childhood, and why he loves Santa Barbara.
How has life changed since releasing Negro Swan? I don’t know; [I’m] maybe a little more despondent. I’m unsure if it’s related. Is it that the more exposure you get, the more despondent you feel? Possibly. I don’t think it’s as direct as that. I don’t know; I’m chill, but …it’s kind of strange to me. This time around was maybe a little different because of a couple factors. I’ve actively played more shows than the last few times I’ve released albums; and also, because how the landscape of music changes so quickly and is so different from even just a few years ago, since Freeform Sound. For me, this is the first time I’ve released music in a landscape where you kind of feel it existed straight away; it never really was a thing even when I was younger, since Lightspeed Champion. Things are so different now, so heightened, that you kind of, regardless of the size of your fanbase, whether you like it or not, you’ll notice a reaction when you release something. That’s kind of been a difference to everything as a whole.
Do you have any especially early memories of making soundscapes or musical landscapes in your head? I’m unsure, but I think it’s a very slow process of everything just slowly forming. I’ve always kind of just tried to work through things. It’s all very selfish, very singular; it’s kind of the reason why I use the Blood Orange moniker when I’m doing certain things. To me, that’s just when I’m singly trying to work through things and ideas and see where it could go. There’s been various points, I don’t know if I’d call them breakthroughs or not — whether that’s in various places, in something just as simple as drum mixing or melodically or visually — that have just been different kind of points throughout the albums where I was like, “Oh okay, I get it.” I kind of know that now, and then you kind of notice those things again and again.
You have so many wonderful collaborators. How do you collaborate without compromising everyone’s individual voices? I can count on one hand where the person I worked with wasn’t a friend beforehand.
You have a lot of great friends, then! Yeah, I’m lucky. Mostly, it just begins in my own music. It’s not that detached from my personal life or who I am. A lot of the time I have people around … whose opinion I like and trust and I’m a fan of as a person, whether you work on music or not. That being the case, I’m usually happy for their input in any form. … My thing is that I’m open to everything and anything. To me, the simple answer is that I love starting things, and I kind of love seeing it through at the end, but I don’t necessarily think I always know the best ideas in the middle period.
Do you feel you are a spokesperson for a subculture or genre, and/or do you feel pressure to be? No and no. Maybe I would feel more inclined to that kind of thing in a slightly different climate, but we’re in an age when people really want superheroes, and they just don’t exist. … Every single person is flawed. And that’s kind of what’s beautiful about humanity. As someone whose favorite thing in life is learning, across the board, just studying nonstop — and basically it happens to be that I work musically and that’s the outcome of me studying things — I don’t know if the climate’s built for study and making mistakes, so I don’t feel an affinity for that. But I do believe that you can, in being yourself, give something of yourself to other people, and other people, if they want, can take something from that.
On “Dagenham Dream,” there’s a vocal narrative wherein Janet Mock says, “So often in society, in order to belong means that we have to, like, shrink parts of ourselves.” Is there a part you’ve shrunk that you’ve been maybe been able to reclaim on this album? I think I’ve been able to reconnect with my childhood more — most recently, actually. Because the medium I choose to work through things is music, and luckily music can be such a nostalgic thing, and so through that, I’ve been able to revisit things from my past, and it turns into moments and feelings.
How you feeling about the show in Santa Barbara with Christine and the Queens? I love Santa Barbara; it’s a special place to me. The first period of time that me and Solange ever spent working on music was in Santa Barbara. I wish I could remember where, exactly. … It’s kind of crazy, that’s now, like 9-10 years ago, and that was a very important, special time. I’m such a fan of hers. It became a lifelong friendship, and even musically, it was kind of the first time I really worked with someone and they valued the things I did. So yeah, it’s really cool to go back.
Blood Orange plays at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.) with Christine and the Queens on Thursday, April 18, at 6:30 p.m. See sbbowl.com.