- 29 May 20
The twenty-five year old County Tyrone native is releasing her concept album in conjunction with a book on June 5th. It is an intriguing combination...
Janet Devlin is monumentally busy. Between phone interviews and the imminent release of her tandem concept album and book, the global pandemic hasn’t slowed down her schedule even remotely.
“I'm low-key jealous of people who are getting to learn a new language,” she laughs jovially. In truth, however, she’s having the time of her life.
“I’m really excited," she says. "I think it's going to be so freeing to have all of it out – and we're nearly there.”
Janet Devlin chatters excitedly as we discuss the upcoming releases – and her (take a deep breath) 116th StageIt show. In fact, it turns out that she was performing online concerts long before the Coronavirus threatened to wipe out the live music industry.
“I just didn't have the money for a proper tour,” Janet says. “I had a desire to play live music, but I just couldn't afford to hit the road. And honestly StageIt has been phenomenal. Obviously I don't think anything will ever replace live gigs, but it's a great way to keep in contact with people who follow me." Devlin has amassed nearly 150, 000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone, and has half a million subscribers on YouTube, and keeping up with her followers is of the utmost importance to her.
The last time she released an album was all of six years ago: that's a long time for any artist to go without unveiling new material. But when you hear the record, it makes real sense. The highly-anticipated album is titled Confessional, and it subverts every notion the public may have of the young singer-songwriter. And the public has lots of notions!
The story Janet Devlin has to tell is a fascinating one.
Born and raised in County Tyrone, she was launched into the limelight in 2011, when she stole the hearts of judges and audience members alike on popular talent show The X Factor. In a breathy audition video, she sings Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ to four silent judges. You can sense her nervousness, but – at the time – the judges seemed to find her shyness endearing. It became her defining characteristic for the duration of the competition, and for years to come would be the catalyst for both praise and, on occasion, ridicule that was extremely hurtful.
The truth is that while Devlin was naturally shy, she has always had a big voice, and Confessional – a thunderous pop album with strong callbacks to her Irish roots – sees the twenty-five year old exploring her demons with ferocity and gripping honesty. It is a very impressive transformation.
“Because I'm older now," she reflects, "I definitely feel more confident with my place in the industry. Even in the studio, I really understand that I have a voice.
“We recorded in Dublin. I grew up playing in a Céilí band, and that meant I spoke the language of the Irish musicians who were coming in to play on the album. It was this lovely moment when I was really able to get what I wanted, because I knew how to ask for it. Sometimes, with regular pop music, I don't feel as well-versed.
“I thought everyone on my first album knew better than me, because they'd won Grammys. Now, I'm capable of going ‘I know where you're coming from, but that's not right for me’.”
BURYING THE HATCHET
In addition to her album, Janet Devlin has penned a 200-odd page book called My Confessional, in which she details the larger-than-life true stories behind these songs. Though the book will not be released until June 5, Devlin has been reading chapters to her avid fan-base on her YouTube channel, which she’s had since before her X-Factor days.
It might seem strange for someone so shy to release a tell-all book about intimate details of her life. And perhaps even stranger that her YouTube channel is full of footage of Janet that seems to reveal a very different side to her personality.
“I wanted people to get to know me”, she admits. “And people forget that, even though I'm shy, it's just a camera! I’m in my room on my own when I record videos”.
There is a darker element to the tale. Devlin is a recovering alcoholic, which means that she has seen some hard times along the way, despite her relative youth. A few months ago, she released a twenty-minute video entitled simply My Alcoholism. Did she have any reservations about exploding that kind of bombshell via the worldwide web?
“I completely did,” she says immediately. But Devlin ultimately felt like she owed it not just to herself, but to other young women too.
“When I got sober, I remember trying to find a young woman talking openly and honestly about their alcoholism, and all I could really find was younger women saying that they stopped drinking for a few months. I'd never really seen anybody saying that they were sober and intended on staying sober. I ended up looking up to people like Russell Brand. And I just felt like I wanted to show that voice at the time.
“Most people go into their twenties, drink themselves silly and come out of it at the other end saying, ‘Okay, I'm fine’. And that's fair enough! And obviously I had skeptical people saying, ‘Are you sure you're an alcoholic?’ But what stood out for me, whenever I started speaking to other alcoholics, most of them knew they were alcoholics at my age, but they were getting away with it.”
Devlin remembers feeling intensely isolated while she was drinking. “I got lucky because when I got sober, there was a big bunch of people who were alcoholics that became my friends. There were 7 or 8 of us, and we would go to sober gigs and festivals together.”
Did her songwriting change when she stopped drinking?
“I used to live by that phrase ‘art is pain’,” she says. “I thought you had to suffer to create good art, and I feel like a lot of people think that way. ‘I'm depressed, but I'm an artist’, as though depression is a necessary evil for artists. I wrote around 60 songs for this album! You don't have to be ruining yourself to have a creative output.”
But it’s true, nonetheless, that a lot of great art comes from intense suffering.
“One of my favourite songs from my first album is 'Whiskey Lullabies',” she muses. “And I put a video out of me, clearly broken, smoking cigarettes in this little flat writing the song, and I was so hungover. It was so painful.”
One of Devlin’s chief reasons for writing My Confessional is to close that chapter of her story.
“I love ‘Whiskey Lullabies’ to pieces. But I've written it now. I don't need to go back and do it again. I wanted this book done because I want to put this part of my life to bed. All of this self-destruction, I want to end that... burying the hatchet of my own life.”
Janet Devlin chuckles. She doesn't want people to get the wrong impression.
“My life is pretty great right now!" she says with a smile. "And the person that people remember me as – that shy kid – I want to show other people that you don't have to hate yourself forever. I'm not saying that people who are shy don't love themselves, but I mean the people that are shy for the reasons I was. You can actually learn how to love yourself.”