You Be My Heart is a relatively new compilation (released late last year) featuring the likes of Horse Feathers, Marissa Nadler, Bowerbirds, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, Mark Kozelek and many more. Just after the New Year, I sat down with the compilation’s mastermind, Devon Reed (pictured above), to talk about the release, the charity it supports and how he approaches projects like this.
Fense: Devon, you and I go back a ways in terms of familiarity. FensePost covered the soundtrack for The Bigtop back in 2007 upon its release. Aside from that and You Be My Heart, have you worked on any other compilations?
Devon Reed: Thanks for being a supporter! This is only the second compilation I’ve worked on, the first being the soundtrack for The Bigtop. The Bigtop soundtrack was important in teaching me how to pull off something of this scale, but this is the only musical project I’ve been involved in since that release.
Fense: Tell me more about 826 Valencia and how you got involved. What’s the basis of the charity and what inspired you to create a compilation benefiting it?
Devon Reed: I’ve been involved with 826 for almost three years now. I started as a volunteer in 2011 and now work as an organizer for one of their tutoring programs. They’re a fantastic organization centered around fostering creative writing skills in children, and I really enjoy getting to know the San Francisco community through them.
As for the compilation, I wanted to do something extra for an organization that has really helped me grow as a person and thought this made for a nice way to do so. I’m really hoping that the compilation helps make people more aware of the organization and inspires people to participate as volunteers in their own communities.
Fense: I especially recall the Doug Martsch track as being one of my favorites off The Bigtop. Initially, I’m really drawn to the Bowerbirds track off You Be My Heart. Do you have any favorites off You Be My Heart?
Devon Reed: I really shouldn’t pick favorites, as all of the artists brought something special to the table for You Be My Heart. That being said, I have to agree that the Bowerbirds track is a real stunner. That track stands out to me because they took the song in a very different direction from the demo that I sent them, mostly improving it. The lyrics are all the same, but the shifts in tone and Phil’s vocal performance were Bowerbirds’ inspired additions to the song. Hearing other artists record your material can feel a bit like watching your children grow up, and hearing Bowerbirds’ ultimate rendition made me feel like such a proud parent. I must have had “Seven Wonders” on repeat for weeks after I got a hold of it.
Fense: So you wrote all the songs on the compilation and the bands interpreted them? Were there any unexpected (in a good way) results — any versions that threw you through a complete loop in terms of expectations and interpretations other than Bowerbirds?
Devon Reed: That’s correct, the songs were all my own, but the artists gave each of them their own unique spin. And there were quite a few unexpected results! One of the more fortuitous I can remember is an offhand remark I put into the lyric sheet for Marissa Nadler that indicated that I imagined a little riff toward the end of the bridge to resolve back to the root of the key. This ended up becoming the beautiful pedal steel solo at the end of “Half as Much”.
Other than that, there was Ghost & Gale turning “Made-Up Lines” – originally a song for a single vocalist – into a duet, Saturday Looks Good to Me adding all manner of fun instrumentation to “You Gave Me a Reason”, The Spinto Band placing a cough at the beginning of “Excuse Me” to signal the start of a pickup attempt, Marissa Nadler punctuating the word “moment” with her guitar plucking, and Horse Feathers giving the second verse of “Prove Myself” its extra oomph. And that’s just off the top of my head. None of these elements were in the demos I originally handed over to the artists, but they each ended up adding a little magic to the final versions of those songs.
Fense: How do you approach artists? Is there a particular process you follow to select artists and entice them into joining your projects or does it vary?
Devon Reed: I mostly approach artists who are themselves wordsmiths, or who have a more literate element to their work, since my songs tend to be a little dense and wordy themselves. Often, I’ll approach artists with a definite song in mind that feels appropriate for that artist. That was very much the case for “I Know” (Mark Kozelek) and “Mrs. Marquis de Sade” (The Cloud Room). I also reached out to quite a few artists who I knew had some history with 826 or philanthropy in general. Sometimes the artists were really drawn to the cause, and some were really drawn to the material. In the best case, they were drawn to both!
Fense: How does You Be My Heart benefit 826 Valencia?
Devon Reed: A portion of all revenue earned from the release (via digital and disc distribution) will be donated to 826 on an ongoing basis.
Fense: As it’s the new year, are there any releases or new artists you’re particularly excited about as we enter 2014?
Devon Reed: Marissa Nadler has a new album coming out soon that I’m looking forward to. And Brodie Jenkins from Ghost & Gale is doing some exciting stuff with her other band Cathedrals. What else is coming out soon? I guess I’m only really aware of what’s going on with the artists on You Be My Heart right now, since I’ve had my nose to the grindstone on this release all year.
Fense: Do you have any music or film projects in the works?
Devon Reed: Stay tuned for You Be My Heart: Volume 2!