Devon Ross, Adventures in Creativity

Musician, actor, and model Devon Ross gives an insight into her artistic escapades these past six months.

Impressive is the word best used to describe Devon Ross. Just listing her achievements the past six months will take up most of the allocated words for this introduction: wrapping a film in Croatia, securing a coveted ‘friend of house’ partnership with Louis Vuitton and, most recently, releasing an EP under Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore’s label.

Growing up in Los Angeles as the daughter of Craig Ross, best known as Lenny Kravitz’s guitarist, Devon was surrounded by music. Although following in her father’s footsteps might have seemed like a natural progression, in her adolescence she skewed more towards the fashion scene, modelling for Valentino and Simone Rocha. Now, at 24, she’s embracing the many facets of creativity and leaning into a life of moving between music, fashion, and film.

You’ve had a busy couple of months! How was SXSW?

So it was actually for the unofficial SXSW shows on the side, but it was so fun. Austin is a newfound love for me. My boyfriend is from there, so I just started going there and I think it’s one of the best cities ever.

South By was a really fun experience though, I’d never done something like that before. You play places with six other bands and then have to change over quickly. It was just something I wasn’t used to, but I had a fun time.

How does Austin compare to LA?

I just feel instantly relaxed the minute I land there. I feel almost like a completely different person. Something about the energy grounds you. The people are super nice and it’s a small city. LA is just so vast, it takes 45 minutes to get anywhere, so it’s sometimes nice to go to a city where it’s just 10 minutes to most places. Automatically you’re more relaxed that way, not having to sit in LA traffic. I love it there, it’s my new favourite place.

I saw you’ve played a few shows since then as well. I imagine when you’re writing it’s quite a solitary practice, and then suddenly you have to go and share that intimate work with the public. How has that experience been?

Yeah, we’ve been playing since December, when I did my first show in London. This was my first project and I’ve never sung live before. I mean, I’ve played guitar for someone else where you can kind of hide in the back, but as I was halfway through writing this it dawned on me that I was actually going to have to play this live for people – which freaked me out to say the least. It really gave me anxiety for a while. But it’s just something you have to do, and I’ve always wanted to do it. I love watching my friends play, but to me it was such a scary idea.

My first show was opening for Thurston Moore, which is insane. So, this also contributed to my anxiety. I just kept thinking, ‘This is crazy, why is this happening? But it’s happening so just do it.’ It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. The first show I was super nervous, but after I sang the first song half the nerves went away. It’s like trying anything new. I play with my boyfriend and best friend, so it’s just a super comfortable setting and we communicate really well. It’s just been perfect.

I’m absolutely terrified of public speaking, so I admire musicians for being able to perform in front of a big group of strangers.

Well, I’m actually scared of speaking in front of a crowd. But for some reason singing or yelling is so fine. The minute I have to speak and ask people how their night is going I’m like, ah! But I’m getting better at it.

How do you approach writing music? Is it an exploration of self, almost like a diary, or is it more of storytelling device for you?

It’s a solitary process. I write everything very much on my own. I’d say it’s like a strange, twisted diary. I don’t write in a way that I want people to really understand it. I don’t need everyone to know exactly what it’s about, I want people to make their own association to it, to connect it to what they’re going through. But of course, it’s art, so it comes from some of my life experiences, but I personally don’t like writing in a way that’s super dissectible. I guess everything is dissectible, but not too on the nose, I like throwing people off a bit.

That makes it more interesting when it’s an exchange of sorts and the audience can put themselves into your project.

Totally, and I’ve always admired lyricists like Stephen Malkmus or John Lennon. “I am the walrus” – what the fuck does that mean? All the Pavements’ songs… like, what is he actually talking about? I love that, it sounds so good together.

And Lennon has kept people questioning for decades.

Totally, I love wacky beautiful lyrics. That’s my style.

 You’ve been playing guitar and making music for some time now. What pushed you to share this with the world?

I was playing guitar every day for years and I had a little studio in my house where I would work on instrumentals. I knew I wanted to start a band, but I just didn’t know what that would look like. I love so many different types of music, I grew up listening to The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, but I just didn’t know what I wanted my band to sound like. Then I went through a crazy break up last summer which propelled me into the style that I started creating. I didn’t even really think about it, it was the most natural progression.

It sounds like it was meant to be. Even hearing about how you met Thurston Moore at the Cannes premier of Irma Vep, which led to you signing with his label, it seems this move into music was really natural.

It’s all been very freaky to be honest, it’s been perfect. When I had the demos I sent them to Thurston, because I was just sending them around to friends to hear their thoughts and he was like, “We love it, we want to put it on our label.” That was more than I could have even asked for.

Once you sent Thurston the demos, did he have any feedback or was the label ready to release them straight away?

My demos were pretty much finished songs. But they were really supportive, just saying whatever I wanted to do with them they loved. So, it was just me and my dad in the studio. I would record the guitar and vocals in my room and then I’d bring it down and he’d mix it and he’d add drums. It was just the most comfortable situation, like I could be vulnerable in front of my dad, you know what I mean? It was a great first recording experience.

What a beautiful bonding moment to share together.

Yeah, music is the thing we share together, it’s like our thing. It just made so much sense to do it that way. It was very special.

I was wondering about the influence your dad had your decision of learning to play guitar. My dad loves guitar and really hoped I’d pick it up as a kid, which caused a rebellion of sorts. Did you have a similar experience, or did it make you want to learn how to play even more?

(Laughs) My dad actually didn’t force me to play guitar at all, which is kind of shocking. I have a sister too and he didn’t force any of us, really. I remember doing music lessons as a kid, but I feel like a lot of kids do piano lessons. I was actually obsessed with being a ballerina for about 10 years and I was kind of like, I’m not going to be a guitar player, my dad’s a guitar player and that’s his thing, so I’ll do something else. But then one day when I was a teenager, I just picked up a guitar that was around the house and was like, okay, I’m going to be a guitar player. I think because he didn’t force it on us and was just super happy when I was ready to learn.

Meanwhile your dad was thinking, ‘I’ve been waiting for this moment.’

Yeah, he was actually like, “Finally!” (laughs) But from that day that was just our thing that we shared. We still do it, there will be a jazz song that I’ll learn, and then he’ll be like, “Oh I need to learn it too.” This kind of subtle rivalry.

Do you also share music that you discover with him?

Yeah, even when we were mixing my record, I think he thought that I was going to make music like The Rolling Stones or something, but I didn’t, so I had to show him some things. I made a Pavement and a Sonic Youth playlist because, in the ‘90s, he was like there in the music industry at the same time but in a different scene. I was kind of showing him all this music that I love that he’s never really listened to before. So, I had to kind of teach him a couple of things as well.

I’d love to hear more about your work in fashion and film. Do you feel these overlap with music? Or do you see all of these as more secular endeavours?

I think fashion is very complimentary to both spaces. I’ve been into fashion my whole life and I’ve been working in fashion since I was 15, so this is really an art that I love. I really enjoy working with brands, I just started working with Louis Vuitton and they’re awesome. That’s just always going to be a part of my life, and I love that fashion is the common ground in both music and film.

In film, costumes and fashion can act as a way of getting into the role of the character. Do you find a similar thing with music? Almost as if you can put on a certain outfit and feel that you’re this character on stage…

So far, I feel most comfortable in a mini skirt and boots. Or a mini dress and fishnets. I didn’t really plan this on purpose, but it’s just what I feel the most comfortable playing in for some reason. I don’t know why. I’ve always loved Courtney Love and how she dresses and how she used to wear little girls dresses all the time. I used to go to M&S and buy the kids uniforms, I loved that. So yeah, I guess I do kind of have a bit of a uniform. Me and my boyfriend love playing dress up before a show, we have to reserve like an hour for dress up, because it’s fun.

I saw that you finished filming World War Two film Vindicta at the end of last year in Croatia. Your character Hannah sees her family murdered in front of her and then goes on a crusade for justice. How did you navigate taking on such an intense role?

 This one was crazy to say the least. Because all the roles I’ve had so far, like in Irma Vep, they’ve been kind of similar to me, which was great because I had never acted before. Irma Vep was my first foray into acting, I’ve never even taken a class, I was totally clueless, so it was awesome that my first role wasn’t like something completely different. But I wanted to do something that was just so not me at all, and something I could really research and immerse myself in.

I dyed my hair so every time I looked in the mirror, I wouldn’t see me, I would see this character, which automatically helps so much. I was doing an accent which helped too. It’s a period piece that deals with some really important subject matters, so I did a lot of research going into that, watching movies, horrifying movies actually, and then having crazy dreams. But it’s all a part of it and I like that feeling of things not being so easy. Even being in Croatia, a place I had never been before, I loved that whole process of leading up to something big like this. It was really special for me.

You mentioned you also shot another film before Vindicta called My First Film. How did those experiences compare?

This was also an amazing experience. That was filmed in Upstate New York, and it was my first film, it was the director’s first film, and it’s called My First Film, and the cast were all these kids they found on TikTok who had never acted before. They just brought together this beautiful group of young people and it was like summer camp. Shooting movies, you’re always excited to have an experience like that, where you’re with people that really inspire you and you get close to them, and then it’s so sad when the project wraps. I’m pretty sure I cried when it wrapped and that’s not normal for me, I’m pretty like, ‘Okay, we’re at work,’ but this was a really touching experience. Even when I watched the film I wanted to cry because this experience was just so amazing.

What are some things that are inspiring you right now?

My boyfriend and I are actually both writing at the moment, and I think he’s inspiring me. Doing the same thing as your partner can be really cool or not so cool, but in our case, he writes a song and it’s amazing which makes me really inspired to write something too. We’re kind of just bouncing off each other.

Who is your Mastermind?

Oh wow, I have so many. With acting, I love Isabelle Adjani. When I watched Possession for the first time, I watched it kind of early into me acting, and I was just like, holy shit, this woman is amazing. I also went through a James Dean obsession last year. He’s almost the first modern actor to go against the script or do something that he thought of, I think he’s like the Keith Richards of acting. With music I have so many. I’m always listening to Sonic Youth and finding new songs of theirs that inspire me. But Thurston Moore and Keith Richards have always been my Masterminds since I was a kid. That never changes.

Devon Ross plays in London at the Sebright Arms on June 13th. 

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