Olivia Devine formed her first band, The Safety Pinz, when she was a seven-year-old in Whitley Bay, inspired by punk bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols. These days – now known by her artist moniker L Devine – she’s tearing up the rules of pop music, having already been described by global chart-topper Charli XCX as ‘the future’ (with a preceding expletive we won’t repeat). We catch up with the Geordie singer-songwriter ahead of her homecoming gig at Riverside.
What made you first want to become a songwriter?
I got an electric guitar one Christmas, and I would sit for hours on ultimateguitartabs.com
trying to learn other people’s songs. I loved it and I felt so cool playing along, but I quickly just became way too impatient to learn covers! I found writing my own songs more exciting and rewarding.
What inspired you to pursue music as a career?
Putting up videos of myself singing online first made me think I could do music for real. Before that, it was just my little secret that I wrote songs in my bedroom, it was just a hobby. But when I started to put stuff online, people reacted so positively that it gave me the confidence to put more videos out, start doing gigs and send my songs to people in the industry.
What do you think it is about your music that grabs people’s attention?
I’d like to think my songs are lyrically driven, and that I don’t shy away from being vulnerable in them. That’s what people connect to. People want to see themselves in a song, so being as honest and as raw in my writing as I can be is so important.
How has being from Newcastle influenced you as a songwriter?
Maybe it’s not so in-your-face – I haven’t literally written about Newcastle – but the majority of my songs are inspired by my coming-of-age experiences in Whitley Bay. And I think the fact that I grew up in a small town, up North, by the sea, where everyone knew everyone, definitely makes me much more romantic about my past.
The music industry is notoriously tough – what keeps you going?
No matter what bull surrounds it all, I know the core of what I do is sit in a studio and write a good song, and when that happens it’s literally magical. Creating something from absolutely nothing, that can evoke so many different emotions, is crazy. I keep going because I have to chase that.
What are some of the biggest stereotypes about being a woman in the music industry?
In my experience, it’s just being underestimated. Going into the studio or to a meeting and being expected to have nothing to say is so frustrating. I think people are way more surprised when they find out women write their own songs, produce their own music or direct their own videos. We definitely have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves.
You were recently included in British Vogue’s ‘9 Musicians Set To Go Global In 2020’ list – does acclaim like that put you under extra pressure?
It just excites me for the year ahead. It’s really motivating to be on all of these 2020 lists, and I think a little pressure is good – it gives me extra drive, because now I need to prove them right! To be recognised by a brand as iconic as Vogue in particular, and be seen in the fashion world, is so cool to me.
You’ve mentioned being wary of ‘cashing in on your sexuality’ but, at the same time, you don’t shy away from honesty in your songs. Why do you think it’s important to have more openness in the music industry?
At first, I think I was scared I’d be seen for my sexuality before my artistry. But the two do go hand in hand. I write about my life and own personal experiences, so obviously my sexuality is a huge part of that, especially when so many of my songs are written about who I love. And it’s important because queer people historically haven’t had much representation in songs – there wasn’t anywhere near as many queer narratives in songwriting when I was growing up as there is now. I just know I would have appreciated an artist being so open when I was young.
We’re starting to see a change within the music industry, in terms of more young, female artists writing and releasing their own songs. How do you think that is impacting popular music?
I think if more females are writing their own songs, or writing songs for other female artists – instead of some middle-aged bloke who has a few hits but knows nothing about what it’s like to be a 20-year-old woman – then we’re getting a way more authentic female narrative out there. And to me, that means better music.
If you could give one piece of advice to young women to achieve their ambitions in any industry, what would it be?
Find out what empowers you. Look to the women who paved the way before you and be inspired by them. Surround yourself with other strong women.
Do you have any pre-show rituals or superstitions?
I don’t really have any pre-show rituals, I’m usually too nervous! So before every show I’m just jumping around like a lunatic trying to get rid of any nervous energy.
What song are you enjoying listening to right now?
Confirmation by Westerman.
Who would you most like to write a song for?
My dream songwriting cut would be Rihanna. I think she’s everyone’s!
What is your ultimate career goal?
I don’t really have an ultimate goal. I just hope that I’m still in a studio when I’m 60 and that I love music just as much as I do now.
L Devine will be playing at Riverside, Newcastle on 2nd May. For tickets, visit ldevinemusic.com