In Conversation With Devon Gilfillian

Within the first listen of Jimi Hendrix’s Greatest Hits album, rising Nashville soul artist Devon Gilfillian was hooked, obsessed-head-exploding hooked. Born and raised in Philadelphia, young Gilfilian felt inclined to music-making legends like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, and hip-hop-defining names like Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan.

Today, Devon Gilfillian reimagines modern soul with a personal twist of head-banging guitar riffs culminating into hybrid genre genius. His latest album, ‘Love You Anyway,‘ is an exhilarating condense of love, equality, and representation in 21st-century America. Gilfilian offers a brilliant, smart reconsideration of the frustrating injustice system in the current tumult democracy.

The suffocating agony of George Floyd’s murder left Devon Gilfillian in unspeakable dismay. At one of the protests, though, he felt inspired by other people’s musical expressions of the same aching. This inkling of togetherness drove Gilfilian to re-record and release Marvin Gaye’s iconic album ‘What’s Going On,’ which raised funds for Black low-income communities.

In our conversation, Noctis asks for details, suggestions, and recommendations from the soul prince Devon Gilfillian while he reveals more about his involvement with Equity Alliance.

What was the last song you listened to?

The last song I listed to was “Feel You” by My Morning Jacket, I love it.

Do you have an album at the moment you cannot stop listening to?

Recently I’ve been listening to Daft Punk’s “Alive 2007 Live” album a lot, I’m obsessed with dance music and they’re my favorite.

You’re about to have your UK debut supporting My Morning Jacket, what can people expect from this set of shows?

We’re definitely gonna play some my rocking songs, “Follow the Leader” from my new album. I’m excited to get loud with my guitar.

What are your tour essentials?

I need my neck pillow for the plane, melatonin for some good sleep, I usually bring my pillow from home too hah. Sleep is key if you want to rock hard.

What are some places or things you want to see/try while in Europe?

I would love to go to Amsterdam if we get time, I’ve heard it’s very fun. I wanna see some European country side, and I want to eat everything I can while I’m here, food is the way to my heart. 

How did you get into music?

My Dad is a musician and I’ve always looked up to him. He got a guitar when I was 14 and smacked me on the head with a Jimi Hendrix greatest hits album and I put it on and I was hooked. My brain exploded. I knew that I wanted to make music my path from that point on.

What would you was your big break, when you felt this career is going to work out?

Once I got a phone call from TBone Burnett about wanting to make some music I felt like people were paying attention. That lead to Capitol Records signing me on 2017 and that’s when I knew it was game time.

In 2020, you re-recorded and released Marvin Gaye’s iconic album, What’s Going On, which raised funds for Black low-income communities, could you talk us through why you picked this album and how did this all come about?

I went to a protest after George Floyd was killed and people were playing instruments. I thought, “I should learn something on guitar and bring my guitar to the next protest”, so I learned What’s Going On. I broke down weeping as I was learning it, it was like I had that song deeper than I had ever felt it in my life. I knew at that point I wanted to use Marvin’s music to fight the injustice and democratic threat that was happening in the US at that moment. 

Why did you want to collaborate with the Equity Alliance out of all non profit organisations?

Equity Alliance specializes in educating black, brown, and poor communities about the democratic process and they also rally those people and get them registered to vote. Black people and poor people in this country have to jump through so many hoops to get voices heard and it’s insane to me. Equity Alliance focuses on those communities in Tennessee which very much need it down there. 

Are there any books/movies/essays you would advise people to get into to educate themselves on Black rights?

“13th” is a great documentary about the prison industrial complex in the US that I highly recommend watching. Also “Our Time is Now” by Stacey Abrams is a great read on some the history of the black struggle in making our voices heard in the US.

In April, you released your latest album ‘Love You Anyway,’ what does this project represent to you?

This album represents a deeper understanding of myself, that I got hold of during the pandemic. This album is about me learning how to love myself, about me falling in love, and it’s about the frustration I have with the US, and the injustice in our democracy. It also represents a conversation that needs to be had between political people in this country so that we can get on the same page in order to hold our politicians accountable.

‘Right Kind Of Crazy’ was one of the singles, how would you describe love and being in love?

Haha love to me is exactly that, finding the person that can put up with your kind of crazy. Everyone has their psychosis and traumas that they’re dealing with and working through, including myself. Real love is working through those things together with someone as you work on yourself, doing the self work as well as helping your partner find balance.

What is your ultimate favourite love song of all times?

Man that’s a hard one. I would say “All Along The Watchtower” the Jimi Hendrix version is my favorite. Every time I hear the guitar solo I get chills.

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Photographer: Emmanuel Afolabi

Words: Karolina Kramplova