Analogue Music | Nation of Language

Nation of Language

By Matt Conner

Maybe by the time this interview is released, Ian Devaney will have found the time to reflect

From the outside looking in, it's been a helluva year for Nation of Language, a synth-centric three-piece whose latest album, A Way Forward, aptly points the way toward a bright future. Upon release, it received solid acclaim across the board with John Richards of KEXP calling it the "album of the year" and a first-ever headlining run featured numerous sold-out shows.

Shortly after the holiday season, the band will set out on a European tour before returning for another coast-to-coast headlining run in the spring. It's a band looking to get out and take advantage of as much of the momentum as they can, yet it's that urgency that's also kept Devaney from soaking much of it in. Instead, he says it's a sort of positive maelstrom that's overtaken his life.

We recently sat down with Devaney in a bit of that hard-to-find downtime to talk about the last year, a need to develop mindful habits, and how much he's tuned into reviews in the first place.

Analogue: From the outside looking in, it’s been a magical year for the band. How do you feel about 2021?

Ian Devaney: It’s funny. If I stop and think, then yes. But really, it’s been so non-stop that it’s felt like there’s not been a lot of time to appreciate what’s been going on. Tour was so much fun but it was also so crazy. Every day you’re doing a six-to-eight hour drive, doing the show, then you do an hour or two of the drive for the next day. Then we get back from that and the album comes out five days later.

On the one hand, we’d been waiting so long to release the album, but my head was in tour space for the whole month leading up to it, so I wasn’t thinking about the reality that it was actually going to happen. It felt sprung on me at the last second, which is a strange thing. I found there’s so much planning so far ahead when it comes to touring and putting out a record that unless I force myself to be in the now, my brain is always eight months down the road. That’s something to be mindful of probably.

"It’s been so non-stop that it’s felt like there’s not been a lot of time to appreciate what’s been going on."

Analogue: Yeah, I was going to ask if you wish you’d had some mindful practices in place.

Ian: I definitely try to journal but I fall off of it pretty frequently. On some random day, there’s be a super-detailed entry with my coffee order. Then the next day, it will say, ‘Went to Minneapolis.’ [Laughs]

Analogue: Given the acclaim for A Way Forward, it made me wonder what it’s like to make music with the hopes that people might like it or respond to it in this way and then hear from them on the other side. Do you remember what you were thinking in terms of hopes for these songs?

Ian: During the creative time of writing and making the record, it’s really more exciting that you made something that moves and excites you—that it’s something that can get stuck in your own head. It’s very much like, ‘Wow, I was able to make something I actually really like and means something to me. I hope it means something to other people.’

There are certain moments of vainglory where you hope everybody loves it, but usually, when I say things like that to Aidan, it was about fans we’d gotten from the first record. I was hoping they’d like this one also because we’d not gotten to meet any of them because everyone seemed to find us during lockdown. It’s like, ‘I really want to play shows for these people and have them be excited by the music.’

So I guess I’d say I try to imagine all scenarios so that I’ve conceived them all beforehand. I try to run the gamut of future possibilities during the creative process. But usually, you’re just excited that you made something.

Analogue: Did you go down this road?

Ian: Oh yeah, there are roads I go down all the time in my head. Having been in bands before where it seemed like something was going to happen and then all of a sudden they weren’t, that’s always a future I am mentally watchful of. Where it’s like you put something out and no one cares. I try to work extra hard knowing that’s a possibility to try to make that possibility as slim as possible.

Analogue: Do you feel people got from the album what you hoped they would get?

Ian: I think so. Most of the interviews I’ve been fortunate enough to do have been quite thoughtful or at least interesting. They seem like they know where I’m coming from with this album. Most of the coverage in terms of reviews has felt really generous. When it hasn’t been… this one review felt snarky, so I didn’t take it seriously then anyway. The things they were saying, it felt like they didn’t pay very much attention.

Analogue: More about the mood of the reviewer.

Ian: Yes.

Analogue: By the way, you sound really in tune with that stuff. A lot of artists will have a love/hate relationship with it all. Some will not read a thing and others will not want to but then read it all anyway.

Ian: I don’t think I’ve read everything. Generally for me, particularly if it’s something that’s not as positive if it seems considered or is a constructive review, I’m not against a negative review being constructive. If it’s something that seems silly, then it’s funny to me—like obviously, this is not for you. But I’m confident enough in what I’ve done that someone else not liking it isn’t this horrible blow to myself.

"I’m confident enough in what I’ve done that someone else not liking it isn’t this horrible blow to myself."

Having gone out on the road and played some of the new songs live and seeing how excited people get for them, it’s like, ‘Okay, the people who like the band like the songs, so if we’re on the same page, that’s what actually matters.” But most of the reviews have been great, as you said, so it’s not been a challenge to read the ones I’ve read.

Analogue: You’ve got another busy season coming up and even Europe. Have you been there before?

Ian: We have, although it was very different. It was 2017 and Aidan, our synth player and my wife, had booked the whole thing herself. Originally we were just going to go for fun, but then we told that to the person playing bass with us at the time and he was like, ‘I was going to go for fun around that same time. Let’s just bring our stuff and play shows in each city we go to.’

So it became this wild thing. It’s funny because we were just lugging our stuff onto trains and into cabs and onto planes. I think this one will be a little different. We’ll have a van and more of a plan of what’s going on. So this is the first real one. We’ve done the DIY one but this is the first official one. [Laughs]

VISIT: Nation of Language

*Photo: Piper Ferguson