Lorraine Devon Wilke
Of all the female singer/songwriters that debuted last year, Lorraine Devon Wilke had the most impact on my ears. And while it may seem misleading to treat Wilke as a new artist — after all, she led the group Devon in the early ’80s — it wasn’t until 2005 that she released a record. One wonders what she must’ve sounded like fronting a New Wave pop/rock act considering the bluesy vocal grit that fuels her material now. In conversation, Wilke is as open as she is in her confessional and brutally honest lyrics.
Are your songs so personal that the people you write about will be able to recognize themselves in the lyrics?
I don’t think so. The intent was never to cannibalize anyone’s story so exactly that they’d actually see themselves in the mirror; it was more a matter of finding an inspirational starting point… with just enough poetic license to keep them guessing. And even when the stories are more specific, the emotional states-of-being are universal enough to elicit a sort of “hey, that’s me, that’s my life” from any number of listeners. Although I don’t think anyone else in the world has ever been accused of having “come-hither bangs”… that one’s all mine, thank you, Mom.
I saw pictures of you on your site from the ’80s. Do you still have fans who recognize you from your Devon days?
Oh God, I hope not. Have you seen the hair? I was very into the whole Thompson Twins/Cyndi Lauper thing, with the pink and blue braids, lots of crimping, hair out to here; huge inventions aided by vast amounts of product. I don’t think pictures even exist of the really radical period, when as a band, Devon agreed to never leave home without the full regalia, whether rhinestones and studded leather belts at breakfast or torn fishnets at the grocery store. Loads of fun, but exhausting in terms of just getting out the door. There are people who when they hear my name, or have seen me perform more recently, remember the band. And I did have someone once tell me in a bar that I looked “just like the lead singer of Devon.” But I think it’s been a few too many years and way too many fashion cycles to really expect much of that.
Before you write any track, do you hear a melody in your head or is it the words that flow from your brain first?
It’s really a back and forth kind of thing. I occasionally write a full set of lyrics and melody in my head which I then sing onto a tape and hand over to a guitarist to sort out, but more typically it goes like this: I get a piece of music — a guitar chord progression with one or two parts, a piano piece that may or may not be fully worked out — I pop it onto my computer, my iPod, whatever works, and listen to it over and over. I call it my “loop,” a method that works well in writing but wreaks havoc on circadian rhythms when you’re trying to sleep and can’t get that loop out of your head. At some point, a basic melody comes to me — not the whole song, but a part — the chorus, the verse, something. Somewhere in there, a lyrical theme makes itself known, and then it’s back and forth between the melody and the lyrics, as well as finding the rest of the song parts — the bridge, the pre-chorus, etc.
You combine songs of sorrow with tunes that have a crowd-pleasing resolution — was this a conscious attempt at an emotional balance or the record just turned out that way?
Each song was written as its own entity, its own story, its own resolution, so there was no conscious attempt while writing to create emotional balance in terms of the overall album. But no doubt, because I do believe that life exists somewhere in the balance, the songs reflect a certain emotional ebb and flow: some are about the good stuff; some about the stuff that drops you to your knees. In deciding the song order, however, there was a conscious decision to weave the heartache and happiness themes throughout, creating a sort of an emotional roller coaster that ultimately ends in hope. With that goal in mind, I was always clear that “Richer for Rain” would be the last song because it’s the point of the whole exercise from my perspective: that life can occasionally kick your heart out, dreams can be lost, time can steal away, but if you keep getting up and putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll find you’ve not only survived, but are better for the experience.
When you craft your lyrics, is there a period of rewriting?
No. Once a song is done, it’s done. I’ve never gone back and rewritten lyrics. There may have been people who thought I should have — and sometimes, in looking back at some of the stuff I wrote years ago, even I think I might have — but I never did. I think artists can get caught up in the “making it perfect” madness, which basically never allows you to declare a piece FINISHED, but ultimately, if you trust yourself as an artist, you know when the story’s been told, and you allow yourself to simply state “this is what I wrote and this is done.”
Lorraine Devon Wilke: www.lorrainedevonwilke.com