Search The Line of Best Fit
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L Devine August 2023 Brennan Bucannan 04

Digital Love

04 September 2023, 09:00
Words by Jen Long
Original Photography by Brennan Bucannan

Immersed in a hyperactive world of connection and experience, L Devine had to step back before she could move forwards, she tells Jen Long.

“Would you say there’s any empowering songs on this record?!” jokes Liv Devine from under the bright, high ceilings of her home in North Tyneside. It’s the middle of a muted August day and we both laugh at how prompt we are to the interview. Even though her debut record isn’t out for a few months, her excitement to discuss it is tangible.

Having spent several years in a major label release cycle, this time around Devine is doing things on her own terms. One of the benefits is time, another is an avoidance of pep. “With a label, you’re always looking for a single and it needs to be this universally empowering messaging. I think I was so tired of that, because that doesn’t really reflect where I’m at all the time,” she explains. “I just needed to go away and write some truths. I feel empowered now that I’ve made this record. More empowered than I probably was writing the empowering songs.”

Devine was born and raised in the small town of Monkseaton, close to Whitley Bay. She credits her dad for imbuing her with a good taste in music. “I always loved listening to him play records and put stuff on in the car. He’d make it such an experience,” she smiles. “I have memories of him putting on ‘Born Slippy’ and making us put the carseat back. He’s like, ‘Pretend you’re on a rollercoaster for this bit!’ Everything was always such an experience with him.”


She got her first guitar at the age of seven, a Fender Squire Kit from the Argos catalogue, a starter for many. Her best friend at the time, Nile, had a guitar teacher dad who also played in a band. For Devine, it was awe-inspiring stuff and together they formed a band. The Safety Pins had two songs, “I Don’t Really Care” and “Safety Pins Don’t Always Clip On” and never left their bedroom.

As Devine began to grow up, her taste in music widened to encapsulate all the great teenage genres; punk, pop-punk, pop-rock, and finally, chart pop. She loved everything from Avril Lavigne and Busted to Sex Pistols and The Clash. “When I went to high school, you needed to fit in with all your friends. I became obsessed with pop music because every day it would be like a task. You’d have to listen to Capital in the morning so you knew what songs were popular so you could go in and know all the words with your friends and not seem uncool,” she laughs.

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At the same time a rich indie scene was developing around Newcastle, led by the likes of Little Comets with their instant and bright guitar lines. Devine recounts seeing them at the local Uni, supported by an early iternation of The 1975. “I loved them instantly,” she smiles. “It’s still like that now. I like everything.”

When she started to make her own music, it wasn’t a means to an end, it was a release. “Songwriting was a necessity for me,” she says. “Being gay meant that I couldn’t talk to my friends about my feelings and who I was falling in love with, who I had a crush on, so songwriting would be the only place I could get that out and make something of it. I think that started as a necessity to get my feelings out somehow.”


Adolescence is without doubt an uncomfortable experience and few of us make it through without a couple of scars, whether they’re acne or emotional. But when you’re reckoning with your own sexuality on top of everything, the process becomes even more excruciating. “I also felt it was pretty embarrassing to play the guitar and write songs when I was a teenager. I didn’t want to do it in front of anyone,” Devine laughs.

Thankfully, she had some friends in her corner who offered encouragement and moral support. They convinced her to start gigging and upload videos to YouTube, and before long, Devine found her first manager.

Despite the boost that came from building a team, Devine was young and easily discouraged. She still remembers a specific conversation she had with her manager at the time where they questioned the strength of her voice but credited her songwriting. “That was me destroyed in terms of wanting to be an artist,” she says. “I’m still very aware of that now. I love my voice and I think it’s a good instrument but I’ve never been one of those singer singers. Songwriting has been my main passion and my voice is just a vehicle for my songwriting.”

Off the back of bad guidance she moved down to London in the hope of landing a publishing deal that could springboard her career as a songwriter. While there was a burgeoning music scene in the North East, she felt it was too male and guitar-heavy to offer the opportunities she desired. “At the time, I really wanted to explore electronic music. I was listening to lots of stuff like Flume and Hudson Mohawke and pop stuff, was getting into Charli XCX, and there wasn’t anyone that was gonna help me do that around here,” she explains.

Devine focused on her writing and did as much as she could to get her songs in front of label A&Rs in the hopes they’d be pitched out or lead to session work, but then quite the opposite happened. Within a few months she’d inked her own record deal with Warner.

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Releasing her debut EP Growing Pains in 2017, things exploded for Devine. Alongside critical acclaim from music press and radio, she was accelerated by LGBTQI+ publications as a rising star. Even though she’d never formally introduced herself as a queer artist, she was absorbed into the community with fervour. “When I put ‘Like You Like That’ out, I hadn’t come out as an artist,” she says. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh yeah, this girl’s gay.’ I don’t realise but when you look back on those lyrics I’m like, ‘Yeah this is a quintessential gay experience.’”

Devine still believes in being open and upfront in her music. “I was waiting for someone to say, ‘Liv, I dunno if we should do that.’ But everyone was super encouraging and loved it, and I think it’s important to have records out like that,” she says. However, the speed with which she was pigeon-holed through just one side of her identity became problematic.

As a ‘queer artist’, she found herself championed in Pride month and on hold for the rest of the year, the pressures of being signed to a major adding to her need for escape. “I think identity is a real struggle for queer people anyway,” she explains. “I go through an identity crisis every day, especially when I look back on stages of my career and even things that I was wearing and the way I presented. It’s always this discomfort and I feel like I’m a new person everyday, so I think being put in a box, sometimes that’s difficult.”

Across her first four years as an artist she released a string of singles, EPs, remixes and collaborations, pushing the parameters of sugar-rush pop. Contrasted with the songs she’s created on her debut album proper, at times it sounds like two different artists. “Looking back, I think I got a little bit confused music-wise and maybe that’s when that pressure started to kick in a bit,” she says. “I wish I just had more time to figure out what I wanted to make after Peer Pressure. I should have made more of a cohesive bit of work.”

Just before the pandemic struck in 2020, Devine was about to embark on a long stretch of touring. With the lease on her London flat coming up, she packed her things and moved them back home with a view to return to London later that year. Of course, neither the touring nor the return happened.

Around the same time, she felt as though things at Warner had run their course. “I’d already started to write this album and I just knew the things I was writing about and the direction I wanted to go in wouldn’t lend itself to the way I’d been working with them the past few years,” she explains. “I’d grown up and who I was figuring out I was personally didn’t really align with where I’d been going as L Devine with that label.”

"Everyone always talks about being vulnerable in a song and I’ve talked about that for years... but I’m like, OK - now I actually mean it."


Devine’s break-up with Warner was just like any other, and she’s quick to reinforce that she loved her team and time at the label. But that’s the problem with being cornered so early on, it doesn’t give the space for change. “It’s on me as well. I’d been working since I was nineteen and I don’t think I had a chance to really explore my identity and I’ve had to do a lot of inward thinking since then of like, who actually am I? Trying to get back to the person I was as a little kid,” she says. “You’re so sucked into it you start thinking about those things, like the numbers and monthly listeners. Everyone’s heads were so fucked during that pandemic, I was so cloudy.”

While moving North was a massive reality check, once restrictions began to lift and the pressure eased, Devine rediscovered the value of home. “I just did a lot of thinking and ended up falling back in love with Newcastle and being with my family and just being around people that really know you and have always known you,” she smiles. “It just changed the way I thought about life and myself. London, I love that I can just get lost in it and here, I love that I walk down the street and I know everyone.”

Free from previous constraints and pressures, Devine set about making the record that she wanted to make. Collaborating with producer Julien Flew, she used her new-found space and time to write songs that were honest, both lyrically and sonically. The result is Digital Heartifacts, a narrative-driven, diaristic collection of tracks that eschew her former pristine pop coating for grit and raw, organic production. “I made the album when I didn’t have a manager, I didn’t have a label. Just me and my friend Julien making music without any opinions,” she says. “It’s so crazy how much I grew and changed during that period, and found out what I actually like and want to do.”

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Album opener “Eaten Alive” is a glitching, direct cut of alternative pop. Devine’s vocal sitting close and centre, it has touches of the tender but bombastic delivery of Chvrches. “I’ve always struggled sometimes with my voice because it is pop. I think wherever you have it, it’s hard for it not to be at the front of the mix,” she says. “I’m like, can we just put loads of room on it and keep it at the back of the mix because it might be a bit cringey. Julien’s like, ‘No, you’re a popstar. Keep it at the front of the mix.’ That was a constant struggle for me. I get cringed out by myself, as you can hear on this record and the lyrics, I’m always second guessing and taking the mick out of myself.”

Kicking off the record, the track also works as a precursor for what’s to come, the opening line warning, “Carefully, think carefully. Everything’s a trigger accidentally.” It was also the first song that Devine wrote with Flew. “I like that as an opening line for the album because it’s very me,” she smiles. “It was at a time when I felt under a lot of pressure. I was coming out of my deal and I was just getting eaten up by anxiety, people around me and an identity crisis. The person that I was kinda seeing in myself didn’t represent me.”

Devine met Flew via her former manager. She had heard some of his early production with other artists working in soul and jazz and assumed he didn’t touch pop. It wasn’t until he reproduced one of the tracks on her Near Life Experience collections that she saw him as a potential collaborator. “I worked with him and I was like, ‘Dude, you’re a wizard,’” she laughs. “We got in together and started writing and we wrote ‘Eaten Alive’ on the first day and I was like, ‘This is so sick. He hasn’t come into the session with an idea of who I am and I love that.’”

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As Flew was fairly fresh to the session world, it also gave Devine space to step up and take the lead. “I was so lucky to work with some really big producers that have loads of hits under their belts, but that means I’m full on imposter syndrome,” she explains. “With Julien, we got on so well and our taste in music was so similar. Anything that I say about something, about an idea for a song, he really gets it. He knows exactly what I mean and he knows my point of reference so well. He knows how to make something for me.”

Speaking to me about the album, it feels as though Flew shares a similar sentiment. “It was a really rewarding process,” he says. “The first week we wrote together we came out with ten songs, so there’s a real creative ease when we’re writing together. Creative collaboration can be a lot of figuring out and trial and error, but we lined up on influences straight away. Liv has a really clear vision when it comes to what she wants to create, so it makes my job really easy.”

For Devine, it was her first experience of working one on one with another artist and enjoying that consistency in a collaboration. “I’ve never made anything with just one person,” she says. “I’ve had collaborators that I was close with, but we’ve spent the whole past three years together and he knows all the feelings. He was there first hand, he knows everything that I went through these past three years when I was writing the record.”

One clear benefit of building such a close working relationship and friendship is the chance to establish trust. Just as the pair got to know each other, they also created a safe space where narratives could be explored without fear. “Julien’s so good at getting the story out of me and talking me through it. He’ll talk to me about the song, like, that’s an interesting part of the story,” says Devine. “Whereas there’s some producers that will literally have their back to you the whole time and don’t really care what you’re writing about. He really cares about it.”

Across the album, Devine explores dark emotions and sides of herself that aren’t always pleasant. But it’s that honesty and bravery that makes the record such an interesting listen. “The ease that she taps into the emotional core of what’s going on in her life and translates it into meaningful but accessible songs is so impressive on the songwriting side,” says Flew. “She’s a talented producer as well. The sound and direction of a lot of the songs on the record started with her production ideas. I’m proud that we kept the raw feeling of the vocals and the sound throughout the record. It felt like Liv was being very honest and the songs should sound honest as well.”

The first track to be shared from the album was “Push It Down”, a beefed up indie cut that explodes into a raucous chorus of guitars and has more in common with the likes of Girl in Red and Snail Mail than any of Devine’s previous touchpoints. An angsty situationship anthem, the story is pretty straightforward. “It is what it is on the tin,” she laughs. “I got to really go back to my love for all that early pop-punk stuff and grungier stuff that I listened to growing up. It feels so good for me to be able to have a guitar on stage now.”

While it was important for Devine that this be the first track she shared, she was also worried that people might think her music had taken a big pivot. “I wondered if it would set the tone for everyone and everyone would think, we’re about to get a real grunge album from L Devine,” she laughs. “I wanted it to be the first one out, I was just umming and ahhing about it. I think it’s such a statement and it just grabs you instantly. It’s like a proper pop song in that way. It has a big, belting chorus.”

Conversely, tracks like “If I Don’t Laugh” let the lyrics do the talking. A subtle, slow-build of a song, Devine explores her anxieties with the age-old rubber gloves of humour. “I think this whole record’s laced with humour, I think that’s the running theme,” she says. “I’ve always been like that since I was a kid, using self-deprecating humour and taking the piss out of myself to disarm people and let people feel comfortable around me. I guess I’m a bit of a people-pleaser in that way.”

Written at a time of insecurity, both personally and professionally, the world was coming out of lockdown and Devine was exploring her options, using her writing as catharsis. “I’m not with my label anymore, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’m just making this record and I don’t have a clue if it’s going to come out or what I’m going to do with it so write these tunes and just go out every night and just get fucked up,” she explains. “I was in a little bit of a phase with that. It’s just a fun one, it’s probably the most fun on the record. I guess there’s a little bit of sadness in there, but it definitely feels like the most tongue-in-cheek song on there.”

The crux of Digital Heartifacts is recent single “Miscommunikaty,” a tender and organic slice of alt-pop that flirts with processed vocals and synthetic glitches. “I made a fake name just to overshare, and scream into space,” sings Devine over the juxtaposed backdrop. “It’s this stream of consciousness about feeling disconnected and explaining to someone why you can’t tell them the way that you feel,” she explains.

Followed directly by “PMO”, both songs go hand-in-hand, detailing very different but equally valid queer experiences. “‘PMO’ is directly a song about the queer experience but I think ‘Miscommunikaty’ massively is as well,” says Devine. “The line, ‘I was fucking ashamed, since 2008 I’ve felt wrong… So can you understand why it's hard for me to tell what I need and how I feel about you?’ 2008’s the year I went to high school and the year I had to really confront internally that I was gay because I knew I was different. I think when you go to high school, it’s the first time that you feel shame and embarrassment and I think for queer people, that’s times a million. That’s what that line means, it sets up the rest of the album.”

While “Miscommunikaty” explores insecurity with sincerity, “PMO” brings in Devine’s old friend, self-deprecation. “There’s some good funny lines in there,” she smiles. A very personal song, it exposes a feeling of deep-rooted inferiority that’s quite specific to Devine’s experience as a lesbian dating women who may be more fluid in their sexuality. “It’s really personal to me and I was worried that it would come across as even bi-phobic or something, but it’s not really about that, it’s not about the girl,” she explains. “It’s about my experience growing up in this society, in the patriarchy, and feeling inferior to men and also feeling sexualised by them.”

It’s a fresh and personal take on an experience that is rarely discussed in pop music. For Devine, as ugly and difficult as her feelings might be, she still thought it was important to explore them. “My biggest songs like ‘Daughter’ and ‘Like You Like That,’ I know that they’ve resonated with people because they’re talking about the queer experience, so when I was making the record, I was like, I wanna have another song like this but I don’t want it to be something I’ve already talked about before,” she explains. “I was trying to think about what really is making me tick and what is moving me at the minute. So this is a real situation that I was in and that I have been in a few times.”

In writing the song, it also gave Devine the space to have an internal dialogue and work through her own feelings. “I don’t write songs to be right and good all the time. I write songs to be honest and that’s what I’ve done. Before this song, I’ve always questioned this thing about myself because I don’t want to be more threatened by a man than I would by a woman. I don’t like that,” she says. “I need male friendships because there is a huge part of me that identifies with masculine sides of myself, but at the same time there’s a lot of parts of being gay where, in the company of men, you’ve garnered respect for all those masculine qualities of yourself, but the body that you’re in is still female and that part isn’t respected and is sexualised. So you’re in this weird, vulnerable position around men.”

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The last song Devine wrote for the record was “Bully”, a delicate and confessional cut that encapsulates the complex emotions, conflicting identities and protective tendencies that inform and decorate the record. “So you bully yourself then you're full of yourself,” she repeats across the chorus. “That’s when I know I’ve been proper honest in a lyric, when I’m a bit like, ‘Should I have said that?’ Everyone’s gonna know everything about me now,” she laughs.

While many of the songs come from a deeply personal place, the overall themes on Digital Heartifacts are easily relatable for anyone who’s ever felt despondence while staring into the glare of Instagram. “The whole thing is feeling disconnected in an overly connected world,” says Devine.

That theme is echoed through the record’s artwork and visuals. The cover image shows Devine perched on a telephone pole that’s disguised as a tree, while her first three singles have been accompanied by videos that interlink to create a short film, exploring the ideas and imagery she’s built a world around. Working with director Emilio Gamal Boutros, the pair went back and forth on Devine’s original treatments. “He can make everything look really cinematic and can bring my ideas to life in that way and he knew how to make shots look really beautiful and that was important,” she explains.

On Digital Heartifacts, L Devine balances an ambitious vision with the realities of what it means to grow up in an impossible age. For every bright melody, there’s a slap of self-deprecation and for each glimmer of hope there’s a cloud of insecurity. It might not be empowering, but it’s honest and brave, and that in itself should inspire fortitude. “Everyone always talks about being vulnerable in a song and I’ve talked about that for years. I’ve definitely said that in interviews for years, but I’m like, OK - now I actually mean it,” she laughs. “No one’s gonna want to go on a date with me after this record.”

Digital Heartifacts is released on 2 February via AWAL and is available to pre-order now

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