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In Conversation: Devon Gilfillian

When I caught up with Nashville based singer Devon Gilfillian over the phone, he was out for a walk and in recovery mode from the weekend just gone.

Gilfillian was one of several artists who took to multiple stages at Brixton’s Jazz, Soul and Funk Festival Cross The Tracks. Bringing both talent from the UK and beyond together for a single day, Cross The Tracks was the perfect festival for Gilfillian’s easy sound and vibe.

“Oh my god, it was perfect. It was the exact way I wanted to start off in London, you know, and just badass music, getting to play the same festival as Anderson .Paak and meeting up with this band, Carrtoons, that I've been a fan of. It was amazing. The crowd was just, they were wild” he told me.

Cross The Tracks Crowd | Credit: Sabrina Fearon-Melville

Gilfillian’s joy was infectious. He told me about his decision to make the move from his hometown in Philadelphia to Nashville, Tennessee - a deliberate choice which was made with music in mind. It was in Nashville he recorded his new album, speared forward by country music and the deep cultural history of the city.

“You know, it's funny, because I really didn't like country music much when I moved to Nashville. And it grew on me, you know, to me country was like this ‘good old boys club’.... And when I moved to Nashville, I discovered so much country that was amazing. Like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price.”

“[There was] Chris Stapleton [and] cats that were taking country music and putting other influences into it. They were writing songs that really mattered and that were real. That definitely opened up my mind as a songwriter and the craft of songwriting. That was the focus - the song, the craft, the songwriting, and so that changed me as an artist, for sure. Just that work ethic that everyone has in Nashville. So I'm grateful for that.”

Credit: Emmanuel Afolabi

And Gilfillian took that Nashville work ethic on in full force, completing his new album in his producer’s home built studio during the pandemic. On his songwriting process, he told me that he writes upwards of 80 songs a year and then sifts through them all until he finds ones which feel the most “synchronised” with one another,“Usually starts with melody and chord progression, and then I'll go treasure hunting for the lyrics”.

Two songs off his new album, Love You Anyway, were straight picks for the final project. Both the song which shares the same name as the album title, ‘Love You Anyway’ and ‘Brown Sugar Queen’ embody the joy of being Black and are filled to the brim with nod’s to RnB and the sound of deep soul.

Gilfillian’s album takes you on a journey, through his processing of the state of the American legal system. ‘Let the Water Flow’ and ‘Righteous’ are songs of protest and were created to highlight the struggles faced by Black Americans across various periods of time, juxtaposed with the lighter work of previously mentioned ‘Brown Sugar Queen’ which uplifts Black women and Black love.

Devon Gilfillian performs at Cross The Tracks 2023 | Credit: Sabrina Fearon-Melville

On Black Love, we spoke a little about Gilfillian’s father, a musician in his own right, who played a large part in his musical journey. On the reception of his new project with friends and family, Gilfillian told me, “It's funny, you know, I'm such a bad self promoter” he laughs. “I'll send my Dad a link or my brother a link, you know, to when you know, album’s out…..They're pretty on top [it all] and they're so supportive. It's kind of funny to me. Dad just listened to my first album, Black Hole Rainbow, like probably like a month ago, and he said “It's really good”.

“It's so funny, but they're just so supportive in all the ways and, yeah, they're my biggest cheerleaders for sure”.

Perhaps it’s that positive affirmation which allows for Gilfillian to feel so wholly confident about his style and sound. He’s not scared to take risks or try new things, jumping into this latest project feet first, with open arms. He’s about to spend the summer touring and is taking the highs from Cross The Tracks with him.

Devon Gilfillian’s album Love You Anyway is available now on all streaming platforms


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