L Devine

L Devine: 'Songwriting was my way of telling someone I was in love'

The Whitley Bay artist candidly discusses the making of her 'coming of age' debut album 'Digital Heartifacts'.

Hannah Mylrea
  • By Hannah Mylrea
  • 1 Feb 2024
  • min read

L Devine’s songwriting packs a punch. Take recent single Slippin Away: a killer tune that infuses a lo-fi alt-rock instrumental with pop sensibilities and comes with a healthy dose of her characteristically pithy storytelling. It’s typically L Devine, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics like: ‘Deep down, know I'm not your honey / I'm not tapped, I won’t boil your bunny’.

‘It's meant to be a caricature: I'm meant to be taking the piss out of myself,’ Devine — real name Olivia Devine — explains to M with a grin from her home in Whitley Bay. ‘I think that's a big running theme for all of these songs, needing to wrap myself in humour so I and no-one else can cringe at me. It's like a defence mechanism.’

‘All of these songs’ that Devine is referring to are the tracks that make up her debut album Digital Heartifacts, out on Friday (2 February). The project is the result of years of Devine honing her craft after first bursting onto the UK scene back in 2017. ‘It's still kind of wild to me that people are [now] listening to it and they've heard it,’ she says of the album. ‘It was like my little secret for the past two years.’

Growing up in Whitley Bay, Devine started to write songs at an early age, even forming a punk band called Safety Pins aged seven. ‘When I was a teenager, [songwriting and music] became more of a coping mechanism,’ she recalls about when she first started writing her own music. ‘I spent so much time in my head and I think, being gay as well, there's a whole side of myself that I was hiding from everyone. I couldn't talk to anyone about my crushes. When we were all 13, 14 and everyone had a crush and was talking about them, I couldn't really talk about that. Songwriting was my way of telling someone that I was in love, or I fancied someone.’

Devine moved to London aged 19 with plans to find her feet as a pop artist. Things moved quickly, penning a major label deal and releasing the EPs Growing Pains and Peer Pressure in 2017 and 2018 respectively. These projects were stuffed full of fizzing, megawatt pop tunes, like the slinky electronics of Like You Like That. There was an early demonstration of Devine’s powerful pen as well, with the hugely poignant Daughter seeing her address the mother of an ex-partner: ‘Maybe this ain't what you really wanted / But I'm sorry miss, I'm in love with your daughter’.

‘That was the first song where I thought, “I've written a meaningful song”, which was a big moment for me,’ she says about the latter. ‘Before that, it was about writing pop songs and making something everyone could bop their head along to. When I wrote Daughter, that connected with everyone in a very different way. In a way, for me, that's when I knew it was really about songwriting, because the way that people connected to that felt so much more rewarding to me, and so much more real. That felt like the reason I loved music.’

By early 2020 Devine was preparing to tour, and, with the lease up on her place in London, she headed back to Whitley Bay to store some of her things at her mum's house. As the pandemic took hold, however, she found herself grounded back in her hometown.

‘While I was here and around my family, I realised how much I needed that for my mental health,’ she says. ‘The pace of this town and the people in it are so gorgeous. I just loved it, so then I ended up wanting to stay here.’

2021 saw the release of two more EPs, Near Life Experience: Part 1 and Part 2, but Devine split with her record label soon after. During this period of change Devine began formulating what would later become Digital Heartifacts, as writing sessions with collaborator Julien Flew began to grow into something bigger. The initial intent, though, wasn't to write an album.

‘I was just writing from a place of necessity to be creative and talk about my feelings again. That's why everyone starts music in the first place,’ Devine tells M. ‘I'd left my label and didn't have any management, so I was really just making [music] because we wanted to make it.’

After undergoing the ‘most mental week of writing I've ever done’, the creative juices were flowing — or, as Devine puts it, the pair were ‘throwing up songs, basically’. 

‘After a while I thought it was a total no-brainer that this should be the album, because this is the most unfiltered version of me,’ she adds. ‘There's no other cooks in the kitchen apart from us, but I'm essentially doing this by myself now.’

While this change in creative approach sometimes felt unsettling, it was also liberating. ‘I settled into that feeling of: it's unnerving, but it's also a cool place to be,’ Devine explains. ‘In If I Don't Laugh I'll Cry, I talk about that sweet spot between having a mental breakdown and total liberation, and that's what the writing process felt like to me.’

Digital Heartifacts displays this energy throughout, with brilliantly honest couplets being spun over genre-spanning sounds. Moving away from the glossy, radio-ready tunes of her earlier releases, Digital Heartifacts could instead place Devine alongside the alternative likes of Beabadoobee, Biig Piig and The Japanese House. On and Off sees Devine explore complicated ‘power play’ relationship dynamics over ‘00s pop-rock, while the lo-fi electronic glitches of Miscommunikaty are an apt accompaniment to a candid look at life in a digital world (‘I made a fake name just to overshare’). PMO, meanwhile, is bolstered by growling grunge-flecked guitars, and Hater boasts euphoric moments of hyperpop.

Instead of deliberately pulling from musical touchstones, Devine's influences came instead from the world of production. ‘All the references that we had came from really particular sounds in production notes,’ Devine explains. ‘I don't think we were ever like, “I want to write a song like that”. I've done that [for] so many years in sessions [where] you come in with a new person you've never met before, and you have a song that you've been playing all week and you'll be like, “Oh, I want to make a song like this”.’

Throughout the record, the inspiration of Whitley Bay, or indeed home, shines through. ‘I think you can definitely hear that I came back to my hometown on this,’ she says. ‘So it feels, in a way, like a bit of a coming of age record as well.’

With Digital Heartifacts’ release now within touching distance, what are Devine’s aims for the project? ‘I hope that, with everything that I went through and felt when I made this album, it becomes a companion to people who’ve gone through the same things,' she says. 'I hope it's the soundtrack to people's lives.’

L Devine’s album Digital Heartifacts is out on 2 February.