Meet Devault, the DJ and Producer Chasing a Nostalgic Rush While Staying True to Himself [Q&A]

Thriving in the intangible realm between nostalgic and futuristic is Devault. The DJ and producer has spent the better part of the past couple of years cultivating and perfecting a sound that speaks to both the records that laid the groundwork for his entry into dance music, from The Prodigy to Daft Punk, to soundscapes yet uncovered. It is an evolution that can be heard in real-time, shifting from the ethereal, ominous atmosphere present on his debut EP, Stay, to the palpable raw passion present on his latest, more vocal-driven project, Empty Room.

Empty Room sees Devault reaching for his greatest highs yet, all without sacrificing the emotional depth that defines his music. Equal parts infectious and dance-inducing, the six-track EP, which features contributions from Njomza, EVAN GIIA, Kiiara, Bipolar Sunshine, and Izzy Camina, feels like a turning point for the nascent DJ and producer. And if it's any indication of what's to come, this is only the beginning.

We had the chance to speak with Devault following his tour with Madeon and ahead of his set at EDC about Empty Room, first discovering his passion for music, and learning to put his genuine self on the table.

Who is Devault?

Devault is a young American musician that’s trying to bridge a unique gap of nostalgic and futuristic sound. It's a person that’s so in in love with the idea of being a contributor in an artistic way. I'm a musician that’s in love with chasing a certain nostalgia. My music is a representation of the first music that my parents and siblings showed me. That shock value, hearing the rawness of something as a kid, that's kind of feeling I'm chasing.

Would you say you grew up in a particularly musical household then?

Surprisingly, all my siblings are very music-oriented. My older brother plays a few instruments and gifted at violin. My sister is a great singer-songwriter who does like musical theater. Then my little brother is diving into musical theater and music production. My parents don’t come from a musical background, so they’re like damn we just produced some music kids. But I’ve heard little things from their peers that hints that it was in them too. I was talking with my dad's friend and goes, "Hey you’ll get a kick out of this. Your dad, every week, would always come into the car whenever he had a and put a cassette in of new music that he’s found, trying to like impress everybody and create the vibe. To this day, he will send me a bunch of Spotify links to old stuff, trying to out tastemaker me (laughter).

At what point did you want to become not just a bystander but active participant in music?

That came about when I was around 17 or 18, so not too long ago. I’ve been DJing, since I was about 12 or 13, and that’s when I was first falling in love with electronic music. I didn’t really want to make my own music until about 18, and I was coming back from freshman year of school. At the time, I was doing small edits and mashups, and I obliviously just wanted to start making music and not go back to school. It was it was a pretty fucking crazy move to thinking back on it, but I vividly remember being wildly inspired, and I just kind of hit the ground running from there.

Was there a certain record or song that during those formative moments sticks out as being super impactful?

I would say The Prodigy's "Firestarter." I remember my dad showing me that song a lot on drives, because he had The Fat of the Land album in his car. He would just go super fast on the freeway and crank it. The Prodigy is just this aggressive breakbeat, aggressive vocals, a lot of acid synths, and I remember hearing that as a kid and I was shaken by it. That record has always stuck with me.

Obviously, a lot of a lot of Daft Punk as well. I almost hear it still to this day. They remind you of so many things and they pull from so much stuff, but they’re still so uniquely them. Even if they’re doing a disco record on Random Access Memories or Human After All, where it’s crazy synth work, it’s cool that they are able to somehow stay uniquely them. That’s something that fired me up when I was younger, hearing them go into different worlds and they’re still their own thing.

To this day, I am still devastated I never got to see them live.

It almost makes me think the spectacle of them, I feel like they would never come back in a live sense, because it’s not that like social media would "ruin it," but they were during a time where it was just word of mouth. You had to be there.

Electronic and dance music in particular is built around a sense of community, especially in the live sense. Was it difficult with COVID and lockdowns not making shows and festivals possible?

What's cool is even the music community in general is very quick to adapt to things. Obviously very something very dark happened, but it was so unique to see within weeks how musicians and everybody were doing a lot more livestreams, everybody’s trying to stay involved. There was a passion to stay in the community. That’s what was cool.

The live space, yeah, I mean it hurt a bunch. But I people aren’t taking it for granted anymore. You can like feel it, even just from the past few months of touring. You can feel that the energy’s much different. I think it’s made the community much closer, and I think now, especially the electronic community, is really trying to hone in on the experience aspect of shows rather than "Oh it’s just you know just a guy behind CDJs." It needs be a lot more involved.

So, how would you say Empty Room differs from your debut project, Stay?

It's a less ethereal take on my music. I feel like Stay was initially made at the time to be able to really escape in the music, and I wanted this EP to to be much more groove-focused, more in-your-face. This EP feels like a more take on my music. Stay was my first EP, so it came from a very wholesome, pure place. My music has evolved to have more energy but still have these more emotive moments.

What inspired the name, Empty Room?

I actually started working on the artwork with Valentine Pavageau. He does a really good mixture of illustration and photoshop of just really expansive artworks. I had a few names, but once I started receiving the artwork, even though I had all the music done, that’s where the two things together came together. I treated Empty Room like you’re almost creative when you’re put in front an empty canvas, where basically the only thing that you can really channel is inside. A lot of these songs came from trying search for an influence rather just channeling all the creativity I already have inside and just letting it letting it fly.

When you’re approaching songs, is there a moment where you decide you want a featured verse versus a raw instrumental?

It depends. Some songs I solely write to want a certain vocal and from certain vocalist too. Luckily,  a lot of people that I’ve worked with are also my friends, so the reason why I have two Njomza songs on this is because like I could visualize her world very well in an electronic sense, and I know that creating certain songs in a certain way, it’s going to be perfect for her to come on and fit like a glove. Then there’s other circumstances where I remember sending Izzy Camina a round of demos that felt already good as instrumentals, and I remember she sent back one take of "Storm," which is the last song on the EP, and that only take worked and is on the record.

What do you hope people take away from Empty Room?

With all my EPs, I want people to feel refreshed. I try to do a lot of cool mixing techniques and cool little Easter eggs here and there. You can hear the risk and the music a little bit. I wrote these, instrumentally at least, all in quarantine, and I usually love to make dark, moody music, but it was hard to be in that place during that time. It was almost like I wanted to make the music that was re-inspiring me to get back to a dancefloor, to be out with friends, to go on drives. I love to make music that mimics a great drive down PCH or through the city.

Is there a particular song you’re excited or nervous for people to hear for the first time?

I think it's "Storm" with Izzy Camina, because at the end I do a vocoder of my own voice. That's something I was playing with at the tail end of making this ep, and it’s stuff that’s really involved in the stuff that I’m working on now. So, yeah, I’m nervous for it, but I'm curious of how people are going to approach it.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

It's very tempting and very attractive to be caught in the moment of things and fired up about making stuff that’s "of the times." But I think you just have to pursue your genuine self and put that out on the table. Some people’s genuine selves may not be the most popular sound or the most popular whatever, but you know when you’re hearing a record that’s real. You know when you’re getting gut punched by an artist telling a story.  When you're in tune and comfortable with yourself, then the sky is like the limit.

Who are your Ones to Watch?

I'm still a lover of music, so I try and discover new stuff, because who knows what will ignite me. I really like this girl LAUREL who’s really tight. She uses a lot of '80s chord progressions and a lot of '80s drums, and I’m an '80s fanatic. And then she has a very modern voice, so it’s always cool to hear people that are using styles of drums and chord progressions from another time but reinvent it. I really like this guy Sunni Colón. And Two People, which I think is the greatest name ever.

Devault's Empty Room is available everywhere you can stream it.

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