POZ Decade: Kevin Devine – Make The Clocks Move

by Zack Zarrillo - Sep 24, 2013


Kevin Devine's Make The Clocks Move turns ten in two weeks, and the record has turned into a classic for many PropertyOfZack team members and viewers. PropertyOfZack is launching our next installment of our Decade feature in honor of the record today before we dive into a great deal of content with Kevin next month. Enjoy the read and reblog to let us know your thoughts on Make The Clocks Move ten years later!

How Make the Clocks Move holds up in 2013
Some albums concern themselves so acutely with fixating on one collection of memories — a breakup, a coming-of-age story, a tour, a personal battle — that they unintentionally handcuff themselves to one distinct, concrete point in time. Make the Clocks Move might’ve fallen victim to that trap, had Kevin Devine written about one love — first love, failed love, unrequited love, whatever — and only one love. At the risk of sounding like a Moulin Rouge-quoting wannabe poet, Make the Clocks Move holds up damn well in 2013 because Devine wrote an honest, charming record about just plain old love.

I’m not saying Make the Clocks Move is a 14-track love letter of sappy ballads written to woo a parade of beaus: the record is anything but. Devine comfortably slides into a multitude of scenarios — the frustrated off-and-on lover in “Country Sky Glow,” the distanced broken-up boyfriend coming to terms with his regrets on “Longer That I’m Out Here,” the crush-harboring ex on “Not Over You Yet,” and the charming romantic on “Splitting Up Christmas.” It’s not all bright-eyed, lucky-in-love bullshit, and the moments that Devine aches the most are some of the album’s best. A good album about love that diverges from happy-together-forever schmaltz never goes out of style, and that’s incredibly true about Make the Clocks Move. – Erik van Rheenen

Well, I might be the least qualified person to say.  I actually still really like the songs on that record for the most part, and like playing them live. I think I feel now like my songwriting voice was starting to come into much clearer focus in 2002/2003, between Clocks and Every Famous Last Word, the last Miracle of 86 full-length.  I still like pretty much all of those songs, too, and each record feels like a pretty big jump in style & quality & execution from Circle Gets The Square and the Miracle self-titled.

I like the looseness, the basement feeling - it’s true to what it was, that record was made cheaply and around all of our work schedules in Bracco’s basement in Queens.  I’m charmed by it and remember it as being fun-sloppy, lots of laughter and drinking and tossing ideas around.

What I don’t love, and this is a very specific-to-me thing, is my singing - I didn’t really know how to sing back then, or didn’t trust my voice, so I’d either sing the wrong way and blow it out (not helped by lots of late nights drunk/high shouting and talking, etc.), or I’d obscure the notes with a shaky warble.  I think I thought for a long time my voice just did that, that it was nerves or excitement, and when I went in to record Put Your Ghost To Rest in 2006, Rob Schnapf pulled me aside before I went in to do my first vocal takes on “Go Haunt Someone Else” - about 3 weeks into recording - and said, in a very direct and Schnapf-ian manner, “You know that Goat Boy thing you do sometimes?  Don’t do it.”  I remember thinking he was nuts, that either I didn’t do that or it was just how I sang, and then I made an effort to sing straighter, truer.  I went into the booth and listened back, and it was really nice, and he sort of pointed at the speakers and said, “See?”  Since then, Goat Boy is dead. – Kevin Devine

Most important song on Make the Clocks Move
I don’t know if I can answer that one objectively, but I can say that “Ballgame” is a song that touched a real nerve with people, that is still requested at every single show I play, and that seems to be a song many people define me by.  I completely understand why.  I’m personally partial to “The Longer That I’m Out Here” - I think that song was an important one for me stylistically/developmentally - and I always had a soft spot for “You’re My Incentive” as well. - Kevin Devine

I was going to burst forth with holiday cheer three months too soon and honor “Splitting Up Christmas,” or go with “People Are So Fickle” solely for that toe-tapping guitar intro and Devine’s happy-go-lucky “whoo!” that starts the song in proper. But here I am picking “You’re My Incentive,” and honestly, I’m not sure what drew me to the song in the first place. All I know is that from the first time I gave Make the Clocks Move a spin on my CD player, something did in fact draw me to it, and that counts for something, right?

Lyrically, “You’re My Incentive” ranks among Devine’s best storytelling moments — I’m not sure he’s ever been more charming than while spinning a three-and-a-half minute yarn about a down-on-her-luck girl with a broken-down car and a boyfriend with an eye for the local waitress. It’s a sad story, especially from where Devine’s narrator stands — he’s not the waitress-flirting boyfriend, but just an onlooker crossing his fingers that the girl’s ship rights itself. And that’s what I admire about Devine: his narrator doesn’t have to be the object of the girl’s affection to give a shit and stand in her corner. For all the news that the song’s characters are “slowly sinking,” Devine still paints their outlooks from his optimistic-if-realistic lens, and I think that’s why I love “You’re My Incentive” as much as I do. – Erik van Rheenen 

Was Devine successful in following up Make the Clocks Move?
Make the Clocks Move finds Devine growing into his own as a singer, as a songwriter, as a storyteller. Calling the album “safe” isn’t right — Devine’s lyricism stands in particular outshines other slightly indie-rockish leaning peers— but I think it’s fair to say that Make the Clocks Move doesn’t stand out as the most challenging offering in the Kevin Devine discography. So Devine got a little more daring on Split the Country, Split the Streets, and that audacity buffs up the record with an edge Make the Clocks Move didn’t have. 

From the clever songwriting Devine flaunted on Make the Clocks Move sprung forth a burst of dynamos tap-dancing between sturdy rockers (“Cotton Crush,” “Buried By the Buzz”) and nostalgia-soaked softer numbers (“Alabama Acres,” “Afterparty”). Fans left scratching their heads when Devine covered Nevermind in full would do well to revisit Split the Country — the full-band arrangements are full of soft/loud dynamics like Nirvana was so enamored with. It wasn’t a simple follow-up to Make the Clocks Move, and it sure as hell wasn’t the easy one he could’ve written, but Split the Country pushed Devine’s solo career into bold new directions. – Erik van Rheenen

I mean, as successful as I was equipped to be at that time.  Clocks was the last music I recorded before my dad passed away.  I was already kinda wobbly, and when that happened, I kind of went off the rails for a few years. That said, I really liked Split The Country, Split The Street, and feel like my/our sound opened out a lot on that record, got sturdier & more dynamic.  I like the majority of those songs still, as well: I just think the timing was off, the circumstances didn’t line up right, whatever happened happened.  

Clocks got favorably written about in a more “indie-rock” or respectable singer/songwriter way — HarpThe New York TimesRolling StoneThe New Yorker — but my limited touring life was for whatever reason with bands pretty squarely identified in the emo/pop-punk world, even though locally, I was playing with a much more diverse crop of artists.  I think that divide really kind of hurt me for a while, and has continued to be an issue of definition/identification for other people when trying to figure out where to slot me, or whether or not I’m “cool,” or whatever.  I know this period of time was roughly the last time I really cared a whole lot about that kind of thing; I realized somewhere around the Capitol experience that I had no control over what other people’s interpretations of my music and career choices might be, and I’ve been doing my best to keep realizing that ever since.  – Kevin Devine

Legacy of Make the Clocks Move
With a fond tip of the cap to Circle Gets the Square (an underrated if slightly underwhelming introduction to Kevin Devine, the solo artist), Make the Clocks Move cemented Devine’s status as a singer-songwriter with serious chops. Circle Gets the Square sounds like Devine still searching for his voice independent of Miracle of ’86; Make the Clocks Move is Devine confidently proving that he found it. The voice he found — sometimes bursting with optimism, sometimes cool and detached — stuck, and it’s tough to imagine Devine without the signature wit and coy commentary he sharpened on Make the Clocks Move.  – Erik van Rheenen

Oh, I’m not sure there is much of one outside of my core audience.  It wasn’t a record that moved mountains or sold tons of copies.  I think we’re still under 10,000 copies on that one.  That said, it definitely seems to be fiercely beloved by its supporters (the lucky thing about my career is that each record seems to have its little tribe, which I consider a great gift), and I know that it is the record that set me on the path to being a career musician in the style in which I am, and one that was being paid some amount of attention by people.  I very much think my career as it is presently constituted can kind of be traced back to this period of time. – Kevin Devine

How Make the Clocks Move fits into the Kevin Devine catalog
I think it’s the beginning of a period of super lyric-heavy songwriting, and the beginning stylistically of an attempt to incorporate aspects of folk, country into the pop/indie-rock songwriting format I was following.  I think it’s a bit cleaner than Split or Brother’s Blood, not as spiky/noisy/vaguely punky - I don’t think it’s as accomplished sounding as Put Your Ghost To Rest, but in some respects I tend to see those records as linked a bit.  I think little germs, seeds of this period are still present, but I think I’ve sharpened away some edges and exploded certain borders way further out, if that makes sense. - Kevin Devine

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    This is a nice my-turn-your-turn email interview-type thing with my brother about a record he made.
  4. billbarnwell reblogged this from propertyofzack and added:
    This was one of my favorite albums just about ever, so I’m pretty psyched to read this.
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    reblogging for my favorite album.
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    I love this feature. Lots of great observations here, by both Erik and Kevin. I did “discover” Kevin through hearing...
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    This is my favorite album ever. Definitely reading this later today.
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