Mat Devine Talks New Book ‘Weird War One,’ His Upcoming Solo Record + ‘Heavy’ Kill Hannah Music
After 10 years and six studio albums with a successful band, some musicians would take stock of an admirable career and perhaps take a breather. But not Mat Devine. The Kill Hannah frontman is launching the solo project Wrongchilde and getting ready to release his first-ever book, ‘Weird War One.’
Diffuser recently caught up with the rocker-turned-author, and in addition to getting an update on the forthcoming Kill Hannah and Wrongchilde releases, we learned more about his book, which was inspired by the Raccoon Society, a website he started as a Kill Hannah tour diary for Fuse Network. Raccoon Society eventually morphed into a forum for fans to ask for Devine’s advice on various issues, and he “tapped into a vein of devoted anti-heroes around the world with a genuine need to be heard,” as he describes it.
With ‘Weird War One,’ he’s put together a selection of content from his blog, as well as advice from the likes of Amanda Palmer, Benji Madden and Mikey Way.
Over the years, your fans have not only connected with your music, but they’ve also seemed to really embrace and value your advice. Why do you think that is? And why do you think that the Raccoon Society has been so successful?
I think if you asked anybody that knows me, they’d be totally confused why people come to me for any sort of advice, but I think the reason why they relate to me is probably the same reason they relate to the band — because I come from a place that they can identify with, a place of vulnerability and honesty and, more than anything, feeling like an outsider and an alien. That’s kind of a universal feeling. It’s just that not many people express it. I think that you can get an impression of who I am from my lyrics, certainly, but then when I started posting the tour blog, people really got to know me, and I think it’s through that that people could see how irreverent and open-minded I am, and about how unashamed I am of being a complete dork.
Do you think it’s important for a musician in your position to maintain an open dialogue with fans? Has that been important to you?
Yeah, we kind of do that by default. We started promoting our band to people in the streets of Chicago, one person at a time. We’d literally hand flyers to strangers on the street, so in the earliest days, we’d literally beg people to come see us play, and after each show, we’d shake hands with and thank everyone for coming, and that became a habit.
Why did you decide to turn your advice column into a book?
That was Chris [Lavergne], who owns Thought Catalog. I shot a video [of bands giving advice about heartbreak ] at Warped Tour last year for the Raccoon Society, interviewing artists, and I was backstage and tried sneaking into the line to get catering, and Chris just approached me and introduced himself and said he was a fan of my blog. We started a conversation about me starting to write for Thought Catalog. He suggested, at that time, that I could start contributing op-ed pieces for them, and it was his idea to make a book of the “best of” of the advice column.
This seemed like the easiest thing in the world at the time, because a lot of it had already been written. It ended up taking a year, because I had to read through hundreds of answers and arrange them in a way that made sense. It took a year of improving the posts. A lot of them I tweaked, shortened. Some of the references were funny because I’d mentioned MySpace, so I had to make it a lot more current.
When people ask questions you don’t have personal experience with, how do you tackle the answer?
I have a really cool network of friends and professionals that I can call. Two of my best friends from when I was 14 are now doctors in NYC, and I’ll call them any time and ask. If it pertains to something related to them, I can call them. As meeting people through my life and forming friendships, I keep in mind whose opinion I really value and who I really respect, and I keep them in this rolodex of people that are generous and I can call.
Perfect example, one thing I really sympathize with is and fight for is equality. Specifically, there was a girl who had written in because she felt she was gay and had a crush on her best friend. I thought that was something I needed to respond to. Of course, I’m not a girl and I’m not gay. This girl I’d dated, I called her sister, who I thought was the coolest, shining example of a great girl who owns her sexual identity. So I called her and we talked for three hours, and I applied that to my answer.
October was National Bullying Prevention Month, and you receive quite a lot of questions from people who are being bullied. What is your advice for someone who is being bullied?
Bullying happens to almost anyone, in some shape and form. You can be a 35-year-old successful businessman and still be bullied at the office by someone. That feeling of vulnerability and powerlessness, it can come and go in different times in your life. I still feel it now sometimes. It depends on what’s happening — if it’s a physical thing, how old you are, the reason behind it. But what breaks my heart the most about it is that the people who are being bullied, generally, are the people who are doing it right, and who have a sense of style and uniqueness. The world, in general, has this pressure to conform and this fear of standing out. It takes balls to be an individual, but those are the people that become leaders and icons and real winners.
My advice would be to try to have some sense of perspective. Trust from someone that’s been there, and someone who has a lot of amazing friends who have been there, that you’re doing the right thing and that you’re targeted for doing the right thing and for being unique and for asserting your own identity and being different. The world needs more different people. I’d say the first step is having a perspective, not letting it get to you so much that you consider changing who you are to avoid that sort of torture, because to me, that’s the saddest thing in the world. And of course, depending on the severity of it, certainly tell people. Tell your parents, if you don’t have parents, tell counselors and teachers.
We’ll be on tour, and we’ll get to a bar after we’ve just played a great show, and we’ll be bullied by whoever the asshole jocks are who think they’re cool in that bar in Kansas. We’ll just laugh at first, but one thing we never do is respond with hate or anything like that. In general, we try to communicate, and ultimately, we usually end up drinking with those people and befriending them. There’s a couple cases where I recommend a real nerd uprising, but that can also get me into trouble! There’s like six questions about that in the book, and each one is a slight variation, ranging from super passive to super aggressive.
Quite a few of your musical friends helped out with this project [Amanda Palmer, My Chemical Romance’s Mikey Way, Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden, 30 Seconds To Mars’ Tommo Miličević]. Was there any one piece of advice from any of them that really struck you?
Amanda Palmer’s chapter … I mean, I thought I was irreverent, but when I read hers, she writes her answers in like five minutes and it’s so from the heart. I think one of the reasons that we clicked is because when we were going to high school, there was one or two weirdos per high school. Back in the day, it wasn’t at all popular to have weird hair or a piercing or weird clothes — there were maybe two or three in your town, and you all knew each other, and you’d be friends with the two or three weirdos in the other town, and that’s how we both grew up. We identify completely with each other. I think her advice, telling girls not to shave their armpits, was hilarious. It’s just super anarchistic. F— gender roles.
Now that you’ve got one book coming out, do you think you’d ever consider releasing another?
Definitely. I’ve already mapped out what I think ‘Weird War Two’ and ‘Weird War Three’ would be. I think the next one will be specifically band-related, about touring, and all my experiences from being in the band. The Raccoon Society is a blog about my life in general and it’s the Q&A, blended together. So since this book is about the advice column, I think the next book should be about our travels and bizarre shit we’ve encountered on the road. Then the next one, I thought could be, the ultimate heartbreak survival guide/manual.
What’s the status of your solo album, ‘Gold Blooded?’
Well, the album’s done and mastered. The plan to release it is that we’re gonna release a free single [‘Birds Of Prey’] with the video before the end of the year, some time in November, and then the beginning of the year, do the same thing with another single. My birthday’s April 16th, and the closest Tuesday to that is the 15th, so we’ve been talking about an April 15th release date.
And how about new Kill Hannah material? When can fans expect some new songs, and what can they expect from it?
I’m going to Vegas in a couple of weeks to sing on a new Kill Hannah EP. That will be out next spring, too. I’ve been writing new stuff for a long time. Part of the process of this new solo record was the result of trying to determine what of these songs makes sense for Kill Hannah and what doesn’t. Most people, for their records, write a hundred songs, record 30, and then out of those, 10 or 12 make it on the record. The shape the record takes all depends on the song selection. It just became clear to me, about a year and a half ago, that I was putting the heaviest songs in the Kill Hannah category, and everything else I was putting in the solo category. So the next Kill Hannah record is going to be heavy. I think that the cool thing about that is, first of all, there’s a lot to be angry about right now, in terms of the landscape of music out there now. I want to hear a heavy record. I’m just so sick of super white, ten people on stage, banjo music. I want something with testosterone and actual energy.
Kill Hannah came out of art school; we’re an art school band. Our favorite bands are mellow, Britpop bands, so we were always misunderstood. We didn’t want to be on tour with heavy bands, we didn’t want a heavy fan base. We were always put in this weird category with heavy bands, and we fought it tooth and nail, but we adjusted on these tours and festivals. And then we started getting more love from the heavy community, but part of our day-to-day identity crisis is trying to fight the idea of being a heavy band, because we don’t see ourselves as one. But these other songs I’ve been writing for the Kill Hannah EP go in the other direction. I’ve been like, “You know what? F— yeah! If you think we’re heavy because we have the word ‘Kill’ in our band title, well, let’s make the heaviest record we possibly can.” So I wrote these songs that are just so cool and riff-oriented, and designed for arenas.
I’m super stoked to record those. Greg [Corner, bass] comes from the same world I do of English early-’90s bands. Dan [Wiese, guitar] is more of a fan of Wilco than anything else. But Elias [Mallin, drummer] is a Tool fanatic. More than anybody, he’s running with this because he’s been on tour with Ke$ha for so long, he really wants to hit the drums hard again.
There’s a Kill Hannah show in LA in December at the Roxy. Any other Kill Hannah/solo shows coming up?
I’ve assembled a new band for this solo project out here in LA. We might do one LA show in December here, which would be a really unannounced sort of thing, and then we’re looking at SXSW in March, and then booking a tour from there.