Janet Devlin On Her US Debut, Covering Ed Sheeran & Possible Kurt Cobain Relation: Idolator Interview
At age 16, Janet Devlin dazzled the world when she successfully auditioned for The X Factor UK. A shy, small-town singer-songwriter from Gortin, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, Devlin consistently received the highest consecutive public vote of all the contestants and made it to the eighth week of competition.
Now a seasoned 19-year-old performer, Devlin’s never sounded better than on her new album Running With Scissors (released stateside today, February 10), which showcases her piercingly honest songwriting and crystalline, haunting voice.
On the eve of the album’s American release, we rang up Janet from across the pond to get her thoughts on melancholy music as well as her passion for drag queens and Adventure Time, plus the surprising connection she and Courtney Love share…at least according to Courtney.
What gave you the courage to audition for The X Factor?
JANET DEVLIN: Oh, wow. I started my YouTube channel doing covers, but I didn’t really believe any of the nice comments. So I thought if I went on The X Factor, they’d tell me whether or not I could sing. Simon Cowell definitely isn’t shy about that. [Laughs]
While you were on the show, Courtney Love made international headlines for announcing — out of the blue — that she believed that Kurt Cobain was your cousin and offering to allow you to perform a Nirvana cover. All of that came as a surprise to you, right?
JD: It was the weirdest thing! In my room at X Factor, I had a Nirvana poster up because I’ve always been such a fan. My makeup artist was married to the head of a big rock magazine over here and she told me all about it. She said that Courtney was leaving voicemails at like two o’clock in the morning, trying to get through. I hope it’s true, because that would be the coolest thing ever.
If it is, would you drop in on your cousin-in-law Courtney for a family reunion?
JD: Oh, God yeah. [Laughs]
Running With Scissors is a very beautiful album, but even on the more upbeat songs, there’s definitely a melancholy vein running through. Is that reflective of who you are?
JD: I don’t mean to be. For me, personally, I have a lot more adjectives for sad things than I do for positive things. It’s also a lot easier to write when I’m sad because I’m probably in my house, on my sofa, with my notebooks beside me.
The emotional highlight of the album is “Things We Lost in the Fire,” which is one of the most wrenching songs I’ve ever heard about how a breakup really feels. How did you get your vocal performance to match the power of the lyrics?
JD: It was really tough, I’m not going to lie. When you sing a song a lot, you almost become desensitized to it, so we wanted to make sure that my vocals for that track would come from the exact same place that I wrote it in. I had to imagine that my ex-boyfriend was there in the vocal booth and I was singing to him. The lyrics are so honest but I don’t think I told that guy to his face half of what I say in that song. It was really hard to sing and not cry.
So many musical acts have tons of confidence — maybe even too much at times. You, on the other hand, are famous for being a shy person. Do you think that helps your artistry?
JD: It depends. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it hinders. I’m not really that good at selling myself. I just like the music to do all the talking. If my songs are good, I hope people form their opinions on that.
You’re also pretty famous for being a fantastic cover artist. In addition to taking on everyone from Elvis Presley to Regina Spektor on your YouTube channel, you cover The Cure on Running With Scissors and just released Duvet Daze, an EP of covers of songs by Ed Sheeran, 10cc, Miley Cyrus and Duran Duran. What’s the secret of recording an excellent cover?
JD: I don’t know! If I like a song, I just do it. I really pushed myself to do a cover of “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran, which is, like, the hardest song to sing, but I love it.
Who would you love to cover one of your songs?
JD: There’s so many! I’d love to hear Ed Sheeran cover one of my songs. He’d own it though — he’d make me look bad. So maybe not Ed Sheeran. [Laughs]
What inspired your most recent tour’s name, My Delirium?
JD: “Delirium” means a permanent state of confusion, which sometimes I find myself in. [Laughs] I did a tour before that called the Imaginarium Tour. It kind of made sense to me: imaginarium, delirium. We finished it in December and everyone seemed to have a good time. I surprised people, though, by something I do at my shows: I hang around at the end and meet everyone. I like to say hello and get photos and hear how they think the gig went. Luckily, everyone’s been positive so far. [Laughs]
With all your success, do your three older brothers treat you any differently now?
JD: They don’t! I still get wedgies and stuff—you don’t grow out of that kind of thing! [Laughs] They don’t treat me any differently at all and it’s good that they don’t. My mum still makes me do the dishes.
You’ve said many times that you are obsessed with the animated TV show Adventure Time. Why?
JD: If you’re into severely vibrant colors, good life lessons and just hysterical laughter, it’s a great show. There’s so much serious stuff on television all the time so it’s nice to just kick back and watch cartoons. I still watch SpongeBob!
If they asked you to do a voice on Adventure Time, what kind of character would you want to be?
JD: Maybe a princess…but a really cool, different one. That’s why I did animation for my music video for “Creatures of the Night.” It’s been my dream since childhood to be a cartoon character! So I thought, since no one’s asked me to be in a cartoon yet, I’ll make my own.
I noticed in the YouTube comments, people were sad that the cartoon wolf died in the video.
JD: Awww! Really? I’ve heard quite a lot of people wonder why wolves are portrayed so badly in folklore, but this one wanted to kill me, so come on! You don’t try to kill cartoon Janet and get away with it! [Laughs]
You know you’ve made it as a legendary musical diva when drag queens start doing you. If you got to the point where drag queens began wanting to do Janet Devlin, what advice would you give them?
JD: OH MY GOD!! First of all, that would be amazing! I love a good drag show. I don’t know if my character is very “drag queen-able,” but I would say: backcomb that hair, watch Disney/Pixar’s Brave for inspiration and get that eyeliner on point. Then, you’re pretty much sorted.
Fill in the blank: Running With Scissors is best listened to _____________.
JD: Under a blanket in a warm, dark room.