The following is a newspaper interview of Devin:
A TASTE OF CALIFORNIA
March 15, 1999—Austin got a taste of what Napa Valley is growing these days at The Ruins last night with the dulcet tones of California crooner, Devin Mayer. Mayer opened for local band, Cloud Demolition, and lit a low, but steady flame under the dubious audience, gradually winning them over with his smooth baritone and haunting lyrics. With just a stool, a single spotlight, and his guitar, he left the crowd stunned into silence before bursting into enthusiastic applause once he left the stage. They coaxed him back for one more song, and afterward, I got the chance to sit down with him for a drink and a few questions.
Q: You’re a little ways from home. How are you finding Texas? Are we as bad as Californians think we are?
A: Are you kidding? Austin’s great. I love it here.
Q: You’re just saying that because you have to.
A: I don’t say anything because I have to. That’s one reason why I’m here instead of there.
Q: Family problems?
A: Difference of opinion. I don’t come from a musical family. They love me, but they don’t get the music thing. Just like I love them, but I don’t get why I should go into the family business if it’s not what I’m passionate about. Nobody should be forced into a life they don’t want.
Q: And you want a life in Austin?
A: I want a life in music. It just so happened to drop me here for a few months.
It takes little effort to discover Mayer dropped out of Berkeley School of Music after two years, then moved onto a brief stint in Seattle before striking his way east in late ’97, but every time I try to get details, Mayer spins the conversation in other directions. I learn he’s single (“By choice.”), he’s addicted to peanut butter cups (“You will never convince me that isn’t the perfect flavor combination.”), and he knows more about classic Hollywood screwball comedies than anyone else I know under the age of sixty (“You can learn a lot from Cary Grant.”).
Everything changes when I shift focus to his music, though even here, he insists on clarity when I don’t give him the choices he’s looking for.
Q: Do you consider yourself a singer who happens to play guitar, or a guitarist who happens to sing?
A: I consider myself a storyteller who happens to be able to play and sing a little.
Q: So you’re a songwriter first.
Q: Then why play? Why not just write songs and hand them off to somebody else to perform?
A: (After he laughs) Is that an oblique way of telling me I suck?
Q: On the contrary, I’m a little surprised you’re undercutting how good you actually are.
His blushing at my compliment temporarily dissolves the calm veneer he’s been wearing until now. Though he’s twenty-three, most of the time he comes across as older, dark blue eyes intense and unwavering as he meets those of whomever he speaks to. This flash of innocence is fleeting, however, and he quickly returns to the eloquence that permeates his songs when I ask specific questions. For the next hour, I listen, admittedly enthralled by his creative process. Each song is personal, starting out as fable before morphing into the incarnations he presents to his audiences. All except for one. The encore that left more than one girl coming up to him during our interview asking if it was available on the EP he’s selling. (FYI: It’s not, which is a crying shame.)
Q: Listening to “Priceless,” someone might think you regret leaving Napa.
A: Really? Why do you think that?”
Q: Well, it’s a love poem to the valley, isn’t it?
A: That doesn’t mean I’m the narrator.
Q: If not you, then who?
A: The world is full of people who see beauty in details others find mundane. Ominous clouds the second before the skies open and drench everything in rain. The first grape to appear on a vine. The problem is, they often get dismissed as mundane themselves when that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Priceless” is about recognizing the value in the details, in those people, while you have the chance. Don’t forget them. The world deserves better than that. They deserve better.
Though I press, Mayer sticks to the vague, but I end the interview convinced he’s thinking about somebody specific when it comes to “Priceless”’s narrator. It could be a father, a mother, a friend. Only Devin Mayer knows for certain.
So to whoever it is, take it from this stranger in Austin, Texas. You’re not forgotten.