As Rob Sheffield duly noted in his yearly pop single roundup, emergent L.A. electro star Dev was the best thing about 2010’s titanically popular Far East Movement track, “Like A G6.” Sure, the spooky synth bass line of the Cataracs-produced minimalist urban jam helped propel it from the Downtown L.A. club circuit and onto the upper reaches of the Hot 100, but it was their hype girl’s fantastic phrasing — “when we drink, we do it right, we get slizzard” — that breezily induced the track’s bonkers lyrics into daily pop vernacular. Unbeknownst to most, the monster hit’s origin is actually seeded from Dev’s own material – it’s hook is lifted from her nakedly produced party anthem, “Booty Bounce,” which she released as her own single in the wake of “Like A G6’s” storming success. Her longstanding creative union with the Cataracs was paying off, but soon Dev was serving as the secret ingredient on other tasty, diversely flavored pop fare: in the span of a few months, her assortment of “featured appearances” ran the gamut from everyone to Martin Solvieg to Travis Barker to David Guetta. Even Disney sensation Demi Lovato hired her to sing on a track. “Being the ‘feature girl’ was cool,” the singer tells Rolling Stone. “But it was time to do my own thing.”
Dev’s official “coming out party” is September 20th, when her debut album The Night The Sun Came Up hits stores. Right now, second single “In The Dark” is making strides on U.S. and U.K. pop radio, bolstered by a freshly inserted intro verse featuring the one and only Kanye West. She’s gaining traction as a style maven, too, as the fashion world takes note of her hyperbolic dress sensibilities and category-defying hairdo. Rolling Stone spoke to the singer about her eye-catching wares, the rewards of pop independence, and why she hopes Karl Lagerfeld knows who she is.
You’ve become a familiar fixture on the pop circuit, but you’re finally releasing your debut album next month. What’s been the process?
Work on this album started back in the MySpace era, actually. I recorded some stuff on Garageband on my Macbook. The Cataracs were just some kids tinkering around with music at that point, too. They happened to find my work, really liked it, and we’ve been working together ever since. They are my exclusive collaborators for the album. They are no songs with “features.” That was important to me, as I’ve done so many appearances on others’ tracks that I’ve become known by default as the “feature girl.” That’s cool, and not a bad way to get your start, but this is my album, and I wanted to be sure its statement was my own. So, it’s all me.
Do you remember the first song that came together?
It was “Perfect Match” — it’s a nice acoustic love song, and unlike what people might expect from me. [The Cataracs and I] recorded it in Costa Rica, where we were staying for about three weeks. I was so grateful to even be there, and then this song just came together. It felt like we were in the right place at the right time to make that happen. And it set a great vibe for the album.
Were you consciously trying to sculpt a certain sound?
In terms of what I was listening to around then, I was into Radiohead‘s In Rainbows and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But I was also listening to old Cataracs stuff. I didn’t want to take much direct influence from anything external going into this. It was about creating a vibe: being from California, I somehow wanted the album to be down to earth and “stripped,” but I also appreciate that we threw in some cool production twists. It’s up tempo, it’s pretty, it’s close to my heart. There’s some little surprises in there.
Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
In 2008, I was in a car with the Cataracs, picking up some burritos. [Laughs.] Suddenly, our song “Club Love” comes on the radio. I blasted it, rolling down the windows and sunroof! It was the coolest feeling ever. Still is!
What is the Dev live experience like?
I’m still figuring that out, but it’s my favorite part of being a musician. It’s what made me want to do this. I loved watching my favorite bands perform live when I was younger. Seeing Brand New and Yeah Yeah Yeahs do it so raw was inspiring. Those little imperfect humanizing moments that occur live that make it immortal for the fans. I try to keep it honest and spontaneous when I perform. I might be on the stage floor at some point, but I’ll make sure the crowd has a good time!
Since you’ve mentioned the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a few times, I’m wondering if you’ve ever taken styling cues from Karen O.
She’s totally an influence for me. She must be the raddest female on the planet! But more than anyone, I can thank my mom for where I get my style ideas. Even now, she reads all the blogs and texts me about cool new designers or looks.
How would you described your unique hairstyle?
It’s a faux-hawk meets wannabe 60s cut. It keeps getting shorter and shorter, and I keep putting weird colors in it. I used to have hair down to my elbows, so it’s quite a transformation. One day, I chopped it off in the bathroom. I like it, it’s like a mutant pixie cut! I’m thinking of going purple next…
I’ve seen the street style label Hellz Bellz mentioned in relation to you a few times. What’s the connection?
Hellz Bellz is the LA womenswear line I work with; I wear a lot of their stuff for shoots and when I play live. They’re friends of mine and understand my edgy tastes. We’re all on the same wavelength.
Do you pay attention to high fashion?
I prefer to shop at boutiques and thrift stores. But I love the super high-end stuff I cannot afford. Prada’s ads are always dope. And I loved when Lily Allen collaborated with Chanel on the runway. It was the perfect fit! I’d love to play a show like that! Hopefully, it can happen. Karl Lagerfeld, are you reading this?