A Conversation With Devin Abrams

October 9, 2020
Devin Abrams

New Zealand producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Devin Abrams is undoubtedly one of the country’s most accomplished musical talents. Abrams has had a 20-year career marked by numerous hits and accolades, firstly as a founding member of Shapeshifter, under his long time solo guise Pacific Heights and more recently as a producer for Drax Project, Lepani, Dallas Tamaira. He has evolved from being one of Aotearoa’s most proficient musicians to a sought after producer and collaborator both in his homeland and offshore.

We caught up with Devin ahead of the release of his newly released single ‘The Weight Of It’ to discuss the creative process, his new single, and what we can expect from the forthcoming Pacific Heights album. 

How different is the experience working on your solo project Pacific Heights, compared to producing or working with another artist?

Very different. I think with Pacific Heights I can take it in any direction at any time without having to consider what’s best for someone else. Whilst I love the challenge and collaborative nature of producing for others, working with what’s best for their songs and ambitions, it’s a nice balance to have complete freedom creatively within my own project.

Lyrically the song seems to be about reflection. What was the inspiration behind it?

It’s a funny story really. Steve Spacek has been on my wishlist to work with for a very very long time. My manager suggested we just reach out to him and his team to gauge interest. In that initial email, we attached the beat with the working title ‘The Weight Of It’ and that was that – Steve ran with that thematically and wrote the words you hear. It was a very organic process, but ultimately Steve would be able to answer what the lyrics mean to him.

How did you go about producing The Weight Of It?

In 2019 I was asked to compose some music for WOW (World of Wearable Arts). During that writing session, a friend of mine and young artist/composer/producer named Neil Macleod was working with me on some ideas and some of these ideas weren’t quite right for WOW. One of those pieces was a very primitive instrumental idea, which I revisited when I was based in Los Angeles for a bit. Neil and I continued to work remotely (as he was in NZ at the time) on it till the beat was close to the finished version that you hear. The production for me features some really interesting synth and vocal resampling work, alongside and of course a really amazing performance by Steve. 

The track came alive with the beautiful mix work by my good friend, the talented Mr Simon Gooding.

Tell me how you got started on the track in terms of initial inspiration and layering of instruments.

Neil had the original little bass synth line that made it all the way to the finished version, that was the anchor from the start. From there we recorded synths, an organ, sampled one of my Brazilian records and did a lot of vocal re-sampling.

Your last album ‘A Lost Light’ had an overarching narrative to it, will this also be a concept album?

This is the first album I’ve made as Pacific Heights that isn’t anchored to a concept, more a place and a feeling. It’s a record that has a collection of vibes that I was feeling at the time of being away from NZ, and working a lot of late nights in LA. It was quite freeing to be free of a fixed concept, to be honest.

Speaking of ‘A Lost Light’, since you had such a strong idea for it did the songwriting process come more naturally? Or is it harder to musically tie all the songs together to follow a narrative?

I personally feel it’s more of a challenge to be tied to a concept, but the results can be very rewarding overall if you achieve a cohesive sonic story and lyrical narrative within a larger body of work.

What was it like working with Steve Spacek?

I’ve met Steve a few times over the past twenty years and he is one of the nicest humans I’ve come across in all my years in the music industry. Extremely gentle and humble. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to do this collaboration in person, so it was done over sharing files and notes on emails. Regardless of the method, it was still a highly enjoyable and rewarding process. 

I remember pinching myself when he sent his first sketch back – It was definitely ‘wow I have Steve Spacek on one my songs’.

You’ve been in the music industry for 20 years now has your approach to songwriting changed at all over time?

If anything I can honestly say my palate and openness has become so much wider. From writing and producing pop music to working on cinematic projects, I feel the last 5 years I can say without any hesitation there are no boundaries and borders anymore. With Pacific Heights I have always had the mantra of allowing it to go wherever I felt like going musically – now I believe it could go anywhere.

How much has changed in terms of how you approach a project now as opposed to how you approached 20 years ago and 10 years ago? Has it changed at all?

Not so much with this one, I’ve always loved collaboration – it’s my most productive habitat. I would say within anything that I’m trying to do my best in, there’s always a consistent path of learning in front of me. I feel I’ve embraced that a little more lately.

What can we expect from the new album?

So much colour… the dark days have past and there’s a sense of new electricity in the air.

You can stream ‘The Weight Of It’ here: 

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