Devan Blake Jones is originally from California, but he was raised here in Denver. Growing up in a family of musicians, Jones honed his skills in the church and started pursuing his passion for singing in earnest in high school. Now a protégé of Mercury Sauce's Nathan Reid (Amanda Hawkins, Duncan, Julie Zorilla), Jones is ready to take center stage and show the world what he's got. Filming a series of acoustic sets at Mercury Sauce titled The Living Room Sessions, the crooner is well on his way to doing just that. We chopped it up with Jones about where he's from and, more important, where he's going.
Westword: It seems like a ridiculous question, but how long have you been singing?
Devan Blake Jones: I've been singing since I was five or six years old, but I wasn't that serious about it until around the ninth grade. I grew up sitting in church with a hymn book, just listening to my mom and watching the notes on the page, and my grandma would show me where the notes were. I didn't really know what they meant, but I would follow her direction.
Does everyone in your family sing and perform?
I come from a family of singers who all grew up in the church. I was taught to sing in church, and we all were taught to sing for God for years. My grandmother's brother is in a doo-wop band that sings for people in their eighties and tours all around the world.
You said you didn't get serious about singing until the ninth grade or so. Were you the go-to-guy in school to sing everything?
I was a big nerd for a while. No one noticed me until I started singing; people started to get to know me because of that. That was when I realized people would respect me for my talent. I'm most happy when I'm singing, so that's what I would do.
I'm sure there was a lot of music in your house growing up then?
Yes, my family would play a lot of oldies, and I grew up on a lot of jazz. I was in a jazz choir for two years, and that's how I learned a lot about where to go with certain notes. There was also Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin and a lot of Christian artists played in my house, because I grew up on a lot of gospel.
So you were able to take from different music styles to hone your voice and style?
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I have a lot of influences, so sometimes I'll do something vocally, and it'll come from church or jazz or opera. I like to resonate that way. I try to pick up whatever I can from different places.
What style of music and singers do you enjoy the most?
I love, love, love anything that has feeling to it. I love listening to singers sing and you can hear the struggle in their voice, the anger, the pain in their voice. I love Adele, Amy Winehouse, a lot of artists overseas, Daniel Beddingfield. The classics, of course, like Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, gospel artists like the Clark Sisters, too. I'm really inspired by Brian McKnight and Mariah Carey.
When did you come to Mercury Sauce?
I started with Mercury Sauce around five or six years ago. I was nineteen, and I heard Amanda Hawkins's CD and hadn't heard a singer around town that was like that. I sent Nate an e-mail, and he allowed me to come in and sing. I didn't know exactly what it meant to exude vocally, so I sang backup for Amanda's stuff and Bianca's [Mikahn] stuff. During that time, I decided to drop out of school 'cause I just wanted to sing.
Any gigs I could get around town, I would take. I started winning contests and began to focus on doing exactly what I wanted to do, and that's sing. I've done the national anthem for the Nuggets games, and I've been working with Nate a lot more to continue developing my own sound and voice.
What's your experience in working with hip-hop artists in the scene, and how do you balance that with your own R&B/soul appeal?
I've worked with Rockie, singing on his new mixtape, and we performed together at Amanda Hawkins's showcase. What being a singer is all about is making something your own and not trying to sound like another singer. People don't think someone is good because they can emulate other people.
What are the components of R&B for you?
For me, it's simply rhythm and blues, something you can nod your head to but will still pull at your heartstrings. There are so many different types of soul. Soul is gonna make you either wanna cry or take your clothes off. R&B, at its core, tells a story. There might be too much of a marriage between R&B; people are starting to not be able to tell the difference.
Can you rap?
Prince or Michael Jackson?
Music can still help change the world. For me, Michael's music made people happy and wanna dance. If you can write a song that says "We are the world, we are the children, heal the world," it just makes you have a positive vibe. That's the realm of music that I want. To have a voice that's used in the right way. I want people to hear that and relate it to so many things, a change in the atmosphere or something. I feel like there needs to be something new, something that brings that authentic feel back to music.
What other projects are you involved in?
Atomga Groove Alliance. It's a twelve-piece Afrobeat ensemble with horn section, keys, drums. I do vocals only. We've been covering Fela Kuti, and as an African-American male singing Fela Kuti, it's amazing. Fela isn't singing, he's preaching. I love it. Everyone in the group is so talented.
Where is your singing going?
I'm figuring out how to take compliments. The goal is to put out tons and tons of music and be able to look back and say I've left a mark. I've been working with Nate a lot more, and I went from not knowing what I was going to do with music to feeling like I have direction. I want to be a singer that has the chops to actually pull it off.
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