Interviews Music

One Track Mind: Nation of Language

The US synth-pop bands’s Ian Devaney kicks off our new series by waxing lyrical about The Beach Boys.

Over the past decade or so of interviewing artists, one thing I’ve found is that it’s often difficult for them to talk about their own music. After all, music is the great communicator: if you need to explain the story behind its creation, or the meaning behind its lyrical content, then you’re in danger of missing the point. Conversely – given the chance – they more often that not love being effusive about other people’s work. One Track Mind is an opportunity for them to do just that.

The premise is pretty simple: I ask artists to pick one track that means a lot to them – either something they’ve discovered recently, something that’s been with them for years, or one that reminds them of a specific time in their life or career – and tell me what makes it so special to them. I get to talk to the artists I love, and they get to talk about the artists they love. Love all round!

Kicking off the series is Ian Devaney from Nation of Language, who are arguably my favourite new musical discovery of 2020. Their album Introduction, Presence has brought me an inordinate amount of joy this year, and I’m extremely grateful to Ian for taking the time to speak to me.

For his selection, Ian chose a late-era Beach Boys song that deals in melancholy and nostalgia, themes that are also present in much of Nation of Language’s music.

Ian Devaney on The Beach Boys – Pacific Coast Highway

“After much deliberation, I decided to write about Pacific Coast Highway, a late-era Beach Boys song that has quickly and quietly become my favorite song of theirs.

“There are a number of factors that have drawn me to the Beach Boys throughout my life, but chief among them are the way they deal in melancholy, and their ability to establish a sense of place. Out of the gate, the distinctly-Beach-Boys harmonies swell, making you feel like this must be a classic song of theirs that you just somehow missed all these years, but when Brian Wilson’s voice comes in, it is unmistakably the voice of an old man. There’s a softened pronunciation to his very plain-spoken words that tells you this is a man confronting the end of his life. It feels genuine, and it places you there with him, looking into a west coast sunset, feeling lonely, watching another chapter of your life draw to a close.

“The song structure itself amplifies the feeling of honesty – there are no repeating parts, no extra lyrics added in to conform to a pop song format – just four lines into the song, he sings “there’s not much left to say,” and four lines after that, he says “goodbye” and the song is over. It’s a final, clear-eyed recognition and acceptance of mortality – the soundtrack of someone going gentle into that good night.”

Nation of Language’s debut album Introduction, Presence is out now