Mohawk College Music: Spencer Devolin
The 21 year-old bassist strives to heal souls with his honest and authentic music.
In his final semester of Mohawk College's Applied Bass program, Spencer Devolin is a multi-instrumentalist specializing in the upright and electric bass.
"I chose bass because there aren't as many bassists, everyone's always looking for bass guitarists so I thought it would be easiest to get work in," said Spencer. "I play a bunch of different styles, like jazz, R&B, rock, funk, classical and other genres. I'm in a few Hamilton-based bands, like Frantic Lullabies, Stork and the Babymakers, Groove Machine, and the KV Jazz Trio (with Kurtis Vandevrie and Nick Rhodes). I also work with artists like Aisha Barrow and Joel McCabe."
Besides his musical influences including Tool, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Thundercat, and Ray Brown, Spencer's family encouraged his involvement in the arts. His parents were passionate about music, both playing throughout high school.
"So my Dad, for example, was into a variety of different stuff," said Spencer. "He was into rock- so artists like Santana, and jazz- so bands like Chicago. He was also really into classic rock, so like Metallica, Led Zeppelin- and also some country, so really a wide variety. So growing up I was exposed to all of that- going on car rides we'd listen to a bunch of music. Also my brother- he's six years older than me, so he was a really big influence on me. He would listen to a lot more current music, like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Alexisonfire."
"When I was in fifth grade, (my brother) had a guitar under his bed- an acoustic. He didn't really play it. So one day- I was a pretty spontaneous kid. I thought, 'I'll just go take it, and I'm not gonna ask him.' And I was sneaking by him while he was playing video games, but the case wasn't closed properly so it opened up, the guitar fell on the ground, and made this horrendous sound. He was like, "Dude, what are you doing?" I was like, "Nothing, leave me alone!" And I just ran away."
After his parents discovered Spencer with his brother's guitar, they signed him up for lessons. He played for two years, but discovered that bass guitarists were in higher demand.
"The friends that I played with in elementary school didn't have a bassist, and basically asked me to start playing that," said Spencer. "So I started practicing bass then, and began taking private lessons from this guy- he's kind of the godfather of jazz in my hometown, anybody who wants to learn jazz goes to this guy. His name is Stan Russell, I played electric bass with him until high school where I picked up the upright bass- then I started playing both, jamming with friends until we started gigging, then playing at school events and restaurants."
Working in a creative field like music can be draining, so Spencer found inspiration in his high school friends to keep his job fun.
"I met these guys in their 20s when I was around 15-16, who weren't under the same social pressure that I was under, being in school and all that- at that age everyone's so insecure and anxious about what they wanna do, having friends that were outside of that really gave me a different perspective," said Spencer. "I was so used to lessons and structured playing that when I started hanging out with them, it was so different- they just jammed and played whatever. I would go and ask them what I should play, and they would turn to me and go, "Whatever, play what you feel." It just completely wiped away all the pressure and made playing so much more fun."
If you're looking for music lessons, Mohawk College trains their music students how to teach others.
"I teach a piano player and two bass students. They're people from the community, anybody can join," said Spencer. "You go online, you sign up, you pay, then you come here to Mohawk and you'll be matched with a student. You get one half-an-hour lesson a week. It's fun. I don't want it to be a full-time thing, when you try to teach anybody anything, you really have to know your shit. But as long as you try your best, and you're fun- I always try to have fun with my students, like, I'll just mess around. My piano student is 11, so he's old enough, but he'll get distracted. When he does, I'll just go, "And sometimes we play piano like this!" and start mashing my hands on the piano, just goofy shit. It's fun with kids, they're really fast learners."
Besides practicing the classics and playing amongst his bands, Spencer hasn't created much work of his own.
"In terms of my own music, I haven't written a lot," said Spencer. "I'd like to write more. I feel like I have a lot of views and opinions, and I'd like to turn those into music. I've had this vision of an album for a long time that I'd like to put together, produce myself, everything."
When it comes to opinions, Spencer wants to stay away from political messages, and focus on the spirit.
"For me, it's more about people's well-being, and of mindfulness and self-discovery. Confronting trauma in your life, living a more fulfilling life, or thinking about your future and dreams, while drawing on my own personal experiences. We've all been through really bad shit in our life that we've grown and learned from, and if we haven't, then we still perpetuate the same things," said Spencer.
"It's important to be self-aware and be mindful of how our past creates our reality, because you can superimpose something that went wrong in your past over every situation in your day-to-day life."
"So I'm really into that stuff, meditation and buddhism," said Spencer. "I really want to inspire people- and I feel like being honest as an artist you do that. If someone isn't honest as an artist it doesn't feel right. It doesn't come across as authentic, but when you're drawing on your own experiences and you have some sort of point that you're trying to get across, then you're really able to connect with people."
After he graduates, Spencer wants to move on from Hamilton.
"In the future.. I want to travel," said Spencer. "I'm learning Portuguese right now, I'm bilingual, I know how to speak French- and Portuguese is kinda similar to French. I want to travel to Europe, Brazil, just for life experience. I'll still be involved in music- do gigs, be part of bands, write my own music, produce stuff, teach a bit.. As a musician, you kind of have to be okay with doing a little bit of everything, because there isn't enough work for you as an individual to just do one thing. I also wanna do some cruise ship stuff- performing on cruise ships with a band, travelling around."
March 25th 2019 @ Mohawk College's McIntyre Theatre