To be listed among NME magazine’s “Coolest People in Rock,” you have to be, well, pretty damn cool given the competition. However, in the case of Brooklyn-based, indie synth-funk superstar Devonté Hynes a.k.a. Blood Orange, one suspects he was sorely underestimated and ranked way too low at No. 20. After all, Hynes boasts the talent trifecta—musician (he plays Vegas on April 21), comic-book writer and author.
“I’ve just kind of always wanted to know everything,” he explains during a recent phone conversation from his home studio. “My interests eventually spill over into actually trying things. Everything I do as part of an ongoing quest for knowledge.”
That quest has already led Hynes, 26, down some varied paths, including a recent commission directing and sound-tracking a short film for England’s Channel 4 Network, a public-service television station.
“It’s essentially a glorified music video,” Hynes says of his film work. “Look, I’ll do anything at least once—that’s my motto.”
That outlook is evident in his eclectic discography and all-over-the-musical-map career. He has gone from the London clubs, where he played in dance-punk band Test Icicles, to Omaha, Neb., where he recorded his solo debut using the name Lightspeed Champion, to his bedroom studio in New York, where he wrote and recorded his most recent effort under the Blood Orange moniker. Called Coastal Grooves, the album simmers in a broth of retro, funk-kissed synth-pop and boasts magical hooks that bear repeated listens.
Moreover, Grooves is full of just that—bass-heavy, ’80s-keyboard-styled jams that bring to mind Depeche Mode and Prince. It’s Hynes’ knack for effortless, pop-aimed, booty-shaking songs that got him a job writing, producing and performing on Solange Knowles’ third studio album. By most accounts, the CD, due out this fall, is dark, New Wave-influenced dance music.
“It has been a crazy-long process, but also amazing,” he says. “It’s the most I’ve ever worked on anything in my entire life.”
When he’s not making music, Hynes is chatting about books, even the “funny” ones. The flames of Hynes’ imagination were initially stoked by comics as a kid growing up in Essex, England. “There was a secondhand bookstore in the area I grew up,” he says. “For a pound, you could buy, like, 10 used comics. That’s when I really discovered the art form, and I must have been one of the few 15-year-olds in England walking around with a Madman tattoo.” (Incidentally, the book’s creator, Mike Allred, a Lightspeed Champion fan, included Hynes in a Madman story.)
Although he published a collection of short stories in England (2010’s Bad Era of Me), Hynes is too busy musically to start any novel-length literary projects. Every second counts, he says, and if you’ve heard Coastal Grooves, an album loaded with killer and completely gorgeous tunes, then you know what he means.
Speaking of music, Hynes is looking forward to touring with his musical accomplices, English indie-pop band Florence and the Machine, for whom he’s written a few songs. The tour, which touches down at the Cosmopolitan, is a chance for old friends to catch up. And maybe even get onstage during one another’s sets? “You know, I never wanted to play shows as big as this one in Vegas,” he says. “But because it’s with Florence, I just couldn’t turn it down. Hopefully, I’ll have some sort of video-installation piece to take onstage with me.”
Not having a band (Hynes will sing and play guitar and keys backed by his Macbook Pro) doesn’t make rehearsal any easier for him, however. “After I’ve been working on someone else’s album for 12 hours straight, playing live is a challenge. The idea of practicing is daunting. It was tedious even when I played cello in my school orchestra. But knowing I’m to share a bill with Florence has certainly galvanized me at this point!”