For Dev Hynes, Every Sound Is A Color "I see no reason to not just try everything," the musician says of his new album as Blood Orange. Hynes spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about his shape-shifting sonic identity and living with the sensory condition synesthesia.

For Dev Hynes, Every Sound Is A Color

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Devonte Hynes is a musical shape-shifter.


BLOCK: In his first album, he went punk with his band Test Icicles. The he recorded solo under the name of Lightspeed Champion, folk-pop with strains of country.


BLOCK: And now his latest incarnation, Blood Orange.


BLOCK: And Devonte Hynes joins me now from New York. Welcome to the program.

: Thank you.


: That was quite a ride.


BLOCK: You think so? Well, I wondering if you would think that's a fair description to call you a shapeshifter. What do you think?

: Yeah, it was cool to, A, hear those pieces of music and B, hear them together.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

: You know, it's funny because I think, as a general rule, that people seem to think that if you do lots of different things over the course of, like, a timeline, it means that you kind of disregard what you did before. But that's not true of me. I still genuinely like everything I did as much as I liked it when I released it.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. And do you see continuity there as you listen to those?

: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I feel like other people may not. But I see no kind of reason to not just try everything. I mean I feel like we all have such varied tastes and to not just try our tastes is a crime.

BLOCK: Let's listen to some of the first cut on the album. This is - and I don't know if I'm saying this right, "Chamakay?"

: Yeah, that's right.


BLOCK: Is there some gender-bending going with the lyrics here, because it sounds like you're singing from the perspective of a woman, right? We hear your voice. We also hear a female vocal. But it sounds like you're sort of crossing that divide.

: Yeah, I'm definitely keeping it ambiguous. And there's not as much of a heavy meaning behind ambiguity. But it's more just emoting the feelings that I was having for that song. I like the idea of the male and female voices combining and working out these melodies together.


BLOCK: I'm talking with Devonte Hynes. He records under the name Blood Orange.

Here's one of the things that I think is the coolest thing that I've read about you, which is that you have synesthesia, right?

: Yeah.

BLOCK: The condition where your senses are linked and I'm going to ask - have you explain it a little better to us.


BLOCK: But you, if I understand this right, you are seeing sounds in very distinct ways.

: Yeah, I associate every sound with a color and vice versa.

BLOCK: When you're just walking around and hearing music or hearing sound, are you also constantly getting sort of a stream of color images everywhere you go?

: Yeah.


BLOCK: Yeah. Wow.

: Yeah. I'm pretty good now at being pretty focused. Before, when I'd talk to people, I'd tend to look away a lot and I'm still fully concentrating on what they're saying. But there's just a lot happening. So it's hard for me to not look at the sounds that are going on, as well as this conversation that would be in front of me.

BLOCK: So in New York, where you live, does the sound of the New York City subway have a color?

: Oh, it's a - yeah, that's kind of like a greenish - greeny-yellow because it has like C in it and C is more yellow for me. It's kind of close in sound to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

BLOCK: Whoa, what do you mean?

: I mean there's obviously a lot of sounds happening, but it slightly forms some kind of chord. I wonder if I've got - I remember - I have a notebook that I always carry around. I think I wrote - OK, yeah. I said it's a G-ninth.


BLOCK: Wait. So you went to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building and you are hearing a certain frequency, or a certain buzz, or a certain chord at that level.

: Yeah.

BLOCK: Wow. And what color would that have been?

: It was slightly green but I wrote in my notes that there's shades of gray in it.

BLOCK: That's really fascinating. So you're picking the stuff up all the time.

: Yeah. It's nonstop.

BLOCK: Does it feel like it - I mean I know you're used to it. This has been your life. But does it feel like it enriches your life?

: Lately it has. I mean it definitely aided the music in a different way when I was younger. You know, there was a lot of palettes, I was throwing a lot of colors. I was throwing on, just like, throw the whole paint can onto the canvas and just see what would happen. And just arrange, arrange and score, score, score and just layer, layer, layer.

Whereas now, I'm kind of enjoying it and exploring the interesting scientific part of it as much as I can, and trying to kind of celebrate it and invite other people to enjoy it.


BLOCK: Do individual voices have colors? I mean as you're talking to me, does my voice register with you as a particular tone?

: Yeah. Yeah, it does actually. It's...


BLOCK: Do I want to know what it is?

: Yeah, no. You stay in this reddish camp but there are yellows in it, as well. It's a good kind of texture, which makes sense because it's radio and...


: voices have a solid, even texture.

BLOCK: Well, Devonte, it's been really fascinating to talk to you. Thank you so much.

: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Devonte Hynes records under the name Blood Orange. His new album "Cupid Deluxe" is out this week.


SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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