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Deb Never on Creation in Isolation

With her recent EP Where Have All The Flowers Gone out now, we chat with Deb Never on pandemic inspiration, UK’s creative scene, and her upcoming tour with Slowthai.

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Deb Never joins us from the unceasing hustle of New York’s busy streets, “Met Gala, VMAs, Fashion Week, there’s all this shit. So the city’s been bustling”, she says. She apologizes for sounding a bit croaky but it’s understandable. Aside from the city being in a state of flurried activity, Never herself has had a chaotic week, “I feel like so much shit has happened. The Calvins thing dropped, then on top of that the EP dropped, then I had a show, and then these shoots. I don’t think I’ve really had time to process it.” Despite her exhaustion, Never appears chirpy and amiable, all-in-all describing the experience as “really good”, even “sick”, and as we move to the conversation surrounding her most recent EP, her enthusiasm continues.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone, Nevers sophomore EP (following on from 2019’s House on Wheels) is an introspective creation that depicts the isolation that comes with a relationship breakdown, but also, the isolation reigning from COVID lockdowns. Throughout the eight-tracks we learn of the back and forth that often comes with toxic romantic love, at one point on ‘Stupid’ she sings, ‘Blue pill flushing down my system/ fuck your words/ you leave me guessing / tell me why/ I still chase your high’, a line that seems to encapsulate the entirety of the release’s narrative.

Though hailing from sunny LA, and now visiting New York, Never’s journey towards the EP’s launch began in a house in West London with oft-collaborator Lava La Rue, and collective nine8. It’s her time there, recording in England’s capital, that influenced much of this recent project’s contents. Now with her EP dropped, and a tour with Slowthai on the way for 2022, we sat down with the punk, pop, ballad-oriented artist to chat recording overseas, overcoming shyness to create great music, and her EP Where Have All The Flowers Gone.

Congratulations on the EP! I saw video snippets of Lava La Rue in an instagram post, the caption reading that your whole journey with this EP started in a house in West London. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that journey?
Yeah, during lockdown I was able to find a window of time where I was allowed to leave, cause you know how strict it was and there was a lot of confusion going on. Somehow I made it over to London, and I was only supposed to be there for three weeks but I ended up working on a couple of songs, and I decided “Oh I want to write music here, just to see what would happen, what sound would come out, what would happen if I made music in a completely different environment”. So yeah it kind of started there. I had a whole different EP prior to that but we didn’t release it because lockdown happened. So during that year, 2020, I was given the time to kind of rewrite the EP and take my time with it. So it all started in London and finished when I got back, but yeah that was the journey.

So with that first EP, were you just not happy with how it sounded? Or is it still on the backburner?
It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy with how it sounded. I think I kind of grew past it and for me it’s so important to see, if you’re given the time, to be able to look back at a song and if you still like it a year from then, if it stands the test of time, I think that’s a big for me, a sign that this is a good song, you know. And at the time, after I made the first version of the EP I think I didn’t put as much thought into it as I could have, and I felt that when I was given the time through 2020 to listen back to everything, I just had to rebirth this project.

I guess that was the upside of the pandemic, it gives you time to rethink and reflect.
Yeah, it gives you a time of reflection and it gives you an opportunity to reevaluate everything. Whether that’s what you like, your priorities, who you are, you know, and this project I’m definitely way more proud of it than if it had come out earlier.

So you and Lava have collaborated before, but being in the UK and starting off the journey there, what is it about the nine8 collective, and the UK creative scene, and maybe Lava herself that inspired you?
I love how DIY it is, and I actually hate saying DIY because I feel like there’s such a negative connotation to it, like DIY being lo-fi, and that’s not what I mean by DIY. I mean DIY in that they’re so creative and are able to translate their ideas in a way where it’s “I don’t give a fuck what you think, we’re gonna do what we like”. That for me is so inspiring. I think what they’re doing is fucking sick. It’s creating a community and such a subculture, something that’s going to last, and I think is going to last the test of time. It creates something and breeds something new from it, and not following what’s just popping right now and to me, that’s inspiring. And that’s how fresh things happen, you know, that’s how fresh new sounds happen, that’s how different genres happen, that’s how you find sick new artists by being somewhere. Seeing all these artists that do it themselves and are able to, they don’t feel constrained.

Yeah, the thing that inspires me the most about them, about nine8 is that, to me, from the outside, is that they have such a punk approach to everything, and I love that cause it’s almost like in this day and age everything, even if something is punk, it’s somewhat manufactured without seeming like it is. With them it’s just so naturally against the grain, yet still so fucking tight. I appreciate that.

Do you think – because you’re from LA – that the UK and LA scenes differ, perhaps in the way people collaborate creatively?
Oh they’re so different. Not as much for me cause I still like only collaborating with someone that I’m familiar with personally. I’m not really gonna make music with you unless we vibe first. So that type of energy is definitely present in London, which is what I love, in that people just are like “yo’ we’re on the same wave, I love what you’re doing, I want to work with you” and it’s purely just out of creating and for the love of the art and having no strings attached to it. It’s just like “I just love making shit, so let’s make shit”. Where I feel like in LA, even down to the studios, it’s like you go into the studio and it’s about the money that’s put behind it. It’s like, I’m gonna be here for a certain amount of time and there’s money put into the studio, and you can feel that, whereas in London, it still has this gritty, we’re just in a random spot making music, you don’t feel that type of pressure. Obviously, it’s so different for everyone. There are obviously people in LA creating without that type of pressure but I feel like it’s not as common as you see in London, it’s just so raw over there. They just have an “I don’t give a fuck, I’m just gonna make what I want to make” attitude”. That’s what I love.

So moving onto the EP, what I personally interpreted is that it’s a story of the isolation that comes with a relationship breakdown, almost illuminating a certain level of existentialism. What does this EP mean to you? Or what did you want to explore?
It’s actually what you said, that’s perfect. It really is the theme of isolation, failing romanticism, all-in-all basically being introspective, and the EP for me sonically creates this world that was bigger than myself but then lyrically is still this part of me that’s closed, more intimate, that’s self-reflective. And it was just such a good reflection of what was happening at the time. I felt like the world was in chaos and it was just like, not a lot of noise physically, but noise in the way that there was so much happening outside in the world where everyday was all this bad news and it was a lot. Whereas on the inside I felt so kept to myself. I feel like I try to embody that in every song, where sonically the production would represent the world and lyrically represent where I was at, if that makes sense.

Do you think there were any moments, in particular, during the pandemic that helped you structure or sound out this EP?
Definitely, isolation is the majority of how this came. ‘Stupid’ is the epitome of that — it’s actually interesting that you asked that. The reason why it’s the first song is because it’s the first song that was made for this EP and it was right in the middle of it all, middle of this pandemic. It’s about this intimate feeling then in the end it’s explosive, and at the time I was making it during quarantine it was — and I’m gonna use this word for the millionth time but intimate — this intimate sound, but at the same time you want to let it all out, there’s so much built up inside, and not just for me, but collectively. It encapsulates the sound of that time.

Do you find it easy to take those moments and word them into songs?
Easy in the way that it just comes out of me. It’s real in that way where it isn’t fake, but part of the way that, sometimes I don’t want to overthink but I just want to make sure that what I’m feeling is being translated. It’s more of a self-insurance thing, like a self-confidence thing. Like, can you feel what I’m feeling when you listen to this song. Because I’m the one that made it I can’t tell. I can’t listen to it from another perspective so it’s hard for me to tell if it translates, but yeah, it’s definitely something that’s important to me. Lyrics are definitely so so important but for me it’s more about the energy of it and I feel like some of the best artists to me, that I personally love, the things that I love about them whether it’s music, painting, movies or whatever, any type of art, is if you can make me feel how you felt making this piece of art, to me that’s way more valuable than what it says or what it is, you know what I mean? So that’s something that I definitely try to do with my music. If I can make you feel how I felt making this, to me I did my job. 

This is kind of going back to your roots a little bit, but I was reading that you were pretty shy when you were growing up. How did you overcome that shyness and start putting yourself out there with music?
I mean, it took me a long time and I couldn’t really talk to people til I was like 15. It was genuine social anxiety, I couldn’t even order at a Mcdonalds drive-thru, but I mean the way I got over that was having an outlet of music, where I could put all these feelings and put what I really want to express into something. It kind of served as a platform for me to be the other side of me, that was hiding inside the shy person and the more I practiced that, the more I started addressing it, it started becoming me. I think it was always in me but it helped me get out of my shell a little bit. And I am very social but I still have that side, where I don’t really like large crowds, I get really shy still but I don’t know if it’s something that you ever overcome, but it’s something you accept. And you just learn to embrace it, like this is also a part of me but I feel like once you accept it you start becoming comfortable with yourself enough to break through those barriers you have for yourself.

So you’ve got a tour with slowthai coming up in 2022. Apart from that, what’s next for you, and are you excited for that tour?
I’m so excited for that tour, I’m excited to see what the UK crowd is like, but yeah, I’m excited to see what’s going on over there cause I’ve never played overseas ever in my life. Especially slowthai’s fans, they probably go ballistic, so I’m so excited to see that energy.

Follow Deb Never here for more and stream the new EP ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ here.

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