An Interview with Devon Werkheiser!

If you watched Nickelodeon in the mid 2000s, you may remember Devon Werkheiser as everyone’s favorite middle school advice guru, Ned Bigby, on “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.”

Now as an adult, he continues to bring uplifting messages to fans through his music. His newest EP “Chapter One” will be available in April and if the debut single “Miles” is anything to go by, we are in for a collection of songs that ooze heartfelt emotion and strong melody. A second single, “Revolution,” is also available as of today!

In the midst of global pandemia, Andrew got to chat with Devon about the long road to releasing his new EP, the possibilities of a Ned’s Declassified reboot, and more. (Kinsey wanted to partake, but alas, coronavirus.)

Check out the interview below and be sure to listen to “Chapter One” on April 29th!

7867946Your upcoming EP has been in the works for quite awhile. How does it feel to finally get this music out?

Oh man. Well, it feels a little different now [laughs].

How did it feel a couple weeks ago? 

It really does feel so good. I’ve had these songs for a long time. The EP “Chapter One” started about three years ago. I was working with a producer and we were making great progress and I started an IndieGoGo campaign to finish it. Then that producer did this really L.A. thing where, and I’m not kidding, he disappeared. I still haven’t heard from him. He just ghosted our project entirely. It was rough because the IndieGoGo campaign went great. We doubled our goal. I had the money to make the record and this guy just disappeared when we were in the middle of working on four songs. So that was one of the original things that made the process longer. 

It took another eight months to find the right producer to pick the project up again. Then I found the right guy, Lawrence Katz. He and I went into the studio and freshed these five songs. I’ve been sitting on the record because life kinda got in the way. When I’m releasing music I need to be in a state where I can do interviews and be ready to market, talk to people, and push the songs out there. My life was just chaotic the last two years with personal stuff. I didn’t want to put the EP out when I wasn’t ready to own what I’m releasing. Finally stuff got pulled together and I felt mentally and energetically ready to get it out. 

There’s a little bit of fear or just this feeling before releasing new stuff that’s really vulnerable and scary like the night before. There’s this deep anxiety of “I don’t know, is it good? Will people like it? Will they care?” Just all those insecure thoughts come up before the release. But now that “Miles” is out I’m truly so happy with the response and I’ve put some amazing music videos together with my friend Pasha Teplo. Having the first single out and the next one coming and the EP coming in April, I truly feel excited and stoked. I feel like more of a musician. I’ve been playing for so long and I haven’t released music in like four years. I think these are my best songs and the production is just knockout. It’s an exciting time for me as an artist to be releasing stuff, but at the same time we’re all locked down in the middle of this pandemic and global emergency. So, it’s dissonant man [laughs]. It’s a dissonant moment. I’m going to keep pushing the music though because it’s all about being in your feelings and it’s kind of uplifting music to help get through stuff. So maybe in a way, it’s the perfect time. 

What was the inspiration behind “Miles” and why did you pick it as the first single?

“Miles” was actually the first song I recorded when we got back in the studio again. We didn’t even know, but once we got done with it we were like “This is massive! This chorus hits so big and keeps growing through the song.” It just became really clear, even when we finished the other songs, that it was the track to start. It’s also the first track on the EP so it just felt right to release it first.

I wrote it a few years back. It was after a three thousand mile road trip from LA to Whistler, Canada with my girlfriend at the time. We had this incredible experience and journey together on this great drive. We were camping on the way up and staying with friends in different cities and just being really present and in the moment. We had this fantastic experience and then I swear like a hundred miles from home we got into this gnarly fight. It was REALLY bad. I had been driving for like ten hours a day for four days. My nerves were just shot and we got into this stupid fight that was really intense. 

So we got back to LA after this amazing trip and it was all so tense and quiet. I was kind of just reflecting on… “Okay. Even though this fight happened, it’s okay. That trip we just went on was awesome. I still love this person and I still want to keep going with her.” So it was kind of this declaration of no matter what happens, I’m going to keep my heart open and keep going. 

That was the source of it, but years later me and her had broken up and I was going through a really difficult time in my life. I had the EP in my car and then “Miles” became something I was listening to when I was down as a reminder that this is about me and my relationship with life. No matter what happens in my life, I will stay open and committed to doing this thing. I will go miles and miles and miles and keep going no matter what. So it’s kinda cool that I wrote this song and past me has been singing it to present me going through hard times.

The music video has a lot of cool scenery. Why did you pick those locations and how did you find them?

One of my favorite things about being in LA is just the amount of people who create here. I just have an amazing community of artists around me and Pasha is someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. He’s just a dope cinematographer and I just love him as a human so when we go and create it’s a very good time. 

The concept for the “Miles” video is just with the song. It had to be about leaving the city and getting into open space, whatever that looks like. So we’re on top of a mountain, we’re in the fucking forrest, we’re in the desert. I knew about that dry lake bed in the video, which not a lot of people in LA know exists. 

What’s cool is we woke up really early. He lives up on a mountain in Arrowhead so I went up there and stayed the night before and we woke up really early. We actually shot like 90% of the video in one day. We got up before the sun and went out to that lake bed and what was cool was that entire day we filmed was incredibly windy. We didn’t plan on that, but because it was it just made it so cinematic. Like life graced us with that day because it was so windy, but it just made every shot have this aliveness to it. I’m so happy with how it turned out. 

ETAW_QHUUAELYRP.jpegTell me about the overall recording process of the EP. Aside from the disappearing producer, was there anything else about the process that differed from previous recordings?

This is actually the first time I’ve worked with a different producer. All of my stuff before I had recorded with Shachar Boussani who’s a really close friend of mine. So this was the first time I diverted from him. I still make music with him because I love him, but I knew with this record I wanted a bigger, broader, more pop sound honestly. I just knew I wanted something kind of big and clean and poppier so I could get to the audience that knows me better. So that’s what we set out to do once I got in touch with Lawrence.

The recording process was still similar to how any recording process goes. Recording for me can be a very arduous process and very painful because it’s a lot of hours. We were putting in ten hours a day for a while to get the songs done. It can be exhausting because when I’m just playing the songs on an acoustic, they’re alive and always changing a little bit. To record, you have to really lock into a version of it and along the way before you’re finishing the song, there’s a lot of versions of it that don’t sound great. So there’s always this painful part of the process of “Okay, we’re done for the night. It’s coming together, but it’s still not there yet.” But we had a great time. Lawrence is an epic producer and such a cool dude. He’s actually the guitar player for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Oddly enough, the first concert I ever went to when I was five years old was a rock festival in Georgia and Mighty Mighty Bosstones played so it’s kind of a funky thing.

You opened a few shows for Seal last summer. How did that opportunity come about? 

I’d been with a music manager for a little while and we partnered with Seal’s manager last year. In this business, acting and music, a lot of times you’ll meet a manager or an agent and they’ll say all the things they’re going to do for you and they don’t follow through. The first time I talked to her she was like “Yeah, we rep Seal and we have a little tour coming up this summer. We’re gonna get you on a couple shows”. Then literally like two weeks later she’s like “Here are the dates. You’re opening for Seal.” 

That was a mind blowing experience. I’ve grown up listening to Seal truly my whole life. My mom’s a huge Seal fan and just his songwriting, his voice, and where he comes from as an artist feel so similar to me. He is truly making music to connect and uplift people. To get to open for him was terrifying, an honor, and it forced me to up my game. I got a voice coach leading up those shows and she really helped me out. It just made me practice a lot and it forced me to get better fast. Going from playing 100 person venues in LA to 2,500 person venues opening for Seal was a crazy jump up.

It was an amazing experience, but there was also this life shit. Like this is part of why I wasn’t able to release the record. The first show I opened, it was a massive breakthrough and new level in my music career so it was a very exciting time. It went great, the venue was incredible and then I got to listen to him play. I was with my best friend, we were on top of a mountain in San Jose just appreciating the night. And then I get a call from my sister telling me my grandmother died. That same night! So it was such a strange moment. It was such a strange thing to have this really exciting moment in my career, but this really sad moment in my life and have to marry the two and integrate and be okay with them. So it was tough and it was strange.

The universe can be so cruel sometimes.

Yeah, like biggest high and biggest low. It actually happened to me once a few years before when I was in Mexico to premiere this movie of mine called Sundown. We were on this two week premiere tour in Mexico having the best time and then right during that week my parents started to get divorced. 

Life kind of has this way, at least in my experience, of showing me all of it at once and not to get lost in the highs of it. It has its way of grounding me with the tragedy of life as well as the celebration. It’s been a strange dynamic to experience.

About a decade ago when you first started music, you were signed to Universal Motown pretty quickly from the beginning. Why did you never release an album with them?

Originally, I got signed by them like right after Ned’s Declassified. What was amazing was I was just learning guitar and singing and I didn’t know who I was as an artist at all. Universal sent me around LA for two years songwriting with like forty different producers and making demos. I learned so much during that time. It was epic. I just got into my skin as a songwriter and as an artist and I got this crash course in pop songwriting. We made some great songs that are still around, but eventually they just weren’t going to make the record. It was about two years after Ned’s was done and we were like “Yeah, I’m not fully formed as an artist yet, but we definitely have ten songs we can put out to start relating to the audience because the show is off now. It’s important that we capture this moment.” They just kept delaying and luckily I got to leave with all my songs. We didn’t know any better, but the first deal I signed with Universal would have been one of those horror story deals where they signed a deal for life. It’s like the horror stories you hear where a record label can just shelf an artist and never let them release music. I could have been in one of those situations so I took an opportunity to leave with all my music. I left because it became kinda contentious. I wasn’t clear on who I was as an artist yet and it didn’t feel like where I was going to figure it out anymore. They needed me to be perfect already, but they signed me when I hadn’t even started. It just stopped being a good relationship and luckily I was able to leave. 

art-on-nedWhen you were on Ned’s Declassified, Art Alexakis from Everclear guest starred in an episode as a music teacher. Did working with him have any sort of impact on your musical journey?

No, that was just amazing! I loved Everclear so it was so cool to have him on, but I was just learning at that time. I started learning when I was on Ned’s because Coconut Head played guitar and a bunch of the crew played. I started playing because there were a lot of people around who could teach me. So that Everclear episode was just kind of a nod to that. But I really hadn’t started. I was just covering like “Wonderwall” and Goo Goo Dolls at that point.

EQWoMZsUcAASZGHYourself, Daniel Curtis Lee (Cookie), Lindsay Shaw (Moze), and Scott Fellows (Creator of Ned’s Declassified) recently had a reunion dinner together. What initiated that?

It was great! Daniel, Lindsay, and I have been in touch more recently and it’s been so great. We have so much love for each other. All of us, Scott Fellows included. Our experience on the show was rare for a lot of shows because of the amount of love we all had for each other and the incredible amount of fun we had making the show for three years. There was no drama. We had fun and family for three years and because of that the love is ever present between all of us. It’s been great getting to reconnect with them. 

Honestly, we’re looking into doing a Ned’s Adult Survival Guide. We want to bring it back as adults. So we’re just trying to see what that would like and how we would get it done. Now everything in the world is on hold because of coronavirus so we’ll see. But we’ve seen enough of these memes and everyday I get messages from people asking “Where’s the adult survival guide?” I get it because my twenties have been a crash course in life and I think they’re supposed to be. We made Ned’s to tell people “Hey, I know what you’re going through in middle school is hard, but you’re not alone. This is exactly what you should be going through and here’s how to get through it better.” We just recognized that if we could do that for our generation now and talk to people about getting through early adulthood, we really wanna help. 

Do fans ask for your advice?

Oddly enough, I have grown up to fucking be Ned.

[Laughs] Did being on the show make you feel pressured or a built in responsibility to provide guidance to people?

I don’t feel a pressure, but I do feel a responsibility. But responsibility is one of our most empowering things that we must embrace as we become adults. The responsibilities of life are what shape you. I do feel a responsibility because of how often I’m reached out to for tips. I know half the time the kids are joking and half the time they’re really not. They need someone to help and I don’t have all the answers at all, but that was the thing with Ned. It was like “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m in it with you. Here’s what I know and here’s what we can try.” What’s crazy is I’ve grown up to be that person. Like I feel that in my heart. A few years ago I actually started pitching to some colleges “Yo, let me come to your school and let me talk to them about life.” I’ve done some of those events, but unfortunately a bunch of them just got cancelled which is a bummer. But I do a life survival guide talk at colleges where I talk about just the myths of fame and being a childhood celebrity, what I’ve learned becoming an adult, and things I’ve learned that I think they can relate to. On top of that, four years back on Youtube I started doing Devon’s Life Survival Guide where I did twenty episodes of just life thoughts that I thought would benefit people. I still think those are pretty helpful for people’s perspective. 

What can we expect from the rest of the new EP and do you have any other projects in the works that you’d like to talk about?

The next single will come out and then the EP. There’s gonna be at least two more music videos. There’ll be one for “Revolution” and one for a song called “Tell ‘Em”. I might end up doing videos for all of the songs. My goal now once this EP is out is to set up a system where I can be more immediate with what I’m creating. My plan is to maybe start releasing singles that I create more presently so I can show people what I’m currently creating. Then at the same time, I wanna set up a Patreon so that I can find the people who really wanna support my music or are really interested in it. They can get a whole backlog of songs that have never come out. They can hear about the process, get songs I’m currently writing, have access to private concert streams. I just wanna be in more immediate contact with my audience and I wanna create a better relationship there rather than having four years in between records. I’d like to just have it be a more regular thing. So before the EP comes out, I should have my Patreon ready to launch. I think that’ll be my main platform where you can find the most content.

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