Interview: Steph Devine, making music and managing musicians


You aren’t going to find many individuals like Steph Devine on any music scene and she certainly is a remarkable presence here in the Twin Cities. Devine is both a behind-the-scenes force in artist management and an accomplished vocalist who, more and more these days, steps on stage. Considering the competitive nature of the industry—and how stacked this area is with artists’ reps and performing talent—one is fortunate to do either with any success, let alone both.

A point in case: she’s managed R&B rocking powerhouse The New Congress since its inception, guiding them in just a few years to prominence that includes nationally televised exposure. Recently, she took on Twin Cities based jam-band juggernaut Down Lo and singer Ashley Gold, does booking for hip-hop icon Desdamona and is talking with hip-hop/avant-garde jazzers Junkyard Empire. As a singer, she performed featured backup on The New Congress’s L.A.-Music-Award-winning single “Make You Move” and has been on stage with TNC, Down Lo, and R&B siren Erica West—and has also performed a solo set at Bunker’s. Steph Devine spoke with me about the different aspects of what she’s doing.

You’re solidly experienced as a performing vocalist and in managing artists. How does this inform, enlighten, benefit your perspective on the industry?
It’s nice to have the combination of both performing and managing because I see all sides. I know what goes into putting a show together for both the artist and the venue. I know the issues that come up with both sides and can hopefully manage both sides successfully.

What goes into managing as opposed to, say, being an agent?
Specifically with the New Congress, the managing part consists of promoting—getting media coverage, radio play, people to shows, maintaining websites, a MySpace page, tour management setting up shows, providing info to venues, scheduling openers, arrangements for flights, transportation, hotels. And an agent can hopefully connect them with bigger and better things, such as a record deal. We did meet up with an agent last year that ended up not working out. We had a 6-month contract with a guy that worked at The Firm. He was not able to secure a deal and we decided not to re-sign with him. It would be great to meet up with an agent who has the funds and the connections to get them a major record deal and/or distribution deal. I’m always trying to meet as many people as I can so that at some point I can act as their agent as well and hopefully connect them to the people that need to hear them.

Besides their latest album Everybody Gets Up!, the New Congress have a smokin’ cut, “1000 Degrees,” on So Large We Ran Out Of Room, Pachyderm’s just-released compilation. What’s next?
Right now we are in a waiting period while the new CD is being finished.

Your other clients?
Down Lo just released a new album with L.A. MC Deploi called In Our World. It has already been spun on stations in Aberdeen, Eau Claire, and Minneapolis. They will be on KFAI on Friday, December 14. Hopefully we’ll get some positive reviews and can take that beyond Minneapolis. Down Lo’s last CD [Lead My Way, on St. Paul’s FS Music label] had a song that was featured on MTV’s Real World Sydney. We would like to try and have the same thing happen with this CD—not necessarily MTV but other shows’ soundtracks. Desdamona recently released The Source [FS Music]. She also toured with Sly & Robbie. We will be setting up tours in the next couple of months.

What about you?
I’ve spoken to Mark Grundhoefer [of Down Lo and MJG Productions] about combining forces with our artists. I’d like to set up national tours and get their music heard.

You, the performer!
Friday, December 14th, I’ll be singing with Desdamona at the Fine Line. Saturday, I’ll sing solo at the 331 Club. It’ll be two songs. I’m not sure what time I go on—it’s an evening hosted by Desdamona, also featuring Alicia Wiley, Ashley Gold, Tish Jones, and Desdamona.

Anything upcoming after that?
Well, on December 21, I sing backup with Erica West at Rossi’s and on the 22nd, I’m with Down Lo for the new CD release at the Cabooze. Then, again at the Cabooze with the Mark Joseph Project—members from Down Lo—on December 26.