Flower of Devotion

Flower of Devotion

When Dehd released Water in 2019, it came with a good story: Much of their debut LP had been written after bassist-vocalist Emily Kempf and guitarist-vocalist Jason Balla had ended their years-long romantic relationship, a defining feature of the band that had made itself felt in the way they wrote and harmonized. Flower of Devotion, its follow-up, finds the Chicago three-piece (including drummer Eric McGrady) moving forward with naturally cathartic indie rock influenced by the death of Balla’s mother and Kempf’s decision to self-isolate long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. “I came to a point where my obsession with romance and being attached to people became painful,” Kempf tells Apple Music. “I took a step back and went into a period of solitude, kind of unpacked everything. I went through a period of withdrawal and emerged on the other side feeling more stable, as a person who can exist by myself. It's so hard to put into words, but a lot of the record reflects that loss. But I feel like Jason and I definitely found our footing.” Here, Kempf and Balla take us through the album track by track.
Desire Emily Kempf: “I feel like Jason definitely was aiming for this to be the opener, and I think I was skeptical of it, but I think it's like a grand entrance, like a curtain opening, a firework into the album. But it feels like it's a song we would traditionally play at the end of the set, so it was kind of a cool choice to be like, ‘We're going to open with this banger and then have the rest of the songs neatly packaged behind it.’ It's like my Patti Smith song, the way I channeled my singing and my vibe. It's kind of unhinged and free.”
Loner EK: “I have a spirit singer for every song—I feel like that's my Dolly Parton song. Definitely a centerpiece for me: If I had to sum up the album—and my vibe last year when we were writing and stuff—it’s definitely ‘Loner.’ It's joyful and kind of haughty and kind of distressed, but it's such a neat little pop song just all tied up with a bow.” Jason Balla: “It was the first song that we wrote incorporating the drum machine. I think it was kind of like an essential figure in setting the tone for how to produce the record. It was like a canvas for us to totally play, add everything, take a bunch of stuff away, and then that was kind of our vision board for the rest of it.”
Haha EK: “Jason tried to change the title—I said no. This song was me almost writing to myself exclusively. It's like my diary or my thoughts to myself, but it's in the form of a song. It's me kind of making fun of myself or jesting with myself about my relationship with love and crushes and how I just keep falling into these things. It's in this funny, lighthearted way where I'm like, ‘I'm laughing because it's so painful to exist in this way,’ but also I'm like, ‘This is fine. This is life. Life goes on.’ I’m laughing and crying at the same time.”
Drip Drop JB: “The song's about trying to make a new relationship work while you're on tour all the time, the difficulties of the nomadic lifestyle of being a musician. I used to be involved in this project called Earring that was a lot shoegazier and noisier, and I was recording in my room a lot more, and it felt like being a kid and getting into music for the first time. Those kind of things that used to excite you so much was kind of fresh in me, and I think that energy’s coming into the sonics of this song. It’s like you're just in a very slow free fall the whole time.”
Month JB: “It’s about the sort of twisted nature of time—it’s cyclical, so you're just constantly coming back to things or reminded of things. Specifically, this one is about missing my mom. Every year, you kind of have just an extra reason to think about things or reflect on the people in your life and how your feelings evolve in everything. Musically, it has one of my favorite moments on the record, this drum fill that Eric does at the end. He never played it before the recording. We track all the songs, and so it winded up turning into me and Eric trying to overdub it for like an hour or something and we couldn't quite get it right. The moment Eric nailed it was super triumphant and we were partying in the control room.” EK: “I thought the song was about Jason's current partner when we first started doing it in practice, and I didn't know until he told us that it was about his mom. I was like, ‘Oh, shit. Damn, this is tough.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh damn, it's a different tough.’”
Disappear JB: “It’s one of the oldest songs, one of the first ones that we wrote that went on the record. It’s about when everything gets complicated or hard and stressful or sad—and you just want to disappear. You just want to get away or just not exist or be in anyone's sight, where nothing is demanded of you. It's as simple as it sounds.”
Flood EK: “I love ‘Flood.’ I feel like I wrote it when I was jet-lagged. Sometimes I would come back from being out of the country and then go straight to practice. I remember when I was writing it, I felt like I was underwater and I was almost whispering into the mic, barely singing. But I'm really proud of the way I sing on it and I'm really proud of how we recorded it. Me and Jason sweated over the reverb and all the little effects, all the little sparkles we put on the vocals. That song is about someone else that I parted ways with. I was with this person and was fully in love and was like, ‘I turn to water around you. I would do anything for you.’ Almost in a way that's unhealthy and harmful. I don't think I put this lyric in, but ‘Like water at your feet for you to kick me, like a kid would kick a puddle.’ We broke up, so I adjusted the words to fit the falling in love and the falling out but still being in love with this person and leaving them anyways and trying to make the song hold both of those emotions—the arc of everything—and contain it in one song.”
Letter EK: “That one I was trying to write for a long time, way before this record was recorded. I was trying to write about the concept of feeling replaced and having to move on. Like trying to sort of grapple with how I can write about my anger and jealousy and feelings of possessiveness and feelings of love and loss and feelings of being erased. Even though all of these things are dramatic and not necessarily what's in reality—how do I write about these feelings in a way that isn't shitty or barbed with gossip or sort of pulling someone else down? I posed it in my mind as a letter to anyone who would ever date someone I was in love with. I was always going to have a place in their heart so that I felt like, ‘Okay, I have my place and I have my closure. Now I can move on and this is the last song/letter I'm going to write about this and then I'm burning the paper and I'm done. I'm done. I'm done, I'm done.’ It’s a claiming of space and time, a claiming of a heart, but also, ‘you'll never have what we had.’ Like that song, ‘I've got your picture and she's got you.’ Just painful.”
Nobody JB: “I think this song is just really fun in general. They make me play a tambourine live, and I hate doing it. Some people love it. For some reason, I always think of the Viagra Boys song ‘Sports’ for this one, but I don't think it actually sounds like it at all.” EK: “I think it is directly born from listening to that song. It's like a good reminder just to have fun and not take yourself so seriously sometimes.”
No Time JB: “It was a really hard one to record because it's so energetic. It was a challenge.” EK: “I was channeling James Brown, and Elvis maybe—the raspy rocker-guy voice. It's my rock ’n’ roll dude song. I just tried to push my raspy, yell-y voice to the limit. It almost didn't make the record because I was like, ‘I don't know if we captured the spirit.’ It’s about the same person that ‘Flood’ is about and was written early in the relationship when I was like, ‘Fuck this.’”
Moonlight JB: “Every time I listen to this song, I just picture myself at the end of the bar at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. It's just kind of about if you're in this dizzy haze and you're spinning, lost in the sauce.” EK: “Yeah, looking for love in all the wrong places. It's one of my favorite songs Jason wrote on this record. It's such a perfectly written song about something that everybody knows about. Even if you don't know what it's about, just the way he places the words and what he said and how he said it, I think it's incredible. It's so well-written.”
Apart EK: “I texted Eric, ‘Hey, what is “Apart” about? Because they're going to ask us.’ And he said, ‘I wrote “Apart” in a matter of minutes. It's purely fictional. No backstory, no deeper meaning. I wanted to write a song, so I did.’ Classic man of mystery.” JB: “That song existed for a while, and I've always been like, ‘Man, I kind of love that song. Do you ever want to play any of your songs in the band?’ And he's like, ‘No.’ And then months later, we were recording the record and he was like, ‘All right. I'm ready to do this one.’”
Flying JB: “That song really exists in the chorus and it just kind of paints with these colors. It’s a natural conclusion.” EK: “If ‘Desire’ is a firework, then ‘Flying’ is a reverse firework. The way me and Jason sing that live—I've always loved when we harmonized together, and in the refrain we're both jumping up and down, our mouths are open and our hands are slamming our strings, eyes kind of squinted. We're singing together, we're fully engaged, we're in total unison, Eric is wailing away on the drums, and it's just really joyful. The thing that you love about a band. I think it's a good way to close the record, just because of that image.”


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