Our WNXP Nashville Artist of the Month Devon Gilfillan’s time in Music City is now a decade strong. He grew up in Philadelphia and finished college with a degree in Psychology while focusing on his passion for music. To help with his student loans, he applied for Americorps in places he could pursue music. His options were New Orleans, Austin and Nashville. Executive Director of nonprofit Rebuilding Together, Becky Carter, gave him a call and Nashville and made his decision easier moving in 2013.
After three years and working as a server at City Winery, he released his self-titled debut EP and started performing local venues including Soul nights on Sunday at The 5 Spot.
We sat in the kitchen of his Madison home, right after he cooked us some pancakes, and discussed those early times in Nashville.
His decision to move to Nashville
Devon Gilfillian: I had just finished college, got a degree in psychology, but I didn’t want to be a psychiatrist or a therapist. I was like, ‘I want to play music.’ But I was also broke, didn’t want to pay my student loans back and didn’t know what to do. So I had friends who did AmeriCorps and they loved it. When you’re in AmeriCorps, you don’t have to pay your loans back, they’re deferred. I was like, ‘Oh, I apply for AmeriCorps in cities that are musical. So I applied to Nashville, New Orleans and Austin. Got a call from Becky Carter, executive director of Rebuilding Together. And she was like, ‘Yo, Devin, we want you to come here in Nashville. So, Nashville was the city that called me. She said come here and I’m glad that she did because, I don’t know what New Orleans Devon or Austin Devon would be like, but I’m glad Nashville is my home.
Driving down here with his mom and dad
DG: My parents did drive me down here and bring a mattress and everything. They were just proud of me when I moved down here. They were proud of what I was doing. They knew that music was what brought me down here. They also were proud of me for doing AmeriCorps and working with that program. My dad is just one of those guys that keeps it short and sweet like, ‘Dev, follow your gut man.’ That’s pretty much all he gave me [Laughs]. He trusts me and trust that I’ll find my way.
City Winery days ahead of his self-titled debut EP
DG: My first EP came together from working at City Winery back in 2014. That’s where I met Jonathan Smalt, my drummer and manager. We just hit it off and became homies right away. The first table we waited on, these older ladies were like, ‘Y’all look like Batman and Robin.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, I guess so. Who’s Batman and who Robin?’ So, we just became homies and eventually started making music together. We moved in together and I showed him my song “Home” that I recorded on SoundCloud, and he’s like, ‘What are you doing? Get it together, man.’ So finally, I did some writing with a buddy of mine, Zack Smith. Me, Zack, and Jon, we wrote this EP and put it out in 2016. Jon, my bass player, Taylor Thompson, was also there and Jeff Carl, my homie played some keys. Larry Hansen, who is our friend Lauren Hansen’s dad. We were working with Lauren at City Winery. She was like, ‘My dad has a studio that you could borrow. It turned out to be this beautiful house studio in East Nashville. Yeah, it’s crazy how we got that spot for like $300 a day and it all came together.
Bringing the soul to The 5 Spot
DG: To me, it was one of the only outlets for any musician that wanted to play Soul, R&B, anything that wasn’t country. Jason Eskridge did an amazing job putting that together and running that. I’m very grateful for that. That was it, Soul Sunday was the night. To be pulled into that community and let in, it felt like I made it in so many ways. So when Jason was like, ‘Yo, Dev, man, I would love it if you did one of the Soul Sundays.’ I was like, ‘Wow, yes [Laugh].’ So I was grateful and very lucky.
Adjusting to the city of musicians
DG: I would say it wasn’t that hard. I felt like a pig in mud when I got here. I felt like I was just enthralled by all of the artists that were here, and not just the musicians, but just the art scene in general. I was lucky that I got to move in with my first roommate who was this amazing artist, Emily, and she introduced me to a bunch of her friends and. To me, it was inspiring right away. Seeing all the musicians here and the competition. It never felt like competition. It always felt like people were here to lift you up and inspire me in some kind of way.