Devin Ocampo's latest project comes from a need to speak truth to the apathetic and comfortable
Dischord Records has long been a space station for DC musicians and artists who are part of a movement that does not rely on opportunism or big industry, but on true loyalty to a physical place and the people it breeds. One of the people who has laid the pavement for the block in DC music is Devin Ocampo, whose new band the EFFECTS now have their debut LP Eyes to the Light on the label. Ocampo, of course, has already held a central role in establishing the Dischord canon, having played much-loved DC mainstays Medications, Faraquet, Beauty Pill and many, many more.
The EFFECTS is Ocampo’s new musical vessel that zooms out from his previous experiments. He says he felt compelled to create the record because he “can’t take it anymore,” explaining that it’s a wake up call “for people who agree with broad stroke political ideals, but don’t follow through. For people who call themselves progressive or say they want something different but refused to really put themselves behind that and realizing they too will be affected.”
Eyes to the Light reflects that sentiment, which we greatly need in an era of hashtags and windows signs with feel-good slogans but without any real demand. On standout track “Onward and Upward,” drummer David Rich and bassist Matthew Dowling provide a frantic yet melodious build-up to Ocampo’s chorus declaration to neoliberals: “You don’t get to carry on / responsible for not / onward upward.” There is a remarkable acknowledgement of our agency that can feel lost or nonexistent in the woes of the world that Ocampo brings back into focus. On the windy and full guitar-driven “Set it Off,” he proclaims, “We are crying in the milk they spilt / We wasted all our time being sick, get in line / With our power and potential to set it off!” The song brings affirmation, knowing that the gravity of our emotions and experiences get pulled by the forces of something bigger than our individual selves.
On “Numbers,” premiering here today, the mesmerizing rhythm section provides beds and stabs of sound for Ocampo’s sparse and poignant vocals. “I have friends with a white picket fence / expecting the additional one / By the way, don’t delay then wallow / Seems to me it’s the population.” The track is firmly within the melodic math rock sub-genre Ocampo helped pioneer, though his newfound urgency shines through and propels things forward in a novel way. Ocampo says that when he writes his lyrics, “They are from a stream of consciousness. I have an idea and then I tried to open it up. I do not want a strict narrative because I want it to be up to interpretation in many ways. I have a lot of personal stuff to say, but I was hiding behind a veil for a long time. This record is about lifting that veil. I have more universal things to say. This is a start, certainly not a pinnacle.”
Ocampo first moved to DC over 20 years ago and joined his first group, Smart Went Crazy, beginning his long and varied career as a frontman and backing musician. He described the music community he found in the capital as “an intimate scene of dedicated people making art. The community changed over time as the city became more and more expensive, but there is still that energy there. The energy is because of Dischord, sure, but also because of the rich rock and jazz history of D.C. But, there has never really been a big music industry in D.C. People who want to make music for money or to be a part of a giant industry don’t really stick around for very long.”
While Eyes to the Light, empowers an urgency to confront our wariness with the world, there is a clear attention to detail and fineness in its execution. Ocampo has the technical skill and desire to work both the front end of music as well the recording, engineering, and production ends, did not end up wearing all the hats of recording music with the EFFECTS, choosing to record in Baltimore with legendary DC producer J. Robbins. He expressed that making music, “takes forever,” but that he has never made music to pay the bills or as his full time job. His music has always come out of “needing to do it, as a method of survival.” When he started the EFFECTS in 2014, he thought he would record and release songs in real time as they were written and recorded. After worked on the band for a few years he decided he needed to put out a full album
Devin Ocampo is relentless. He has already been a member of countless musical projects, continues to make music, carries an unrelated full time job, and just celebrated his 10th year anniversary with his wife who he also makes music with. We’re lucky he continues to grace us with projects like the EFFECTS, but how? How has he not given up and settled on his past creations? “You have to make tough decision to be able to do the things that you want to do. With music, I have no decision but to be an artist, it is by default. So, I have to make other decisions in my life to make sure I can do what I need to. It’s been a long process of being scared, of being bad. When I was younger, all I wanted to do was play guitar, then drums, then I wanted there to be more, so I ended being the singer. This is a struggle-to keep your own voice, and then to be comfortable with that is a struggle. But, if there’s a time and place to say something right now, for me, it’s in my art.”