On Stage: WCU grad Gilfillian celebrates first album with show at The Fillmore

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Devon Gilfillian

A special event on this weekend’s entertainment calendar will be the triumphant return of a local musician who is celebrating the recent release of his debut album on a major label.

Devon Gilfillian, a graduate of West Chester University, released his debut album, “Black Hole Rainbow,” on January 10 on Capitol Records. On January 24, Gilfillian will introduce the album to a live audience with a show at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com)

“It’s out in the world now,” said Gilfillian, referring to the new LP during a phone interview Thursday afternoon as he was travelling to a gig at the Roxian Theater in Pittsburgh.

“It officially came out on January 10, which also was my 30th birthday.”

Prior to the release of his new album, Gilfillain had an EP and several singles.

His five-song debut EP of originals, which came out in 2017, was a showcase for Gilfillian’s abundant talents as a singer, songwriter and kickass guitarist.

“I recorded the EP in February 2016 at Fat Back Studio in East Nashville,” said Gilfillian. “At the time, I was listening to a lot of Staples Singers as well as Jimi and Otis. We recorded the EP over a course of three days.”

Making “Black Hole Rainbow” was a much more involved and lengthy process.

“A lot of the album was recorded last summer,” said Gilfillian. “I did it in Hollywood at Electro-Vox Recording Studios. It’s one of the oldest private studios in the country and it has a lot of great old analog gear.

“We recorded everything to tape – live with a full band. Then, we took the tape to vinyl, sampled the vinyl and uploaded it to ProTools. Then, we put layers of vocals, percussion and crazy sounds on. We got to capture both the old and the new recording technologies.”

“Black Hole Rainbow” was produced by GRAMMY® Award winner Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, The War On Drugs), with additional album production from Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, HAIM). Billboard praised the top 15 AAA hit “Get Out And Get It” as “pure magic.” Rolling Stone observed, “the guitar-slinging soul singer flips into his upper register and channels funk icons like Curtis Mayfield and Prince, with some Afrobeat polyrhythms thrown in for good measure.”

“We probably spent about two months at Electro-Vox,” said Gilfillian. “Then, we spent another month-and-a-half at Shawn Everett’s studio in downtown L.A.

“Because we were recording it live to tape, there was pressure because of no overdubs. As a band, I was confident that we had the arrangements down. I loved the pressure of having to get it down. That was my favorite part of recording to tape.”

Gilfillian was ready to rock when he entered the studio to make the new album.

“In the past two years, I probably wrote 85-100 songs,” said Gilfillian. “I picked 11 for the album. I actually picked 12 but one of the little turtles didn’t make it to the sea. The songs created a narrative – falling in and out of love and trying to love yourself – also loving people who are different from you…people from different countries.”

The album’s leadoff track, “Unchained,” also deals with love. The inspiring clip features Devon’s younger brother, Ryan Gilfillian. At age 17, Ryan was in a serious car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. The video follows him as he goes about a typical day and captures Ryan’s will to live and love fully, despite any setbacks.

“The song ‘Unchained’ is about loving yourself no matter what cards you’re dealt,” said Gilfillian. “This song is about becoming the best version of yourself no matter what obstacles get in your way. My brother is a prime example of that. He doesn’t let anything hold him back from being his fullest self.”

For Gilfillian, the show in Philly will be a happy homecoming. He grew up in suburban Philadelphia – in Morton in Delaware County. After graduating from Springfield High School, he got his degree from West Chester University.

“I majored in psychology at West Chester University,” said Gilfillian, who played a free outdoor show at Eagleview Town Center in Exton back in the summer of 2017.

“Being a psych major at West Chester University got me here. It helped me as a songwriter. It helped me study people.

“In high school, I had a band called Black Sheep. When I was at West Chester, I did solo gigs and acoustic shows.

“I graduated from WCU in 2013. After that, I spent a year working for a non-profit – AmeriCorps’ ‘Rebuilding Together.’ I got accepted to work at a program here in Nashville.”

“Rebuilding Together” is dedicated to national service. Every year, “Rebuilding Together” engages more than 80 AmeriCorps members to make an impact on homeowners and in communities across the country. They develop and apply valuable professional skills, earn money for education, and are active citizens in the local community.

“They pay you $850 a month and food stamps,” said Gilfillian. “You work your butt off for a good cause. When I was done, I used my grant money to pay back student loans.”

A few years ago, Gilfillian left the Delaware Valley and relocated to Nashville.

“When I first got to Nashville, I played guitar and sang for random bands,” said Gilfillian. “One of them was Black Cat Crossing, a Delta Blues cover band.

“After I got done with AmeriCorps, I started working at City Winery (a restaurant/winery barrel room/entertainment venue in Nashville).”

Gilfillain’s single “Troublemaker was heard during 2018 NFL Draft programming and advertising. He was featured in the Frye Americana Roots campaign and named as a Southwest Airlines“Artist on the Rise.” The WCU grad also played numerous festivals in 2019 — including the Newport Folk Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival.

Gilfillian’s music meshes together gospel-blues and southern soul. His songs and vocals show the influence of artists such as Al Green, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and Ray Charles but also display the young artist’s originality.

“My dad is a musician – a wedding singer and a percussionist,” said Gilfillian. “I’ve been singing since I was in elementary school – Motown, old soul, Ray Charles. My dad introduced me to it.

“What put the nail in the coffin was when I picked up electric guitar when I was 14. I was listening to ‘Under the Bridge’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and my dad said – that guy sounds like Jimi Hendrix.

“I didn’t know Jimi Hendrix at all. So, my dad got me the ‘Jimi Hendrix Greatest Hits’ CD. Listening to the music Jimi Hendrix made changed everything.”

Video link for Devon Gilfillian – https://youtu.be/wQiMULQikxw.

The show at Fillmore Philadelphia, which has Grace Potter as the headliner, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32.50.

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