Music

Devon Ross Feels the Noise

Devon Ross came by her music obsessions naturally. At 24, she’s already had a successful career as a high-fashion model, but music was always a defining part of her life, first as the daughter of a rock guitar hero. While a typical model might occasionally marry a rock star – just as her mother did – or ease into bad acting or become a dilettante DJ, Ross is probably the first to make a left turn into a legit indie rocker.

And she’s good at it.

The evidence is her just-released debut EP, Oxford Gardens, which is out on Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz’s indie label Daydream Library Series. Its four songs are full of stirring guitars and angry-distant vocals that collide melody and noise. The singer-guitarist’s sound was inspired by Sonic Youth and the lyrical matter was driven by the high-profile breakup of her romance with Earl Cave, son of Nick.

The angriest track is “Killer,” with flinty guitar and playfully threatening words fueled by real life: “The man in black’s got a knife in his hand, can’t you see it? … I’ll help you find your golden gun/Cause you’re a sinner and I’m a winner/I’ll have my fun/You gotta go, but not now.”

“I was really into Gang of Four when I was doing that one. I was just being cunty, I didn’t care,” says Ross. “If people correlate this to whatever, like, ‘Yeah, that’s what it’s about.’ I’m not hiding anything. I’m not trying to shame anyone publicly. I’m an artist, this is how I feel. I write about my experiences.

“I don’t buy into the idea that I have to struggle [in life] to write a song, but it does help,” she continues. “I love breakup songs. They’re the best.”

On a February afternoon, Ross is at the Troubadour in West Hollywood for an interview and photo shoot, returning her to the historic rock venue she frequently visited as a Los Angeles teenager. During many nights on the town with friends, she would stop here and the nearby Sunset Strip, from the Whisky to the Roxy and the Rainbow (where she could smoke on the patio), before getting an impromptu tattoo across the street at Shamrock.

“That was our routine,” Ross says happily, taking an occasional drag on a vape. She now splits her time between L.A. and London. “It’s so cool that L.A. still has the clubs and the studios. London also has cool clubs, but so many of them closed, and so many studios closed. It hasn’t really changed here too much.”

Sitting in the mostly empty front bar of the Troubadour, she’s surrounded by autographed pictures and posters from the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Queens of the Stone Age and Tom Waits on the walls. Ross is dressed in a gray sweater and jeans, with a pair of two-tone loafers, a Cramps button on her chest and another reading “No Thank You Thank You.” The middle finger on her right hand has a small tattoo: “KEITH,” in honor of Rolling Stones guitar hero Keith Richards.

Devon RossDevon Ross
Singer-guitarist Devon Ross, in front of the Troubadour in West Hollywood. (Credit: Steve Appleford)

Ross is the daughter of guitarist Craig Ross, who is Lenny Kravitz’s longtime creative partner, so she grew up around rock and roll in the classic mode. As a kid, she’d often find herself around her dad’s famous friends and brought along to events like Robert Plant’s birthday party. 

“I probably took it for granted in a way,” she admits. “Every summer it was like, ‘Hey, we’re going on tour with dad.’ Uh, boring. OK, we’re gonna buy skateboards this year to skate around the venues. Me and my sister would get rollerblades or scooters, and I’d bother the wardrobe people: ‘Need any help? I’ll help!’

“It was super normal to me – of course until I was a teenager. And then it wasn’t normal. I’m super grateful to grow up around that stuff and seeing a lot of shit.”

And yet seeing her dad onstage as part of the dependably epic-scale rock show, a guitar god shimmering in the spotlight, often came with a jolt as she and her sister, Mia, tried to connect that image to the dad they knew at home. “When he’s onstage, we’re always like, ‘Where did that come from?”

Currently near the bottom of her Instagram feed is a clip of Ross playing guitar with her dad, who plays rhythm on Jeff Beck’s “Bolero” while she plucks out the dreamy lead line. In another, she’s doing the same with a molten blues lead on an old Freddie King tune. While Ross says she is largely self-taught, her father did show her a few things, like how to play Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and the Jimi Hendrix classic “Little Wing.” Most importantly, she says, “He taught me to learn from records.”

At home, she would pick up guitars around the house, but a music career wasn’t her dream goal for years. She wanted to be a model like her mother, Anna Bauer.

“I dropped out of high school in 11th grade. I was homeschooling at the time – which is kind of ridiculous, dropping out of homeschool,” Ross says, laughing. “My dad was on the road. I was just an independent 17-year-old and … I was like, I don’t want to do school anymore. I wanted to start life now.”

After several rejections, including from her mom’s agency, she walked into Wilhelmina Models and was quickly signed up and soon found success in magazines and on the catwalk. Now with Next Management, she branched out into acting, starting with the 2022 A24/HBO series Irma Vep. That led to her meeting Moore, who created the music for the series, at the Cannes Film Festival.

“We were struck by Devon’s character and certainly her,” Moore says of Ross’s character, a young cineaste and assistant to the star of a remake of the silent film Les Vampires. “She played this kind of riot grrrl character who was talking about things like … the writings of Jonas Mekas or postmodern French theory. She’s kind of spouting these things off in a very dry off-handed manner. Her character is very knowing and wise beyond her years.” 

Meeting Moore turned Ross on to the influential noise rock of Sonic Youth. She began listening obsessively to the band’s “Starpower” from 1986’s EVOL, and then dove into the ‘90s indie rock of Pavement and the Breeders. “I never heard a noise record with a catchy chorus. That was so cool to me,” she says. “Whoa, this stuff I’d never been allowed to listen to is fucking great.”

Ross was by now making music of her own, tracking guitars and vocals in the Paris closet of her godfather (Kravitz). She sent Moore her demos with no expectations. Moore liked what he heard and decided to release it himself.

“My critical radar is pretty well tuned to this stuff,” says Moore, who is solicited regularly with a steady stream of unheard music. “I hear a lot and it’s usually too perfect. There’s a fine art of imperfection that needs to be there for me to be interested. I like to hear a little risk in the music and I heard that.”

Devon RossDevon Ross
Devon Ross in West Hollywood (Credit: Steve Appleford)

With the release of Oxford Gardens, Moore has actively posted about Ross and her music, and shown up at several stops on her current tour of record store performances. In December, he had Ross open for him at the storied 100 Club in London, marking her debut as a solo artist. 

“It’s everything to have someone who is kind of a mentor figure in music – and it’s Thurston,” says Ross. “It’s perfect.”

While Moore and Kravitz’s lead guitarist have sometimes performed at the same festivals over the years, they never met until Ross’s recent in-store at Amoeba Records in Hollywood. “I was taking so many photos of them together. This is so cool,” she says with a laugh. She has dreams of getting the two disparate guitar players in a jam session. “I’ll make that happen one day. It’s on the agenda.”

After several years as a fashion model, appearing in major magazines and ad campaigns, Ross discovered her creative voice by coming back to the family business. Modeling is now taking a backseat to music and acting, she says.

With plans to tour a full set this summer (alongside current boyfriend Marlon Sexton, son of Charlie, on guitar), Ross hopes to release another EP this year. The songs she has in progress are in the same noisy-melodic vein that first got Moore’s attention last year.

It’s much like her performances of the song “Swim,” as Ross pulls a drumstick from her back pocket to bang against the guitar strings to create waves of intense noise and climactic emotion. “That’s like sacrilege to my dad. It’s like, What the fuck!” she says with a laugh. “Maybe that’s why I like it too — because this is my thing that I can do.”

Originally Published Here.

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