I was born with this voice and I’m grateful. It is sacred because it came from somewhere special. This whole experience that we’re living is sacred, and I think sometimes people forget about that.
If you’ve never heard Reva DeVito’s voice, don’t expect to be blown away. Then again, that’s not really what she’s going for.
“You know how on The Voice all those singers are doing their whole yell thing? That’s not me,” she says, explaining that her musical presence is more nuanced. “I like to stay in the pocket and play with the melodies and stack harmonies. It’s not about how hard I can sing and how big I can go. It’s about how pretty I can make it.”
That’s not to say DeVito’s sound isn’t touching. There’s a comfortable vulnerability to her music that’s grounded in subtle grooves and informed by her revealing lyrics. That’s been a hallmark of her sound since she first released Cloudshine, a collaborative project with Roane Namuh, in 2012. Heavy with the drums but light with the mood, the album is a thoughtful hybrid of Native Tongues-era ’90s hip hop beats with neo-soul vocal sensibility, and the album showcased DeVito as someone who could comfortably build an intimate mood, which she’s been doing ably ever since.
Her music is the kind that seems to be best understood in those tender, quiet moments when songs appear to be speaking directly to the listener. The term “soul” music comes to mind, which is a style she admits to being drawn to from a young age and a tradition she tries to uphold in her own way.
DeVito’s open sound is a natural outgrowth of her upbringing, where she seemed to always feel confident being herself. DeVito spent her early years in Vancouver, Washington, located directly across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. She recalls being captivated by music from her very early days. With a mom that loved talk radio and a dad that leaned heavily toward jazz, she discovered her own musical lane by scanning local radio every night.
“I was an only child, so I found company in music. That was my refuge,” she reveals. “I would go through the radio stations until I found a heater, and then I would press record. I would make tapes of what I thought was cool that was happening on the radio at the time.” It was a practice she started at the age of five.
Early on, she was attracted to pop divas like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. However, she’s quick to add a host of names that show how eclectic her range in tastes have been, even from a young age. Tears for Fears, Queen, and Pink Floyd were in the mix, as was hip hop when she discovered Jay Z and Nas later on. The ’80s dance sound was a big influence—she particularly points out her affection for the early ’80s funk and R&B hybrid boogie, best known through artists like Patrice Rushen and Evelyn “Champagne” King. Prince loomed large, as well. Throughout it all, she never questioned her taste, instead letting her ear lead the way.
“I think all teenage girls run into some situations where they don’t feel accepted, but for the most part, I didn’t care,” she says. “I was a tomboy out there playing sports and enjoying music and life. I just wanted to have fun, and I still feel that way.”
That carefree spirit permeates her music, whether it’s in early tracks like “Frozen,” grounded with a hip hop breakbeat and droning keys, or the upbeat summer swing of “Kisses.” On The Move, released this past September, quiet R&B sits alongside more active, funky bass. The project features a return appearance from Namuh, as well as two tracks from Kaytranada, a recent darling of the electronic music scene who DeVito first linked up with thanks to a friend. They’re now label mates on LA-based Huh, What & Where (HW&W).
The Move is perhaps best described as modern electronic soul, a wide-ranging sonic blueprint that’s not afraid to be vulnerable with the listener. Laid-back R&B keys provide plenty of emotional space on “Babesquad,” while Kaytranada’s signature bass lines on “So Bad” and “The Move” provide a nod to DeVito’s love for throwback dance vibes. Overall, the set seems equally fit to be played out at the club or within the confines of one’s bedroom.
DeVito first started writing songs at 15 when her mom gifted her a guitar. After learning some chords, she soon started writing her own music, albeit with no intention of becoming a professional musician. It wasn’t until her early 20s that she thought about recording music to release to the world. The transition from listener to artist felt natural for her.
“It just felt like something I really enjoyed to do,” she says. “Looking back on it, [I never thought] ‘I’m going to be an artist for my career,’ because art is special and you do it because you love it. To me, art is like this magical entity that you have to appreciate and just do because you love it and do it every day. If it comes about that you are able to monetize on it, you’re extremely lucky.”
After Cloudshine, DeVito released some singles with HW&W, and a handful of songs dropped via HW&W’s SoundCloud page in 2014. “Kisses” became a featured track on the Bondax and Friends compilation later that year.
I was an only child, so I found company in music. That was my refuge… I would go through the radio stations until I found a heater, and then I would press record. I would make tapes of what I thought was cool that was happening on the radio at the time.
Yet a period of silence followed before she was able to take the next step with The Move, her first full release as a solo artist. She credits the delay to contractual red tape, admitting the EP was finalized in December 2015. It was a frustrating period, but she says the groundwork has been laid for her to now release music with much less delay. Fans didn’t seem to hold it against her—she celebrated The Move passing one million plays on Spotify in early December.
Eventually, DeVito crossed the Columbia River, and she now calls Portland home. She maintains a true pride for the Pacific Northwest. It’s a place where she’s surrounded by natural beauty, where she can stay grounded with family and retain elements of her life as private. Her home also provides her with plenty of natural inspiration.
“I’m so influenced by the beauty of the planet, and I’m so inspired and in awe of the landscape around here,” she shares. Much like the respect she feels for her surroundings, she treats her artistry the same way. “Yes, I’ve worked on it to create more depth and range to my voice, but I was born with this voice and I’m grateful. It is sacred because it came from somewhere special. This whole experience that we’re living is sacred, and I think sometimes people forget about that.”
How does that experience manifest itself in her music? For her, that can be as simple as pairing the right location with the right song. When the time comes to reconnect with her muse, to dip back into the gift of creativity she still views as a hobby and not a job, she knows exactly where to go.
“I have this little place that I go drive to,” she shares. “I park my car and I can look out into the Columbia River Valley. There’s waterfalls, and I just put on the track and write. It manifests itself in the music because I’m earthy to the core. I feel like the beauty of what I’m looking at. I feel rooted.”
The Portland native will be heading down to San Jose in February, where she will be appearing as part of San Jose Jazz Winter Fest 2017 on February 23. She’ll be the featured act that evening at The Changing Same, a forward-thinking weekly dance party inside the Continental dedicated to “keepin’ time with the future of soul and R&B.”