“When there are dark clouds overhead and the shit is hitting the fan, you’ve still gotta find joy somehow,” the rising singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Devon Gilfillian said, with a smile. As the pain of the pandemic persisted and the United States’ political chasm widened, Gilfillian relied on a few simple resources: the music of Marvin Gaye, new love, therapy, and his beloved cats, Barry White and Felicia. The result of that warmhearted self-care is the aptly titled Love You Anyway (Fantasy Records), an album spanning soul, hip-hop, R&B, and rock all under the banner of Black joy. “I wanted to share my story and pour a whole lot of love into the gap that’s grown between people in our country,” Gilfillian says.
Potent, seductive, and raw, Love You Anyway is an intoxicating, genre-blasting game changer that re-imagines modern soul music by redefining its possibilities. With an incisive eye and unassuming swagger, Gilfillian ignites the mind, and makes the body move.
Produced by Jeremy Lutito (Joy Oladokun, NEEDTOBREATHE) and recorded in Nashville, Love You Anyway, confronts as well as comforts. Chronicling Gilfillian’s journey as a Black artist living in the tumult of 21st century America, the album’s 10 original tracks, (all co-written by Gilfillian) are as much about fighting for what you believe in, equity and representation, as it is about love- finding it, making it, and channeling it into every facet of our lives.
An ecstatic proclamation of self-empowerment and love, opener “All I Really Wanna Do,” sets the tone immediately. Over a slithery, R&B bed of electric guitars and supple bass, Gilfillian effortlessly rides this enticing, Temptations infused invitation, looking to find that place where he and a special someone can “be as weird as we are.” The track’s free-flowing sonic exploration moves with a deep appreciation for embracing one’s truest self, even when bumping up against some long and difficult odds. Likewise, on “Love You Anyway,” the album’s anthemic, irresistible end-title track, Gilfillian promises that no hatred will change his bright spirit. “We’re all broken, cracks in our hearts/ Let hope in, light in the dark/ I’m gonna love you anyway,” he sings, the comfort radiating endlessly.
Ever the optimist, Gilfillian stared down the difficult time of the last few years and took the bold stance of hope and love. “Everyone has their screws that are loose, and you just have to find and surround yourself with the people that know how to tighten them,” he says. “Love You Anyway is all about growing into that knowledge and still loving yourself in the process.”
That enduring positivity was instilled in him as a young boy growing-up on the musically fertile streets of Philadelphia, PA. His musician father’s love for classic soul permeated the household, the crackling vinyl, and warm and tender lyrics laying a musical base that persists to this day. As a teenager, Gilfillian picked out tunes by everyone from Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin on his guitar, while also obsessing over contemporary hip-hop and rap artists including Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye West, Notorious B.I.G., and Jay-Z. After relocating to Nashville as a volunteer through AmeriCorps, Gilfillian quickly nestled into the local music community, signed a record deal and in 2020, released his acclaimed GRAMMY-nominated debut album, Black Hole Rainbow. The socially aware artist then followed it with a track-x-track cover of Marvin Gaye’s classic What’s Going On, donating the proceeds to local organizations that fight voter suppression and support democratic justice.
Summoning an array of musical touchstones amid a rush of unexpected ear-catching twists, Love You Anyway is as listenable as it is thought-provoking. Soulful disruptors, “The Recipe,” and “Right Kind of Crazy,” wrap around “Brown Sugar Queen,” a Prince meets Anderson Paak super-sized jam (featuring rising Swedish soul star Janice.) And while Bill Withers’ slinky gift for melody is evoked on “Better Broken,” don’t be fooled, it’s Gilfillian’s blazing talent and effortless charisma that makes Love You Anyway such a memorable ride.
Fellow R&B soul singer Nathaniel Rateliff guests on the grit and glimmer of “Righteous,” a call for humility and finding equal ground. “Nathaniel and I met at Newport Folk Festival and singing some Marvin Gaye tunes with him really changed the way I was feeling about music,” Gilfillian says.
The gospel tinged “Let the Water Flow,” was inspired by the pain and suffering Black Georgians have endured for decades, most recently in the form of the latest round of voter suppression. The moving track’s choir of voices embodies the fight for freedom and equality that can never be silenced. “Let the water flow to Georgia / Oh because I have to believe/ One day we’ll find freedom/ Till then no justice no peace,” Gilfillian’s soaring voice rings out. Though not as explicitly political in their messaging, the album’s love songs still feel like they can change the world in their focus on equality and freedom of expression¾something close to the songwriter’s heart. “Being open-minded and accepting of everyone, no matter their orientation or how they identify, is essential,” he says. “We all have to love ourselves and each other on the path of growth.”
Performing has become another essential part of Gilfillian’s path. The in-demand musician has maintained a relentless touring schedule, burnishing his growing reputation as a captivating, can’t-miss live performer. Commanding club, theater, and festival stages around the world, while also supporting artists such as Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Lake Street Dive, Anderson East, Keith Urban, Gladys Knight, Kaleo, The Fray, and Mavis Staples, among many others, Gilfillian is building an enduring connection with a burgeoning audience both in the U.S and overseas.
“As a kid, I never fit into any one group. I am mixed, so I never felt white enough for the white kids, or black enough for the black kids. I was too nerdy for the jocks and too goofy for the science nerds,” he explains. “During the pandemic, I realized that for me, creating art was about healing, a way to connect with different types of people and make them feel vulnerable enough to relate to others who may be going through similar things.”
With Love You Anyway, Devon Gilfillian pays it forward, conjuring the raw, sexy emotions of his predecessors and the next-level production grooves of his R&B and hip-hop contemporaries, taking soul music into an exciting and restorative new future.