Chicago’s Devin Shaffer on Chronic Daydreaming and Embracing Her Own

By Devon Chodzin

Photography by Hayley Grimes

In your dreams, where are you? For Chicago’s Devin Shaffer, the answer is simple: there. As a chronic daydreamer myself, I’ve tried to train myself to daydream only about “productive” things, like a new career, a bigger apartment, or professional accomplishments. But when I listen to In My Dreams I’m There, Devin Shaffer’s first LP under her own name, I’m willing to let my dreams veer off-course. Only a soundscape as immersive as this one can help me conjure up the kind of fantasies that serve not to stress me out but to tenderly acknowledge that I too feel desire.

Devin Shaffer is a visual artist and musician whose compositions bring together ambient folk, field recordings, and archival materials into webs of dreamy sentiment. Central to In My Dreams I’m There is the transcendent promise of love, promised not solely to romantic love, but to all bonds, all sublime moments of admiration that inspire the emotional fountain best described as “love.” The resulting sounds envelop me in a lavender mist that, above all, feels profoundly welcoming. Whenever I’ll next be faced with the question of if I’m open to love and loving, I’ll have to return to this record – there is something so affirming in the commitment to recognizing love for what it is, wherever it may be.

We sat down with Devin about the sonic collaging on In My Dreams I’m There, as well as her coming into her own name, the power in a silk bathing suit, and building precious archives. Check out our talk below.

Slumber: What are three words you’d use to describe In My Dreams I’m There to someone who hasn’t heard anything you’ve put out yet?

Devin Shaffer: Storytelling, tender, romantic.

Slumber: I was going through your Bandcamp back catalogue and noticed this is the first record you’ve put out under your own name – what convinced you to put the Yarrow moniker behind in favor of your name? How does it feel to attach your work to it?

Devin: When I started making solo music, I think I wanted an alter ego or a different presence that wasn’t myself. I thought of Yarrow, and there were just a lot of other bands and musicians called Yarrow and they’re all pretty good. I also didn’t want someone to look up my band name and see like, a hundred other different people first, I wanted something more unique. For a while, I was playing shows as Devin Flower, but that also felt pretty disingenuous. From the moment I did it, I didn’t like it anymore. 

I think that when I first started making music, I thought that I wanted my music self to do all the kinds of things that my real self or my social self or whatever couldn’t. Then, over the years, that started to feel really disingenuous to me and I just wanted to be me. There are other people named Devin Shaffer, but at the same time what I’m doing is authentically me, I’m doing it myself, so why not attach my own name on it? At least, that’s how I feel right now. 

Slumber: Field recordings play a big role in this record – how do you typically source/produce field recordings? Are they ever spontaneous?

Devin: Yeah, they’re almost always spontaneous, and they’re almost always recorded on my iPhone voice memos app. I haven’t leveled up to getting professional-grade field recording gear. I don’t know why because I field record so much, but maybe it is because of the spontaneous nature of it. Like I’ll just have my phone on me and I’ll hear something interesting and just start recording. I’ll usually just hear something that feels like it’s a really special moment and I want to capture the memory (there’s a lot of nostalgia involved), or I’ll hear something that’s just a really cool, weird sound. Like, something might be humming or vibrating in a weird way from an electrical line, and it’ll just be like, “Let’s stand in front of this person’s house for five minutes with my phone in my hand!”

Slumber: “Carina Searches for Hollow Rock, North Carolina” and “Song for Heavy Baby” stuck out to me, I really loved hearing those moments captured. “Song for Heavy Baby” is probably my favorite song on the record. What about those conversations stood out to you, in particular? How do you nest dialogue in music?

Devin: “Song for Heavy Baby” is, I think, my favorite song on the record, too, so I’m glad you feel that way! That is not a conversation that I had. That is archival audio that I found. I just loved that idea that the man talking had about heaven being this feeling of entering a flow state. 

I think being in love with another person – even if it’s not a romantic kind of love, friendship and family love applies – that just hits a flow and a rhythm. Or when you’re jamming with someone and it’s coming together. I really agree with the man talking that like, those are the two moments where I feel transcendent. That spoke to me in such a way because he’s just saying what the record’s about! I had that guitar line recorded to go on the first song, “Drive Into Woods,” and the guitar was in a weird tuning and I cannot figure out what I was doing (I’m going to have to so I can play it live!). 

“Carina Searches for Hollow Rock. North Carolina” is a conversation that I had with my friend, Carina, on her land in North Carolina. She was using one stone and hitting it on big rock beds on a creek trying to find where the hollow spots are. That moment in the present just felt magical to me. It’s a perfect example of those times I’m talking about when you’re with a friend just having an incredible connection with another person! As for where dialogue goes in the record, I just kind of feel where it needs to go for a balance. It’s often in contrast with another song. “Carina” coming right after “HOW??” is like a transition between chaos and there’s this moment where everything is so clear. You’re just with your friends exploring on a creek and everything is so clear, and same thing on “Heavy Baby.” They’re moments of clarity, I guess, where dialogue fits in.

“I think that when I first started making music, I thought that I wanted my music self to do all the kinds of things that my real self or my social self or whatever couldn’t. Then, over the years, that started to feel really disingenuous to me and I just wanted to be me.

Slumber: I knew I was going to love this record when I heard “Enemy,” which has been a part of your live repertoire for a long time now. What has it been like to hear “Enemy” become what it’s become on the record?

Devin: I wrote “Enemy” a little over two years ago and I really like the way that it’s turned out. Something that I struggle with in my music is how to write songs that are just voice and guitar sound full. I listen to so much folk music, especially a lot of current indie folk, and I don’t want to put myself down, but some people can write a song that’s just voice and guitar and it feels complete. It could not possibly use another thing in it.

When I hear my own music, it always feels like it needs something else, like maybe a field recording here or house sounds there. Like, a third party just needs to come in. So with “Enemy,” I added synth which was really fun. I also added a field recording that I didn’t take. It’s the only field recording on the album that I didn’t record. I put on my Instagram a call for friends to send me recordings of their chimes. My friend Jeff Austin sent me a recording of their backyard in Austin and chimes were in it. It just knocked me off my feet, I could just see it when I heard it. 

Slumber: I can really see those too! Who are some of those current indie folk people who come to mind?

Devin: I love Adrianne Lenker and her storytelling is just phenomenal; a true poet. Haley Heynderickx is like that for me. The richness of her voice and guitar playing is incredible. Even older artists, like Joan Baez forever doesn’t need a thing. Joni Mitchell doesn’t need a thing.

“...some people can write a song that’s just voice and guitar and it feels complete. It could not possibly use another thing in it. When I hear my own music, it always feels like it needs something else, like maybe a field recording here or house sounds there. Like, a third party just needs to come in.”

Slumber: The video for “Enemy” is brilliant, too – where did the inspiration there come from?

Devin: So I reached out to my friend Carl Solether about doing the video because Carl’s a badass. I trust her. At first, she was just gonna make something in Upstate New York and I wasn’t going to be there because of COVID. Then, I had a thought like, why don’t I just come up there and film something in a day outside. But, it was winter. A lot of the inspiration came from the outfit.

My friend Claire Zurkowski, who designs and makes silk clothing and makes amazing ambient music with her partner Raul as Bravais Lattice – I asked her for an outfit and it was this beautiful blue sheer silk look with a matching bathing suit and visor. Claire’s so talented! So much of the inspiration came from that outfit. There’s a bathing suit, and I don’t normally like to strip down, I don’t like people to see my body, I’m a little more reserved. But, the bathing suit is more important than my wanting to be reserved. I needed to sunbathe. A lot of the inspiration just came from the look and the locale. 

Slumber: What kind of cuisine or meal would pair well with this record?

Devin: Butter cookies. I feel like this record is like, you’re drinking tea and you’ve got a bunch of different really buttery cookies that you’re snacking on. It’s not a full meal album. It’s a post-meal record, with a plethora of warm, creamy, buttery cookies and some herbal tea, or maybe black tea. 

Slumber: Where’s the best spot to go for a super-long walk or bike ride in the Chicago area?

Devin: For a bike ride, the lake path is so nice. The people-watching is nice, and I’m a big swimmer so I say take a bike ride all the way north and jump in the water. That would be the best bike ride. 

As for a long walk, I don’t know! I lived in Rogers Park for a really long time, and even though I live in Logan Square now, I feel very connected to Rogers Park and that corner of the city. Just the flowers and tree-lined streets and houses and so many different kinds of people and families – it’s great people-watching and house-watching. I feel good when I’m walking around Rogers Park. I don’t know if that will have the same spiritual connection for other people, but some of the best walks I’ve ever had have been up there.

Slumber: You mention that you have “a million fantasies a minute;” have any of them turned out to be premonitions of something that came true?

Devin: Certainly. Do I want to get into manifesting on this interview? I don’t think that if you just think about something a lot, it will happen. I don’t think that’s what manifesting is. I do think that if (this is so corny but bear with me) you believe in yourself you can do anything! 

When I say I have a million fantasies a minute, I don’t just mean romantic or sexual fantasies, I mean just like daydreams. You can work a lot of problems out in your head before you go to do something. I also just think that if you’re thinking about something a lot, it becomes easier to do. So I don’t know if I’ve ever had waking premonitions like That’s So Raven where you’re looking into the future in my eye and I’m seeing what will happen, but I do think that I’ve thought about things to such an extent that I decide I just have to go for it. 

Slumber: What’s something outside of music that has been exciting, inspiring, or otherwise taking up a lot of your headspace? Could be a quarantine hobby, curiosity, anything!

Devin: I’ve been doing some DIY archiving projects that are where a lot of my creative attention goes. I have been collecting letters that I found at a thrift store that this woman named Martha collected her whole life. She died and somehow they ended up at this thrift store. I’ve been collecting those and doing an archiving project. I’ve been thinking about how to preserve and display them in honor. I’ve been thinking about my own family archive with photographs and letters. I think, similar to the field recordings on my music, I’m just really interested in honoring sentimental and precious moments in time. These things were special to someone once and I like to re-honor those things. It’s a visual art practice, as well. I’m just getting used to seeing myself as a visual artist and taking myself seriously. I always thought of myself as a musician and thinking like: “Music, I’m good at. Art, I’m bad at.” Now, I’m realizing that the archiving projects I’m doing are art projects.

Slumber: There is something so precious about preserving correspondence, especially in the era of e-correspondence. We’re constantly forced to delete old correspondence to make room for new correspondence because we have limited space.

Devin: On that note, another archive I’ve been digging through but put aside for a minute are from my two old high school laptops. I’ve been carrying them around with me even though they’re both broken. I thought about how I could get the information off of these one day and I finally did it. I forgot that I had an application on my laptop in high school, like from 2010/2011, where it saved every iChat that I sent or received. That was the AIM of that time. That was how my friends and I communicated after school, just chatting with each other. I have hundreds of conversations between me and my friends from that time. I don’t know what to do with it. It’s such a snapshot in time. Is it just interesting to me? I don’t know, it was a real trip. I was having a hard time interacting with people in the real world because I’d be reading these and going into the past, and eventually I just had to stop and be in the present. I’ll return when I can think about it more objectively. 

Slumber: I can imagine, just needing to step back out of seventeen-year-old brainspace. 

Devin: I need to stay out of there!

“I don’t want to feel like I have to sound like anything, or do anything. So, I’m giving myself space to feel what direction comes naturally.”

Slumber: Lastly, where do you see yourself and your music going next?

Devin: I wish I knew. There are a lot of different directions that I see myself going in. I have a few demos that I’ve been working on in the past year, but the direction isn’t clear to me. I’m giving myself some space. I could do another record that’s similar to this one, but other directions are calling to me. I don’t want to feel like I have to sound like anything, or do anything. So, I’m giving myself space to feel what direction comes naturally. I definitely see myself performing again, I see myself going on tour when that’s feeling safe and comfy. As far as the next record, I don’t know just yet.

My first cross-country tour was planned for April of 2020, so obviously that didn’t happen. That was planned to be with Madeline Johnston, who performs as Midwife. She changed my life! When I say that I am a musician because of Madeline, I truly mean that. We’ve played live together so many times and lived in Denver at the same time and just feel like musical soulmates. When she picks up her guitar and starts playing, I’m already crying. But it’s a good cry, it’s nostalgia for the moment I’m already in. We’ve been considering bringing that tour back, so hopefully that’s what’s next. In my dreams, I’m on that tour.

Check out Devin Shaffer’s first LP under own name, In My Dreams I’m There, below: