Get to know the Martin Showcase class of 2024: Devon Gilfillian

Get to know the Martin Showcase class of 2024: Devon Gilfillian

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Devon Gilfillian is part of Martin’s Showcase class of 2024: find out more about the Showcase programme at, and in this year’s Martin Journal.
The music of Devon Gilfillian displays a deep love of everything from country, Americana, vintage soul, R&B, rock and hip-hop. While the influences he draws from are often retro in flavour, his free and easy combination of them is a distinctly modern phenomenon.
Devon released Black Hole Rainbow, his debut full-length record in January 2020 – a stripped-back record steeped in those varied retro vibes. Later that year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests, Devon was inspired by the timeless messages heard Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On – he would recruit a number of Black artists from in and around Nashville to re-record a whole cover of the record, released in October.
His latest record, Love You Anyway, was released in 2023. On it, Devon finds a smoother and more modern sound. But despite this shift, the acoustic still holds a place in his heart, too: not only is it the glue that holds the retro to the modern, like many singer-songwriters he cut his gigging teeth accompanied only by his guitar.
We spoke to Devon about how Hendrix blew his mind at an early age, how the “campfire test” shaped his early songwriting and growth as a musician, the challenges of re-recording a classic album, and being told off by Chaka Khan.
What started you on your musical journey?
I fell in love with music a couple different times. The first time was when I was a really young kid – I was drawn to the production, the beats. I was really into hip-hop. My dad tried to get me to play piano when I was like 11 or 12 – but that wasn’t really hitting for me. And then – this is silly – but I watched School Of Rock. After that I was like ‘you know what? Maybe I’ll try the guitar.’
So my dad signed me up for lessons. My first guitar was this electro-acoustic one: it was really, really rough. But you’ve gotta have that first guitar where the action’s a mile away from the fretboard.
My teacher was getting me to learn Under The Bridge by the Chilli Peppers, and my dad heard it, and said, “oh, that sounds very Hendrixy” – and I was like, oh, who’s that? My 14-year-old naive ass didn’t know who Jimi was! So he smacked me on the head with a greatest hits CD, I put it in the player – and my brain exploded. It was like, “what the fuck is this guy doing on the guitar?” From that point on I really fell in love with it, I wanted to learn how to make every sound I could with it. But then, obviously, I was playing this acoustic guitar and it didn’t sound anything like Hendrix – but I’m glad I started on it – you gotta get those callouses, too, man!
How did the acoustic figure into things when you started releasing your own music?
When I moved to Nashville, I got really into country music. Before, I loved folk, I loved the Avett Brothers, Bob Dylan and that. But I wasn’t introduced to good country music until I got here. I got into Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton and newer artists like Sturgill Simpson and Margot Price. So that all influenced my first EP. As did the blues, which goes back to Jimi, too – so there’s a lot of acoustic on there.

I also had to just accompany myself, too, when I was playing four-hour sets in college. So when I was writing then, it was the ‘campfire test’ thing – can you play the song with just you and a guitar? Because the acoustic lets you create a whole universe that way.
With your most recent album, the production is a lot more layered. Has your writing gone beyond just the ‘campfire test?’
Totally. Like, Right Kind Of Crazy started as a drum groove, and I heard synth in the background, it was a full picture before the guitar came in. But it totally varies – Love You Anyway started on an acoustic, with this simple C to F thing, and I was immediately like, ‘oh, this is what the feel is, that’s all it needs.”
What drew you to move to Nashville?
I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, and went to college in West Chester. I actually did Americorps for a year. I got accepted onto this program called Rebuilding Together in Nashville – they fix up homes for low-income homeowners that live in an area. That was cool, and what brought me down to Nashville initially, but music was what kept me here.
Tell me about your reworking of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
For that my goal was to highlight Black artists that don’t get the recognition that I think they should. I never thought I could ‘beat’ Marvin’s version, obviously, but I wanted to bring that message back to the zeitgeist. I got called on stage in 2019 to play the song What’s Going On with Michael McDonald and Chaka Khan, and I thought I knew the song – but I wasn’t ready. And I fucked it up. When I was walking off the stage, Chaka Khan looked back at me like, “learn that song!”

But it was during the protests, after George Floyd got killed, people were singing songs, bringing instruments out to the protest – that’s when I went home and learned What’s Going On front-to-back on the acoustic. And I fucking broke down weeping – it was written 50 years ago, but the lyrics were still so poignant. It put a knife in my chest. And I knew then I needed to bring that music back, in a way that could fight the bullshit and the injustice that was happening. So as well as highlighting those voices, the album raised money for Equity Alliance here in Nashville and Tennessee, too, which helps educate people about the voting process and get them signed up to vote.
There are some interesting guitar textures across your records. What’s your approach to building up a sound?
I pretty much throw any paint at the wall that I want in the studio, but I’m definitely thinking about the live show and like, how I’m gonna bring it to life there too. There’s definitely been times we’ve walked out of the studio and been like, how the fuck are we gonna say play that live? But at the end of the day, that live experience is a different thing to the recording – it’s not about it sounding exactly alike, it’s about the musicianship, watching humans perform something.
What’s your relationship with Martin Guitars?
To me, Martin has been – since I picked up a guitar and started taking lessons, one of my buddies had a Martin, and I had always thought to myself, man, I’m gonna get one of those one day – it was just so warm, and obviously Martins are so integral to that whole world, they’ve been around for so long, and are now part of this great time the guitar is having. I do feel like rock and roll is coming back, and that women are actually leading the new rock and roll front, artists like Phoebe Bridgers – they’re just so incredible, so authentic and real.
So guitar is always going to be cool as shit, and there’s always gonna be kids that fall in love with it. And that to me is my goal as an artist – to make as many kids pick up a guitar as they can!
About Martin’s Spotlight programme
Artists are the lifeblood of Martin Guitar. From Johnny Cash to Joan Baez, countless influential musicians helped make Martin what it is today. Now, Martin has set its sights on the next generation of musicians with the new Artist Showcase. The program aims to celebrate artists who are making waves in the industry, and serves as a platform to connect the artists with Martin’s global audience.
Six artists are kicking off the Spotlight for 2024. They are Drayton Farley, Devon Gilfillian, Ian Munsick, Joy Oladokun, Nate Smith and Hailey Whitters, and together they represent the wide span of music being made on Martin guitars: from soulful vintage R&B to eclectically-influenced pop, and from uplifting country rock to raw, unflinching Americana. In this series of interviews, sits down with the six artists that make up the class of 2024.
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