If you remember Janet Devlin, you probably remember a softly-spoken Northern Irish girl who became a star of X-Factor. Notably shy at the time, Devlin’s performances were slightly outside of the niche of the pop-loving show when she wowed with her voice but was almost reticent in her showmanship as a 17-year-old back in 2011. But wow, what a voice.
The Janet Devlin who’s evolved on the music scene since is a very different character. Notably grown up from that almost reluctant-feeling early brush with stardom, Devlin moved to England, started tracking her progress with deeply emotive and personal YouTube videos, as well as the music, and developed and then got over a substantial problem with alcohol, one that she later unveiled in those videos.
In the course of our 20 minute chat she’s notably jovial – telling us that she’s doing the best she ever has – but equally, that she doesn’t regret X-Factor and its firm thrust into the limelight, or much of what followed. Her new album, ‘Confessional’, is something like an exploration of ‘seven deadly sins’ of her life so far, though mostly committed towards Devlin. She describes the process as being about “getting it all out in the open.”
“It took me five years,” she explains, “but it’s been a good thing. When I decided to do the book as well, obviously I had to write that. That took a wee while. I knew when I finished the last album that I wanted to tell people about the things that I’d been through. I realised that everything felt really self-indulgent, when I was trying to write these really heartfelt songs. So I decided to go down a more metaphorical approach.”
“I realised that I could write this metaphorical album, this piece of work, and write a book to go alongside it, so I’m not isolating the listener. It’s still an album, full of conceptual stuff, but if you want it to have a more personal journey, you’ll find that in the book. It allowed me to get everything I wanted into that space.”
The album runs chronologically to Devlin’s life, starting even before those X-Factor days, but it’s hard hitting, touching on anorexia, self-harm, bullying, depression, assault, fraud and alcohol abuse, though those stories come out more deeply in the text than the music.
“I learnt a lot about myself, I wouldn’t have wanted life to take a different path,” Devlin says. “I feel like I’ve worked hard to maintain my place, when I was at the peak of ‘fame’, for lack of a better word, I didn’t feel like I really deserved it. I hadn’t done anything yet, I hadn’t created anything. I’d just been on TV.”
“It was a big thing for me to earn my stripes in the industry, and the years of being an independent artist I think show that I’m serious about my music. I needed to do the show, as I have no faith in my singing voice, I didn’t believe it was good enough.”
We found that last statement extraordinary, given Devlin’s delicate, pitch-perfect vocal was one of the core draws of that particular season of X-Factor, but her lack of confidence, she explains, links back to an abusive relationship, one that’s thankfully long over. Many of the stories relate Devlin’s life equally intimately.
“It’s a very personal record, this one, but I’ve always been comfortable telling people about the idiosyncrasies of my personality, I’ve been very open, and do that in a creative way,” she says. “A lot of it’s quite heavy, but I wanted to break a bit of stigma, especially now that I’m stronger and more confident, I guess to show that you can pull out of this kind of thinking. It’s a really focused record, and writing it was intense.”
“I had a time when I was waking up with an empty bottle of gin under my pillow every morning, so I write about that. Another of the songs is about a sexual assault that happened to me when I was younger, and I thought I was over it. I found I hadn’t actually come to terms with it, and I cried my way through the vocals. Not in a sad way, in a way that I was so happy to be encapsulating what I had gone through, and putting it into sonic form.”
“Making the first album was what I needed to feel I could write songs. This new album is now something that’s quite a large undertaking, but I feel a lot more confident in myself. I guess the message of it all, ultimately, is ‘love yourself’.”