Sitting in the middle of a busy North Killingsworth Street cafe, R&B singer Reva DeVito explains why she still hasn't released her first album.
"You get beat up out there," she says. "I've been put through the wringer by labels and people with power."
Wearing a vintage blue skirt and crop top set with hoop earrings, DeVito sits on the edge of her chair and barely touches her coffee and vegan muffin. She's currently in the middle of recording her debut album—or, at least, she's hoping to get there. Though she's already recorded nine new songs, she has no idea if she'll use any of them.
Still, that's much closer than DeVito has ever been to finishing her debut solo album, which, in a way, has been more than 10 years in the making.
A few years after DeVito moved to Portland proper from Vancouver, Wash., in 2007, it seemed her career was destined to blow up. She has a rich, delicate voice and has long been obsessed with R&B. Her friends at the time were mostly electronic musicians, though, so she started singing over simple, infectious beats with glossy production. DeVito's sound arose mostly out of happenstance, but it coincided with the rise of producers like Disclosure, and the sweeping demand post-dubstep for electro R&B intended to soundtrack euphoric, sweaty dancing.
DeVito placed in WW's 2012 Best New Band poll. She started collaborating with producers in the R&B-electronic music crossover, like Kaytranada, and split her time between LA and Portland. She signed with an international label. But her debut album never came to fruition.
"I guess I'll just start by saying it's been a really tumultuous process. The music industry is crazy," says DeVito, before cutting herself off. "I don't know if I'm ready to talk about it yet. At some point I will."
For legal reasons, there's little DeVito can say beyond that. But now that some drama with her former label is coming to a close, she's ready to finally step out on her own. "I feel like with this project, I've grown so much," she says. "I'm really excited to reach the potential that I know that I have as an artist."
To be fair, DeVito has hardly been idle. Last year, she released an album with her longtime collaborator and friend B. Bravo under the moniker Umii, full of loose funk instrumentation that's guided by Devito's resonate, ethereal voice.
In 2016, DeVito released The Move, a six-song EP of glimmering synths, snapping fingers, layered vocals and sugary production. It's slinky, smooth and danceable, and DeVito's breathy voice goes down like a glass of water amid the humid, bass-driven beats.
So far, that's what has worked for DeVito. But she's ready to try something different. "I wasn't taking risks as much as I feel like I could have," she says. "An EP is kind of like, whatever. When it comes to the full-blown LP, everyone takes it very seriously. It's like a full-blown exposé."
The Move was released near the end of the era of laptop-based, blissed-out R&B. Most of the songs were written years before they were released. DeVito is ready to move on, too. "I've always been obsessed with funk and boogie," she says. "That's my lane. But I also want to add undercurrents of New Wave. I want to add some slow stuff. I want to make a few tunes that people might cry to."
DeVito is working on figuring out how to expand her sound without forsaking the sultry dance jams she's known for. Her main influence now is the wave of confessional, lyric-driven R&B singers like Frank Ocean. Fittingly, DeVito's solo show this week is an opening slot for Portland's Frankie Simone, whose debut EP is full of punchy club pop that's as much an intimate love letter to her wife as it is an anthemic, riotous rejection of anyone who's stood in the way of her self-acceptance.
DeVito hopes to release at least something before fall.
"The important thing to remember is that it's art, and you have to do it," she says. "And you're gonna have to put up with a lot of shit."
SEE IT: Reva DeVito plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., holocene.org, with Frankie Simone and the Seshen, on Thursday, May 31. 9 pm. $12 advance, $14 day of show. 21+.