Dev is riding high these days. “Naked,” her duet with Enrique Iglesias, is the third single from her first solo album to hit the Billboard Top 10. The singer first gained notice when her infectious hook helped make “Like a G6” a No. 1 hit for Far East Movement. Built around a sample of her song “Booty Bounce,” it was called the best pop track of 2010 by some dance music critics.
But four years ago, Dev (real name Devin Star Tailes) was just out of high school and working at Old Navy in her hometown of Manteca, Calif. In her spare time, she wrote and recorded songs in her bedroom with a MacBook and posted them on MySpace. However, music stardom was far from her mind — she was too shy to sing in public.
“I was in band and choir from fifth grade until I graduated,” she says. “But this was different — they were my words and I was a lot more vulnerable and scared.”
Bay Area production due The Cataracs heard her tracks and invited Dev to their Berkeley studio. During the first session, the nervous singer asked everyone to leave the room. Her stage fright would abate as Dev began an artist’s apprenticeship — an exhaustive course in the music profession. She performed in clubs, worked as a featured vocalist with stars like David Guetta, Demi Lovato and Timbaland; she opened shows for Usher and Akon, appearing before thousands of fans.
How did she rise above her early inhibitions? “Nobody’s ever asked me that question,” Dev says with a slight pause. “But I remember just wanting to experience all this so bad and be comfortable that I really had to work very hard to get over those fears. The Cataracs helped me out a lot with that, to build my confidence — and I don’t even know if they know that ... it definitely took me a couple of years of practice, but I think I have it down now.”
The Night The Sun Came Up, released in late March, provides the proof. It contains elements of the fly girl that lit up “Like A G6” and her early hit “Bass Down Low,” with plenty of pulsing dance rhythms and A-list duets with Iglesias, Timbaland, Flo Rida and Fabolous. Beyond that, however, it reveals a side of Dev that most fans haven’t experienced. Though she’s a four-year veteran, this is truly a debut record.
“I think the easy thing would have been to ask The Cataracs for 12 G6s, but that’s not what I wanted to do for my introduction to the world as an artist,” she says. “I really wanted to show people that I can do a little bit of everything … I grew up heavily influenced by a bunch of different genres” — everything from Eminem to Nirvana.
The new album was released in the UK last fall, but Dev’s pregnancy delayed it stateside. She and fiancé Jimmy Gorecki welcomed daughter Emilia Lovely on Dec. 9. Balancing music and family life is “definitely a little crazy,” she says, and an MTV documentary about her challenges will air next month.
“I’m excited,” she says of the special. “There are definitely some details in there that the world doesn’t know.”
New material was added to the U.S. release, including “Naked,” a gem that’s currently No. 2 on Billboard. As the title implies, it’s a song about feeling exposed in a relationship. “I wanted to create a pop song that was about love and vulnerability,” she says. “I was very much feeling it at the moment; I wrote it when I was seven months pregnant.”
Working with Iglesias was a natural move.
“I thought it would be good to celebrate the fact that I’m Latin, and who better than Enrique? He’s a legend in the game, so getting him on the album was definitely a plus,” she says, adding that the other duets were pretty rad as well. “I mean Timbo and Fab, hello? They’re complete OGs.”
Dev returned the favor, guesting on “Break Ya Back,” the first single from Timbaland’s upcoming Shock Value III. “He’s a complete musical genius, as everybody knows,” she says.
Dev’s upcoming Hampton Beach show helps reopen the newly renovated Wally’s Pub. “It now has one of largest club stages in New England, with sound and lights that rival House of Blues in Boston,” says Bernie Goulet of New England Concerts, who expects to book more shows there in the coming months.
“There is a buzz,” Goulet says, “and there is definitely a demand for more live entertainment in this market.”