Devon Gilfillian Thinks The Pandemic Has Exposed The 'Cracks In The Ceiling' | KGOU
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Devon Gilfillian Thinks The Pandemic Has Exposed The 'Cracks In The Ceiling'

Aug 19, 2020
Originally published on August 19, 2020 8:20 am

For the Morning Edition Song Project, we've asked musicians to capture life in the era of COVID-19 by writing an original song that describes this turbulent moment. For our next entry, Nashville-based soul singer Devon Gilfillian examines how the pandemic created space for a national dialogue on race with his new song, "Cracks in the Ceiling," which he wrote after a difficult conversation with a close friend.


"All of the songs that I love that I have written come out of conversations [where] I sit down with somebody and we talk for an hour, three hours — our hearts are connected, our minds are connected," Devon Gilfillian says. "And if all those things come together, you will find an amazing song."

The musician says that his new song "Cracks in the Ceiling" came from one such situation: Gilfillian, who's not a fan of the president, sat down to talk with a friend who had voted for Donald Trump.

"I saw light bulbs go off in many moments talking about my understanding of Black history in this country," Gilfillian recalls. "He told me about his Christian upbringing and watching The Dukes of Hazzard and not knowing that the Confederate flag was a racist symbol until recently."

"Those conversations are scary," he continues. "You feel like you might walk away without a friend."

Together they came to a middle ground, but Gilfillian was still thinking about that conversation days later when he did a songwriting session with Natalie Closner Schepman and Allison and Meegan Closner — three sisters who make up the Portland, Ore.-based band Joseph and provide back-up vocals on "Cracks in the Ceiling."

NPR's David Greene spoke to Devon Gilfillian about piecing together the lyrics to "Cracks in the Ceiling" while chatting with the members of Joseph about civil rights, how he hopes the world has stopped for a reason and about seizing the moment to address systemic racism with open conversations. Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We have been reaching out to musicians in recent weeks to get their take on the COVID era. We've been asking them to write an original song based on this turbulent moment. We call it The MORNING EDITION Song Project. Today's guest - Devon Gilfillian. He's a soul singer based in Nashville.

DEVON GILFILLIAN: All the songs that I love that I have written come out of conversations that I sit down with somebody and we just talk for an hour, three hours. Our hearts are connected. Our minds are connected. And if all those things can come together, you will find an amazing song.

GREENE: Like the one he wrote for us. It is called "Cracks In The Ceiling." It came out of a difficult conversation he had with a close friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) I'd see the good in you, but there's things we need to do.

GREENE: What's he like?

GILFILLIAN: He's awesome. And, you know, he voted for Trump. And I don't like Donald Trump, I'll be honest. But it's OK, you know. I think it's OK to have different views as long as you can come together and talk to each other with love. And me and my friend agreed to come together and have that conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) Let's just talk it through. The world has stopped for a reason. Now it's you and me. There's nothing in between us...

I saw light bulbs go off in many moments, you know, talking about my understanding of Black history in this country. And he told me about his Christian upbringing and watching "The Dukes Of Hazzard" and not knowing that the Confederate flag was a racist symbol until recently. And, you know, those conversations are scary. You feel like you might walk away without a friend, but, yeah, we got to a middle ground.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) Where is humility? Have we forgotten that feeling? Yeah...

GREENE: Devon was still thinking about that conversation days later when he did a songwriting session with a band out of Portland. The group is called Joseph. They're three sisters - Natalie Closner Schepman and Allison and Meegan Closner. You can hear their backup vocals on the song. They co-wrote it with Devon after he told them about that difficult discussion with his friend.

And you're all on Zoom, right? You're, like, talking to these three sisters on a Zoom songwriting session.

GILFILLIAN: Yeah. Yeah (laughter).

GREENE: Which is like, I guess, songwriting of 2020.

GILFILLIAN: And this is our first write, too. This the first time I'm meeting them, too. And I'm just, like, coming out the gate like, I don't know what to do. I don't know what's going on, man. But they were...

GREENE: Wow.

GILFILLIAN: ...But they were, like, right on my level immediately.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) Can't you see there is a wound that's in need of our healing?

We started talking about civil rights and women's rights and that racism is very much still alive and needs to be squashed. And, you know, Natalie, she was just taking notes as we're talking. We would say certain things, and she'd be like, oh, my God, that's perfect. And, like - so like, we are all, like, piecing together the song from the conversation that we were having.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) Could it be we've been sleeping, caught up in the dream? Wake up and we'll see cracks are in the ceiling.

GREENE: So is that the idea that you all feel like you wanted to convey, that something is really broken here?

GILFILLIAN: Yeah. Most importantly, too, is that we wouldn't be able to see this if this pandemic wasn't here. I think Ahmaud Arbery would have been swept under the rug. I think George Floyd would have been swept under the rug, but we all had the time to sit and look at our phones and watch that video and say, oh, my God. I have nothing better to do than to go out and protest. You know, I think many distractions have taken us away from paying attention to the racial issues in this country, and now is such a time for us to do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) The world has stopped for a reason.

GREENE: Are you convinced that once we come out of this - and I hope we come out of it at some point soon - like, are you convinced that, once people are back to work, that we'll really grapple with systemic racism in new ways? Or will we just go back to being distracted by television and work and kind of go back to our old ways?

GILFILLIAN: I think that this moment has been turned into enough of a movement that, hopefully, we can do the thing in November that we want to do. If we get the right person in the White House, I do think that we have enough momentum to push it. I think eyes are open right now. I think hearts have a wider capacity of love and empathy at this moment. We have to seize it with open conversations and love, you know?

GREENE: Well, what if - I mean, you're talking about the way you want the presidential election to go. Like, let's say that Donald Trump doesn't win. Your friend who you had this conversation with supports Trump. He might be frustrated, angry to see his candidate lose. Like, what would you tell him the day after the election?

GILFILLIAN: I'd say, come on over. Let's have some ramen, and tell me why you're upset, man.

GREENE: Would you do the same thing if Trump wins? Would you go over and have ramen with him and try to see how you can move forward as well?

GILFILLIAN: You know, that's a very good question, David. If Trump wins, I don't think I'm going to be having ramen with many - I'll probably be in the streets (laughter). But I will talk to my friend eventually. I think it's my responsibility to have that conversation with him because if he were to do that for me, I should do that for him. But we will see.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) Tomorrow is today...

GREENE: Devon, it is great talking to you. Thank you.

GILFILLIAN: David, thank you, brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRACKS IN THE CEILING")

GILFILLIAN: (Singing) The world has stopped for a reason. Now it's you and me. There's nothing in between.

GREENE: That's Devon Gilfillian. His song for The MORNING EDITION Song Project is called "Cracks In The Ceiling," and you can hear the full song on our website at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.