Invisible illnesses can take over people’s lives without others knowing. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is one of these. It’s a serious progressive genetic disease that results in persistent lung infections and limits your ability to breath over time. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry, over 30,000 people in the US and 70,000 worldwide live with CF. Deva is a singer/songwriter with atypical CF. Her recent single Dear Ocean explores the issues she has faced due to the disease. Born in London to American parents and raised in Berkshire, Deva’s sound is heavily influenced by both British and American culture and music. With strong vocals, a raw and authentic writing style, and boozy, alternative-pop production, Dear Ocean is a must listen. We recently talked with Deva about her work.
The Tempest: What inspired you to make this music video?
Deva: I guess I was mostly inspired by the average image of a sick person. For some people, a hospital becomes a home. Problem is, you can’t live in it like a home. You can’t really dance or party, or make too much of a mess. You feel awful, so you get wrapped up in cotton wool, and people watch you 24/7 – which is, of course, necessary, but it can get tedious after a while. I wanted to switch up the narrative a little. The music video is a live-in patient’s fantasy of what their home could be like.
TT: What made you want to film it in a hospital?
D: It suited the narrative. Any low budget filmmaker will tell you, it’s almost impossible to get a hospital set for a low budget! So if I could do it, I really wanted to. Thankfully, the site coordinator at St. Mark’s Hospital [in Maidenhead, UK] is an absolute don. Smashing guy. I owe him a bottle of wine.
TT: How do you think this song could be helpful to people with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) or those who have an invisible illness?
D: There isn’t a lot of representation for people with invisible illnesses, for obvious reasons – [m]ost of us are invisible. I suppose I’m hoping it’ll be a little grit for a community of people who are usually painted by society as frail and lifeless. We’re full of vibrancy and emotion. We want things. We can love or hate. Feel angry or depressed. Happy or horny. We’re alive. We aren’t just sick. I know that I come from a place of– I don’t know what it [would] be called – basically-healthy privilege? There are people way sicker than me. It’s easy for me to say all this stuff and sing about it, but from what I’ve heard, and felt personally, I’ve always been more inspired by people with chronic or invisible illnesses who don’t let it rule them. As cliche as it might sound, it’s important for all of us, regardless of what we’re living with, to only ever be identified by our souls, our hearts and our minds. Not our dodgy bodies. Also, I really want to help connect the CF community. There’s a risk of cross-contamination if people with CF hang out. Two people with CF shouldn’t ever hug or anything. It sucks, and it’s easy to feel extra isolated because of that.
TT: At first glance, the song could be about illness but if you listen more closely, it touches on themes that could relate to people from all walks of life. What do you hope people come away with after listening to this song?
D: I kept it kind of vague because it does matter to me that anyone can relate to it. I mention my chest, blood in the sink, salt, breathing, choking on a cigarette – that’s all quite strongly linked to CF. However, the main gist is simply someone living with something physically debilitating and [how] it’s affecting them psychologically. That can be applied to almost anything. So, I want people to come away with a little understanding and feel less alone in whatever they’re going through.
TT: In the past, CF hasn’t been very well represented in pop culture. Why do you think featuring characters with illnesses like this are important?
D: Primarily to raise awareness. It’s also important to paint a varied picture of it for people who might have heard of CF, but know very little about it. For example, atypical CF is something even doctors didn’t know that much about back when I was diagnosed, and that was only in 2011. It’s the disease that can kill people by the time they’re 30, but there are also people in their 90s with CF. Some of them might not even know they have it! Hollywood needs to learn that we don’t need one illness movie among 500 shitty franchise reboots, and please let that one illness movie be about more than just the illness featured. When a character’s entire narrative is lead by their illness, I’m bored. Raise awareness sure, but write a cool character and an awesome story first. It’d be so great if someone made an entire action movie. Explosions! Collisions! The protagonist saves the day! We all want to be them! Then at the end, they go home, turn on their nebulizer, and you find out they had CF the whole time. Maybe I’ll write that.
TT: What are you doing when you’re not writing music?
D: I’m an actor, predominantly. I’ve been acting since I was a kid. So, if I’m not on a job, I’ll be writing music or developing a film project. Unrelated to creative stuff, I’m an ice skater. Music is my biggest love, though. I just want to do that every day. It’s a way to connect to not only myself, but to other people. I love it.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.