In quarantine, Devin Scillian finds captive audience for his music
Ch. 4 anchor performs daily 'Quarantine Interludes' for Instagram followers
Like everyone right now, Devin Scillian needs a break from the news.
Him more than most. As the evening anchor at WDIV (Channel 4), he can't escape it. Consider it an occupational hazard.
So when he does get the chance to break away from the news of the day, Scillian turns to music.
"Music has always been my respite, my hideaway," says the 57-year-old.
And in recent weeks, since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" ordinance has kept us inside our homes, Scillian has taken his music to the people by posting daily performances on his Instagram page.
He calls it his "Quarantine Interludes," and the series has included performances of songs by Don McLean ("Mountains O'Mourne"), Darius Rucker (“Wagon Wheel”), Bob Dylan ("Shelter from the Storm") and more.
He records them from the living room of his Grosse Pointe Park home, where he's quarantined with his wife and twin daughters, and he's usually dressed casually in a hoodie and a baseball cap.
Most of the time he's playing guitar, sometimes he's playing piano, and during one performance — which ranks as his most popular to date — he broke out a ukulele.
"Is that it, do I need to do more ukulele songs?" he asks. "It's the opposite of breaking out the banjo."
The performances are folksy and informal, like a guy pulling out an acoustic guitar and playing at a campfire.
And since there currently are no campfires happening anywhere the response, he says, has been overwhelming.
"I had no idea there was such a thirst for it," says Scillian, who routinely gets more than 1,000 views per post. (He has 4,800 followers on the photo-sharing platform.)
When people began to quarantine in their homes, "a lot of people were sharing songs, and I started to realize it could become a respite for other people, too," he says.
Now he's got a bank of songs ready to go, and a captive audience to hear them.
"I told my wife Corey, 'I finally found out how to succeed in music,'" he says. "You just need to find an audience that can't leave."
The town crier
When he's not performing in front of his phone in his living room, Scillian is still suiting up and heading to WDIV's downtown studios to helm the station's nightly newscasts.
Some at the station are working from home and sending in reports over Zoom and Skype, but Scillian, by choice, is part of a skeleton crew that's broadcasting from inside the studio, all while practicing increased sanitation methods — wiping down keyboards and monitors, etc. — and social distancing from his crew members.
"It feels a little bit better to me to be in the newsroom, in the nerve center of where all the information is coming in," he says.
Still, it's an odd time to be in the building. "I have no idea how we're putting out six hours of television a day," he says.
Scillian, who celebrates 25 years with Ch. 4 in August, has covered big stories before. He was working at a station in Oklahoma City when the Federal Building was bombed in 1995, and he was anchoring at Ch. 4 during 9/11.
"A lot of big, extremely impactful events that I've covered, the difference was with those the explosion dissipates, the building lands and the towers come down, and then you start to sort it all out and make sense of it," he says. "In this instance, the building has been falling now for about a month, and we can't quite see the end of it."
Scillian is usually unflappable on air — even on "Flashpoint," his Sunday morning political show — but he made news himself in late March when he spoke out against claims of "fake news" during one of President Trump's daily briefings.
"It's dispiriting," Scillian said on the air, in a clip that was widely circuited and even, he hears, made its way to the White House. "American journalists are working in insane conditions to try to bring you the latest in a situation that is unprecedented for all of us... and it hasn't been easy playing air hockey with a White House that moves all over the place in how it feels about this situation on any given day. So regardless of your support or non-support for the President, I'm begging you not to tolerate attacks on a lot of journalists right now who are working their tails off."
"It was nuts," says Scillian of reaction to the clip, which he says numbered in the thousands and continues to pour in. "I'm still answering emails about it."
But he says 80-85 percent of the reaction was positive. "I was kind of stunned," he says. "The other 15 percent or so are people who are never going to watch me again, and that’s fine. I’m OK with that."
Scillian, who hails from Fort Riley, Kansas, about an hour west of Topeka, entered the journalism business because he believes in the role of the town crier, and he believes even more in that mission today.
"Just telling people what's going on in the world around them: that's really what we're trying to do now, every day, in a really reliable and accurate way," he says.
"I feel like, especially at the local level, journalism is doing really yeoman's work. I'm pretty proud of the profession right now."
Making it in music
Which brings us back to music.
Scillian has performed for years with his band, Arizona Son, and he's released several albums of country music. Earlier this month he won a Detroit Music Award for Outstanding Country Vocalist, a category he also topped in 2018.
Scillian isn't the only singing newsman in town; former WXYZ anchor Stephen Clark left TV to pursue his music career, and Scillian's co-worker Evrod Cassimy also moonlights as an R&B singer-songwriter.
Scillian — who earlier this month encouraged his pal Jeff Daniels to post a song he wrote about Al Kaline after his death — says he often jokes with Daniels about their dreams of making it in music.
"We've both done fine in what we do," Scillian says. "But god, we'd trade anything if we could make it full time as musicians."
In the meantime, there's Instagram and the Quarantine Interludes.
Followers have begun posting requests — for James Taylor and John Denver songs, for starters — and figuring out what song to perform "has become the weird pressure point every day," Scillian says.
While he first learned to play guitar because of Gordon Lightfoot, he says he'll spare his followers a performance of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."
His taste runs toward country, but he's not opposed to mixing it up. Say, Post Malone?
"I do love 'Circles,'" he says. "It’s a tad high for me, but I can move it."
As long as it's a break from the news, it will work.