Devon Sproule keeps moving to keep it fresh
The opening song on Devon Sproule’s latest album paints a somewhat less than appealing view of being on the road, describing a world of living out of suitcases, missing her loved ones and then coming home to an empty house because her husband, fellow musician Paul Curreri, has a different tour schedule.
“Yeah, I think that song was written at the end of a tour,” says Sproule, speaking to Backroads at the end of a 19-day, 16-show tour, and with two days off before moving on to the next country.
“But you can’t really complain because it’s a pretty great job. My husband and I both agree that when you miss the place where you’re from it keeps it really fresh, and the fact that Paul and I are both separate singer-songwriters and tour separately for the most part is really, really great because it also keeps our relationship fresh and exciting.”
Sproule’s upbeat, jazz-tinged country blues, combined with relentless touring in Europe in the past couple of years and support from Radio 2 DJs Radcliffe and Maconie, has garnered her increasing popularity in the UK. The latest album, Don’t Hurry for Heaven, was recorded in Northamptonshire and released by Coventry-based Tin Angel Records.
But though the increase in her popularity has been rapid in the UK, it’s been far from an overnight success for the 27-year-old, who started gigging aged 16.
“In terms of the English stuff, that to me has felt like it has moved pretty quickly – not as quickly as some people – but I have never felt uncomfortable with the pace,” she says. “Sometimes you wish you had more money because it’s not a business where anyone but the people in the top echelon actually do make any money.”
Sproule was born in Canada but grew up in Virginia on a commune, Twin Oaks, where her father still lives.
“I was an only child from my parents but I had a lot of people my age to run around with so that was nice,” she says. “Then as I got older and was singing more and started playing guitar there was a lot of encouragement.”
She left the commune as a teenager, moving to the nearby town of Charlottesville. Leaving can be difficult financially, she says. “The whole idea is that you’re living equally and sort of being provided for instead of saving up money, which is great, but makes it a little tricky if you want to leave.
“But for me, I just sort of moved to a nearby town and that town ended up being a pretty good music scene. It had a little pedestrian area and I played there just on the street, and that was a great way to kind of start playing. I met a bunch of people and I still live there. It’s not the most happening music business town, it’s not like Nashville or Austin or New York or LA, but it’s really lovely and I like the pace of it.”
The story of how she met her husband is one to melt the hardest heart.
The 18-year-old Sproule was playing in Charlottesville and had reached the last song of her set – Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” – when an inebriated Curreri jumped up on the stage and insisted he was going to sing with her.
“I was kind of like trying to go with the flow a bit and I said he could sing on the choruses, and he did and it was pretty good. We kind of made friends afterward.”
They began dating two years later, and were married three years after that.
“I really like being married,” Sproule says. “We work really hard to keep it that way. It’s not just a breeze, but if you care enough to work hard then it kind of is a breeze.”
Her previous album, “Keep Your Silver Shined,” was a bright and happy album – Sproule has described it as her ‘getting married album’ – with an intimate tone. The new album is a touch more in-your-face, heavily influenced by Sproule’s travels.
“I had this English band I played all these festivals with last year we got pretty tight. At festivals you’ve kind of got to play out a little, not loud but just put yourself out there, so our set kind of became a little more, a little groovier, a little more adventurous, and then we recorded most of the record right after that summer.
“And then mostly I hear Paul’s influence because he was the producer. He doesn’t lean on any particular genre in his production work, so there all these kind of West Coast harmonies, and some doo-wop, and some ‘60s rock’n’roll influence, as well as the stuff that we sort of write, more country and country blues.”
Sproule foresees a new influence in her future projects, following a trip to Africa that she and Curreri took last year.
They were invited to travel to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as part of a project exploring the unlikely influence there of the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers, in the 1950s, including a tribe that recorded a song honouring Rodgers in fertility rites.
They played with two elderly musicians, one from the predominant Kikuyu ethnic group and one from the minority Luo, trying out each other’s songs and recording some material together.
“It was really cool. I don’t know if it’ll actually come out in a way that’s right in line with our careers, but it was such a good experience just personally and musically that I hope I can keep working with them” Sproule said.
She and Curreri have also written a song, “I Wanna Die in my Shoes”, told from the perspective of Rodgers – “if Jimmy Rodgers knew about the whole African thing. I don’t think he did.”