Frank Gutch Jr: 10 Ways Devon Sproule & Paul Curreri Can Kick Your Ass…..

FrankJr2Devon, you have no idea the trouble you have caused me over the years.  Since hearing your most excellent Keep Your Silver Shined album back in 2006, I have been a slave to your music.  I have written about it and promoted it and played it in the shower.  I have taken your music for long romantic drives and have used it as background music for romantic dinners.  I have listened to it, all of it, enough to have made it part of my DNA and I have even adopted the Smokey Mountains, though mountains they hardly seem to a guy who grew up at the base of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.  That old Virginia block?  My heart broke when you deserted it.  You had me convinced that you would never leave the Blue Ridge.  I mean, you sang about it!

The journeys I have taken since then.  Back to the beginning and working slowly up to Silver, then awaiting each release thereafter.  I watched you grow up in a sense, though only in retrospect, and I have listened to you mature.

devonyellowDevon will understand, but for those who aren’t Devon, and I assume the vast majority of you are not, let me give you a bit of background.  Devon Sproule is a musician who used to call Charlottesville, Virginia home.  She spent her youth living in a commune not far from that fair city and, about the age of sixteen, packed up and headed for town to pursue a career in music.

The guy many musicians of that time called The Professor, Brady Earnhart, remembers her.

She was a scrappy busker when I first met her, he said.  She seemed kind of edgy and it was awhile before we got to be friends.  I’m crazy about what she does now.  Who else is going to surprise you in the middle of a pretty, pastoral sing by bringing up mosquitoes drinking our blood?

Maybe her husband and fellow musician Paul Curreri.  That guy will write about anything.  Mosquitoes?  Small potatoes.  He dedicated the title track to his last album, The Big Shitty, to houseflies.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

(Note:  This is a completely different version than on the album, which is why I included it here)

Ex-Charlottesvillain and also musician (I know, and we haven’t even started yet) Danny Schmidt remembers Devon’s early days too.

Devon grew up at Twin Oaks where I lived, he said, so I’ve known her since she was twelve or thirteen.  She was just a kid growing up on the farm and was very musical.  I knew her when she was just picking up the guitar.

She was maybe sixteen when I decided to leave the commune and she coincidentally decided to leave then too.  We each moved to C-ville and started to play open mikes and gigs at the smaller shows.  She is very vivacious and bubbly as well as sharp, intelligent and analytical, but she doesn’t take herself too seriously.  And she is very fun-loving.  So there is this nice kind of dichotomy to her— or balance, at least.  Musically, she has a very strong musical background.  Her dad was into The Beatles and Tin Pan Alley and the standards, so she learned those and is always challenging herself musically and melodically and chordally.  Her music comes out challenging and somewhat pushing the threshold, so people admire her moving up and down the neck of the guitar with all of these cool and jazzy chords.  Also, her personality makes her so accessible and the songs and themes within the songs are accessible.

People love that she is young and energetic.  What she is doing is more rooted in and appeals to the older folk, who can relate to it musically a bit while feeling a bit hip.  The younger folk relate to her because she is a lot like them, or seems to be, because she is not a stodgy folk singer.  Plus she’s really an attractive person.  She’s really cute.

devonlongsleeveWhile Danny was struggling setting himself up, Devon got a hand up from members of The Dave Matthews Band.  There was an EP, supposedly, and then there was Long Sleeve Story, produced by DMB’s Stefan Lessard and music somewhat of a cross between a very young Sproule with sidesteps toward Fiona Apple or Alanis Morissette, depending upon song.  It was the second of what was to be a string of albums.

It was right around the time of Long Sleeve Story that Paul Curreri came to town.

When I first moved to C-ville in 2000, Paul said, it seemed that I’d stumbled upon the nexus of the universe.  It was certainly one of the most exciting times of my life.  There were so many players— I was drawn in particular to the acoustic crew— Jan Smith, Nickeltown, Corey Harris, Danny Schmidt, Brady Earnhart, Devon, and a slew more.  We were quite a posse— often skunk as drunks, but churning a remarkable amount of material.  Showing it to each other.  I had the double-whammy shot in the ass of trying to score Danny Schmidt as my best friend and trying to score Devon as my girlfriend.  Danny took about three months.  Devon, more like three years.  Needless to say, the gasoline was in the engine.  And I swear that there seemed to be more folks at each concert than the last.

Needless to say, Paul wore Devon down and it wasn’t too long before they married.  It had to have been rough, trying to survive as musicians with the business the way it was going, but they somehow did it.  Undoubtedly there were side jobs— studio work or teaching or God knows what else.  I would contact them occasionally during those times and it all came down to money.  It does with the vast majority of musicians.  There is never enough.

devoncurreriThey each scored contracts with Tin Angel Records, a small label out of the UK and thought about moving to Europe.  The one email I got from Paul during that time complained of the cold and the difficulty adapting to a different culture.  Paul returned home, pretty much to stay.  Devon spent periods of time touring Canada and the UK, where she was developing a following.  Fairly recently, they stopped by to visit Danny in Austin, Texas and ended up moving there.  Thus, my comment about deserting the Blue Ridge.

One thing you have to understand is that Devon loves the Blue Ridge.  She must.  The area plays a huge part on her music.  She describes the scenery and various happenings and her attachment to the people in her songs, sometimes so well that I feel like I know them.  She would not have left if it were not imperative.  But she had to have hated to move.  Austin may be a nice place, but Charlottesville was home, you know?

I discovered the music of Paul Curreri during Devon’s UK and Canadian tours.  Paul had a lot of time on his hands and spent a lot of it recording the critically successful The Velvet Rut album.  They call C-ville that.  I would tell you why, but I’,m not sure I totally understand it myself.  Anyway, with Devon gone… well, let’s let Paul explain it.  I had questioned him about what I heard as a real departure from his earlier albums which were based more in the acoustic blues.

currericabaretI’m not sure it’s all that much of a departure, he responded, at least at its core— at its songwriting core.  Sonically, yeah.  I can see that it leaned a b it further than my other albums.  That certainly wasn’t intentional or preconceived.  In fact, the record itself was made by accident.  Devon and I had built a little studio in our house.  Most evenings, I was tinkering around with the equipment, laying down this and that, trying to get my bearings.  After about two or three months, I suddenly realized that I had written and recorded about 30 songs, each recorded the night it was written.  Thematically, they were impossibly connected, way more than if I had actually TRIED to connect them.  So, lo and behold, somewhere in there was The Velvet RutIt felt like a gift!

The songs were all recorded alone, late at night usually, and Devon always out of town.  There was a certain joyfulness in the banging, I think, even if there was a certain toxicity in the lyrics and delivery.  I was looking for something private as opposed to in front of an engineer and it was nice there was no one around to go “don’t look under there; it’s definitely not under there.”

Has Devon changed Paul’s songwriting process?

paulcurreri2More than anything, he said, I think she has inspired some of the best of my songs.  As I said, it took me quite some time to wrangle her affection and that wrangling squeezed out some gut-wrenchers.  I have wanted a lot of things in my life— from guitars to motorcycles to Hawaii— but nothing like I wanted her.  Anyhow, I soon grew to really love HER music, her patience and craftsmanship.  No one cares how long it took Brian Wilson to write “Warmth of the Sun.”  They just know the melody is circular and eats its own tail— perfect.  It is rare that I am actually scrounging around trying to figure out how to personally utilize most aspects of her process.  It is awesome to watch HER do it, though.

How much does Paul influence Devon, you ask?

A lot, she admits, and the influence of his record collection is huge!  When I met Paul, I became a fan right away.  When he gave me the cassette of his demo recordings—  The Red and The Blue— or Green— mine looked green.  I think he goes back and forth thinking that those were the best or worst things he’s ever done.  He’s really torn on that.  They’re raw— just popped out of him.  Really killer stuff.

How does she feel about her early recordings?

Similarly self-conscious.  And with mine, they didn’t really pop out.  I’m way less natural of a songwriter.  I was really musical as a kid but didn’t start writing until I was about fourteen.  I now tend to think that if you start writing by the time you’re eleven or so, you’re pretty set as far as being a natural writer.  If you wait until you are fourteen or fifteen, you are kind of screwed in that your inner critic was born before your inner muse.

I tend not to play my songs for Paul until they are done, which doesn’t mean that he doesn’t help me with them afterward.  He is more likely to play a song he is excited about than I am.  He will play it for me when he is half-done.  He’s not nervous about it at all.  He just wants to play it for someone.  I think he likes to hear what I have to say, but I think mostly he is just excited about it.  Myself, I will pour over a song for a few weeks and finally get it to a stage where I feel it is worth playing for someone and then offer it up.  I am a little more closed in terms of the process.

Are you paying attention?  Do you see why I love these guys?  They live their music.

Every year— at least I hope it is still every year— Paul and Devon get together for a Valentine’s Day show in C-ville.  It started quite a few years ago when they were fresh in love.  Rumor has it that they each write and perform a song for the other.  I think that is damn cool.

Paul has come upon a bit of trouble recently.  It appears that something is wrong with his hands and he has been forced to give up playing.  This scares the hell out of me.  Paul has been a real constant in my music listening over the years.  The guy is a dynamo of creativity and, man, can he play the guitar!  I mean, with all of the guitarists I know and listen to, he is one of the best.  For right now, he is spending time working with other musicians in engineering and production capacities.  If I was good enough to record an album, he’s the first guy I would call.

Devon recently released— well, last Fall— a new album with Canadian Mike O’Neill titled Colours.  I admit to being a bit apprehensive, not having vetted this O’Neill character (Devon never asks me anything), but I am extremely pleased with the outcome.  There is a flowing jazz feel to the songs but not so much as to be jazz, if that makes any sense.  Devon’s and Mike’s voices work extremely well together and the songwriting is first-rate, not to mention the production which is gorgeous, if I may be allowed to use the word.  I shall finish this short piece with a handful of videos of songs from that album.  Review pending (but I think you already know what I’m going to write).

I know this column is shorter than usual, but I’m exhausted.  It is mid-morning, meaning just short of 3 A.M. and writing this has been a struggle.  Maybe it’s too personal, this music.  It seems the older I get, it gets moreso.  Before I stop, though, let me give you links to Paul and Devon’s MySpace pages.  Now, before you say anything, just let me say that they have taken care of a lot of the problems they had when revamping the pages and that the music pages are working very well, indeed.  Just in case you want to hear some damn good music.  For Paul (click here), I would recommend starting with California— for Devon (click here), Don’t Hurry For Heaven.  Don’t ask me why.  But if you really want to hear Devon, I heartily recommend her and Mike’s bandcamp page.  Colours is a killer.  (click here)

Music Notes smallNotes…..  As if there aren’t already too many musicians worth following (there aren’t), Milk Records out of Melbourne, Australia, passes this video along by Courtney Barnett.  Some of you may already be clued in by her appearance on Jimmy Fallon, but for those who struggle to stay up past nine, here is a look at a recent tune with some odd animation which equals artist-to-watch.  The music stands on its own, but with the animation…..  Oh, and the album is available in the States.  Distributed by RED.  Just so you know.

Milk, for those of you unfamiliar with the label, has a very impressive lineup of artists, including Barnett, Jen Cloher, The Finks, Fraser A. Gorman, Royston Vasie, The Saturday Knights, and Super XX Man.  They plan to release on 10” vinyl a sampler of those artists and their music.  If it didn’t cost a house payment to ship between countries now that the 1% control everything, I would order one for myself.  Good stuff.

Ah, hell, as long as we’re talking Milk, let’s watch Gorman’s latest vid.

Ah, hell again.  I’m impressed enough to pass along the label’s Bandcamp page.  Just click on the album cover to listen.  The more I hear, the more impressed I am.  Click here for some damn fine music from Down Under.

Closer to home, Seattle’s Ticktockman has recently announced a new project which they say will be a bit different than past efforts (which were mind boggling, as far as I was concerned).  My hand was shaking when I wrote the note in the book, I like these guys so much.  Who is/are Ticktockman?  If you don’t know, you get an ‘F’.  From a couple of years ago.  Watch this.

That damn Paul Curreri never tells me anything.  He out out this freaking outstanding album a couple of years ago titled The Big Shitty (Where do hipster flies socialize?) and filled me in on that, all right, but forgot to clue me in on this video, a live rendition of the title song not even close to the album version.  The man is one of the most creative guitarists/musicians I have had the pleasure to hear.  Of course, you already know that, assuming that you read this column from the beginning.  I give you The Big Shitty, unplugged.

Let’s try this again.  Last week, I tried to embed a video by The Sidewalk Scene titled Gene Clark.   That video was killed by members of the band.  Here is a video of a track titled The Last Time It Rained, written and performed by the same band.  Friend Gary Heffern wrote the lyrics.  Very Byrds-influenced and very well put together.


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: 10 Ways Devon Sproule & Paul Curreri Can Kick Your Ass…..”

  1. […] C-ville’s music scene, the last time in a May column about Devon Sproule and Paul Curreri (click here).  While Brady and I barely know one another, having only traded emails a handful of years ago, we […]

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