Restless Farewell

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She is the kind-hearted folk queen, more of a traditionalist, who, having recognized greatness in her counterpart, introduces him and his less palatable, but perhaps more brilliant, songs to the world. His twitchy affect is softened by her gorgeous trill, her wacky, glowing grace. We’re jealous that she got him and he got her, but they seem to love each other, and that, in turn, makes them both lovable.

Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule, the husband and wife songwriters who have been central
to Charlottesville’s artistic identity, play a show at the Jefferson on August 27 before moving to Germany.

Since Paul Curreri famously jumped on stage uninvited to provide backing vocals at a Devon Sproule gig, the magic of Curreri and Sproule has been a sort of emotional kryptonite to Charlottesville’s stolid, arms-folded concert audiences. But we’re going to have to start searching for a new Fred and Ginger, a new Bob and Joan, a new Sonny and Cher, because Paul Curreri and Devon Sproule are moving to Germany.

I met Curreri, who plays a farewell concert with Sproule this week at The Jefferson Theater, at a bar Downtown last week to ask why. Sproule was in Europe, where her music has brought her with increasing frequency in recent years, for a concert and radio spot. Curreri had a pack of Marlboro Lights on the table, and wore a sleeveless vintage tee with SAN JOSE dribbled down the front in various neons. “We never really made any money, but we made enough,” says Curreri, sipping a Guinness. “And I was like, ‘I guess that’s just being an artist.”

When Sproule was in London for a previous show, where the band’s friend and manager, Rich Guy, lives—the name is ironic, Curreri notes—Guy told Sproule that he was considering a move to Berlin. Curreri says Sproule liked that idea, too. “That started the ball rolling,” he says. “When [Sproule] came back and told me, I nearly flipped my lid. I thought she was crazy.”

But the economics of it all came into clear view when the duo looked at their taxes. “We actually had the opportunity to sit down and see what we made between 2007 and 2010,” says Curreri, “and we made over 90 percent—it was 91 percent—less on our CD sales in 2010 than we did in 2007.”

Curreri says he’s never cared about money, but he considers it a mark of credibility to make it to a certain level—to, say, be able to get a tire changed without thinking it’s a big deal. But it was just getting ridiculous. This year alone, says Curreri, Sproule has taken a half dozen trips overseas, mostly at her own expense.

“One night we were just walking home after a party, and I had just been turned down by someone in America to represent me, who I thought was really likely,” says Curreri. “I was pretty drunk. I just lost it—I freaked out, but not violently or anything. I’d never had that feeling, like, ‘What am I doing?’

“Then I woke up in the morning, and I asked her about it.”

Next thing, Curreri, Sproule and Guy all convinced each other that they were serious, and made firm plans: The whole gang was upping, and moving to Berlin. (Guy has since backed out, says Curreri.)

All this invites a question: Why can’t two songwriters who live and breathe great American music make great American money? Paul explained: “There is a small advantage to being foreign [playing in Europe], which is sort of special. But the real reason is that because the territories are much smaller, it’s so much easier to make a dent in a national market. Every tour we do, we’re on the equivalent of ‘All Things Considered,’ for an hour with a whole band,” says Curreri.

Just because fewer people aren’t buying records doesn’t take the pressure off musicians to put the time and money into making great records. Curreri’s latest, The Big Shitty, is a loose, bar-room affair with eclectic flourishes that burst out of nowhere. (He recorded it this January in Berlin.) Sproule’s most recent record, I Love You, Go Easy, is as good as any she’s made, but Curreri says it might not even see stateside release; both are on the U.K.-based label Tin Angel Records, which does not distribute to America.

The plan is to move for two years, though he expects it will probably be closer to three. “People move for work all the time,” he says, as if trying to convince himself.

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