While singer-songwriter Devon Sproule’s sound has evolved over time, she continues to write thoughtful and compelling lyrics. This month her eighth album, The Gold String, will be released. The record is themed on the idea of an invisible string connecting all things, and the possibility of finding “spiritual togetherness in everyday life,” Sproule says. For her this also means finding connection to her roots, wherever she is in the world. Lucky for us, she resides in Charlottesville with her husband, Paul Curreri, and daughter, Ray. She spoke with C-VILLE about her craft.
C-VILLE: What is your songwriting process?
Devon Sproule: I don’t write a lot of songs per year—I put out a record every two or three or more years—so my process tends to change with each song I write. Often I will be inspired by somebody else’s chord progression and it’ll kind of perk up my ears and I’ll figure it out…and then if there’s a way to sort of lift it without, you know, ripping it off, I’ll incorporate it into a song.
Being inspired by genres of music that aren’t your own is nice because once you filter it into your own language or sound, it doesn’t really sound like them anymore.
I will play with the chords and often my first thought is kind of boring for melody. And so I’ll play those notes of the boring melody and then I’ll feel around those notes and find the notes that I have forgotten to sing. Because often my voice will run these same sort of scales or patterns of notes that sound sometimes pretty but not very interesting. So I’ll play those notes on the guitar to remind my voice of the notes it’s forgotten.
I do most of it by ear. I can’t read music. So it’s a very intuitive process.
Can you give an example of a song that inspired you?
Kate Bush’s “Nocturn” from her Aerial album. That is one that I studied. There’s something about the melody. And also Amel Larrieux. She’s sort of jazz with R&B simple beats and expressive, decorative singing.
How do you come up with your lyrics?
I have a journal and sometimes it’s the most boring rundown of my day and sometimes it’s more verse. So, say I have a chord progression I’m interested in, sometimes I’ll take my notebook and kind of see if there’s anything in there that can fit with what I’m working with. I’ll have sort of half a lyric line and half a melody line and I’ll be trying to see if they can fit together. So they’re both created on their own and then I’m trying to ease them together and see if they can live together.
And I like to go through my senses…[for] any really distinct smells or tastes or colors or textures in the setting I’ve created for the song and then incorporate those. It’s just another way of—like that melody tool—finding details that don’t always come to you in your first sketch.
How do you decide whether lyrics will be narrative or not?
If it’s a country-sounding song or a really folk-sounding song then it tends to be more of a narrative or a story. And if I’ve been listening to ambient or experimental music it comes out more stream-of-consciousness.
How much do you draw from your life or experience?
Quite a lot. When I write or hear something that somebody else has written that feels unrelated to themselves or unrelated to something they feel strongly about then I feel like I can’t connect to it as well. So when there is that sort of humming emotional energy there, that’s when it feels most real to me.
“You Can Come Home,” a collaboration with Mike O’Neill from the album Colours
When I began this / I ran a fast ship.
Top of the water / I barely scratched it.
But each empty day / I took on the weight.
I lost the wide eye. I lost the wide sky.
“If I Can Do This” from I Love You, Go Easy
The back part of the pond belongs
To the pilots and yellow belly sliders.
If you push to that part of the pond
On the mossy dock / and fall in / hang onto your bits.
To that part of the pond / we run—
Hot from the sauna / mud at the bottom.
If you pick the right path from the pond /
You’ll come upon God’s acre, the terra bathers.
“Healthy Parents, Happy Couple” from Don’t Hurry for Heaven
Take a book / for instance /
When it’s done / you are let down.
But when it’s smacking in your head /
You go attacking for the end.
Like a good love / too long in bed / besides /
Why should we do like the movies?
Moving doesn’t need a pattern.
Wooing matters / not the captain.
Related C-VILLE coverage: Singer-songwriter Devon Sproule comes home