The last time C-VILLE Weekly talked with Devon Sproule, she was jetting off to Germany with her husband, Paul Curreri, to pursue a musical life abroad.
The couple recently returned to Charlottesville, and Sproule is feeling more adventurous than ever.
“Everything that led away from Virginia felt necessary, and so did the coming home,” she says. After their Berlin adventure, Sproule and Curreri moved to Austin, Texas, in 2012 and lived in an apartment attached to their friends’ home. They watched Longhorns games, played music in the living room and meditated in an Airstream trailer in the backyard.
But they missed their family in Virginia, and when Curreri’s siblings started planning moves to the commonwealth, Sproule and Curreri did the same.
If you’re not familiar with Sproule’s career, here’s a brief recap: She grew up in the Twin Oaks intentional community in Louisa County and released her first album, Devon, in 1999, when she was just a teenager. In 2009, Sproule won the prestigious ASCAP Foundation’s Sammy Cahn Award for her song “Old Virginia Block,” a rollicking ode to the blues and the Blue Ridge. In 2014, the New Yorker ran a profile on her, titled “Listen to Devon Sproule.”
Now is as good a time as ever to listen to Devon Sproule. While living in Austin, she says she allowed herself experiences that gave her rich material for songs on her upcoming album, The Gold String, due out in early 2016.
“I find that true things are often the most interesting, or the most original [to write about]. If I do something that’s true to reality, often it will be interesting,” she says.
One of the new songs, “Make It Safe,” came out of Sproule’s experience as a doula for her friends’ son’s birth. The lyrics elude to the hospital where the baby was born, to the baby’s club foot and therapeutic booties; she sings about what is at once beautiful and frightening about birth and the life that follows.
The Gold String is a move away from the bluesy indie folk that Sproule is known for. The new songs have more edge—perhaps because she currently sings harmonies and lead vocals for local “twee boogie” garage-y new wave-y rock band New Boss—but they’re quintessentially Sproule in that they’re honest, clever and sometimes offer dream-like examinations of the human experience.
Sproule says the album represents a shift in her music because it represents a shift within. At 33, she’s relaxing into her hippie heritage—choosing it, even—and seeing that love, in a broad sense, is the most common experience of all.
That’s what Sproule is getting at with the new songs. The gold string is a visualization of, a metaphor for “love and connection, both simple, tangible love and the more mystical kind,” she says. And it’s helping her rediscover what draws her to music.
“Watching Paul being forced to shed some of his musical identity these past few years [because of hand and voice issues], I’ve realized that music is not everything to me,” Sproule says. “I have a new song that says, ‘It’s a good time to be feeling the same instead of different.’ I’m thinking about my human identity, not just my musical one.”
She acknowledges that her sound has become more difficult to categorize and market. Here’s the thing about Sproule: You can’t put her in a box because she builds her own box from scraps of folk, jazz, Americana, blues, rock and even punk.
“I used to think, ‘My music is for everyone. If everyone could just hear it, I’m sure they would love it.’ And now I know that’s not the case,” says Sproule.
Her music isn’t for everyone—it’s for people who listen carefully, who are open to being completely arrested and compelled by something original—but her songs are about everyone.
The track “The Trees at Your Mom’s” starts in the yard, looking at the trees, at a crumbling wall and the climbing vine and imagining what they’ll do in the future. Musically, the song follows a set structure, but instead of repeating lyrically to the familiar melody, Sproule keeps going, spinning away from the yard and into her heart: “This could be ours/ Visible stars.” Sproule sings with her eyes closed, as if she’s watching the scenes flicker on the inside of her eyelids like home movies on a projector screen.
She continues: “I’m trying to find my way through/ Like a raven with a frog voice/ Raving in a fog slice/ Royal purple pond ice/ This is what it feels like.”
Have you ever thought about a fog slice? Me neither, but I know, from all five senses, exactly what she means.
Just a few lines later, she sings about “a hay bale wrapped in plastic/ It smells just like strawberry Chapstick.” The line is a gold string, a connection. Either you’ve worn strawberry Chapstick yourself or you’ve kissed someone who has, and you’ll taste it, mingled with the smell of fresh hay in your nose, for the rest of the night.
Sproule’s new songs reveal how extraordinary common experiences can be when we allow ourselves to have them. Slow down a bit and admire the Blue Ridge Mountains, she says. Maybe witness a birth. Look for fog slices and visible stars, and think about what could be yours. And feel the tug of the gold string when it pulls.