Interview: Devon Sproule

After watching her dance along to the Marker Starling’s soundcheck, and having been welcomed with an expected Canadian hospitality, I caught up with Devon Sproule in the dressing room of Norwich Arts Centre before her headline show. Surrounded by endless posters of past acts and the home comforts of an ironing board, I found out about her hippie roots, her musical tastes and the brilliant new album Colours she has created with Mike O’Neill.

So, as I’ve been reading about you, I’ve seen people list your genre as anything from country to jazz, how would you describe your music?

Growing up in the commune, the music that I initially made was more of a rootsy thing. Now it feels like it leans in other directions. It’s song oriented pop, or songwriter pop. I suppose it’s hard to want to categorise yourself, so you can let other people do it. I guess early folk stuff was so raw and good, and now there’s new indie folk stuff that has become raw again, and then the stuff in between is the just same singer songwriter stuff over and over again, so that’s what I’d like to avoid. I don’t listen to much singer songwriter folky music, so maybe that’s why I don’t like being shoved into that. I just like to think I’d listen to my own music.

Who are your main influences? And what sort of music are you listening to at the moment?

After the show last night Thom (from Bernice) was DJ-ing in the hotel with some R&B from the 80s, I’ve been listening to a lot of that. I was pretty into the new Junip record, kind of groove oriented stuff. The whole band is into Judee Sill, she lived and died in the 70s and made some great records. Another lost lady was Linda Perhacs, who I’m slowly getting in to. She is still around and we’re playing one of her songs tonight. We’re also playing a Roches song, and they’re pretty folky. Also, I was definitely influenced by Mike O’Neill’s music, and he’s got a pop vibe to him. His band in the 90s, The Inbreds, was kind of song oriented raw rock, and now it’s more 60s influenced.

You really have created an album that sounds like a great mixture of both of your styles, was it an easy process?

It was, it was really easy. It was work – the writing and that side took concentration – but having someone to bounce ideas off was good. We did it all remotely, so we just sent demos back and forth,  so instead of critiquing each other’s work we would rework and rerecord the songs and change the things we wanted to change. It was a really productive way of critiquing. We’re both pretty polite people, and big fans of each other, so it was really friendly, and certainly informal. It wasn’t like doing it with someone who you have known forever though, so we were still a little bit careful with each other.

Did you know each other beforehand?

No, he sent a video to this project I do, Low Key Karaoke, and so that’s how I met him – I was trying to encourage people who didn’t really sing much, but he was just way better. We actually met in person maybe six months after that, I was touring through Canada and we played some shows together then. That’s when the collaboration really started. After meeting, he played me this song he was really stuck on and he asked if I just wanted it, to see if I could work with it. I finished it, and for a few months after that we were helping each other out – thinking it could be for our own records – but I realised that if we added those songs together we would have almost a record. And so what we were aiming for was not two things next to each other, but tracks that could bleed into each other.

Is there any chance of you and Mike making another record together?

We’ve talked about it, and we have some extra songs, but I don’t know if we’ll put them out, or in what form we would. So as we’re releasing this one now, we’re at that stage where we’re starting to write again, but like I said, I don’t know what form the next one could take. Mike’s writing for TV now too, so he has another life with that.

Do you prefer working by yourself?

I’ve really enjoyed the collaborative thing. I find it feels more like work than when I’m doing it on my own. There’s more momentum when you’re collaborating, more ideas, two brains, and it makes you want to impress people, not waste people’s time and live up to your own expectations of yourself – whatever that means. I have only done it previously when my husband Paul and I used to do some unreleased, homemade duets every year for valentine’s day, and we burned CDs to give away at shows.

How do you find English crowds compared to Canada?

They’re great. They’re definitely more plentiful over here, this is my best market for sure. At first I found people quite quiet, and then I realised that people just don’t yell and scream and whistle here. If you go out and talk to folks you realise it’s not through lack of enthusiasm though. I like playing all over Britain, here and there you get a funky sound person or a room where the audience is too far away, but the smaller festivals here are really fun. It’s great playing in Coventry where the label is based, it has a really great hometown gig feel to it.

What new bands would you recommend?

I really like the bands I’m touring with right now. Bernice, who are also from Toronto, are really great. It does tend to be the ones you’re touring with that you listen to most. I’m also trying to learn a few of Marker Starling’s songs, and it’s convenient that I’ve also been a big fan of his music for years, so it’s what I’m listening to anyway. Like I said, I’ve been enjoying both the Junip records too. They were good when I was feeling in a bit of a darker place, they have a dark feeling but an uplifting vibe at the same time. Ideally you want to match your mood to the music, but it’s good to be able to go the other way. I would also recommend a lot of bands on the Tin Angel label in Coventry too.

Apart from Mike O’Neill, who would you most like to share a stage with?

There’s this guy named Jesse Winchester, he’s been making records for a long time and he’s still living in Charlottesville, where I grew up and started playing music. He just plays great songs, and he often plays by himself, but they’re really groovy. He’s a really good dancer, so I could maybe do a bit of playing and a bit of dancing. It’d be fun.

Josh King