Interview: Devon Sproule

Rob GarrattKnown for her heart-warming country-tinged folk, observational lyrics and vintage dresses, Virginia songstress Devon Sproule is back in Norwich promoting her new album. ROB GARRATT spoke to her.Further listening: Devon SprouleRob Garratt

Known for her heart-warming country-tinged folk, observational lyrics and vintage dresses, Virginia songstress Devon Sproule is back in Norwich promoting her new album. ROB GARRATT spoke to her.

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It's February 29, 2008, and a virus-ridden Devon Sproule is backstage bumping into Kate Moss, about to make the leap from a little-known singer-songwriter to a temporary household name.

Growing up on an American hippie commune and releasing her first album at just 16, it was an appearance on national TV last year that gave the Sproule her big UK break, beaming her music into thousands of homes across the country.

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The prestigious Later With Jools Holland show saw Sproule play two tracks off her last album, 2007's Keep Your Silver Shined, an organic, country-tinged record that melted the hearts of a British audience in love with the slight, Yankee gal with the deep, soulful songs.

Brimming with shimmering guitars and Sproule's evocative lyrics, the album conjured images of balmy evenings in the American south, of orchards, bourbon and the timeless traditions of American folk, swing and country.

This year's �Don't Hurry For Heaven! sees Sproule moving away from the twee Southern persona she crafted, as if a fear of being typecast sent her running towards a more balanced sound.

'In no way have I made it more accessible,' she says. 'But I feel like this one is more exciting, it's kind of first take. When I made Keep Your Silver Shined I was completely conscious of the fact that I lived in the south and grew up with country and folk and maybe had a bit of an accent.

'I'm aware of the need to make money and that album was obviously predictable.'

�Don't Hurry For Heaven! is as sentimental and evocative as the rest of her work, with songs like Julie, Healthy Parents, Happy Couple and A Picture of Us in the Garden as effortlessly autobiographical as ever. But this time the tracks are cast in a more solid band setting.

'I was at all these festivals and I had this band, and we were kind of playing in a way that was a little more adventurous, a little more immediate, because you know what festivals can be like sometimes - the sounds travel in different ways,' she says.

Last year's Jools Holland appearance also show her duetting with husband Paul Curreri, an established and incredibly inventive singer-songwriter in his own right - and crucially the producer of her new album.

Curreri sat in on the raw band sessions in Northampshire and took the tapes across the ocean to their home studio, were he tweaked and added layers of overdubs.

Like Sproule, Curreri is five albums into his career. His second effort, recorded in just two nights with blues star Kelly Joe Phelps at the helm, was tellingly titled Songs For Devon Sproule.

The pair have gigged together often, and Curreri has lent his services to the last three of his wife's albums, while Sproule has repaid the favour with a duet on his forthcoming California LP, which hits the shelves next month. He will also be in the band backing Sproule at Norwich Arts Centre on October 16.

'We've had quite a lot of practice at it,' admits Sproule. 'The first couple of records we drove each other crazy. For him working on my record I got a great deal. I paid him a lot less what everyone else does.'

Every year the couple also treat fans to a Valentine's record of covers available online for free. But they also have to face the strain of being two competing voices in a harsh business, where at present Sproule's stock has risen higher than her husband's.

'I head Paul doing an interview recently,' recalls Sproule. 'And he said 'At the beginning I told Devon we have to be prepared for one of us being more famous than the other - but I thought it would be me!'.

'His music is a little more far out than mine, it always has been. His songs are more in his head, more cerebral - I'm more about smaller things, the setting around me, the smells and what I can see.

'He's the biggest musical influence I have ever had. He's completely true to himself and the songs before he even thinks about the audience.'

Music is all Sproule seems to know. Growing up on an income-sharing commune in her native her Virginia, only 250 miles from her now-home in Charlottesville, she began recording and playing in her teenage years.

Sproule said: 'The commune was based on the idea that people who have more share more, and come together to support each other. It worked out really well for me and prepared me for being a musician more than a regular life.

'My parents were open to me trying different schools, and I quit school and started recording, even though I was not very good I was able to get set up and start on that road very young.'

Today her debut is out of print, while its follow up 2000's Long Sleeve Story can only be picked up from specialist websites, and is not even on her own website.

She is doubtful those documents of early juvenilia will ever see the light of again. 'It costs quite a bit to reissue,' she explains. 'Right now the money is going into this tour.'

However her self-produced third, made at just 21, album ranks alongside the best of the modern folk movement. Named as one of Rolling Stone's Critics Top Albums of 2003, Upstage Songs is a beautiful collection of heartfelt acoustic balladry that brings to mind snow-swept landscapes and the warmth of a lover's embrace.

At just 27, Sproule has plenty of time ahead of her to continue carving her own musical evolution. In the future she says another acoustic album and a live album could be on the cards.

She added: 'I do like the idea of being around for a while and being whatever excites me at the time. I admire people who spend their years and creative energy doing things that feel right at the time.

'I care so much about always being a better musician and making something that's worth the money people spend on it.'

t Devon Sproule is at Norwich Arts Centre on October 16.

t �Don't Hurry For Heaven! is out now on Tin Angel Records.

Further listening: Devon Sproule