Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Devon Sproule

The January issue of Acoustic Guitar is out, with my feature on Clarence White and profile of Devon Sproule. Unfortunately there's a typo in the article on Devon. The flat symbol (b) got deleted from the Eb in the following sentence, making it appear as if I think that Bb is a good chord for modulating to the key of E and forever tarnishing my reputation as a theory nerd.

"After four repetitions of that progression, the Bb/D lets Sproule modulate neatly into Eb for the soaring (I–vi–IV–V) chorus."

Ah well, I'll live. And as with all these short profiles, there are usually nice moments from the interview that don't make it into print, because of word limitations. So here's an excerpt from my interview with Devon:

Do you usually write with the guitar in hand?
I’ve started writing more around refrains—coming up with a one- or two-sentence refrain for a song. Those things usually take the longest, of the process. After that, the mystery or intimidating part is gone, and I can fill in the puzzle around it.

Is there an example of that on the new record?
Yeah, there’s a few—“Let’s Go Out,” “Stop By Any Time,” even “Old Virginia Block” is that way. I knew what I was aiming for at the end of each verse. Some of those are a little more stream-of-consciousness writing, and then it's a matter of going through the thesaurus and the rhyme dictionary and tightening up the stream-of-consciousness thing. There are a few other ones—“Does the Day Feel Long” is kind of experimenting with having a refrain that comes in not at the end of each verse or at the beginning of each chorus but that just pokes its head up once in awhile. Yeah, mostly the sort of jazz or swing-structured songs—the “Great American Songbook” songs. That’s what I wrote in my press release at least.

Well, you’re American, or Canadian—North American.
I pretty much identify myself as a Virginian, until I’m applying for a Canadian Arts Council grant, and then I’m all Canada—another Joni Mitchell.

The new album almost paints a portrait of a social scene—a neighborhood or group of friends. How much of this is observation and how much is invented?
It’s mostly personal. I got married a couple years ago, and I was writing most of these songs during and about that time. I was kind of digging having my own space. When one gets married, because you’ve chosen this person to spend all your time with, your social life really gets down to the important stuff. So I just have a few friends, but they’re really awesome. They’re all older than me, and smarter than me, and have these amazing vocabularies. They’re either great songwriters or doctoral candidates in the English department at U VA or whatever. That’s so fun having that kind of family.

And my husband and I we like to drink [laughs]. My girlfriend Danielle got the roughs for the record and she said, “I love it so much, but I’m worried because you mention drinking in almost every song.” And I realize that it is kind of a big part of my life, but there’s this beautiful language that works with it—that comes with it. I feel like there’s always a way to say something nice about drinking or the social stuff around it, or the problems with it, which I’ve started to encounter [laughs].

Do you keep a journal or ever put yourself in a place and try to imagine yourself there?
It’s a little bit of both. When I’m having long drives, I’ll turn off the book on tape and try to comb through my recent experiences and see if there are any interesting snapshots. I’ll try to think of the most interesting way to word them and then write those down. Actually my friend just gave me a little hand recorder thing. I haven’t used it yet, but I’m excited about becoming a safer driver with that.

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