By Victoria King
From her home in Saint John’s Newfoundland, and me from the CKUW production booth in downtown Winnipeg, Amelia Curran and I make small talk: How’s the weather there? Did you see the news about Bowie? Yes, it got to -30 here this weekend. Don’t these sorts of things always happen around time of year. Curran has been writing and making music for a significant portion of her life. A singer-songwriter rooted in the Saint John’s music scene, she released her fifth record They Promised You Mercy off of Six Shooter Records in November of 2014. Curran’s work has been upheld by many music critics and fans, in particular for her poetic lyrics. Often ripe with insightful thoughts, imagery, allusions, and wordplay, this record was nominated for the 2015 Juno Award for Roots/Traditional Album of the Year.
They Promised You Mercy, however, differs from the rest of her discography in it’s approach to song composition. Curran says she made the decision to focus exclusively on writing the lyrics, and left arrangements to her producer and bandmates, writing none of the breaks or solos like she would normally do. She says it was the first time she decided to focus exclusively on the writing, and she describes the process as having been very collaborative. Her producer on this record was Michael Phillip Wojewoda. “He had the vision,” she says. “He wanted me to singularly do my own job and not get mixed up in the production of it.”
She also explains They Promised You Mercy took a long time. Much of her songwriting now takes place in her kitchen, where she’ll record and save files on the computer. In the past, she’d need to play the songs over and over again to remember them. Now, she needs to relearn the bits she’s recorded onto her laptop.
The first song written for the album was “Coming for You.” “Not intentionally,” Curran explains, “but it was the first one that I thought ‘for sure this has to get on a record.’” The song was written in December of 2013, and the rest of the record was recorded the following May through June of 2014. She says “I Am The Night” was the last song to get on the album. She wrote it on the back porch of her friend Helen’s house. She brought it to her band and producer that day, hammered it out with them, and it just made the cut on the album.
Referring to “I am the Night,” Curran laughs, “It was a funny song, because it was written in the morning but it talked about the night.” A self-described night owl, Curran calls her writing process to be a balance of feast and famine. “I’ll have an intense stretch of all-day everyday writing, working on 4-5 songs at a time until one is done . . . then there’s a lazy stretch,” she explains. “I’m a pretty solitary person anyway. For my writing, privacy is really important.” She laughs, “I can hide away in my house for weeks on end and just pick away at things, happily.”
She also says that most of her writing, including the new material she’s currently working on, takes place at home. “Some people can be really creative while they’re touring, but I find it to be kind of an interruption,” but explains she does love touring and playing shows. “It’s just not really a creative time for me, so I really relish the time off.”
She says she’s working on new material. “We were out of the studio by June,” she explains. “There was such creative energy and environment in the studio” She says that energy propelled her into a writing frenzy from June through November of that year. This writing cycle was again facilitated by her kitchen computer, and she’s now fishing through all that material, “just trying to find the gems, and finish them off,” she says. “It can be exciting because I’ll forget melodies and verses. It can also be completely demoralising. Like, ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ With technology, you can record everything. You never know [what you’ll want] and you don’t want to lose it. It’s like a map of a train of thought over the course of several months.”
When pressed about exactly how many files she’s currently working with, she affirms that there are more than a hundred song pieces. Yet in terms of what themes and concepts this new material talks about, she’s unable to say. “Sometimes I don’t know until years after the song is out,” she explains. “I write from an analytical philosophical perspective. It’s exploration.”
Our conversation is coming to a close – Curran says she’s heading to a Bowie tribute show in just a few hours. With this new material, Curran says that nothing is set but she’s hoping to record in the spring. Reflecting, she says, “There’s this wonderful magical thing about writing, because, where the hell does it come from? You’re creating something from nothing. I love writers.”
Throughout February, Curran is spending time in Nashville, TN. She tours Canada in March. See Amelia Curran at the Good Will Social Club in Winnipeg on March 6, 2016.