Mar. 06, 2013 - Issue #907: Garbage Goes Green
Stops and starts
Amelia Curran's Spectators took the long road, but it paid off
It took some time for singer-songwriter Amelia Curran to get her latest album, Spectators, to its final state, but the end result proved to be worth the wait. Prior to her stop in Edmonton, the Juno Award-winner talked about the recording process with Vue.
Vue Weekly: How long did it take to make Spectators, from the initial songwriting through to the end of the recording?
Amelia Curran: There were several false starts to the making of this album. We began in St John's in June 2011, then stopped and started again the following October, stopped and started again that December and finally completed it in June 2012 in Toronto. There are a number of things affecting that, from rethinking song choices to rethinking the overall philosophy of the thing to regular life "getting in the way," as it does.
VW: When you were writing the songs, did you come at them in a particular way? Lyrics first? Music first?
AC: In a way, I am always writing songs, and music and lyrics always occur in a partnership. Most often I am compelled to write a song because I cannot help it—because the song presents itself somewhere in the peripheries of things—although, those are the lucky ones. I work hard at it, ten-thousand hours and counting.
VW: What were the recording sessions like for this album? Is this the kind of thing you recorded live or did you piece it together one track at a time? Why?
AC: Because a portion of the album was recorded in St John's, each song differs in its recording approach. Most often I will lay it down myself (vocals and guitar) and then structure the instrumentation and arrangements around the bare track. Once the process was moved to Toronto and John Critchley took the producer's chair, we did do a number of songs live off the floor: myself, drums and bass recording together. Songs like "San Andreas Fault" and "Strangers" certainly benefitted, I think, from that approach.
VW: Were there any other songs written that were left off the album?
AC: Oh. So. Many. I never did do a proper count. I'm sure there's at least two albums worth, but that's a habit I've developed of populating the cutting room floor, and for what reason I'll never know. But there are some survivors. For instance, a song called "Loved You More" was picked up by Oh Susanna and Jim Bryson for their "Namedroppers" project, and I love so much to hear a song I've written put to another artist.
VW: How did you decide which songs to include on the album? Did you have an idea of what you wanted Spectators to be when you started, or did the finished shape emerge as the writing and recording went along?
AC: Choosing the songs is an ongoing process that turns my hair grey. Primarily (and plainly), the song should be good, and provided the song is good, everything else should fall into place around it. Although sometimes a song kicks around in the shadows for several years before I'm either confident enough or ready somehow to give it its place on a record. "The Mistress" was written several years before landing on Hunter, Hunter, and "What Will You Be Building" on Spectators, may even pre-date that. That being said, the album certainly takes its shape throughout the process of its creation. I don't want to make the same album twice, but I don't want to go so far as to alienate those who've identified with my work thus far. I think that's a common concern among recording artists and it is a balancing act.
VW: You worked with John Critchley to produce the album. What drew you to him and what did he bring to the process?
AC: John brought me confidence and clarity. I had been struggling with the album in many respects and once we settled in (very quickly, mind you), it was clear that if I did my job—and only my job—then the outcome is secure. With John at the reins I could be a singer and a songwriter, and not a co-producer, and I discovered a lot of freedom in that.
VW: If you were to trace the musical map that led you to Spectators, what would it look like?
AC: Tricky. Well, it's not a bell curve, I hope. Mine is a fairly obvious and organic path, starting below the starting line and swooping ever upward. Musically it's been a trail of classic Beatles and Edith Piaf to '40s American Jazz and '70s rockers and early '90s Seattle bands—I hesitate to name names as there are too many—and there is a line between being a "fan of" and being "influenced by," and it is a big one. I am a fan of music and musicians. I am influenced by everything else, or nothing at all. V
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