Seeking ‘Spectators’ ... and musicians

Tara Bradbury
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It’s been three years since Amelia Curran released her last record. Three really long years.

The time and the space between 2009’s “Hunter, Hunter” — which earned her a Juno Award — and “Spectators,” released last Tuesday, has given Curran a different outlook, different inspiration and different sound, resulting in a whole new anxiety.

“It’s different enough for me to be very nervous about it, but I’m very excited,” Curran says of “Spectators.” “I’m nervous anyway, even when there’s nothing to be nervous about.”

Sitting in a downtown St. John’s coffee shop and toting her guitar in a white case, today Curran’s anxiety is about finding string players for her upcoming show Oct. 12 at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre. Apparently, most are tied up in a Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra conference the weekend she needs them, and she’s hoping to work something out.

“Spectators,” recorded and mixed in St. John’s, was exactly like “Hunter, Hunter” when it was first completed, Curran said, and to her, that was disappointing.

“I wanted to move forward instead of staying on that same page,” she explains. “Things are not the same and songs are not the same and the audience is not the same.”

Curran started cutting up the record, scrapping half of it and re-recording.

After spending 12 years in Halifax, Curran moved home to St. John’s about a year ago, and found herself too excited to hunker down and start writing music.

Making this record, she went to Toronto for three months, locked herself in a cookie-cutter home with nothing to do, and came out with three songs.

“It was the whole cabin-in-the-woods idea,” she explained.

“A little box in Toronto is the opposite of a cabin in the woods, but to a degree it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re alone and you have nothing to do. I struggle to find the time to write because I find I need more and more and more time these days.”

The songs that made the cut on “Spectators” goes beyond the folk genre Curran set for herself with “Hunter, Hunter” and “War Brides,” her debut album. So, too, do their subject matter: Curran is inspired by many themes of philosophy, mortality and time, with a little bit of anxiety thrown in.

“Just being stuck in your own head and realizing that you’re just a little speck of dust and not making the world go around,” she says.

“I spent a good couple months thinking about Doctors Without Borders and just bemoaning my own life because I’m not as useful as Doctors Without Borders. Basically I’m making rhymes for a living, but I do think that art is one of the most important things in the word. When I think of my own favourite musicians, I don’t know what I’d do without them, but as a singular person, you can’t help but think, ‘Gosh, I’m not particularly useful to the world, am I?’”

Guest musicians and arrangers on “Spectators” include The Once, Todor Kobakov, Bryden Baird, Selina Martin, Oh Susanna and Martin Tielli.

Curran will take the album on the road across the country after the show in St. John’s, ending in Vancouver Nov. 22.

For the first time, she’s bringing a full band with her, and that means new arrangements for many of her tunes, which she’s notorious for performing singer-songwriter style, just herself and her guitar. Some pieces, like “The Mistress,” will always be solo songs, and there’s nothing she can do about it, unless she’s willing to give up to them sounding cheeky. She’s tried, she says, and they just don’t work.

Others will seem pretty natural, since they nestle comfortably with a band.

“It’s such an uplifting sound to be playing with other people,” Curran says.

“Even a song that I’ve been playing for five years, we’ll sit in a room and play that song and I’ll go, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t realize how good that song was,’ or maybe the opposite. Maybe I didn’t realize how bad that song was. It really lifts it up that extra level and it’s exciting. If I ever find some string players, there will just be me and the strings at times, and hopefully it will be lovely and I won’t cry, which I have done.”

Making St. John’s either the first or last stop on the tour was vitally important to Curran, especially now that it’s her home once again. Playing for your hometown is different than playing anywhere else, she says, in that she wants to perform better for her own family and friends and people who know her better than anyone else.

She wants to show Newfoundlanders something a little better (discretely) than she’s giving to everyone else, she says.

Even when she was living in Halifax,

St. John’s was a big part of Curran’s live performances, and she’s particularly proud of the local music scene.

“I talk about Newfoundland a lot. When people ask what the music scene is like in St. John’s, I feel sorry for them immediately. I go, ‘Oh, you little lamb. You poor thing, you have no idea. It’s amazing. We’re undergoing a renaissance, and it’s incredible.’”

Tickets for Amelia Curran’s CD release show in St. John’s, which will also feature special guest Andrew James O’Brien, are $24.50 (including HST and service charge) and are on sale now at the Arts and Culture Centre box office, by calling 729-3900 or by visiting

To celebrate the release of “Spectators,” Six Shooter records has released a video for “What Will You be Building,” one of the songs on the album. It can be viewed online at

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, Doctors Without Borders

Geographic location: Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • worgel
    October 10, 2012 - 21:52

    Your sound is fantastic. Looking forward to your show this Friday!