“That’s not nothing.”
They are three words that keep Amelia Curran going on the hard days; ones that remind her to expect less of herself every now and again. To accept that — as a mental health advocate, feminist and Newfoundland artist in a tough, Toronto-centric industry — sometimes stepping back and only doing laundry in a 24-hour period is not nothing. It gives her room to breathe.
On Watershed, Curran’s new and eighth full-length, it’s clear that she has been needing to take a lot of breaths. Her trademark-sharp lyrics relay experiences of misogyny, frustration, internet bullies, depression. Throughout these 11 tracks Curran is louder — “brazen, is the word I settled on” — in words and sound than she has ever been, detailing exactly what she won’t stand for (“No More Quiet,” “Gravity”) while still finding tenderness on a signature folk ballad like “Act of Human Kindness.” The result is a lyrical work that is achingly, necessarily human.
“The past few years as an advocate I've learned so much so quickly about that world and these community groups and how much people fight for good things and how weird it is that you have to fight, you know, for good things," Curran says, laughing. “This is what's been happening to me for the past few years.”
Recorded over the summer and fall of 2016 and co-produced with Chris Stringer, Curran spent two years writing the songs for Watershed before scrapping them all to write a new (and final) batch during a trip to Nova Scotia just before recording. She jokingly refers to those flash-writing days as her “five days in May.”
“Once I’d gone back to them, I think there was just more to say or I hadn’t gotten it right the first time,” explains Curran. “I think practising writing is a pretty valuable thing. You don’t realize you’re doing it at the time, until you go back to it and you’re like, OK, I wasn’t quite there.”
We phoned Curran the day after her First Play Live session in Toronto (which you can watch soon) and asked her to guide us through the songs on Watershed. Listen to the album in full before its March 10 release (to the left), and read on for her answers.
‘Move a Mile’
“Move a Mile is just for me, you know? Just thinking about my own journey as a musician … a lot of the songs are similarly themed and so it's not the only one I wrote about this, but I can say that it's certainly reflecting on what feels like a really long time in the music industry. And also as an advocate and everything I'm trying to do and it's just [takes a deep breath] hard work. You know, it's really hard to get anywhere, the music industry is brutal, and you wouldn't think positive activism — you find there's a lot of hate in that world, and people can be so discouraged and I'm just trying to say we can take a breath and calm down, and be in it together, I think.”
“I mean, that friggin’ election that ate up the whole universe, I don't want to give that any credit, and it doesn't deserve any credit now, but whatever America goes through, the world goes through. And I think people should be very careful in what we choose to ignore, you know? … [‘Watershed’]’s more trying to reach out to — I often use the phrase ‘the living rooms,’ and if I'm talking about the living rooms I'm talking about average citizens — I hate saying ‘average,’ but you know, regular citizens — whose news comes to them in their living rooms, where so much happens that affects them that they have no idea about. And I want people to be jurors and to care more because people are not powerless. The living-rooms people are not powerless, and I think that they feel powerless. And I think that's not right.”
“‘Sunday Bride’ is a small lament, it's kind of similar actually to how it's very hard to convince anybody of anything that they don't already believe in. I mean, people who don't believe in climate change are never going to believe in climate change. We can't convince them; we have to move ahead without them. And fix it for them. Because they're going to be of little help — of zero help.”
“‘Gravity’ is my love song to my fellow activists, but specifically Tanya Tagaq, who I had right at the front of my mind while I was writing that, because I know that she is an amazing voice for a lot of youth and women and Indigenous youth and women. And I think she's spectacular, and I know that it is very hard for her — you know what I'm talking about — like the social media bullies. And just all that bullshit that you have to put up with when you're trying to do something good for the world. And I think that she works so hard and she does such great things and then somebody has the nerve to be mean to her, [it] just makes me insane. So I wanted to write her a really fun song, you know? To not stop. And I think there's a lot of people like her and a lot of people like me who are trying really hard and I think that we should keep doing that.”
‘Come Back For Me’
“I wrote that while we were in the studio actually. I mean not physically in the studio, but on one of the nights in the studio week. I went to where I was staying and just wrote that song and then we recorded it the next day. You know, just kind of a love song, I guess. But I think it's about just sticking together, you know, we're only human [laughs].... It's that great mystery, you know. Of what drives you to write, what compels you to race across the room to get your guitar, which I have done in private, very comical, clumsy moments and I don't know. Sometimes the song meets you more than halfway, right? It's really silly and romantic but it's true.”
‘Act of Human Kindness’
“‘Act of Human Kindness’ was an early one in the five days in May. I think that the folk ballad is kind of a strength of mine, at least if there's a writing strength, mine is the folk ballad. And I can't stand to put an album out without one. No matter how rock 'n' roll it gets, I'm always going to write a sad-sounding folk ballad. But again, it's on that really broad theme of humanity and compassion. And just trying to push the point home that we need each other.”
‘Stranger Things Have Happened’
“Oh that's a very music industry song. That's me personally struggling with sticking with the music industry after all these years … I don't know a musician who doesn't get really intensely frustrated with the way the music industry runs. There's a certain lack of authenticity that we have to sort of just surrender to, which is hard when you're a music creator and you're just trying, you know when you're really gunning for honesty and there's all this sort of staged stuff that happens. It wrecks it a little bit, for that pure little artistic moment that you had. You know, that you just can't hold on to. It's not built to be able to hang on to those moments. Depressing [laughs].”
‘No More Quiet’ (feat. Shakura S’Aida)
“So ‘No More Quiet’ is very plainly, I think, a feminist song. The music industry — and the road — is my workplace, and there is a great amount of unaddressed misogyny in my workplace. And I think ‘No More Bullshit’ is really what I'm saying. I know you can't say that, but that is exactly what I mean. It's an ultimatum. And what I mean is if this does not stop, if there’s no more quiet, and no more sound, then I'm going to disappear. Then you will get no more of this workforce, if we don't figure this out.
“I had hoped Shakura [S’Aida] would sing because I think that she's amazing, but also we've become friends over the years and I know that she is a force as a human being. She is a force for justice and equality for women of all walks of life. To have her sing on that song was really exciting as a musician, but also just perfect for us as friends, and the things that we are trying to inspire changes in, I'm really glad that we have that together.”
“‘Try’ is just an ‘I'm sad and tired’ song. I guess if there's a song there about depression, that might be the closest one to it. It's so hard to stick to — l can't say this one song is about this one thing, because these themes, these similar themes are running through the whole record. ‘Try’ is a bit of a more desperate angle on it, I think. You know, life is hard, and your heart gets broken, because life is hard. It's just addressing it. Just laying something bare, and saying there it is, that's a thing that's real. And that's OK.”
‘Every Woman Every Man’
“I think [this song] was the first one of the five days in May. Really pleased. ‘Every Woman Every Man’ is a simple call for compassion, I find. Because it's laid very plainly, I don't want to get caught quoting myself [laughs]. We're struggling with people we don't understand, but I meant they don't understand us either maybe — I don't know. It's just trying to recognize that so many people, so many different people are going through exactly the same thing. I wish we could extend ourselves just the slightest bit.”
‘You Have Got Each Other’
“‘You Have Got Each Other’ is straight-up a song that I wrote for my drummer Josh [Van Tassel, of Great Lake Swimmers] and his wife, Kate, because I love them very much. Because sometimes you meet certain people who are just the best couples, you know? And you can't imagine one without the other, and they're one of those. And that's just such a wonderful thing to be around, that sort of ripples out. Their life makes my life better, in a way.”
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