The Juno winner’s eighth studio release finds her exploring the ideas of gender equality and mental health in a direct manner and with a pleasing folk-pop sound.
A conversation with Amelia Curran, which is ostensibly about her latest album, might only marginally, specifically discuss that record.
But it will have greater discussions.
Which is technically what that record, the East Coast folk-pop artist’s appropriately titled eighth album Watershed, is all about.
Subject matter. Important subject matter that she hopes leads to larger, more meaningful conversations — collectively, socially, personally, individually.
It is an album that arrives with the label of “activism” affixed to it, from her label, from her publicist, from the media and, yes, from the artist herself, which means that most of these interviews are less about the record than the messages it delivers.
“I’m OK with that,” Curran says with a laugh, when, after a good 15 minutes, it’s pointed out that there had been a dearth of the usual album talk concerning production, process and the like.
“Yeah, sure. I mean, you know music is communication, music is there to communicate things that are sometimes impossible or at least very difficult to talk about, because they need these other mediums. That’s why art exists, you know? To challenge you or to help you, and this all an extension of that, but I hope that the music helps. It certainly helps me and my colleagues.”
That, actually, is one of the biggest themes or most important ones that the Juno-winning Newfoundlander wanted to discuss with her latest — how to help her colleagues. More specifically, her female colleagues.
Watershed is an album that tackles, in several of its songs, the ingrained and entrenched sexism, misogyny and exclusion that has been part of the Canadian music scene, the international music scene, since their inceptions.
As the recently announced Honourary Chair of the Status of Women Council in her hometown of St. John’s, it was the perfect opportunity for Curran to add her voice to those discussing the issue in a more direct way through her art.
Take album single Gravity, or the defiant track No More Quiet, which features lines such as, “I have lived within these borders/I was not bad for a girl/It keeps knocking me down, knocking me over,” or Try, with the astute coupling, “Nobody listening if nobody talks/One mindful whisper and turn back the clocks.”
It’s a conversation that’s actually been an important one going on in Calgary’s scene for the past couple of years — one that’s been, at times, contentious, divisive and pitted former allies against one another — but it’s also happening on a national level, spurred on, ironically, by former locals, including Tegan and Sara’s letter to the Juno Awards over the lack of diversity in this year’s nominees, and a new documentary by city-born artist Kinnie Starr called Play Your Gender.
The reaction to the Jian Ghomeshi case also furthered the urgency that those subjects needed to be discussed openly in the community, something Curran thinks we’re ready to do with one another.
“I hope so,” she says, before speaking specifically to the question of equality and representation in the industry. “I think we’ve been ready before and I think that we get distracted, because these conversations are not about placing blame, they’re not about making that some people are bad people — it’s not about that. It’s about addressing something within our community and taking care of individuals within our community …
“If the Ghomeshi thing told us anything it’s that we cannot rely on the justice system to take care of individual people, and it gets to the justice system because we’re not doing it on a community level. We have not been looking out for each other. And until we can do that it’s not going to work out, we’re going to repeat this thing and repeat it and repeat it.”
It already has, actually. Much has been made of a recent tour that the artist just completed before heading out on the road for her solo headlining swing, which includes a stop at SAIT’s The Gateway on Friday night.
It was the Writes of Spring songwriters circle, which featured Curran on a bill with fellow musicians Donovan Woods, Tim Baker and Hawksley Workman.
“It makes for a great statistic,” she says of the 25 per cent female representation.
“The thing is, are we going to look at this and then say, ‘Are the women upset because they’re not represented 50 per cent on this bill? Is that the actual issue? Is it the numbers? Do we need to be counting the numbers?’ And honestly, for a little while, yeah, I think we’re going to have to do that. And it’s going to be strange and we’re going to feel like we’re overcompensating, but it’s going to feel like we’re overcompensating because there has never been an equality. There are not fewer women in the music industry — there are not. We are all over the place …
“So it’s going to feel strange checking boxes, checking your gender equality and not just gender, all of your representations, all of your communities while you’re booking your shows or your festivals or things like this. We’re in music, we’re in the public eye, we have a responsibility to lead and do things first.
“And we can get this right. And it will like we’re overcompensating until we’re good at it and until we can take it for granted.”
And while she notes it was something her fellow tourmates were very much cognizant of, she thinks generally it’s something that other men in the industry should be mindful of and help rectify.
She once again points to how it’s not a personal attack, but something that needs to be addressed by everyone.
And if not?
“I’ve said I don’t know how many times before, if you’re not going to help us with this thing, the very, the actual least that you can do, is get the hell out of our way.”
The songwriter feels the same passion and anger for the other issue that the album approaches, one that she’s previously sung about, while also openly working hard and lobbying for, and that’s mental health. It’s a subject that’s close to her heart, as she’s had her own struggles with anxiety and depression, and watched friends suffering who took their own lives.
Musically, again, while there are some moments on Watershed where it’s specifically addressed, those “themes have always been there” in her work.
On an activism side, she started up her own grassroots community organization in her hometown called It’s Mental, which is an advocacy group to make changes in the mental healthcare world and in legislation — changes, that, as with representation and equality, are “too slow, it’s not fast enough.”
She also produced and directed the documentary Gone on the subject of art and suicide, which the CBC aired on the East Coast, giving it a national showing later this year.
Perhaps that’s why she often gets messages on her Facebook page reaching out to her, people seeking help, seeking support, seeking resources, things that she’s more than happy to direct those in need to.
“Similar to gender equality, similar to any issue when it comes to a person being fairly treated, fairly represented it comes back to community and inclusion,” she says.
“We have to be together on these things, we have to be for each other and not against each other.”
Which, in an odd way, was the segue to the earlier acknowledgement that with the interview almost over we had yet to discuss Watershed in general musical ways.
That would be a shame. It is a lush, quietly electric, roots-pop recording, that makes all of the messages go down easy.
Curran gives a great deal of credit to her band, which she says took on a greater role in the studio, thus giving the album a fuller, richer, more, well, band-like sound.
The artist was looking forward to this upcoming tour, of getting out there with the songs and, more importantly that band — Joshua Van Tassel, Dean Drouillard and Devon Henderson, meaning yes, she’s back in the one-fourth role — which she calls “another version of home and family.”
“I am in love with my bandmates to a humiliating degree,” she says and laughs. “I think that they’re the best humans and the best musicians and I love to work with them and I love that I feel you can hear that on this record.”
Amelia Curran performs Friday night at SAIT’s The Gateway. The show is presented by the Calgary Folk Music Festival and tickets are available by clicking here.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.