Amelia Curran’s latest album, Watershed, carries the most direct message of any she’s released to date — a message that, succinctly put in the St. John’s singer/songwriter’s own terms, boils down to “come together and get over yourselves already, as humans.”
Watershed, due in stores on March 10, gets a bit more specific than that moment by moment, of course, variously addressing Curran’s frustration with the established operating model of the music industry, with the systemic disadvantage at which that “intimidating and icky” model still places female artists and, by extension, with what the persistent sexism inherent in that model says about 21st-century human society’s treatment of women in general.
Further simmering discontent arises from the added frustration Curran has come over the past few years since taking on the role of an activist fighting for better institutional treatment of and better attitudes towards the many fellow Newfoundlanders (and Canadians at large) living with mental illness.
Basically, she’s had enough.
“I’m not putting it on, man. Having had enough just feels like it’s part of my personality now,” says Curran over a cup of tea on Queen West during a visit to Toronto last week. “You can’t just be, like, ‘Enough, no more bullsh– !’ and then everyone goes ‘Okay,’ you know?
“This record is big on theme, and I’ve never had a record big on theme. I’ve certainly talked about the themes of records in the past, but I was lying or making it up because people wanted them to have a theme (when) usually ‘the most recent batch of songs I wrote’ was the theme. This time it’s very clear. Intended or not intended, I really don’t know, but it’s very clear: it’s very clearly an ‘activist’ record.”
Curran doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to activism. She backs up her words with concrete action.
Two years ago, she and three friends established an organization with the very Newfoundland name of It’s Mental aimed at lobbying governments for better mental-health services and also drawing the attention of people who need them to those services.
“It’s offended a few people — very few, which is good — but there’s a point where I’m like ‘If you want to make this about a word and not actually contribute anything to this issue and to the solutions we’re trying to find to this issue, then at least we’re keeping you busy and out of our way by offending you with this word,” she laughs.
Last year, too, she wrote and directed an unflinching short documentary entitled Gone inspired by the suicides of two close friends and her own crippling bout with depression and anxiety about a decade ago, a period during her late 20s when she basically laid in bed in her apartment for months on end convinced she was about to die. It aired last September on local CBC in St. John’s, but the network now has designs on airing it nationally this spring.
And should you ever wonder why Amelia Curran these days devotes just as much time to speaking out about mental-health issues and campaigning on behalf of those who must cope with such illnesses, consider how regularly a personal Facebook message from a fan in crisis pops up on her laptop screen asking variations on a single question: “Where do I go for help?”
“I don’t know if it’s a last resort,” she says, “but they’re actually posting notes on my Facebook page – the Facebook page of some f—ing singer/songwriter – because they can’t find a phone number where someone will pick up or because the clinic turned them away or because Emergency called the cops and all this sort of stuff. So we’re saying ‘There are no services here.’
“Where services do exist, the system is broken. And in most places, those services do not exist.”
Watershed – Curran’s eighth album since 2000 and her fifth for femme-forward Toronto indie label Six Shooter Records – derives added bite not just from the strength of its creator’s convictions, but also from her insistence upon making the record a proper “team effort” representative of the crunchier, more muscular place in which she and her band find themselves musically these days.
She, guitarist Dean Drouillard, bassist Devon Henderson and drummer Josh Van Tassell have logged a lot of miles together since they joined forces to tour in support of 2014’s They Promised You Mercy, so it made sense to bring some of that chemistry to the new recordings. And they were in extra tip-top shape during the recording of Watershed last summer since the sessions were jammed in between weekend jaunts to folk festivals all over the country – all while the workaholic Curran edited Gone at night on top of it all.
“That’s what the band sounds like when we get to do whatever the hell we want to do, which is great,” says, who will return to Toronto with that very same band on April 20 at the Phoenix. “And yeah, I was obsessed with making it a team effort. ‘Who hasn’t contributed in the past half hour? What are you thinking about?’ Really irritating stuff. ‘Take part. Enjoy yourself or I’ll be mad at you.’
“We were touring while we were making the record. I’d temporarily relocated to Toronto for three months and we were in the studio at Union Sound from Monday to Thursday, and then we were at folk festivals on the weekends. So it was like airport/studio/airport/field/airport/studio. I called it the Carbon Footprint Tour. I was, like: ‘This is horrible. David Suzuki is swearing somewhere right now and he doesn’t know why.’”