When it comes to covering the spectrum of musical stages here in Santa Barbara, Virginia’s Devon Sproule could give even Glen Phillips a run for his money. When she first graced us with her understated presence, it was on the Sings Like Hell stage at the Lobero Theatre in March ’06. Sproule’s next visit found her enchanting crowds at SOhO. And two appearances at Tales from the Tavern were bisected by a dazzling show with Victoria Williams at the Presidio Chapel. When Sproule returns to Santa Barbara tonight, it will be in the newly opened and increasingly popular Stateside Restaurant & Lounge. But no matter where Sproule performs, one thing is for certain-her heartfelt homespun tales will surely leave you begging for more.
You have played Santa Barbara on numerous occasions. What have been some of your more memorable experiences here? My last show was a Tales from the Tavern show at the Maverick Saloon. You don’t forget a backstage where every wall is completely covered with delicious bottles of wine. : It’s tempting for even us honest folk! But, yes, those shows that are preceded by a delicious free meal often result in the best performances. Surprise, surprise!
And you toured with Lucinda Williams for a bit. What was that experience like? The first evening, traffic on the M1 down to London was so horrible that we almost missed the show-and I’m not talking sound check, I’m talking the actual show! [But] once the anxiety of that was digested and the first night went well, the rest of the experience was wonderful. My sets were played as a duo with my friend BJ Cole, a pedal-steel-playing monster. And I had a hilarious conversation with Ms. Williams about European tour buses versus American tour buses and how the latter can accommodate more options in terms of going to the bathroom. At the end of the night, I managed to get a ride on one of them. Granted, I didn’t get the entire aforementioned full experience-just some wine, music, and conversation.
You also made an appearance on Later : with Jools Holland. Were you nervous going into a performance like that? Heartbreakingly, I got sick just a few days before the show and had almost completely lost my voice on the night of the taping. That, in and of itself, was distraction enough against getting nervous. And, in the end, even the song that suffered the most didn’t end up sounding too bad. It was disappointing not to be at 100 percent of my capability, but a good lesson in patience and acceptance. And I’ve still sold a shitload of records on the tail of it!
Your music has made a huge impact in the U.K.-and there are countless roots-based bands from here in the same boat. Why do you think that is? The system of promotion seems to work a whole lot better in the U.K. The radio situation is much more comprehensive, and though everything is very expensive, given the current exchange rate, if you can bring pounds home with you, it ends up working in your favor. One other crucial factor for me is that audiences over there really embrace music that spans more than one genre. They’re crazy about traditional music, both American and otherwise, but they also have plenty of patience for more experimental stuff. Although I count myself as having considerable roots in local, Virginian music, there’s no doubt that my love of jazz has become a big influence.
Considering you’ve been touring so much, have you made any headway on a new recording? My sister-in-law, Maria, and I were actually talking about this last night. By our calculations, I have six new songs ready to be recorded. On top of that, I have at least a couple songs written by friends of mine that I’m also planning on recording. My sights are set on Paul Curreri producing the next record, so now all I have to do is talk him into it and schedule us both some time at home.
Your last two records, Keep Your Silver Shined and Upstate Songs, were quite inspired. What will your next venture revolve around? I’ve been listening to a lot of Jesse Winchester, and while I don’t necessarily think my next record will sound like him, I like to think that I’ve incorporated some of his lovely traits into my songwriting and performance. It’s still very Virginian, still very much in love. In terms of the actual music, I’ve been enjoying playing more with time-I believe the word is “rubato”-basically lengthening or shortening different notes in one’s performance, depending on one’s moods and desires in each moment. It’s been exciting to work on writing songs that leave room for this, and it makes it easier to emphasize shifts in melody, too.
What are you looking forward to most about returning to California? Absolutely the food. No offense to England, but it really seems to get better as you go west.
Devon Sproule will play Stateside Restaurant & Lounge (1114 State St.) Thursday, March 27, at 9 p.m. Call 564-1000 for details.