Breaking Through

Breaking Through

With today's technology, singer-songwriters no longer need to wait to be "discovered"

By Susan Sterling


 
  Listen
Jason Spooner

"Black and Blue" from The Flame You Follow

Carolyn Currie

"Ghosts" from Kiss of Ghosts (2004)

Though relatively young, both artists trace their early inspiration to what are now technological relics. At 9, Spooner began listening to his father’s eight-track tapes (Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, and Neil Young, among others). He was struck by the way a singer, in a mere three and a half minutes, could “paint a world in my imagination.”

Currie, who describes herself as “basically self-taught,” recalls singing along to Stevie Wonder records as a small child, trying to imitate Wonder’s vocal acrobatics.

Soon she was vocalizing for an audience. Currie had her first paying gig at 13 (earning $30 at the opening of a condominium in her hometown, Concord, Mass.). Two years later she exchanged the $650 she’d earned over several years of babysitting for her first serious guitar, a 12-string Guild. She was off and playing.

Spooner performed throughout high school and at Colby formed a band, Phineas Bridge, which rehearsed in Runnals and performed at campus parties. He majored in Spanish and theater, with a minor in sociology, and he did a lot of acting. Richard Sewell, then director of Powder and Wig, said Spooner had stage presence. “Jason had as good a chance of making it as an actor as any student I taught at Colby,” Sewell said.

Both musicians credit their Colby experiences with deepening their music. Currie, whose lyrics are visual and poetic, remembers reading poets Emily Dickinson and Randall Jarrell and jogging on the roads around the campus, “trying to think of a way to describe the smell of dirt in the spring.” Spooner’s songs tend to be philosophical commentaries on contemporary mores or dramas about down-and-out characters struggling with life and love.

Carolyn CurryIf technology is the tool, using it still demands knowledge of the music business. Fresh out of Colby, Spooner cut his music-biz teeth with “a little roots and blues label” out of Waterville. The Maine coast has a surprisingly active blues scene, and the label recorded such noted musicians as pianist Pine Top Perkins and drummer Willy “Big Eyes” Smith, who had played with Muddy Waters.

Spooner’s job was a crash course in booking, artist management, development, tracking, and recording. But it also taught him another lesson. As Spooner notes, contemporary American culture views artistic success as an overnight thing (as in American Idol), “with a one-song gambling mentality,” but the older musicians he worked with were humble, “real career musicians, who had learned what works with an audience over many years of hard work.” The blues, he observed, are “not something you get into to become rich overnight. These men played because they loved the music.”

The blues, Jason Spooner ’95 observed, are “not something you get into to become rich overnight. These men played because they loved the music.”

It’s something he’s never forgotten.

When Spooner’s Lost Houses came out in 2002, he realized that if he continued to think of music as a hobby it would always remain a hobby. Until then he’d been working full time as a graphic and Web designer, but he was able to limit his day job to three days a week, keeping his health insurance and a 401(k) and allowing him time to tour. The band (drummer Reed Chambers and bassist Adam Frederick) is his family, he says.

 
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Comments

  • On December 18, 2008, Patrick Doyle '97 wrote:
    Nice article. I did a radio show at Colby in 1996 and hosted Jason. A couple years ago we caught up again and I hosted him on my radio show here in Connecticut. It's great to see these artists are able to work it out for themselves. You can hear a recording of the Jason Spooner Trio on my show at www.washboardpat.com/interviewsperformances.html