Breaking Through

Breaking Through

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

By Susan Sterling


 

During her Colby years, Currie sang at the campus pub and at the Railroad Square Café. She majored in English and took art classes, where professors David and Sonia Simon, particularly, inspired her. “It was like someone lifted up a curtain,” Currie said “So this is what art is!”

Not imagining she could make music her career, she earned an M.A. in art history from Emory University, then married Doug Currie and moved to England. The couple spent three years in Cambridge, where Carolyn performed at parties and May Balls (formal, all-night celebrations held at the colleges). The next stop was Seattle, where Doug had a postdoc in neurobiology and the couple began a family.

As passionately as she felt about singing, it didn’t occur to Currie that music would be more than a sidebar in her life until, working towards a Ph.D. in art history at the University of Washington, she realized she had no desire to pursue an academic career. Her husband and her mother, an artist herself, encouraged her to focus on singing. “You’re wasting your time. You should be doing music,” she recalls her mother saying.

Doug asked, “Do you want a Ph.D. or a CD?” Currie said.

Over the next few years, she concentrated on her music, recording two CDs at a studio in Seattle, accompanied by other musicians. Then she was asked to perform at a neighborhood picnic, where rain dampened the turnout—and her CD sales.  

Jason Spooner ’95Currie hadn’t performed much that year, hadn’t written any new songs since her second CD (Standing Stones) had come out in 1999, and the rainy picnic seemed part of a larger, dispiriting picture. But as she was packing up her guitar, a man stopped to tell her he’d enjoyed her music. He wanted to buy a CD, but he hadn’t any money with him. Currie gave the man a CD but was skeptical until he appeared that evening at her house to pay her, as promised. A few days later he invited her to sing at a house party. He had been a programmer for Microsoft in its early days; he and his wife were philanthropists.

A few weeks after the party, they gave her $7,500 to produce her next CD.

"After that,” Currie said, “the songs came,” becoming Kiss of Ghosts (2004), for which she earned warm reviews from national indie music Web sites for her distinctive “fragile yet strong” voice and music that is “spellbinding, with exceptional lyrics.” Recently a cellist from the Seattle Symphony, one of the musicians on Currie’s Waves of Silence, suggested they perform together on the West Coast.

To be a singer-songwriter, Spooner and Currie agree, is a life that demands faith and perseverance. But technology has empowered artists—and put their fate at least partially in their own hands.

And sometimes a hardworking, talented independent musician becomes famous enough to make a living as a performer.

At the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival one year, Currie took a song-writing class with Tim O’Brien ’76, a Grammy Award-winning musician (bluegrass, traditional folk, Celtic) who lives in Nashville.

O’Brien left Colby in the middle of his sophomore year for Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where he got his first gig in a pizza parlor, playing his guitar for rent and board. Several years later he joined three other musicians to form the highly regarded bluegrass band Hot Rize. He now tours internationally, playing solo as well as in groups, and performing on mandolin, bouzouki, fiddle, and mandocello in addition to guitar. O’Brien’s legions of fans from around the world keep up with his music, his tour schedules, and his observations about music and musicians at his Web site, timobrien.net.

Both Currie and Spooner find inspiration in his path—and they forge on.

“Take a leap, and the safety net appears,” Spooner has learned. “It’s only after you step in the stream that you can see the stepping stones.”
Currie remembers the uncle who urged her to live life fully and not worry about material possessions. She keeps his words in mind: “The hearse,” he said, “has no luggage rack.” 

 
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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