Devon Sproule

My 15-minute talk from The Makers Series: The Art of Failure

“Hey, wanna come give a talk on the art of failure?”

Not the easiest email invitation to write, but my friend Sam Bush made it funny and sweet, as he does with everything.  It didn’t hurt that the two other people on the bill were David Zahl (Mockingbird) and my pal Lulu Miller (Invisibilia).

So, I worked really hard on this.  Paul edited it marvelously, as he does with almost everything I make.  And the talk ended up feeling like one of the more successful things I’ve done.   Saying it outloud kind of made it all seem ok.

I know only some of you will have time / inclination to read this.  And keep in mind that it wasn’t really meant to be read — except for by me, out loud.  If you do dive in, I really hope something resonates.

Couldn’t do it / not do it without you guys.


Hi, my name is Devon Sproule.  I’m a singer songwriter, guitar player, and I also teach songwriting… Musical mentoring, or as one of my students calls it “song therapy.” And let’s just get the obvious, very important, question out of the way (haha): I write the lyrics first.  Other tools I like to use are a thesaurus and… Or as my seven-year-old student Jack calls it, “ENTERING THE RHYMEZONE!”

My mom recently found an old “Validation Card” from when I was seven… I grew up at this intentional community near here called Twin Oaks.  Instead of Valentine’s day, we had “Validation Day” — for a couple weeks before February 14, we would all make and writing is beautiful handmade cards, full of positive affirmations and validations. My mom saved one from I was 7 and showed it to me the other day.  “I love to hear you sing!” “Can’t wait to see you up on stage, doing your thing!”  So, for better or worse, I’ve had this identity as a musician for a long time.

Being so confident in who I was and what I wanted to do, it wasn’t too far a stretch for me to drop out of Louisa High School a few years later and start busking on the downtown mall.   I still wasn’t actually MAKING a lot of work, writing a lot of songs.  But I was having an adventure.  It was like stepping up on the first rung of this tall, tall ladder.  (GESTURE) I couldn’t even see where it ended, it was so high, but I could see other people up above me, and it looked like they had a nice view.

For the first few years I was teenaged “devon” — one word, lowercase “d” — who was (as many C’ville artists are) — loosely associated with The Dave Matthews Band.  In my case, I had a boyfriend who had an ex-girlfriend who became my friend who then became my manager who’s sister’s husband was their bass player and SHE got HIM to produce one of my records.  Then I toured with them, playing on the small sidestage you have to pass by to refill your beer.

(So I was…climbing that ladder, still not wholly comfortable with my ARTISTIC process, but having a great time)

Since then, I’ve been quirky Devon Sproule, the sort of rootsy, vaguely Canadian woman who is an uncertain amount of famous in Europe. And yeah, I’ve done ok over there!  Looking back, I think my English career peaked in 2007, around the same time that CDs stopped selling (or at least, that’s what I tell myself).  I had the busiest summer of my life, playing cool festivals and then topping it off with an appearance on famous British “tastemaking” TV show in England called Later…With Jools Holland.  I’d just played a whole summer of cool festivals…  I’d been really busy, and really nervous about the show, so of course I got sick just in time for it.  When I’d gotten sick in the past, I’d usually managed to muscle my way through shows using adrenaline.  But something was different this time.  I can barely listen back to the recordings from the show, I get so sad.  So even though this show introduced my music to a shitload of people, for the next few years, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I’d been at 100%.  Who knows, maybe my career wouldn’t have started its downward turn, but kept climbing, like it did for those annoyingly cute guys in Vampire Weekend, who also played that night.

My musician friend Carsie Blanton said when she was young, and decided to become a musician, she knew that it meant she could never get married or have kids.  And while I’ve never felt quite THAT extreme about it, up until about five years ago, whenever an artist friend of mine would get a day job, go back to school, or have a kid, I would have this feeling of, “THERE GOES ANOTHER ONE…giving up on their dreams…giving up on their 100% commitment to their art…”

In the spirit of our commitment to our art, my husband and I moved to Europe, hoping to take advantage of the successes we’d had there.  We moved to Berlin in the autumn, bought bikes, took German classes.  But as it turns out, we were too old to start over that fully, especially on the social/community front…It got cold, our cat died, and we hadn’t made any real friends.  It had only been a few months since our big FAREWELL SHOW at the Jefferson Theater, and we were too proud to put our tails between our legs…”we’re back…?”

The music ladder was feeling pretty rickety.

So we moved to Austin, where we already had friends, and where those friends only charged us $500 to live in a tiny apartment in their backyard.

So much happened in Austin.  Our marriage stumbled momentarily. We got therapy.  Paul started suffering from this strange inflammation that continues to prevent him from playing or singing.  We got a dog.  And we made friends, we found a community.

In Austin, I had two kinds of musician friends:

1. The Obsessed Artist:  constantly making incredible art but no good at business

2. The Business-Owning Artist:  people whose work may or may not change the world but they work hard and make a good living.

And this, ladies & gentlemen, is where my deepest middle-of-the-night feelings of failure set in.  The ones I’ve been revisiting all week, leading up to tonight (but also because I have a 6-month-old baby who is flipping over and teething and and and…).

Watching Paul lose the use of his hands and his voice, and subsequently his identity as an artist, I started to re-examine my own identity.  As I’m sure a lot of you know, not always an easy task — as in, it’s scarier coming down the ladder than going up.

So, who am I??

1. I am not a TORTURED ARTIST.  I am not obsessed with making music.  I don’t stay up late at night doing it.  I don’t do it because I NEED to.  I don’t have a really close relationship with my guitar.  I don’t pick it up to relax.  And if I’m not in a mentor or teacher role, I’m terrified to “jam” or improvise with people.  Afraid they’ll discover that I’m actually not a very good guitar player, I’ve just memorized how my own songs go and made up things that SOUND like improvising to include in them.

2. I am not a GOOD BUSINESSPERSON.  And I don’t mean that in a sort of backhanded self-compliment.  This is actually a really really important skill — right now, especially.  And you CAN self-promote in a way that maintains some pretense of cool.  But no, even after years of doing it, I’m still terrible at it:  my to-do list consists of waking up in the middle of the night and writing myself emails with subject lines like “book the flight!”  or “get back to guy on Facebook” or “find anchor date on west coast????”  but then my inbox fills up with messages with myself, so they all get jumbled together, and my solution is to start using all caps in the subject line, “ADD GOLD STRING TO MUSIC PAGE”  “BRAINSTORM FOR MAKERS SERIES!!”

So i wake up, get coffee, and then basically get yelled at by my computer.

– digital horder (I won’t actually delete those emails, after I do the thing, because I like the idea of having a record of what I was doing in a certain month in a certain year

– terrible distractible and hyper multitasker… (One of my friends, upon seeing my 25 Chrome tabs: “Devon!!  Your computer is studying for a test it will never take!”)

So I’m not a true, everyday artist.  I’m not a moving-and-shaking businesswoman.  Who am I?

On BAD DAYS, I think, “It should have been ME who lost the ability to play music…I don’t even play that much…am I even a real musician??”  And not being the one who suffers from anxiety and depression, maybe I could have dealt with it a little better, really been able to move on to other things, totally extricate myself from this dream to see the top of the ladder.

On good days, though, I realized that I was lucky to be able to learn about IDENTITY SHEDDING without having it forced on me.  And slowly, I started exploring other interests I’d had but never let myself spend time on:  I acquired some hobbies!  I went on bird walks.  I took sign language classes.  I got certified as a birth doula.  Then I had a baby of my own.  Living in places like Austin, or now, back in Charlottesville, those things are about as cliche as you can get.

But for ME, letting go of my NEED TO BE AN ARTIST ABOVE ALL THINGS also meant letting go of CONSTANTLY STRIVING TO BE DIFFERENT, forcing uniqueness— it helped relieve some of the pressure of being an artist, and INSTEAD, allowed me to just be a human.  Which, in turn, made me feel less like a failure and more like a successful component of something larger.  I started clueing into these strands of connection and kindness between people — something that many of you also notice, I’m sure.  I don’t know if you have a name for it.  I call it the gold string.

And luckily, I have a lot more good days than bad days.  I have a beautiful community of friends, and I’m enjoying being a parent, although I’ve learned better (I hope) than to lose myself in that identity either.  I’m enjoying being a curious person, having a varied life, not just pouring myself into one thing and trying to be the best at it.

And the silver lining — or in this case, gold — is how that well-roundedness has come back and lit up my experience of my own music.

UK Band Tour Fall 2023


Howdy & holy crap, I have a TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT today:

Devon Sproule – UK Band Tour
w/ support from Marker Starling

Sep 9 – Gateshead – The Sage**
Sep 10 – London – Barbican Centre**
Sep 11 – Brighton – The Greys
Sep 14 – Coventry – The Tin Music & Arts
Sep 16 – Newcastle – Gosforth Civic Theatre
Sep 17 – Glasgow – Glad Cafe
Sep 18 – Birmingham – Kitchen Garden Cafe
Sep 19 – London – The Lexington

**solo set supporting The Unthanks’ reissue celebration! Thanks, old friends, for the beautiful invite that got this tour in motion ❤️

I bought the sweater in this pic from a friend’s vintage stall in Coventry — my overseas home-away-from-home — on one of my first UK tours. It’s been so so long! Thank you promoters, ticket buyers, and longtime supporters for giving me an opportunity re-connect with longlost loved ones, and to see & feel these beautiful places again.

Special thanks to Tin Angel Productions for organizing and to Marker Starling AKA my dear friend Chris AKA one of my favorite artists ever for coming over from Toronto to support the tour and play in my band ⭐

all together in the shadow + new hats

we are “all together in the shadow” in our “new hats” my friends


sun rider & otto sam – 2 new songs out



hiya 🙂  you can click the titles below to hear some of the new songs and HERE to hear / download the whole songs



Sun Rider

Written at The Soundfront Inn on Ocracoke Island by a group of friends passing around a piece of paper on the beach, then organized and put to music by Devon and her brother-in-law, Jonathan Mills.  Jonathan also played guitar.  Other brother Matt Curreri played piano.  Gabe & Sonya Silver sang, along with Devon, Jonathan, and Paul (who played and mixed everything else).  Special guest singing by Willow Silver.

Otto Sam

It was shortly before I said goodbye to the ketamine therapist, right before I disappeared into it, I mean.  We’d been chatting since the injection, but now his voice was starting to smear.

“Why can’t I just be a hobo, hitchhiking on a caravan or something… my feet sticking out the back of a wagon?”

I had an eye mask on, but I could tell he was smiling.  “I dunno, Paul,” he said.    “It sounds pretty dusty.   Bumpy…”

“Wait.  So you’re saying my broken cars and whiney daughter are my dust and rocks?”

“See?  Maybe you’re not as far away from a hobo as you thought.”

Funny guy.

I was just out listening to Jose Gonzalez again, trying to figure out why I keep coming back to it right now.  It’s like all the eagerness / energy of a passionately religious person, only his conviction is explicitly away from faith and toward togetherness through other means… people, the earth, etc.  AND the sound of his music totally matches that.  It’s like an earthy atheist dancing — y’know, like rhythmic and digging in, one-man jam band w/ a nice dark edge.  Paul and I interviewed him once and he was like that in-person, too (if I’m remembering right; it was a long time ago) — thoughtful, quietly opinionated, funny, looking for connection but in a sort of guarded way.

making music w/ paul

Hi, it’s November 2021. There are some murmurs of re-booking that cancelled overseas tour. In the meantime, Paul and I are making new music over here.  xo!

things we can do

expanding on some of the ideas i posted to my online show event the other day:

– get on twitter and amplify the voices of protesters
I initially followed a bunch of the people who an active, outspoken, thoughtful friend of mine followed, then expanded from there.  Listen to Black women!
– take cues from black leaders
– protest
– support candidates (especially for district attorney) who focus on equity
Real Justice is an organization working to elect progressive DAs nationally.  One of my personal goals is to become more informed about local candidates, here in central VA.  If you are doing your own local research and want support / enthusiasm, feel free to reach out.
– talk to our kids about racism
It’s better to explain it awkwardly than not explain it at all, so don’t worry if you don’t feel like an expert!  Recommend the Integrated Schools podcast.
– donate to bail funds for protesters
An easy Google.  I’m contributing money raised from the show to the Richmond Community Bail Fund and 400+1 Bail Fund (Austin)
– support black-owned businesses
– educate ourselves about race & racism
How to Be An Antiracist, by Ibram Kendi.  Seeing White podcast from Scene On Radio.  The Breakdown with Shaun King.
– educate ourselves about the history of rebellion in our country, then talk to our friends & family about it
Can start here: The Double Standard of the American Riot
– don’t stop

Hi guys.  I’m looking forward to hanging with the TRANZAC / Holy Oak Family Singers family tomorrow night on instagram and playing a few songs.  I chose these three and I thought I might post the lyrics here, in case anyone wants to read along or revisit later.  I’m also playing every Sunday at 1:30pm EDT these days, on my fb live page.


I don’t want to make you mad. I don’t want to hold you back. I’ll show my colours now.  You haven’t felt the fire inside.  You haven’t heard the stormy night.  I’ll show my colours now. I never said I could change.

I never said I could change the way I am like it was nothing.

I can be gentle when I’m trying to sell, generous when it serves me well.  I hide my colours well.  I wanna wear them on my sleeve.  The things you say, I wanna believe, but oh, my colours.  You don’t have to pretend if you don’t understand.

You should be afraid to dig that line.  But if you are brave, you might find blue under the robin’s nest, green to lie back against.  Find my colours.

I never said I could stay.  I never said I could stay and play this game like it was nothing.

(this song was very satisfying to help write.  there’s nothing like working on a song that’s already started, which this one was, by mike o’neill.  for me, it was about hiding behind a transparent personality…like, you act like you have nothing to hide, and you mostly do, but that transparent front covers the rest of it)


Snap Shudder

If you’re gonna run, run on the grass.  Don’t be anyone’s half a man.  If you’re gonna love, do it fast.
Do it if you have the chance.

When you were young, you were the star.  You wrote all the songs and drew the cards. Going up the rungs, looking through the bars…you started running on the hardest part.  Snap, snap, shudder.

It should feel good.  If you’re doing it right, it should feel like that one summer in the river.  How can I remember?  How can I be sure where we’re going?

How did you forget climbing up that tree?  not noticing the night til you couldn’t see.  Writing out her name big in the snow: the brown and green down on the ground below.  When we’re apart, I confuse who is my idea, and who is you…the smell of your mouth, the sound of your laugh…you can’t listen to a photograph …that goes snap, snap, shutter.  Still, it feels good, just knowing that you’re there, growing out your hair, frowning at your macbook. Honey, can you see where we’re going?

Maybe it’s a blessing, getting messy.  It’s a workout, getting burned out.  How’d we get here? Through a shit year.  We’ve been running fast.  If you’re gonna run, run on the grass.  Don’t be anyone’s half a man.  If you’re gonna love, do it for free.  Do it like you did to me.  Snap shudder.

(this was a request at a recent streaming show and it took a while to relearn…there’s a version of it on our patreon that is so beautiful, thanks to my Bernice friends who played on it.  a lot of the lyrics are about the pain/pleasure of nostalgia and the worry of looking ahead.  also how music can become less fun when you try to do it for money.  ahead of a music education meeting the other day, i was reading about how the more recreational your music experience, the more stress it relieves…no surprise!)


On Closer Inspection

No one’s moving; it’s one big lull.  Arms are hurting for something to hold. Legs are reaching to run, muscles moving on their own. On closer inspection, there’s something circling.  Something needs to be said.  What am I saying instead?

The bamboo’s triumphed. Buried trash. Nothing I planted is coming. Nothing I’m eating is mine. Washing and washing, my hands are dry.  On closer inspection, there’s something’s growing — some Solomon’s Seal, American ginseng.

Nothing doing; it’s a stagnant chapter.  I’m never gonna find myself, crawling behind this slowass tractor, slumping down a perfume greenbelt.  On closer inspection, there’s someone dancing: a chesty lady cloud, a little finger pointing up from the ground.

(the second verse of this new song was inspired by my friend Diane Cluck who planted a bunch of little native seedlings, thought they all died, and then discovered them still alive in the spring!  about the pace of virus times.  how are bodies are doing with it)

April 6

Another early morning on our (Monacan) plot here in Fry’s Spring.  Thanks for all the feedback on the last Patreon song.  Got to hear what Paul’s been working on yesterday, during Ray’s nap.  It’s beautiful; can’t wait to share.  How are you guys?  Maybe see you at an online show soon?  Sweet Carrie & Danny are offering to help us wrap our heads around how to run one.  Love from us!

Pink Noise UK Tour w/ Marker Starling


April 3 – UK Bristol, Folk House
April 5 – UK Brighton, Prince Albert
April 6 – UK Birmingham, Kitchen Garden Cafe
April 8 – UK Glasgow, Hug and Pint
April 9 – UK Letham, Letham Nights
April 10 – UK Newcastle, Gosforth Civic Centre
April 11 – UK Chester, St Marys
April 12 – UK Cambridge, Junction
April 13 – UK London, Lexington