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Singer-songwriter Amelia Curran is sad, angry and ready to tour

By Trent Warner
Amelia Curran’s hard at work on both a tour and a documentary with the Canadian Mental Health Association. Photo: Courtesy of Six Shooter Records

Amelia Curran’s hard at work on both a tour and a documentary with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Photo: Courtesy of Six Shooter Records

CALGARY — When asked what fans can expect from her upcoming tour, Amelia Curran only has one answer. “Lots of rock and roll, extra emphasis on the roll.”

The JUNO Award-winner plays roots music that is often compared to Leonard Cohen for its poetic syntax and underlying melancholia. She accepts that comparison graciously. She’s an artist whose work doesn’t feel too far off from the retrospective humanity of Fiona Apple or the experimental storytelling of Neutral Milk Hotel.

Curran had big years in 2014 and 2015. In addition to receiving a JUNO nomination and critical praise for her 2014 album They Promised You Mercy, she also released a short video online that drew attention to the lack of quality mental health services in her native Newfoundland with ripples out to Canada at large. The inspiration came from her own struggle with rampant misdiagnosis and care for her own anxiety and mood disorders. The video shares her story as well as 98 others experiencing similar mental health challenges in Newfoundland.

Curran is not an angry person, but she is frustrated with a system that actively prevents 90 per cent of people struggling with mental health issues from receiving proper treatment. But thanks to the work of activists like Curran, strides are being made. An all-party provincial committee has been established for the benefit of mental health in Newfoundland, and there is a movement to institute a 24/7 mobile crisis unit which the province sorely lacks. With some luck and more work from activists like Curran, these initiatives could spread across Canada.

“After the video came out, the landscape of email and Facebook messages I received really changed overnight,” says Curran. “I overestimated what a big deal it was for people to see someone raise their hand and speak out about mental health, and people really supported that.”

The video now has over 100,000 views and features prominent Newfoundlanders such as Rick Mercer and the cast of Republic of Doyle in concert with everyday Newfoundlanders in solidarity for action on Mental Health. Following the video, Curran went on a speaking tour with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to engage people on the issue. In addition to her tour dates across the country over the next few months, Curran is working on a documentary with the CMHA to draw even more attention to the cause.

Curran believes that themes surrounding mental health, depression and anxiety have always been present in her music, if somewhat masked by her witty and sometimes cryptic lyrics. Her analytical writing style can be traced back to her roots in theatre and poetry, and help to inform what she calls her dramatic “oh, the humanity” songs.

On the other side of the spectrum, Curran likes to write songs about and engage in social justice issues in Canada. On the phone, she expresses her frustration with the victim-blaming response to the Jian Ghomeshi trial and to the previous handling of the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada.

Although touring can be taxing physically and mentally, Curran believes she’s healthier when she’s on the road. She credits her routine and bandmates for helping to support her while she undergoes the process. And, if she’s really struggling, she now knows its OK to raise her hand and speak out. Curran is also working on brand new music, some of which she will be performing at her shows, despite her nerves about new music being filmed and leaked before it’s fully polished.

Amelia Curran plays The Good Will in Winnipeg on March 6th, The Exchange in Regina on March 8th, Village Guitar and Amp Co. in Saskatoon on March 9th, Fox Cabaret in Vancouver on March 11th and Central United Church in Calgary on March 12th.

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