Amy Correia’s trying her hand at mythologizing, only she’s not faring so well. Her tale is the one about the alienated, small-town girl: Life is suffocating and gray until she finds Technicolor happiness in the bosom of the Big Bad City.
Problem is, Correia’s not quite sure she wants to stick to her story. The 32-year-old singer-songwriter’s comfy, Lilith-free debut, Carnival Love (Capitol), recently arrived in stores, and she’s recounting the goodbad old days in her hometown of Lakeville, Massachusetts, the microscopic hamlet from which she escaped at 17. “I tried to do everything right,” she says. “Consequently, I probably got pretty depressed.” She says she spent a lot of time alone, creating a rich fantasy life.
I sort of felt like I didn’t fit in,” Correia adds. But wait, she takes it back. “No, that doesn’t make sense, because I did fit in. I was a good student and I did sports. Maybe in a past life I was a hobo or something, because I really didn’t feel comfortable growing up there.” Pause. Um, scratch that. “That doesn’t really make sense to me, because why wouldn’t I have?”
She’s just off the tour bus and a six-hour ride from Maine to Manhattan, where she’s sitting at the bar of the Mercury Lounge, so perhaps her incessant self-analysis can be attributed to bumps in the road. Or maybe it’s just too much therapy, which she’s embraced since moving to Los Angeles in 1997.
Correia’s music, however, contains no such uncertainty. Stark, metaphor-heavy yarns propel Carnival Love, a 13-song journey down gravel roads on the bed of a beat-up old musical pickup truck. Weathered and worn, Correia’s tunes show narrative chops a la Lucinda Williams, with a loopy melodic sense and vocal affectation that recall Sam Phillips. There‘s even a nod to Carole King’s ”It‘s Gonna Take Some Time“ on the optimistic ”Life Is Beautiful.“ Correia paints vivid pictures through a minimalist prism that’s dusted with folk and rural blues leanings, with an emphasis on shit-kicking mandolins and ukuleles.
Her music proves once again that while you can take the girl out of the country, the country never quite escapes the girl. Yet the girl herself had designs to bail by the age of 8, thanks to annual visits from her New York cousins. Among other things, they expanded her musical consciousness. Thus the Beatles, The Who and the Stones were added to Correia‘s internal playlist, one nurtured on the vanilla-pop perennials of small-town radio (think Three Dog Night). ”My cousins knew a lot of things I didn’t know,“ she remembers. ”I got the idea that there‘s a world out there, and I’m supposed to go out there.“
Correia left Lakeville to attend New York‘s Barnard College, where she studied literature with an eye toward becoming an actress. But after performing in a few school plays, she soured on that idea and turned to songwriting. While kicking around the Apple, she shopped demos, performed in clubs like Fez and CBGB, and, most important, didn’t feel alone, thanks to a welcoming musical community.
Impatient for the elusive record deal, Correia moved to L.A. three years ago, which was like Lakeville all over again, but with a gazillion more people. ”Going to L.A. was tough, because I didn‘t have any friends and I haven’t found a tight-knit group of musicians,“ she says. ”I appreciate it and I‘m grateful for it, because it was tough. I’m a lot tougher now.“
She dealt with her latest round of alienation though group therapy. ”I‘ve been in therapy in L.A. pretty much the whole time I’ve lived here,“ she says, laughing. ”There‘s a lot of openness about talking about your feelings. It’s kept me centered.“
Slowly, she gravitated to the Largo scene, often opening for Jon Brion‘s Friday-night circus, before signing with Capitol in 1998. As a dry run for her current road work, Correia joined last summer’s Girls Room tour with Kendall Payne, Tara MacLean and Shannon McNally. Correia welcomed the opportunity to go on her first proper tour, as she had never before played extensively away from home. The camaraderie of the monthlong journey also had an invigorating effect. ”I was pleasantly surprised, because we got along really well, and I found that kind of community is addicting,“ she says.
Though the same-gender bill allowed for some Lilith-esque critical potshots, that stuff doesn‘t mean much when you’re a struggling musician trolling for gigs. ”It never feels good to be compared based on your gender, but it‘s not the end of the world,“ she says. ”It sure beats not getting to play out.“
Once content with the solitary confinement of creation, Correia now says she’s getting used to the sound of applause: ”When I‘m sitting at home writing songs, it feels really great. I feel really alive. But now, I don’t know if it would be enough just sitting in my room.“ Guess the therapy‘s paid off.
Amy Correia performs at House of Blues on Thursday, November 30, and at the Ventura Theater on Saturday, December 2.