The Mythic Pull of Country: Violet Delancey Plays Greensboro
You could say it had a fairy-tale beginning.
Violet Delancey’s career started with a storybook quality to it. Delancey, who’s playing Greensboro’s Common Grounds on Sunday, Jan.
24, was studying folklore and mythology, the archetypes of fairy tales, the structural theories behind them, earning a Master’s degree in London, when she decided to jump ship on an academic career and pursue a path as a songwriter. It might not be an epic quest, or one involving journeys to the underworld, transformative spells cast by gods or anything like that. But Delancey, 25, has followed her vision like someone who, if not possessed, is at least on a mission.
Her debut album, When The Clock Strikes Midnight, comes out in February. The title might even carry a whiff of the Cinderella story with it. The music evokes more recent figures of legend, the classic country of the 1970s, part Emmylou Harris part Dolly Parton, with a Bakersfield twang to the backing band and a calm sense of purpose to Delancey’s singing.
There’s plenty linking the worlds of mythology and country music — timeless storylines, a moral logic, narrative compression, and themes of justice, loyalty, and pride. Delancey saw the connection.
“What I was studying and what I was interested in was just really alive in music,” says Delancey.
The idea that there are certain potent universal structures — like a blues chord progression or a song about love gone bad — is something that most country music fans can probably relate to, whether or not they’d talk about it in those terms. Thinking of songs and myths as bubbling up from the same well of the unconscious can help explain how a mix of simplicity and subtle mystery can make for enduring creations.
“That’s the beauty of the mythic core of things: it’s there no matter what, and you can’t really get away from it,” says Delancey.
Delancey grew up in southern California, went to college in the Northeast and then headed off to England when she was 22. As an American abroad, Delancey drew closer to the country and roots music that she’d always been fond of. When she wasn’t busy doing research in London, plugging into the music scene there helped Delancey get sight of her goals.
“I moved to London not knowing anybody,” she says. “I was spending hours in the library in a gray city. Music became the lifeforce for me there.”
A song’s pull on us can be mysterious and elusive. The ways that the pairing of melody and lyrics play on our emotions and memory would seem to sometimes be at odds with the simplicity of the material.
“It’s like a magic that the poetic images in a song have that you don’t know why they’re making you feel the way you feel,” says Delancey.
But just because one studies and studies the rudiments of songwriting and mythmaking, that doesn’t make one capable of making something timeless and captivating like the best ancient stories or well-worn country songs. Delancey says that when she was working on her own songs — while also studying the work of Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt — she tried not to overthink the process or the form.
“I didn’t want to be too analytical,” she says. “Sometimes I fall into that, and I catch myself analyzing what I’m doing before I’ve even got my feelings out.”
It’s not like Delancey’s really had a lot of spare time to kick back and ponder the connective tissue of her songs though. When she left London two years ago she decided, like many country-tinged singer/songwriters before her, to head to Nashville. Delancey says she figured she’d throw herself into the craft of songwriting, surrounding herself with people who take songcraft seriously. To land in Music City at the age of 23 and to turn around two years later with a solo debut backed by solid session players is a feat that must only happen to one in several thousand country-music hopefuls.
There are lots of variations of the fairytale story when it comes to making it in Nashville. Some involve cleaning the floors at the right studio at the right time and running into a legend. Others involve slogging away for years, on the verge of poverty, sickness or giving up before finally earning a chance to get your songs heard by the right set of ears. Delancey’s story has its own unlikely symmetries. This batch of a half-dozen shows that the singer is playing will be the first time she’s performed on stage outside of Nashville and London. The North Carolina shows will be solo, but Delancey will be joining up with her backing band for gigs in Los Angeles and New York.
It’s difficult to know if Delancey’s hyperspeed career arc is one that suggests the mythic workings of fate and destiny or whether it’s related to the more mundane, and fundamentally American, mechanics of hard work and hustle, enterprise and persistence.
Some have said that if you’re down on your luck in London, you’re a goner. But Delancey took the negative energy of a mismatched academic career move and used it to nudge herself back toward something that had more meaning for her.
“I don’t think I would have fallen into music with the vigor that I did had I not been in that situation in England,” she says. “Somehow it led me exactly to the direction that I’m going in.” !
Wanna go? Violet Delancey plays Common Grounds in Greensboro from 7-9 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 24, 602 S. Elam Ave., Greensboro, 336-698- 3888. The event is free and open to the public. Visit Delancey’s website at http://violetdelancey. com to learn more.