Singer-songwriter Chris Pureka didn't exactly keep on the sunny side of the street on her past albums. Her starkly beautiful songs have been compared to those of Gillian Welch and Neil Young for their emotion and authenticity.
But the sad songs in Pureka's earlier repertoire still don't quite prepare the listener for the depths of her new album, "How I Learned To See in the Dark." Some of those new songs will be a part of her show at the High Noon Saloon, 701 E. Washington Ave., on Sunday, May 2.
With its cryptic, sometimes ominous lyrics and dense arrangements, "Dark" goes beyond the stripped-down Americana sound that Pureka fans are familiar with. In an interview while on the road in Indianapolis, Pureka said there were some personal issues that influenced this darker turn, but that she also wanted to push herself creatively.
"I think I wanted to take what I was doing to a more intense level, and take it a little deeper," she said. "My older stuff is a little bit more conversational, a little bit more forthright. The new record is a little bit more coded. You can kind of make it about what you want it to be about."
Creating the layered, offbeat arrangements on "Dark" took Pureka nearly a year to complete. She initially went into the studio with producer Merrill Garbus with just a few songs, and while she was recording and fine-tuning those songs, she was also trying to write the remainder of the songs for the album.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," she said. "This record had so many more layers, so many more different arrangements and parts. There were so many more permutations or possible outcomes to your song, depending on what you added."
Pureka often performs as a solo artist, but to capture the full flavor of the new arrangements, she's currently on tour for the first time with a three-piece band, including an electric guitarist, fiddle player and drummer.
She said she tries to balance the tone of the show, so that the newer, darker material doesn't overwhelm the overall mood.
"I try to be aware of that so it doesn't get too brooding," she said. "The live show will be a little more upbeat. But we definitely play songs off the new album, and only a couple of those songs are upbeat. I do do some older stuff and some covers that are a little lighter. But it is still a pretty heavy show."
"How I Learned to See in the Dark" is the third album from Pureka, and is likely to cause listeners to re-evaluate Pureka, who until now has fit comfortably in the New England folk genre. She grew up in Connecticut and started playing music while at Wesleyan University.
But she was also studying biology while in college, and for a time after graduating worked in a lab. She said the science and music worlds aren't as far apart as one might think.
"Being a scientist in a lab is all about observation," she said. "I feel like that's sort of what songwriters do, and that's certainly my approach to it. You're observing things and trying to explain what's happening. You're paying attention to details."