American progressive/experimental rock band The Great Curve consists of Kevin, Ross, and Brian. They recently released their second album “Something Grand Is Dying.” I had the chance to sit down with them and discuss their band, influences, and future plans.
How long have you been playing music?
K: Twenty-two years. I first picked up an instrument in 5th grade, choosing to play the cello rather than fail miserably trying to draw boxes in Art class. By 6th grade I’d given up any real attempt at musicianship and just repeatedly smashed my bow into the strings in a poor recreation of Soundgarden’s “Fourth of July.” I grabbed an electric bass shortly thereafter and quickly forgot every formal lesson, replacing my bow with a pick and accidentally mimicking the Melvins in full stoner-drone rock mode.
Sad aside: I gave that first bass to an absolute genius of a kid in my class with extremely strict parents. He just wanted a chance to play a little “rock n’ roll.” Unfortunately he carried the “too smart to function” gene and supposedly ended up hitching rides on trains and shooting heroin. Hope you’re alright out there Wes!
R: I think I started clanging on piano in either kindergarten or first grade, but got tired of the classical tunes after several years of lessons and wanted to rock. That clearly meant I would have to learn guitar. So with a few chords my dad taught me (eat your heart out), I started shredding on a Martin Stinger. I won’t even get into my junior high seven-string phase. Sigh. Then in college I rediscovered piano/synth was actually cool, taught myself drums, and did blast/grind beats minus the kick.
K: Before TGC Ross played drums in a band called Taft. He used to do these amazing no-kick blast beats while blowing out his vocal chords. We called it the Screaming Eagle.
Who were your greatest musical influences growing up? How have they impacted your sound today?
K: Luckily, my parents listened to (mostly) amazing music, so I jammed out to the Who, Talking Heads, the good (read: stolen) Paul Simon records, early Beach Boys, a carefully curated selection of Doors tracks, and a steady stream of the Stones. I did eventually have to shut down my dad’s obsession with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, but otherwise no complaints!
I grew up in an awful town for, well, everything, but particularly music. Happily my folks loved live bands so we’d trek 2 hours to Austin and see Delta Blues and Zydeco legends at the original Antone’s. I’d eventually fall asleep on a table in the bar and the next morning wake up back home somewhat ready to attend school. In text that sounds like awful parenting, but I assure you it’s exactly the opposite!
In terms of later, more personal taste, I owe everything to Poster Children, the greatest American rock band of all time and yes I will fight you over this. My dump of a hometown rarely got shows, so when the venerable Sponge announced a date in College Station my fellow “grunge banger” friend and I purchased tickets immediately. We dreamed of a real, live mosh pit. Poster Children, a band I’d never heard, opened the show and just crushed, which led to an extremely bizarre BMG Music Club order that included the legendary PC record Junior Citizen and a Boyz II Men album. It’s no Junior Citizen, but I still love some Motown-Philly.
Once we got internet at home, I quickly discovered PC’s online tour diaries (I think they produced the first band-managed webpage – they used to design flight simulators!). Through those writings I learned not only about outstanding bands (Hum, Man or Astro-man?, Tortoise, Seam, Jesus Lizard, Jawbox, etc.), but also about ethics in the music biz. No matter the size of the crowd you play your absolute heart out! I might have stalked them every time they came within a one-state radius of Texas. No, I definitely did that. If you dig through their tour diary archives you can find some, ahem, interesting pictures of me. Thanks parents!
Later key influences came from recommendations via other musicians: Neurosis, Devin Townsend, Lightning Bolt, the Locust, Melt-Banana, Drive Like Jehu, Boards of Canada, Assacre…
In terms of our sound, I think those groups provided two key points:
1. Take risks. Unless you’re a totally unstoppable melody machine like my buddy Frank in the Murdocks (Austin-based and amazing), there’s little reason to swim in conquered waters.
2. Mean every note, every word, every action. It’s not about the crowd, it’s about YOU and those small moments of expression. Also, you don’t need tons of notes, only the right one played really, really LOUDLY.
I remember in your email that you said you have no expectation of making a living with music. How have you balanced music with your personal life?
K: Poorly? In the band we have a mix of jobs, kids, and some other responsible sounding stuff I’ll think of later. We tend to work in bursts. We’re usually slowed over the holiday season and eventually pick up steam again, but it depends on the motivation level. I DON’T have OCD, but I get compulsive and reclusive during a writing binge. People start doubting if I value their friendship.
How would you describe your own music? Because honestly, I have a hard time describing it myself. (laughs)
K: Yeah, I find this tricky as well. I wanted to carve my eyes out while working when searching for the proper phraseology for record promo. I typically just call it “soundtrack influenced rock music,” although if I’m talking with a known metalhead I’ll throw something in about “technical drumming.”
R: ‘Soundtrack’ has definitely become the stand-by for how we describe it now. A lot of times I just ask people if they like weird music.
How is the songwriting process in The Great Curve? Is there one key songwriter, or is it a collaborative effort?
K: It’s definitely a collaborative effort in the end. The first record developed out of “jamming” but I don’t think it achieved our goals, so we made adjustments to the process. For this record, songs developed mostly through file-trading rather than staring at one-another in person. I’d generally come up with a rough outline of the track, but then we’d work out all the details as a group via emails, texts, and carrier pigeons (it’s not clear if Brian has EVER checked his Gmail).
Is there a theme behind the album? Correct me if I’m wrong, but this feels like a concept album.
K: Yes but… You know, I tried to explain this for another site (after a similar inquiry), but I think it’s possible I ruined the record for him in the process. The forthcoming review disappeared into the abyss.
I’ll try a short (ha!) version: the album addresses the power and danger of human creativity. As a species we develop incredibly intricate systems, but after we adopt these ideas we tend to forget how they emerged, instead “naturalizing” them as if synonymous to physical law. Before starting the record I outlined a terrible movie addressing that theme, then broke the result into various scenes and tried to write the music one might use to underscore the emotional content. The titles reflect those initial intentions, but the lyrics do NOT follow any sort of strict story. We took a fairly precise seed and then blew out it in more universal form; if you read the words you couldn’t suddenly recite the plot, thankfully.
Did you approach “Something Grand Is Dying” differently than your last album “An Overwhelming Vastness”?
K: Other than maintaining our streak of pretentious-sounding album titles, absolutely. I mentioned many of the changes before, but I should note the addition of lead vocals. We’d never made a record with this kind of vocal emphasis, so it presented a fairly arduous learning curve. We’re extremely proud of the results, however it also means a complete inability to play these songs live. Our drummer Brian handled the David Lee Roth role throughout the album, but for him to handle both jobs live – Phil Collins couldn’t pull that one off.
Is there any interesting stories you’d like to share since the formation of your band?
K: I’m just thankful we’ve made this record. It took an embarrassing amount of time, but it’s the first thing I’ve recorded I know I’ll willingly listen to twenty years from now. Chico at Ohm Recording Facility did a magical job as a producer/engineer/friend, and the band definitely nailed the performances. Confession: I don’t actually play the bass parts on the album. I outsourced that to an amazing musician here in town (Kyle Robarge) because I knew I’d otherwise lose the big picture and only hear my flubs. I managed all the string, synth, and vocal recordings, so I didn’t want to end up in the weeds. Kyle killed it.
Is there any information you’d like to share about The Great Curve? Any new material in the works? Any tours to be announced?
K: Well, we’re working on a couple of videos in support of the record. Also, in the face of our inability to play these tracks live we’ve actually started another band called Freedom Attacks that focuses on stuff that will actually work in a venue. It’s the same members as TGC, but it’s not restricted to the studio. We’ll definitely return to the Curve in the future though.
Also, thanks to you for the kind words and your willingness to check out the record! It’s limited to Bandcamp at the moment, but once we finish the videos we’ll get it on all the major streaming services. As you noted, while it’s nice to make back bit of our investment we know we’re always going to lose money making music. That said, it’s extremely gratifying to find anyone out there that appreciates our work. We make music selfishly, but when it DOES connect to the outside world it’s a genuine thrill.
B: I’m just doing this every day because I really love doing it. It makes me happy. That alone makes me do this. Period.
Thanks to The Great Curve for taking some time for Crash and Ride!