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The Learning Curve

Reaching deep into theur imaginations has brought Curve face to face with some ugly home-truths. Tony and Dean tell Julian Carrera how they nearly went cuckoo making ``Cuckoo''.

The Queen took from somewhere among her wrappings a very small bottle which looked as if it were made of copper.. Then, holding out herarm, she let one drop fall fromit on the snow beside the sledge. Edmund saw the drop for a second in mid-air, shining like a diamond. But the moment it touched the snow there awas a hissing sound and there stood a jewelled cup full of something that steamed. The dwarf immediately took this and handed it to Edmund with a bow and a smilel not a very nice smile. Edmund felt much bertter as he began to sip the hot drink. It was something he had never tasted before, very sweet and foamy and creamy, and it warmed him right down to his toes.

``It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink withiout eating,'' said the Queen presently. ``What would you like best to eat?''

From The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis

Toni Halliday, dressed down in ``Bionic'' t-shirt (she's been working off a weekend of Roman pasta in the garden), orders more coffe, Dean Garcia goes for the soup. The waitress brings the bill with a smile; a nice smile, actually.

The Chronicles of Narnia have got nothing on Curve, if it's magic and mystery and no little fantasy and suspension of disbelief you want. Curve have peeked out of their bunker-like studio rarely in the ppast year; they'vebeen feverishly putting together the follow-up to last year's ``Doppelgänger''. ``Cuckoo'' is the newborn and high drama it is too. Far more diverse and outreaching than ``Doppelgänger's'' compact electrics, it open a new Curve era, where it's predecessor more or less ended one.

``We started off on this path and then just exhausted it. Then we said, NEXT! and that's how we do it,'' explains Toni. ``We're very thorough. Both of us are very disciplined, thorough perople, and we have to finish something before we start something else, or we won't feel fulfillled. It reall irks us if something isn't as developed as it should be. We have to take it to it's extreme and then we'll say, oh, that's where it stops.''

This kind of bloodymindedness (``Oh, yes, totally bloodyminded.'') fuels the Curve creative machine, producing startling gems like ``Ten Little Girls'' and ``Coast Is Clear'' in 1991 and ``Faît Accompli'' and ``Horror Head'' in 1992. But it's a method that's been perfected over a period of time. where songs strived before to pull off the ``beautifully ugly'' and occasionally ended up in too stillborn-perfect for their own good, now Curve sound fuller, nastier, more potent, more alive.

Case in point? The ``Blackerthreetracker'' EP that precedes the album by a month, for a start. ``Missing Link'', it's lead off track is only one aspect of the new, more healthily diverse regime. Introduced by an acid bubble (very important) it hammers and screams along at 152 bpm like some hellish marriage between ``L'eau Rouge'' era Young Gods and prime Band Of Susans. Toni's voice appears almost cameo-framed in the mix, with an unearthly clarity. Toni'sraving about the other tracks too, which they're off to cut after they've finished this. One of them is so new it dowsn't have a name (it ends up being ``Triumph'' and it joins ``On The Wheel'' in a bizarre road fantasy flipside to ``Missing Link''s hell of wheels). Both offer further extreme proof that Curve aren't into rehash.

``One thing that happened when we finished the album and I played it back in it's running order was that I realised we just don't sound like anybody,'' muses Toni. ``And nobody sounds like us. We are quite an original band. You listen to Alice In Chains and Nirvana and they all sound similar and the only thing that stands them apart is the quality of the songs. With us there's all these little things going on that no-one else would do. I can't hear it in any other bands.''

``It's the way we record as well,'' says a be-lintil-ed Dean. ``It's the way it's actually done.''

``We do it all at home. It's only one inch--it's not even professional. When we take it into the real studio it just goes ``sssss''. And that is intrinsic to our sound as well.''

I thought it was feedback.

``And there's no time limit. Three O'clock in the morning I can wake up and have this great idea and run downstairs and put it down,'' buzzes Toni.

``Which has been known,'' rues Dean. I wonder who gets the phone call at 3.30? ``Everything is just the next step for us, and we always feel that we have to hit the next plateau if we don't get there then we start to feel really, really unstable. Not between Dean and I as writers or friends, but just in our minds. We feel that we're not getting there and what's more we know it. '' ``With this one,'' explains Dean. ``We had our dips in the middle but the end result has really hit that plateau. And we're really happy with it.''

On the face of it, ``Cuckoo'' exudes a similar unfazed cool as did ``Doppelgänger''. Toni's lyrics (``I have no idea why I write; I have no idea what I'm writing about. None at all'') are as scatological and freefal/free-form as before, translating nuances and feelings rather than manifestos. Musically it stretches things a lot more. Whilst a track like ``Crystal'' is typically, redolently Curve, only to the nth degree, ``Unreadable Communication'' (cf. lyrics) cuts a swathe between moody ambience and caustic, skin-peeling guitars. ``Turkey Crossing''--another terrific title--churns along on a slow techno clank of a rhythm, embellished with delirious distorted guitar and odd- non-sequiteurs. ``Do you write a diary?'' asks Toni. No, I say.
``When you write a diary you'' look back and see things that'd you'd never have thought of otherwise but there it is.''
There are a lot of things I'd rather not be reminded of.
``Ha ha ha. Life's like that.'' Cheers. ``Yeah, but it's all part of you. Nothing you do for yourself is embarrasing.''
I read somewhere that Curve are ultimately shameless.
``Is that what you said, Toni?'' says a disbelieving Dean.
``I am totally shameless. I think I am correct for myself.''
Do Curve surround themselves with a trustworthy gang?
"There's Alan (Moulder), Flood and Steve Osborne. That's our team, and we work with them all the time. On the next album we might want to work with Butch Vig. The only reason we thought of him was because Alan worked with him on the Smashing Pumpkins album and Alan said he's absolutely fantastic -- he's exactly like us. He wants to work with techno bands -- he's just talking about rock bands that use Akai. By the way, he doesn't know this. We've just decided."
That Smashing Pumpkins album sounded like hell to make; for everyone concerned. Couldn't be the same for Curve. You sound too calm. I stand corrected.
"No it's not," explains Toni, "It seems that way and I suppose on the surface in a superficial sense, yes. We are dedicated in what we do. We work. But when you write, you have to do it. You have to go further. Doing that process as a human being can be really frightening, really horrific It can't just be superficial because you have to look so far inside yourself, and you will find things you can't stand. That is really awful.
It got to a point where I couldn't watch a telly for more than three seconds, couldn't read a book or a newspaper, couldn't do anything like that. Just sitting there with my own head was fucking horrible. I'd end up crying all the time. I discovered that I totally and utterly hated myself and that there were things that I'd done that I really regretted, and I'd convinced myself that I'd never regret anything.
Now the album's finished I've managed to calm down. But you have to do it. All writers have to. Even C.S. Lewis had to take loads of opium to get to that place."
How else would he have thought of a talking lion?
``But it all leads to another world and we all know as children, when you hide in the wardrobe you create your own world. He had to go past that. He had to open his imagination to fire other people's imaginations. And that's the process of writing. If you want to write that's what you have to do. That is the price.''
Who'd be an artist?
``We're all a bunch of nutters,'' grins Dean.
``We're quite stable, we just realise we have to lock ourselves away to make records. I'm going to say disgusting things to Dean and he's going to say disgusting things to me and we're going to get down to the nitty gritty. We don't want anybody else to see it. Things are going to go on, and they're between us and they're private,'' forewarns Toni. ``But that's why I work with Dean because I can vomit all this horrible stuff in front of him and he just wipes it off for me. We rescue each other all the time.''
Does it make you fearless? I mean, would you recommend this line of work to someone with a history of mental illness?
``You'd probably just do it anyway..'' reckons Dean. ``My family's got a history of mental disorder all the way back. I've been talking to my mum a lot about it recently. I mean, my mum had a nervous breakdown-a complete emotional shutdown.''
Mine too-and when I found out my great-grandad was institutionalised, I had sleepless nights. "And what happens if it skips a generation or two..."

Whilst ``Cuckoo'' is very definitely Curve, it's a pleasure to be surprised. 'Unreadable Communication' and 'On The Wheel', even to the old cynic like me, sound fresh and unexpected.
``That's good,'' says Dean.
``There's nothing wrong with being cynical, you know.'' scold Ms Halliday. ``I think some people, especially young people are quite in fear of it. As long as it's in proportion and as long as it's in balance with loads of other things, it's something that's completely intrinsic to the British. It's something that makes up our lives and who we are. It's also something that sets us apart from most other musical nations because we're not soporific at all, and we're not sycophantic. We're this race of people who say 'Seen it. done it. but I'll never say never.''
And this ties in with Curve's workaholic, try anything tactics; an ethic they share with their bedroom bound techno cousins.
"Yeah, we like the ethic of it. The thing we did with Aphex Twin, we just white labelled that up, and sent it out to the DJs cos they wanted to play it and cos they liked the record."
It's all about, as Toni says, "transferal of inspiration". He gets their 'Falling Free' they nick his 'Quoth'. Everybody's happy, or nobody knows about it. I prefer to refer to it as cross-pollination.
I think it's very important because music is becoming more limited because there's less and less that hasn't been done. All you can rely on is being original and being an instigator of the times, and the times are very much like: you've got something that I want, how about me giving you something that you might like?''
Which may sound like a naff come on, but nevertheless, Toni continues.
``You just can't be precious anymore. What is there worthwhile about being precious? It's a waste of energy. You have to use your energy for the thing that's in front of you."
Sign of the times. Toni's been asked to work with Future Sound Of London-FSOL and the Drum Club are remixing Curve-tracks. If that isn't healthy, then I just don't know.
Dean doesn't appreciate Utah Saints' wholesale sampling ideology, though. Too clumsy; too much of a reflection of modern day attention spans, we decide.
"MTV did a survey in America-they do a lot of them." Thanks, Toni. "The first thing they wanted to know was what did fifteen to nineteen year olds spend their money on? What was the number one thing? What do you think it was?"
I don't know, I whine.
Oooh, Pumas....
"And the second thing they asked was, if they did buy albums, how much d id they l i sten to them? Two-poi nt-two of a track . They di dn't even listen to the whole thing."
Horrific. But I don't think 'Cuckoo' will let the youth of America get away with that.
"That is attention span gone mad."

Last changed Sunday 13·May·2001 [go to top]