Guest Author - Chris Curtis
I caught up with Catie Curtis in P-Town, MA recently to talk about her newest project "Long Night Moon". I found her to be quite engaging with thoughful and intellegent responses to my questions. Here is what Catie had to say:
Chris:You have recently signed with Compass Records, why did you choose Compass for "Long Night Moon"?
Catie:I made "Long Night Moon" on my own and I really didn't want to wait for a label or work with a label while recording it because they tend to hover and get their hands in the process. So when the record was done and I was looking for a home for it, Compass was one of the few independent labels that was willing to license it. I didn't want to sell it. I've come to a place where I want to retain ownership of my master work and they were willing to license it. I liked the work that they did with other acoustic artists. So I made the choice to go with them.
Chris:At what age did you start composing music?
Catie: (with a bit of a giggle) I wrote badly in high school and college. Most of my current body of work comes from the period when I was 25 to 40, over the last 15 years. I don't think of myself being prolific but rather that I have endured for a long period of time. I am sort of consistent with my writing. I may only write one record every two years. So when you think about it, that's only 12 songs per 2 years. I keep that going and I write songs that don't make the record, of course, but I like to edit it down and only use the ones that have been really working out well live
Chris:Has anyone else covered your songs?
Catie: Yes, live, Tricia Yearwood and some other lesser known country artists, but unfortunately no one has recorded one of them as yet.
Chris:When you compose, which comes first lyric, melody?
Catie: The vibe comes first. Usually the guitar cords and a sense for the melody. Then lyrics comes last.
Chris:How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Catie: I am like a kid in the candy store. I love to be in the studio. This project was special because this was the first time my producer has had his own home studio. So we were able to work day and night, whenever we wanted to, to tweak tracks and not be under the pressure of paying a studio. If I didn't like the way something turned out, there was no harm in saying "Let's start all over. Let's try an entirely different approach here."
Chris:What are your goals for the future?.
Catie: My goal has always been to just continue because I feel like it's a unique place that I get to write my own music, own my own music and have a fan base that is not dependent on any part of the music industry. I get to make my own balance between my family and my touring while it's still financially viable for me to do it. Just carrying on.
Chris:What have been your major influences?
Catie: Early on it was the LA singer songwriters like James Taylor and Jackson Brown, those kinds of people. Then in college, it was more the folk scene as it is today Greg Brown, Cheryl Wheeler and Susan Vega. Over the years, with the availability checking out music through ITunes, I feel like I'm a little more interested in music outside of folk than I used to be. It's fun to download dance or electronic type songs that I'd heard about.
Chris:In your "Long Night Moon" Project there is a wall of sound that is supporting your vocals. It's mixed very well, done quite nicely. Do you control the arrangements?
Catie: I think that there are two reasons why the vocals sit the right way in the arrangements. One is the work of Lorne Entress (the producer) arranging the songs so the instruments don't step on the vocals. Meaning, for example, the bass line in "Water and Stone" fits right in between the syllables of the words. We worked soooo long to find that part that supports it but literally falls so that it propels the song forward without stepping on the lyrics. The other thing is it was mixed by Ben Wisch. Ben is best known for producing and engineering the Mark Cohen project that had Walking in Memphis which is really a singer, song writer, vocalist record. He mixes things, finds that place and puts it with the right amount of reverb and setting everything off so that you can really hear the vocal but the rest of the track doesn't sound anemic. He manages to keep it all there but I don't know how exactly.
Chris:My general reaction to "Long Night Moon" is that it comes from a very happy person. I hear themes of love, family relationships plus some social issues, particularly "People Look Around". It's all in an uplifting mood. What inspires you to compose?
Catie: I think as much as anyone, I sometimes feel low and I could write songs about feeling negatively about world events or sad or depressed. I am inspired to write hopeful songs with a lot of love at the core because I think that's what the world needs right now and what I need to bring to music. I think there is plenty of depressing input - stimulus for people out there and I think people are struggling to feel hopeful or to feel inspired to maybe try and change things. I would feel bad if I thought I was contributing to the overall sense of hopelessness. I feel like I don't have the energy to put more of that out into the world I feel my energy is more around trying to lift people up. I know I need it and I don't think I could go out there and play cynical or depressing songs night after night. You really have to wear that over and over and I wouldn't want to have to do that. I wouldn't want to live that.
Chris:What is the most important message that you are trying to convey with th "Long Night Moon" project?
Catie: I find that a good show and I think it's the same with a record but I am more aware of a live show. A good show is when you feel like you have taken people out of their day to day lens on the world and shifted it for them so that they find another perspective where there is meaning no matter what the outcome of world events are. I think what I am saying is even if ultimately there is really bad news ahead for this world, we can still choose to bring love and stay positive and do the best that we can and not feel foolish doing that; mainly, because it's good for us spiritually to try. I guess what I'm saying in the record and also what I try to do in a live show. Sometimes you can really feel it happening, tilting things a little differently.
Chris:What piece on "Long Night Moon" is your favorite?
Catie: As a recorded piece, it might be Water and Stone because I was so touched to have been able to sing with Mary Chapin Carpenter. I love hearing her voice with mine.
Chris:Is there anything the project that you feel didn't work quite the way you had hoped?
Catie: I don't think we left anything that I didn't feel comfortable with. I think the beauty of having this home studio was that if something didn't feel right, we just did it again until it worked.
Chris:Tell me abut your "two reasons more" and what have they brought to your life?
Catie: Lucy is 4 and Celia is 2. They have brought a large dose of humility because for the 1st time in my life I am not the center of my own world. I feel like I have learned a little more about human nature in a way; how wide the range is of just normal human emotions. Kids are so unedited. Right from the start they seem to have this intense capacity to love and equally intense capacity to be very selfish and difficult to get along with. You start to wonder if our international conflict doesn't somehow begin with attitudes of how you raise children. When you read about people teaching their children to hate at a young age, you realize, well yeah, they have that capacity and it's not hard to encourage it. And yet, if you teach people to be gentle and loving as possible, you think we'd stand a better chance of us not destroying ourselves as a race. I think in a way it's easy without kids to sort-of be more "Pollyannaish", saying: "people are good" "really, people are good" but sometimes when you see kids, there is that innate raw anger and jealousy that are not hidden yet. It's interesting to extrapolate from that to how world conflict can get started or how the cycle of violence gets perpetuated.
Chris:Tell me about New Flowers".
Catie: Same thing as "two reason why", in a way. I must have heard a thousand times since I became a parent. It's going to change your life, over and over and over… like people are warning you in sort of an ominous way. Like, that it's going to be a lot harder than you think. I feel like the point of that song is that while it has changed my life a lot, it's mostly in just the way I have opened to the stretching of the heart muscles that comes from having to work so hard to love somebody. And at the same time, I'm still who I am and I'm still playing music and I'm still committed to social issues and speak out about things. I feel like some people suggested that once you have kids, you won't be so much into your music or you won't have time to talk about politics. I think that part is not true. so that is why at the end of the song there is the whole thing about "it's not a curse or a cure, you gotta make a better world for these two reasons more". Think of it as now I have kids so I have to stop being my own person and having my own responsibility as a citizen. That's not the truth, if you don't make a better place in this world for your kids, who will?
Chris:Tell me about People Look Around
Catie: Right after Hurricane Katrina, Mark Erelli and I got together and wanted to write about it. We just sat down and wrote a long list of images. He's really good at identifying concrete images that speak a wider truth. He brought lots of great imagery to this song. But we couldn't quite put it together as a song on the first day. The next day I ended up writing the frame work for it and he came over to help me edit it. In two days, we had the whole thing done. I think it came together as a song so easily because we reached this boiling point, not just Mark and I but a lot of people, where we begin to connect various issue together to see the impact when our country is distracted by the war and our resources are going there and being distracted by anti-gay referendums. Who is going to take care of people, who is going to make sure that within our own country that people are able to thrive. So when Katrina happened and you saw all these people being left to die because we didn't have the resources or the focus to take care of them. I think a lot of people felt at that point - ok this is a perfect example of what happens when we lose our focus on what government should do in a positive way for it's people.
Chris:You been quoted to say that you like performing to a live audience because the energy that's there. Can you describe what it's like for you as a performer, the energy of that audience?
Catie: There are times when I can sing a line and I can feel people's emotions connecting with that line and it boomerangs back so I put out more energy with the next line. They sense that and come right back with it. And it's like things that I didn't even see within the song are revealed to me by the way people respond. I really feel like it becomes this organism between you that grows with how present each party is - in some shows people really show up and they are so reacting. In other shows, there is less of a connection. The energy affects the performance both positively and negatively. I think it's what turns me into a junky for performing because it's not great every time. Some shows there is more of a connection and a higher energy and other time's it may be completely dead or somewhere in the middle. I really like the fact that it's not just about do I do a good show, it's really about what going to happen. Who is going to be there and what energy are they going to bring and how is that going to interact with me and it's always a surprise what it feels like to play for people.
Chris: I don't want to take up too much more of your time but would you please comment on: Passing Through, Hey California and Long Night Moon
Catie: Passing Through I have to give Mark Erelli most of the credit for that song. He actually brought me that song when he was more than half way through writing it and I helped him finish that song. It's such an important song to me because I feel like it has such a spirit of love in it that I don't think I could have come up with on my own. He's just got a real philosophical nature. When I first heard it when it was half written, I just started crying and I asked "can I help you finish it?"
Catie: Hey, California I love having on this record because it's one of the few irreverent and sassy songs that I have ever written and it's fun energy for me. And it's actually something I think about a lot having grown up in New England; there is that geographical envy that you have to deal with.
Catie: Long Night Moon … it’s a full moon in December. I wrote it for Cecilia, who's two, before she came home to us. She's adopted, they are both adopted internationally. We had to wait after we had their pictures for them to come home. When Cecilia was 6 months old, we got the news that her paperwork wasn't done and she wasn't ready to come home to us. So I wrote this song wishing that she could be with us during that sentimental holiday time. But actually its about two people separated during a time of war, people in the service and not with their family and how you think about someone who is far away when you need to be with them and how you need to trust that you will be together again.
Catie, thank you so much for your time today. It was such a pleasure talking with you.
Catie You are welcome, it was fun for me too.
Bella recommends Catie Curtis' newest project, "Long Night Moon"
You can find a larger selection of Catie's work to choose from here: