Cy Curnin (The Fixx)
The Fixx is not your usual rock band. More cerebral than most, their lyrical matter makes for songs that have layers. You generally don't get tired of their records as something new is continually shoving its way into your attention span. Vocalist Cy Curnin is also not your usual rock singer. When other people are still queuing up to The Rainbow Room for their hit of attention, Curnin moved to France to start up a sheep farm and bed and breakfast. Although out of sight, he is definitely not out of mind (ours that is, not his) thanks to his new solo record The Returning Sun.
This is a fantastic effort that is my favorite record from last year. Spawned by some lyrics from a some-time Fixx collaborator, the record took shape from a series of events in Curnin's life. Prior to moving to France, he got divorced. Some time later he met his current love and several years after, made the jump overseas.
The record has 10 cuts that are as moody and soul stirring as most of The Fixx songs. You get a sense of more of Curnin's soul being scooped out into the notes here. It's an at-times gloriously melancholy record that just smacks of a mature standpoint, distancing itself from most of the disposal fodder on the radio.
The spritely record opener "We Might Find It" has an infectious melody that is like a burst of early morning sunshine. Curnin's voice, always an anchor of The Fixx sound, is buoyant and engaging. The highlight of this record is undeniably "Remember Me When I'm Gone". Lyrically introspective, the melody is just drop-dead powerful. I found the repetition of the words "Remember Me" annoying on the first play and then its magic took me over. This is just an incredibly beautiful song.
The title track switches gears for an almost-Island feel that is strangely calming. "Falling Apart Together" is the most Fixx-like song. It has at once an organic and tech side that makes for unlikely but welcome bedfellows. "The World Will Always Turn" is another highlight for the record. The words remind one that the world is bigger than the individual and that life goes on no matter what. Musically, the magic goes straight to your ass and you're moving whether you want to or not. The rest of the songs are all crafted with care and not meant to be the Styrofoam around the mailed parcel.
By now I think you get the idea that I love this record. Well, it gets better folks. Recently I had the chance to speak with Cy who proved to be as interesting an individual to speak with as he is talented. Here's what he had to say:
antiMUSIC: Congratulations on The Returning Sun. It's simply exceptional. I was blown away at the extremely high quality of the songs, all the way through.
Cy Curnin: Thank you. It's nice to get chances to write a collection of songs and pick the 10 that capture something that holds you in the moment. I went through a pretty creative period right there, so that's …a bit of a watershed in a solo way. When I write songs for the band, they announce themselves. They define themselves in a different way than when I wrote songs for me. The Fixx is more like a boys' club.
Cy Curnin: When you do solo stuff you tend to just write these things and go, okay, that's one for later. That's for a different project. Because when I was taking a bit of a break I was able to keep going and a whole slew of these things came out and there we are.
antiMUSIC: We've got the two main topics of conversation today, obviously the record, and your Mount Everest adventure. We'll concentrate on the record first, as you said the songs are a little bit different than what you had present to The Fixx, but I know you mention, divorce in your media release, is this really the main impetus behind the record, this time out.
Cy Curnin: Yeah, in a way. What actually started the record…what ties it in a little bit to The Fixx is there's a girl called Jeanette Obstoj who wrote a couple of songs for us…"Secret Separation" lyrics and "Woman on a Train" lyrics and one day through my fax machine came a lyric marked URGENT and it was called "Remember Me When I'm Gone" and I thought well, that's pretty urgent and I just read it. I picked up my guitar and then I sort of…, about 10 minutes later, I had the song pretty much done, in terms of just expression of it. That was the first song I put together and it was a clue during this tumultuous time that music was going to be my doctor. (laughs) I just kept going from then on. "The Returning Sun" just popped along which was a song I had written for my oldest son actually, James, and that followed. And they just came bing, bing, bing, one after the other and I had recently been talking with a guy called Doug Beck who I had met through a series of contacts who'd done a remix with Jellybean of "One Thing Leads to Another".
Cy Curnin: They decided to have a stab at this record.
antiMUSIC: How did the record come together in terms of time frame. Was it over the case of a couple of years or did you sit down and let it all pour out?
Cy Curnin: I played "Remember Me When I'm Gone", just as a song and they went "WOW!" So we recorded that one and just kept going. It was done in a very not innocent, yeah, innocent way but we found it really easy with a one to one thing rather than having five guys in a room listening to your sonnets. It was a different experience working with somebody…that you just played the song to the person who was next to you and we didn't have to demo it, or rehearse it over and over and over. It was just a question of capturing my performance of it, vocally. Then, embellishing it. And he did quite a good job of it.
antiMUSIC: Yeah, sounds like a more organic process than what's usually done of late.
Cy Curnin: Yeah, that's the irony of it. The more technological equipment there is, and advancement, the more organic you can actually be…the moment does become king and you can stretch the moment. We can fiddle around with long after? But you don't have to keep going for take after take after take after take if you've got it right. The rewind of the tape used to take a long time but rewinding in computer terms is instant. So if you work that out, that time you spend in rewind, you save with this. It helps keep the attention span of a flighty musician. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: I don't want to intrude on personal matters but can you tell us about a couple of cuts, what they're about or, not really what it's about but something about how the song came together, may be starting with the title cut and why you started with it?
Cy Curnin: The title song is a play on words in the prodigal sense, The Returning Sun at the end of a dark period, the sun always does always come back, so there's an optimism there and I just felt that, there's a spirit that possesses us through the ages, and he's waiting for us to perform at our best. I don't know if you've read a book called Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.
antiMUSIC: No I haven't.
Cy Curnin: You don't know in what sense he's talking to you in. He's talking to you in first tense, but you work out after a while that he's a spirit that's just been reincarnated in one boy to another to another to another, right?
Cy Curnin: Lost in the void, waiting the human condition to do good rather than bad. And after reading that book I wrote "The Returning Sun", just as the idea of, I've been waiting for 10 thousand years. Things have just changed and stayed the same. It's that kind of vibe really.
Cy Curnin: I can't remember all the titles but as I said "Remember Me When I'm Gone", is one. But as I said earlier the lyrics had come through from Jeanette. And she was going through a tumultuous period and I really liked her Greek references, Icarus, and fly too close to the sun again. So the urgency of…some people consider it a suicide note, but in a way it's not. It's like a testimony as a spirit, you want your life to be remembered in this way, You want your presence to be noted when you've left. Some people miss you more than actually see you when you're in front of them. It's kind of like that ripple that is left. And she captured that well in the lyric.
antiMUSIC: Right. "Nothing Is Normal".
Cy Curnin: Well, nothing IS normal. (laughs). Everything is chemical and fixing into one big melting experiment. Also that's one side of looking at it. The other side is, I was going through a period where things were falling apart in one sense, and everything did seem a little bit like a chemical reaction. Water was becoming steam and ice, but not liquid. "Falling Apart Together", same kind of thing in a way. Just a sense of losing a sense of people losing sight of what the pleasure of life was about, and to realize our potential collectively as a bunch of humans, you know, running around. But that's connected in that way. That's a rhetorical question. Sometimes you're just barking up the wrong tree. I think it's just the way that we go through daily processes allowing information to come in and then making judgments on shifting sands. We built foundations on misinformation and now we're paying the price for it in some ways. I think actually we're coming to the end of an era where politicians, without realizing it, can create a real schism in society. After the last President's have f---ed up so badly on his watch, and people are starting to look inside a bit more, collectively I hope.
antiMUSIC: It's sort of a good thing in a way, maybe it just made people more aware.
Cy Curnin: Well, I'm hoping. Yeah. You know, the time that we live in. War going on. We are fighting two things: apathy but you are also fighting, generations of kids that several generations ago thinking that today's generation are terrible. They're this. They're that. They all have Aspergers disease. But from their point of view they've grown up in a world where they've been told the future's worse for them. Everything's getting worse. Kind of a great legacy they've been handed down?
Cy Curnin: My second son is really into space, and "Okay f--- it, the whole place is melting. How long have we got to build a Noah's ark to get off the planet." (laughs)
Cy Curnin: And so, JFK's space program should become more important again, at some point. In the sixties, America was gung-ho for space, and it wasn't so much about flying a white flag and surrendering that we had really screwed up mother earth and we need to go somewhere else and survive as a race. Then it was, this is the best that man can be, and keeping up with the Russians, and the Russian technology had Sputnik and on and on. And we have a different sense of timing now. It's about 10 years before the ozone disappears. 15 years till 80 per cent of the world's drinking water dries up. It's a different pressure
antiMUSIC: You play with Jamey obviously in The Fixx. Why did you enlist him for guitar duties?
Cy Curnin: Can't get rid of him. (laughs) He just loves to play and he, in an instinctive way he understands my songs so well and right place, right time.
antiMUSIC: How did you feel when the record was completed, considering some of the motivation? Was it really a catharsis for you?
Cy Curnin: How did I feel? I felt very proud of it. It just took a while to get it release. I was still under the illusion, because I had self-financed it, I was still thinking, well maybe I should try and go to a record company to put it out. And then I went to see John Kalodner who is a character in the music business. He really loved the record and he spoke to me about every song in the way you have which let me know he had really listened to it, and he really loved it. And he was starting a label with Sony, his own label, but it fell through. And it was at the time when a lot of these potential big deals were starting to happen before the record companies really collapsed and bottomed out. And they were just looking for young artists doing this that and the other, and the label The Fixx were signed to, I wasn't too impressed with then. So under the contract that I, The Returning Sun was tied to them, so I had to put Mayfly out to fill a commitment and then after that it came back to me, the rights, eventually, so once those rights came back to me, really my wife could put me up to say, you're living in a world now where you…it's homegrown. You put it out through your own site and market it through Myspace. You still use press as an A&R outlet. It's really tough getting things on the radio. There's other ways of getting music out there and when you're doing it for yourself, you know… I'm not a greedy guy. The record didn't cost a fortune to make, so my break even point is low, and record companies have a tendency to release records like, pfft! They put on a fire works display and they don't last that long. And if you don't hit, then people loose confidence in it in a matter of weeks. And I knew that this album was more about letting people live with it and discover it, and pass it on. I like the idea of word of mouth. Now I can just get it up on iTunes, and Carol Kaye, my publicist, is doing a very interesting way of finding people that are pro what I've done in the past and so it's a nice way first to get the word out there. And then we'll see what happens, you know, when I start touring with the band…my band in February, March. Hopefully a few more people will have heard the record and will hopefully turn up. I love the organic nature, I love the fact that the record company doesn't exist.
antiMUSIC: Less meetings..
Cy Curnin: Less meetings. A few more interviews and once again, the wife was right… (laughs)
antiMUSIC: OK, you were recently part of one of the most amazing things I've heard of and that is a concert on Mt Everest to help raise funds for a hospital in Nepal. I know it was organized by Mike Peters of The Alarm who is a friend of yours. Can you tell us how you got involved?
Cy Curnin: Mike Peters and The Fixx…The Alarm and The Fixx go back a long way, history, we've often played together since the late 80's. I was aware of his fight, when he was first diagnosed in '96. I remember hearing of it on the radio in a car, I'd just rented a car at the airport and the attendant had left the radio on the first thing I heard was Mike Peters sees a faith healer and was told the color green is a very healing color and from that moment he's worn nothing but green, and I went "Huh". And then the second time he went through the ordeal of leukemia a second time, he was on the road, and he was trying to find some insurance, but he couldn't get travel insurance. And he found a guy who did rock and roll insurance and who was also a leukemia survivor. He was able to plug him into the best doctors. And he enabled Mike to tour. And Mike is one of these guys who has so much energy. He's so positive, he's like, yeah, I've got cancer but it's not going to affect my performance. And we were on the road with him in the summer and just seeing him… He was just coming off his chemo, he didn't lose his hair when he was doing his chemo. It did dry his throat out a bit, but he was doing a 45 minute passionate set, and out with us every night. And I was like…wow, this would be an inspiration. And then during the tour he came up to me and said, you know, we've got this foundation. We're trying to shout our message from the highest places from around the world that cancer can be beaten if you get the right treatment early. And there are a lot of places in the world where cancer isn't the no. 1 cause of death. It's things like dysentery and cholera, which is Nepal and Everest is the highest place in the world is the highest place in the world. And we thought wouldn't it be good to try and get the world record singing the highest rock concert everywhere for this charity.
So base camp was about as high as we could think of doing one. Someone had done a concert at base camp but there's a hill behind base camp that is another 12 hundred feet higher. So we climbed to the top of that and broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest rock concert. As we climbed the mount we lost the identity that we had of our western selves. It just became a struggle, a daily climb, and it was very inspiring. There were cancer survivors. There were some people who'd just paid to come along for the experience, and musicians. But everyday people which gave an identity which was a very good thing. Because on the way down, the people that were using the word survivor, didn't want to use the word survivor any more. They were just moving on with their lives and that sort of Damocles is how it's going to come back. It could come back and this and that. they didn't have that anymore. The challenge brought them through, and that was the huge lift-off for all of us. The whole process was about going up and when we came down the hill, it was much harder. Because you're always having to watch your feet. You can't twist your ankles. You're getting more oxygen back in your lungs as you're coming down. It was a strange thing cause we had been continually on the up and up. And then the concert at Kathmandu Square was about 10,000 people. They'd never seen a western rock show. Our lineup was Slim Jim of Stray Cats, Glenn Tillbrook (Squeeze), Nick Harper and Jamie and myself. When we were on stage, the audience was so innocent and we had been through such a cathartic experience again, it was really affirming? And it was all filmed by Alex Coletti who did Unplugged, MTV's Unplugged. They're putting it together, it's a documentary. And there are a lot of angles that it can be shot in. and it's kind of given birth to a few others, a few ideas. Another mountain is being considered as the next love, hope strength, climb, to draw attention.? The idea is to use different musicians, and bigger famous people to get more press, more hits on the site and that whole thing. If I'm invited, and I do have the time to be there, I did catch the bug about going all the way to the top, of Everest. Because for me it wasn't as hard a challenge as I thought it would be, in the breathing department. If you get to 19 thousand feet you see the top and you get that close, you realize it's a different technique. And a whole different team is needed. But I said I want to go up there. So I'm going to have maybe some training to get back up to the top of Everest, and do some of the other climbs. It's all about raising the money so I'll see what happens.
antiMUSIC: What were your initial thoughts about the trek when this was first brought to you? Was it ever something you had previously considered? Are you a climber or adventure seeker? I've seen you and you're obviously not horribly out of shape but there is a difference between being in shape and being ready to take on a challenge like that. How did you prepare?
Cy Curnin: I like trekking, I'm not the type of kind of guy who needs to parachute out of planes to get excitement. (laughs) For climbing a really intermediate to heavy trek in difficulty, it wasn't on the top of my A list. But when I presented with it, Jamie was standing right there next to me and I said, "Well I'll go, if you go." (laughs) And he looked at me and said, "How can we say no?" How do you train for it? With certain things get you back into it. But I just rode my bike and ran a bit. I didn't do too much in the climbing or altitude preparation of it, because if figured that each day would be its own training session for the next. And it was.
antiMUSIC: Prior to the event, did you ever have thoughts of "what have I got myself into?" and thought of pulling out?
Cy Curnin: I never wanted to pull out but it was just a question of the timing of it. I just felt better for a month. I come back and I tell my family, hey listen, I've been invited for a wonderful trip. My wife was the first one to realize what a big thing it is for somebody to be able to do that. And she said, how can you turn that down? And she was so gracious about it and the whole spirit of the organization. She said it would be nice to see you doing something where you'll be giving instead of getting. And then she said to me, "You know, giving is the new getting." She's a bit of a hippy that way. And it's very true and so I was sent of with a lot of love so I didn't feel too bad I'd be away again. It was a life changing opportunity and people around me have been patient allowing me to come and go, and I'm sure a lot of musicians too. It's a long time, a month by the time we got there and back. When you spend a lot of time on your own, on the road anyway. But it wasn't selfish. It was for charity. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Can you describe some of the regular days, what time you would leave and how it was all organized?
Cy Curnin: It was all organized by a proper mountain company, called The Mountain Company. Every day we'd be briefed. We'd be generally up, having breakfast, 38 people in various tea rooms or little lodges. I mean, the higher up you go, the more basic they become. Every day started with a breakfast, and briefing about how high we were going to be, how long, what was ahead of us, trek-wise, and everyone took turns to take the lead. People climbed in different parties on different days. By the third day, there was sort of a rhythm forming, you could see who liked to be where in the pack. And obviously the camera guys trying to film it, they didn't just want to see people's asses climbing, they wanted to see people coming up. So they had to rush ahead, to film us coming up. Then they had to run behind. They were running twice as fast as any of us. My natural climbing speed was a little faster than the average, put it that way. So I was arriving at the next place a lot sooner. So that was when I first got the notion that the altitude wasn't killing me as much as I feared it was going to. At this altitude you had to stop drinking alcohol. They sell this wonderful little whiskey called Bagpipe up there. After five o'clock when the sun's gone down and those dingy little Lodges, that whiskey's really good. And one morning Tilbrook and myself, we got a nice session on the guitars and the whiskey. We wake up and there's 16 people all caught food poisoning bug from something they'd eaten that night. They were all really sick, diarrhea and vomiting. But we're fine. We must have sterilized our stomachs with the whiskey, you know? (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Wow, there's an endorsement. (laughs) Any stories you can relate of things that went on? When you get a bunch of musicians together, there is usually a certain amount of levity even on a serious mission as this.
Cy Curnin: Yeah. There is a lot of levity. I think the podcasts at everestrocks.com, you can still see the daily podcasts and you can get a sense of the character that Glenn Tillbrook is and Nick Harper, two lunatic Englishmen with a sense of humor which was perfect for the trip. I've never fell in love so deeply with two characters so quickly and the injection was intense to be with them, and going through this daily physical effort. Levity yes. But there was a lot of weeping too. You know how sometimes the emotions of songs can affect you? Nick Harper sang a song "My Imaginary Friend" which was written when he drove home from the hospital after his mother had died from cancer and he got the call from Mike Peters to join this trek on the anniversary of her death. And he was just telling me this quietly whilst all the cameras were us on this viewpoint and we had just climbed up another 12 hundred feet in order to come back down again, to get acclimatized, and everyone's playing songs. Big songs. And there's all these tourists up there jamming, and Nick just starts twiddling away on this little song, after having told me what it was about and Jamie starts playing this emotional little riff and I just lost it and there I am, blubbering away for all the cameras to see.
But this was in some ways what the trip was about, getting stuff out, letting it out, letting go of a lot of things. For Nick it was, he doesn't want to let go because the memory of his mum, but he wants to let go of the pain and stuff and it's all in the song. Wow if you can check that out and check out Nick Harper. I can't say enough about his talent. For those that don't know, he's Roy Harper's son?
antiMUSIC: Oh OK. I've didn't know the connection.
Cy Curnin: Yeah, what a character, so there's a few moments. Slim Jim Phantom. One of the few smokers who took out a cigarette no matter what altitude, had his cigarette, and looked real human. We just looked at him and went, that's such a human thing to do. What a great character he was too. And Mike, like a tank everyday. "Hello. Let's get on with this." And you know, Jamie on his own personal exodus, odyssey should I say. He always loved walking, taking long, long walks and it was a great thing to see him in that element, teaching the sherpas everyday, every evening how to play guitar chords and they in turn would teach us how to sing their folk songs.
Cy Curnin: Year. Really nice. Cultural exchange.
antiMUSIC: What was the actual concert like and did you experience any problems vocally at that altitude?
Cy Curnin: Ah, no, really cold. Really windy. Ten coats on. Wooly hat. Sunglasses to keep the eyes from tearing. My wife said, 'Well why did you do that? No one knows it's you?" Because it was f---ing freezing! (laughs)
antiMUSIC: (laughs) No choice.
Cy Curnin: No s---. I mean listen I was covered up. The wind was blowing that day. I mean when you're talking about this show, it wasn't about the acoustic quality. It was about the physical effort. And when you see the podcast and you see these prayer flags and the speed at which they're flapping, and you kind of get a sense of it, and the urgency and the madness of it all really. Sometimes sound effects can be a hard thing to control and really just a mute side of that point, you know. Stop trying to cover them up and get on with it before we all freeze to death and get back down.
antiMUSIC: What was the outcome of the event? How much did you raise and did you actually make a formal presentation to the hospital or was it done through the foundation?
Cy Curnin: Yeah, we visited the hospital. It was organized the charity and the doctors and then we all went there. It was pretty heavy actually. The operating theatre, you wouldn't take your dog there. And in Nepal they're so poor they don't have the money to pay the hospital staff to actually have post care or pre care, so basically what you have is the family living around this quite terminally sick person, child living in sheets that haven't been changed for months and the families have to come from far away. They're so poor they can't really bring anything to alleviate themselves. The irony of it is when you come back from this, I came back and I read an article about medical tourism, where American insurance companies are investigating the price of sending you to well-equipment overseas because it's cheaper to get the operation down there than it is in America. If you can build state of the art equipment treatment centres…there is money in Nepal. Some people have money and some people leave. They leave their country to get treatment. If they don't have to do that, money stays here and the hospitals can grow. In Thailand now, three hospitals that the American doctors association deem as being worthy of us, occidental westerners we can go there and we can get good treatment, and I bet it's cheaper like a tenth of the price. So we started thinking, it's really a timely thing to for this half a million, 300 thousand dollars in Nepal help doctors out get these early detection machines. Put them in there. Try get and get them in there, try and get them work. So that the people spend the money. They're almost there. They've got the buildings, and the accommodation of the families, to stay and help the patients through treatment. They'll have money to just have more hygiene, and basically it's about the information, the early treatment, that's really what the foundation is about. Early detection and in rural, poor countries it's hard enough to get them to wear condoms, let alone being screened for cancer.
antiMUSIC: Right. On a personal note that must be priceless in terms of the rewarding feeling you got from it.
Cy Curnin: Yeah, giving is definitely the new getting. And if you find yourself complaining, being cranky and cynical about your own life, it's very rewarding to get outside of that head, and become part of something bigger, very rewarding.
antiMUSIC: On a different subject, I didn't know you were living in France. Can you tell us how a British rock star who regularly tours the world comes to live on a sheep farm in France?
Cy Curnin: I moved for love. And there I stay in the arms of the beautiful woman who led me there, after having enough of New York and after falling in love with her a couple of years after getting divorced and missed her. But I had children in New York so I couldn't really leave. They weren't at the right age that I could leave, so there was a lot of transatlantic hopping about. Eventually I realized, I said to my son, you're going to find me the rock and roll dead dad or you're going to see me with a big cheesy grin, living life and loving it. And I just decided to move there and she decided she wanted to start making goat cheese. So we had to find the farm and then turned part of the barn into a guest house, and the guest house business took off so much, it keeps her so busy that she hasn't actually got around to doing the goat cheese yet. And sheep tend to take care of themselves and everything is organic. No pesticides or fertilizers or nothing that has been on the land for…well, there never has been. So we were able to get straight right into the organics certificate and the sheep grow. The males, when you've got a lot of males, you can't keep them because if they inbreed the flock so you kill the males and you eat that meat, it's delicious. It started with three sheep and now we got 50. We've got horses. We've got pigs. Just a little farm in the lower valley. For the price of a little apartment in Manhattan, you can get 30 acres there if you so choose. And that's what I chose.
antiMUSIC: Especially like this on trips back to New York, do you miss the life over here?
Cy Curnin: No, I don't miss the life at all. I understand it. I enjoy parts of it like friends and conversations, and other parts of it. There are different ways of seeing the vitality of life. In the city where everyone's crazed and can't get any downtime, it's like a blocked artery. You also used to get the feeling that cities used to be destinations; now they're just targets in many ways. They have that fear, people waiting for that next big disaster to blow the lid off something. I didn't want to live like that. I just want to just plant my potatoes, put my hands on the earth and just touch it and conserve it.
antiMUSIC: Well I could go on all day but it don't want to monopolize your time.
Cy Curnin: Yeah I have to do another interview in a little while. That's what I love about this business and getting older, I'm losing my memory so I can repeat myself and not bore myself. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Before we go is there anything else you would like to tell us about the record or anything at all that I did not ask you?
Cy Curnin: There you go. It's one of those records that I wanted to be a word of mouth. I'm hoping it's the kind of record that the people who do hear it, will talk about it, play it to other people and they would go, "I really would like to have that and make it into the soundtrack of my life right now." Because I think it's timely to the questions we're all asking of what's next. It's just a random timing, but that's the best. That's how evolution works. It's magic and timing together.
antiMUSIC: Well congratulations on the record again. It's exceptional.
Cy Curnin: Thanks very much Morley.
Morley and antiMusic thank Cy for doing this interview with us.