Nervous Curtains new album, I Tried To Fight It But I Was Inside It is out Friday, August 9th. A complex and layered album that never neglects pop sensibility, the songs on I Tried To Fight It are as infectious as they are enigmatic. The trio creates syncopated rhythms around synths, keyboards, and drums that can either sound sinister or seductive. As we mentioned in our album review, don’t feel ashamed to dance to these tunes. Though you could just as easily bang your head. The albums seven tracks are destined to crossover to audiences typically dedicated to a specific genre (like post-punk, doom, prog). While Nervous Curtains don’t neatly fit inside any particular genre, they challenge the listener to forget what they know and become submersed within an ocean of sound that is both familiar and exotic.
We had the chance to talk to vocalist/keyboardist Sean Kirkpatrick about the bands songwriting process, the inspiration behind the lyrics, working with producer Alex Bhore (This Will Destroy You), and the bands future plans.
Can you tell us about the writing process, maybe how it’s evolved over the years, and if there’s anything unique you guys did for this album compared to others?
Sean Kirkpatrick: I’ve always been the principal songwriter in the band. When we started the band, I would usually come in with chord progressions and some vocal melodies and lyrics. We work on the arrangements together. That’s essentially stayed the same, but as our sound has evolved over the years, and some of the gear that we use has evolved over the years, the process that I used to write has also evolved, and the process in which we work on music together as a band has also evolved.
The thing that is most noticeably different about this new album is that I got a sequencer in between making the last album and making this album, and started writing music on the sequencer, which is really different than just sitting down at a piano and playing chords. You’re kind of just programming in pulses, so I think it’s a little more like writing funk music, I guess. There’s less emphasis on chord changes, and more emphasis on rhythm than ever before with this album. So yeah, just did a lot of that. Writing sequences at home, and then taking them into the band, and then we would work on stuff. Sometimes after I see how it’s going with the band, that’ll cause me to radically rethink what I was working on for the band.
Lyrics usually evolves over time for me. Usually when I first bring stuff in, I don’t necessarily have all the lyrics set in stone. It takes me a while to zero in on exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it, kind of changing things in and out.
As far as recording, we did do the recording of this differently than we’ve ever done before. We’ve always done all of our tracking for every instrument for our album in the studio. This one, since there’s almost no piano at all on this album, we had the thought that we could record a lot of the synthesizers at home because it’s just going direct line in, so there really wasn’t a need for spending the money on fancy mics and a great room to record in, if we’re just going direct in. So, we did all the synths at home at first, and then we went into the studio at the end and did three days with Alex Bhore where we did all of the drums and vocals at the end.
I was going to ask about working with Alex Bhore, but are you telling me that you only spent three days in a real studio?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Well, yeah. Doing the drums and the vocals went incredibly fast. We could have almost done it in two days if we really tried. The third day we kind of messed around with some overdub ideas, half of which didn’t even end up making it on to the record, because we just had extra time, and we were fucking around. But, the mixing is a whole other story, and Alex spent a long time mixing it. I think that’s what really shows. We were not involved in that process at all, other than at the very end whenever he would send us mixes that he felt were done, and we would have some comments, as far as mostly just bring this keyboard up, bring the hi-hats up here kind of thing.
So yeah, he brought a lot to the mixing, and the drum sounds, I think, are incredible on the record. I think that’s because Robert’s a great drummer and also because Alex is a great engineer. We worked with him once before. He recorded half of our last album, Con, and I did a solo album with him a couple years ago. So yeah, I really like working with him.
It sounds like each track probably could have gone in an even more experimental direction. There’s lots of atypical song structures. Yet, it always kind of stays in a pop framework, just in terms of mainly your vocal melodies. I’m curious, is that just part of the band’s vision or do you guys have to kind of be conscious of reigning it in or editing down songs?
Sean Kirkpatrick: I don’t know. I think that’s just kind of the end result of the way we work, and really trying to get each song as good as it can be. I don’t know, we don’t really jam too much. I mean, sometimes we do when we’re working on ideas, and sometimes when we’re jamming we’ll find one thing that we really like, and we’ll be like, okay, let’s use that. It’s just always been a very song oriented band. We have never really made a conscious decision to do it one way or the other. That’s just kind of been the end result of the way we work and us trying to make every song as good as possible.
There’s so many layers of sound on this album, and there’s only three people in the band. Is this going to be hard to replicate live? Or have y’all thought about how you’re going to approach that?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Yeah, we’ve been working really hard on it. That’s happened with all of albums. We generally work up versions of the songs. In the past we’ve done live tracking in the studio, but then added more overdub we had to figure out how we were going to cover it live. Both me and Ian, we each have basically three synthesizers in our rig that we’re playing sometimes. I’m controlling all the sequences live and also playing keyboards and singing. Ian is getting some of his keyboards sequenced from my sequencer, but also playing on top of it.
Then there are some other things that we can’t handle. Robert, our drummer, has a Roland drum sampler, so he is sometimes triggering samples from his drum sampler, in addition to live playing percussive sounds from that sampler as well. The live versions are always slightly different. I think they should be different. I think studio albums, they’re one thing. I don’t necessarily like to see bands just come out and sound exactly like their record. At the same time, we really like how the record sounds, and there’s stuff that we just don’t want missing from the songs because they’re such integral part.
In the press I got for the band it mentioned that the album started as a protest album and then you ditched that idea. I’m curious why and maybe how the approach to the lyrics changed as a result?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Around the end of 2016, we had been touring and supporting our last album, Con, pretty heavily. We were getting tired and then just kind of felt like we were at the end of that cycle. We were getting tired of playing those songs, but hadn’t written anything new. Then the election happened and it was jarring for us, I guess, to kind of realize that this was our reality and we were angry. So much racism and hostility was being widely accepted in our society. This is our new reality.
We had a meeting and we decided, okay, let’s take a few months off to rest and chill and then get back together and write some music. I’m angry and I want to write some harsh, dark music to where I can express how I feel about this and what I see as rising fascism. I started writing a bunch of stuff. It’s hard to write protest music and not just have it be kind of cliché.
But, I also just personally started reading a lot and trying to understand the moment that we were in through the broader scope of history and U.S. history in particular, how white supremacy has always been a part of U.S. politics. The nation was founded on slavery, then that evolved into Jim Crow, and then after the civil rights movement and the Civil Rights Act, it has evolved into mass incarceration and draconian drug laws.
I sort of started to understand all of this in a different way and realize that just voting isn’t enough. That we have to really look at radically changing the structure of our society that’s gotten us to this point. There’s no just going back to normal from where we are now. We’re at a very radical point and only radical solutions, I think, will address this. So, my politics kind of evolved a lot. Also, just my understanding. It wasn’t just enough to be anti-Trump.
I wanted to see a bigger picture and really address systemic oppression as a whole. Deep poverty and class divide. Demagogues used this as a way to use racism as a way to boost their own popularity and be able to do things like give rich people tax cuts because they have everybody convinced that it’s the immigrants and the minorities that are taking their jobs and preventing them from being able to pay their bills and so forth.
I think that’s what the album title is alluding to is…I think at the beginning it was just going to be this angry anti-Trump album. Then, I’m like, oh, wait, this is a much bigger system, and I’m an active participant in it. How can I be against racism and sexism while I’m participating in this whole system? It caused me to get into some deep questioning of my beliefs and how I was going to spend my time working against it and writing about it.
You also made reference to writer Naomi Klein. Was there one or more of her books that you had read that was inspirational?
Sean Kirkpatrick: Yeah, I was already a fans of hers. I read a couple of her books. I read This Changes Everything: Capitalism and the Climate, a few years ago. So, I already had some socialist viewpoints, but I just always kind of believed America is so capitalist the best thing we can do is just try to get Democrats elected, and try to push them to the left and get them to pass progressive legislation.
Then right after the election, she quickly wrote No is Not Enough. That book kind of got me started on this whole path of thinking about just showing up to protest marches and voting for Democrats is not going to change anything. We all have to be doing more and really taking part in democracy in our society.
What does the immediate future have in store for you guys? Be it local shows or more extensive touring.
Sean Kirkpatrick: The first eight years or so we were a band, especially 2010 till the end of 2016, we went really hard, especially right after we put out an album. We’ve never been able to go on long tours, but we would do a lot of short tours in pretty rapid succession. Then have to manage doing day jobs and family life and everything in between. One of the things we’ve tried to do with this record is just to be a little more laid back with everything, and we’re just not going to stress ourselves out about feeling the need to go out and support it, and wear ourselves down physically and mentally.
I would like to go out and play some shows, but right now we’re not booking any tours. Hopefully at some point we can do some stuff that will be fun for us, and that we won’t lose money on.
We did make a music video. So we’re just trying to promote the album online for now. We’re going to keep playing shows locally, regionally, for sure, and like I said, hopefully people hear the album and will invite us to do some cool shows and stuff. At this point we’re doing it because we like playing with each other, and feel like we’re making something unique and good, and that’s a reward in its own.