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Interview: Seattle indie-pop heroes Curtains For You

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On the rise in the Seattle music scene is a five-piece indie pop band known as Curtains for You. Headed by brothers Matt and Mike Gervais on lead guitars, they’ve also got bassist Nick Holman, pianist Peter Fedofsky, and drummer Dave Lawrence. Together, the band has spent the last seven years playing music on the Seattle scene, and in 2009 they were signed to Spark and Shine Records. Curtains for You recently played at the Seattle Art Museum’s Party in the Park benefit, during which I sat down with the band for a quick Q&A. They talked about subjects including Dick Tracy and their “Space Needle of Success.”

Suzi Pratt: What character from fact or fiction would you most liken yourself to?

Curtains for You: Solomon Rusky. Chevy Chase, Chris Farley, Mr. Rogers! Geena Davis, Sarah Michelle Gellar, as Buffy, in character. Pete would be a good C3PO. Or… no, you’d be R2D2!

Matt Gervais: Nicholas Cage would be my personal one. The totality of the movies he’s been in sums me up as a human building.

Mike Gervais: You started out with such promise and now you’re just doing it for the money. [laughs]

SP: Tell me the story of how the band got together.

Matt: Nick and I used to play in a band together when we were still in college at UW. That band broke up towards the end of college, and Pete joined that band as a keyboard player, but it was a lot different style of music. Mikey my brother had just moved back from California. We recorded a bunch of songs together in Nick’s basement. We took a break from that, and then in 2005, we got booked for a show before we had ever done anything as a band. We didn’t even have a name, we were going by “Grand Stand,” and then my name, “Matthew Lee Patrick.” So we had to throw it together, and it was before we had met Davey our drummer. We played our first couple of shows without him, so I would play tambourine and high hat while playing the guitar. It sounded a lot different, like a jug band.

Dave Lawrence: Matt would hop on the drums for the last few songs. When I first saw I was like, “wow, they’re really cool, but they desperately need a drummer.”

SP: How has your sound evolved since you first got together in 2004?

Matt: It’s been slowly evolving ever since then. On our first official record, Heaven’s Waiting, I played the drums. We were still finding our groove. And by the way, every song on that album had the same groove. [laughs] We kinda pieced that one together, and did a lot of overdubs. Mike and Nick played a lot of horns on that record. Nick played trombone and euphonium, and Mikey played sax and clarinet. We threw a lot of the different elements together.

Mike:  Our recent album is almost more live except for certain overdubs we had to do.

Matt: Our next record was a live in-studio where we pretty much didn’t do any overdubs. Maybe just a little bit of guitar overdubs, and vocals of course we recorded separately.

Mike: That was a very consciously raw record. We very purposely wanted to play it as live as we could. And I think this record was done in an intermediate approach where there’s still some of the arrangement from the first record, but still the rawness of doing it live.

Matt: We had Sam Anderson from Hey Marseilles come and play cello on our record, and some of the stuff he played on was some of my favorites on the album.

SP: What are your musical backgrounds? Any formal training?

Matt: I don’t think any of us are trained formally. I almost got a music minor. We have some musical training, and most of us played in marching band, jazz band, orchestra, but no formal training. Here’s a secret: Davey is the most proficient piano player. He can’t read music, but you play anything to him, and he can play it back to you exactly.

SP: What is it that keeps you based in Seattle?

Matt: Well, on the topic of what inspires us, I actually like the dark rainy winters in a lot of ways, because you can get in a certain head space and stay there for a while. Maybe it’s not the most healthy thing in the world, but I think it’s good for creativity. It’s good for forcing you indoors for months at a time to record things. I think if  I lived in like San Diego, I’d be a surfer. Not that I know how to surf, but I’d learn. [laughs]

Also right now, there’s a lot of really cool bands, and it’s a great scene to be a part of. It’s also an amazing audience in Seattle. People love music, and there’s a sincere sense of support from the city and community.

SP: How have you seen the Seattle music scene change?

Matt: When we first started out, it was hard to get a foot hold. It felt a little more disconnected five years ago than it does now, and I don’t know if that was a product of us playing a lot and meeting people, or if it’s something different. I think people today though are much more engaged and open to meeting other bands. The Head and the Heart‘s widespread popularity is a symptom of that community opening up over the last year.

SP: Do you wish the scene would change? How so?

Matt: We (Matt, Mike, Nick) grew up in Seattle, so we were here when the 90s rock scene exploded, and it was cool to see that as a kid. I think all of us, whether we admit it or not, picture that happening again. It’s different today, because no one has any money. Back then, all the major labels picked up on all those rock bands, and I don’t think that happens anymore.

CFY: But on the plus side, it doesn’t have to happen that way. You can exist independently, if you’re a good band, you can put out records on medium sized labels and make a decent amount of money. It’s not the same kind of instant success or same level of success. Like you don’t get signed to a major label and start getting played on MTV and all of a sudden you’re selling major records. You don’t even need a major label anymore. You just need a day job to save up money so you can go on tour.  [laughs]

SP: What’s the definition of success for Curtains for You?

Matt: Playing Paul McCartney’s next wedding. [laughs] It’s one of those things where you just have to keep going and see where it takes you. It’s hard to have that end goal in sight. Although I’ve always had this idea of being on a Aimee Mann sort of level. She’s not super famous, but she plays a lot at places like the Paramount. That seems like a good place to be as a band, and it kind of is the pinnacle of success these days, unless you’re Justin Bieber, aka straight to the top.

CFY: Somewhere between Bieber and where we are right now. Maybe that should be the name of our next record. Here, there and Bieberwhere.

SP: Final question – what’s the significance of the band name Curtains for You?

Matt: We picked it because it speaks to this Dick Tracy kind of world. It’s like a light-hearted way of saying something heavy or morbid. And it’s kind of what we try to do with our music—approach serious topics without sounding too serious. And we like Dick Tracy. It fit what we were doing when we first started out, when our music had even more of a 30’s era rag time piano bar sort of stuff you’d hear in an old seedy nightclub, and it made sense like that.

SP: Bonus question – any shows you’re looking forward to playing soon?

CFY: We get to finish up the summer playing Bumbershoot at the EMP. That’s huge for us just because for all of us growing up here, that’s sort of been the “Space Needle of success”. To be able to get to that point is pretty cool. We’ll hopefully ride some momentum off that too.

Curtains for You is slated to play at Columbia City Theater this Thursday, June 30, as part of Team Up for NonProfits‘ Gigs4Good benefit show.  Check out the rest of the band’s upcoming shows on their website.