Curtis Harding: The Performer Cover Story

The Soul Powerhouse on Shitty Guitars, Bum Notes and Being a Control Freak in the Studio

Curtis Harding is no stranger to spreading the good news through music. Born in Saginaw, MI, the guitar playing vocalist (whose aptly-named Soul Power album just dropped on Burger Records) spent his childhood touring with his evangelist mom. But while she was singing for Jesus, he was writing rhymes as he and his family moved from town to town.

From the outside looking in, the lives of the Hardings may have seemed like a great adventure. “You don’t think about it that way when you’re in elementary school and you have to leave your friends,” says Harding. But the family’s nomadic lifestyle afforded him a different kind of education. The kind of education that might be partly responsible for the quiet confidence/borderline arrogance he embodies. It’s that can’t-put-your-finger-on-it something that makes him intriguing and powerful, yet approachable.

Instead of fostering long-lasting friendships in every town his family lived in, Curtis picked up the guitar and taught himself to play. He started a love affair with music and shows no signs of letting up on that good loving. In junior high he played the trombone for a hot minute and admits to tinkering around with anything he could get a sound out of. He’s also a bit of a control freak, and he owns it. He once walked away from a record deal because he didn’t like the direction it was leading him in. But he kept at it. Finally, his dedication to music is paying off.

On his debut album, he’s taken everything he’s learned – from old school gospel artists such as The Williams Brothers and The Consolers – and peppered it with rock, blues and alternative influences. There’s a ribbon of sadness on “Castaway.” “Keep on Shining” is a revved up (and glossier) version of the Spinners’ hit “I’ll Be Around,” and on “Surf,” his carefree vocal calls are irresistibly nestled within a ’60s-era beach party. He expertly breathes emotion into his music and brings the listener right to him, wherever he stands. It’s a wild, genre-bending ride that illustrates soul is not about color or a range of categories by which to define something. It’s about taking everything that life gives, soaking it up and sharing it. All of it. And Curtis does not hold back.

Fresh off a trip from Cali doing album prep, the seasoned musician and songwriter – who used to sing background for CeeLo and who is also currently in a garage band called Night Sun (featuring fellow gospel lover Cole Alexander of The Black Keys and singer/songwriter Danny Lee) – chopped it up about his earliest musical memory, songwriting and his love of Johnny Depp.

Did your mom try to keep you from doing secular music?

She tried, but she couldn’t stop me; I’m very head strong. I come by it honestly.

Now she gets it, now she understands. It’s all the same. I’m still spreading the word, whatever that great concept of God is. I would call it good energy. Music can be a great spiritual experience. Whatever the artist is trying to get across…whether the artist is sad or had a bad day, [that] can come through on an album or record.

Tell me your earliest musical memory.

Well, I remember my mom singing in church when I was four or five years old like it was yesterday. My godfather was the bass player. I remember looking at them and thinking, ‘I want to do this.’

What’s your songwriting process?

It just depends on how I am feeling. There’s no particular way I approach it. Sometimes I come up with phrases. Sometimes I start with a melody. I could be at a bar and be in mid-conversation. Or be at home. When it’s there you go with it. If I’m in mid-conversation and something comes to me, I will definitely say, ‘Hold on a second’ or pretend to make a call. You don’t want to lose it.

Have you ever had writer’s block, and if so what do you do to overcome it?

I just stop and do something else. I will go to the guitar. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block; I just leave it and come back.

I read that you mainly use a Stratocaster. Do you have more than one guitar and are you loyal to the brand?

I have more than one. My friends and me sometimes we trade off.  I’m not particular. Some people are particular about tones. I’m also a fan of taking a shitty guitar and trying to make it sound better.

What do you like to do outside of music?

I like to go to the desert, I like women, I like bars, I like movies, and music, I like to hang out with my nieces and nephews. I have a huge family. I go to the movies by myself. It’s like a mental break to get lost in pictures. The last movie I saw was Transcendence with Johnny Depp. I like Johnny Depp, He’s a great character actor. One of my dreams is to hang out with Johnny Depp. I also read a lot. I like books and stories. Music is more than a hobby now. The world needs that.

I read that you moved to Toronto in 2008 to restore your musical energies, what happened there and how did you know that it was time to return to the States?

I started working on a project and it was not going the way I wanted it to go. I finished the record and had a conflict of interest with some guys in the group…personal stuff. So, I just moved to Toronto and became a regular person. But I knew it was time to come back when my uncle passed away. My mom said the funeral was in Michigan. I told everyone I was going to the funeral, and I might not be back. My father is up in age, he’s 84 years old. That was the turning point.

What was the music scene in Toronto like?

They have a great music scene. Lot of clubs and bands. The people in Toronto or Canada in general, don’t lock their doors.  They have amazing gun laws. People aren’t as stressed out as we are here, which opens doors for creative energy.  Conversely, what we deal with here [in the U.S.] adds to the grit of our music.

How did you meet CeeLo and start singing background for him?

Just being in Atlanta. Working for LaFace [Records] doing street promotion. I got on his first record as he was starting to tour.

If you had to describe what making music feels like, what would you say?

Aww man, that’s a good question. Writing it or recording it?

Both.

It can be relieving at times; it can be releasing, healing, and fun. There’s a melting pot of emotions, depending on what song you’re writing and how you’re feeling. There’s no one word [to describe it]. It’s a universal language. It’s the only thing [that everyone understands] when you go to another country. When you’re playing songs it can cross boundaries. It’s the only thing I can think of other than sex that can do that.

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So far, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

To be myself.

Is that hard to do?

Not for me, maybe for other people. You have to be comfortable in your own skin.

Out of all the places you’ve lived, which is your favorite?

I like them all for different things. The weather in LA is amazing, and the beaches, Atlanta and the South has good food and good people. The public transportation in Toronto is the best. Can’t really call a favorite. It’s like trying to pick a favorite child or song.

Which do you like better, recording or touring?

I like them both, but I’m a studio rat. I’m always producing and writing songs. I also love performing live. If you hit a bad note, you just have to bend it till it’s right. Plus, I like the energy of the crowd.

Describe the making of a Night Sun album and how it’s different than making your solo record. Are you pulling from different places?

It’s the same. We’re all friends. We hang out in the same spots. First, we all have ideas we bring to the table. We sit and talk about them with booze. We let loose and chill and have some marijuana. Then we start playing. We like to take our time.

How long did it take to record Soul Power?

Two weeks…I mixed the record. I recorded it at the Living Room Studios in Atlanta. I let them master it. The sounds they get are amazing. They know their shit. I’m a control freak, but you have to be able to let go.

Why soul music? Or was there a choice in the matter?

I don’t think there was choice in the matter. That’s how I grew up. Listening to gospel, that’s where it comes from. To me at least; it’s in my DNA.

This article was originally published on Performermag.com http://performermag.com/new-music-and-video/interviews-and-features/curtis-harding-the-performer-cover-story/

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KIM EDWARDS: The November Cover Story PLUS New Video

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On Songwriting Techniques, Knowing Your Legalese & Allowing For Creative Maturity

by Jacquinn Sinclair – Published in Performer Magazine

Wisdom and experience have helped shape singer/songwriter Kim Edwards’ Lovers and Loners EP, which was released September 25, into a soul-bearing listen on unrequited love, broken hearts and determination. Her first album, Wanderlust, was funded through Kickstarter dollars and was a little brighter and bit more cheerful. But her new EP cuts through tough subject matter with clean, clear vocals, beautiful production and a dash of whimsy. One of the most vibrant moments is the end of “The Sweetest Sound,” with a dizzying array of strings urgently warning listeners to let their guards down and give in to love’s tug.

Time has passed between her releases, but Edwards’ music remains relatable and well, her. She’s been compared to Regina Spektor, one of her favorite artists, but her music is uniquely her own. She is unapologetic about what she has to offer and her stick-to-my-guns sentiment is refreshing. There’s no sci-fi sounding pop or gimmicky synth sounds to distract, just pure music.

The young artist has been busy promoting the new EP with performances at festivals and media tours. Just ten days before Lovers and Loners became available to the public, Edwards chatted with Performer about songwriting, family and relationships.

Growing up, did your parents always support your pursuit of music?

They did. They’ve been really great. [Growing up] I was always the one that was practical. In high school I thought maybe I should be a doctor. They said, ‘This is the time to do it. See how far you can get.’ It’s meant so much to have their support and encouragement. What they think matters. I couldn’t do this without them.

Do you come from a musical family?

I was actually adopted. I grew up in a house where my mom played the piano, and my dad sang. I do have a brother who plays drums. I have another brother who can’t carry a tune but loves music. I don’t think he knows that he can’t carry a tune! He turns me on to a lot of new music.

Tell me about your songwriting process.

I’ve been experimenting with creativity. Some people say sit down and do it every day. Some say wait until you feel it. Every January I attempt to write a song a day. This past January has been the best so far. It’s a surprise to see what comes out. I’ve been doing this for three or four years. It’s surprising how many songs end up on my record or got their start [using this technique]. But, I like to write when the mood hits me really. I’m more prone to write after something emotional like a book or music.

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Which comes first? Lyrics or the melody?

Music comes first. Words are tough. I’m picky. I tend not to do a lot of revising. I’ve thought about it so much, by the time it goes on the paper, that’s it. I’ve tried to start with words first.  This isn’t’ conducive to co-writing. When I do that, I’m sitting in the corner and the other person is sharing all of these ideas!

Are you loyal to certain music apps and or equipment?

As far as writing goes, I use the B-Rhymes Dictionary all the time. It’s a great app for mirror rhymes.  It [gives me ideas for] things that aren’t such a perfect match.

Who are you listening to right now?

Oh, man! So many. I try to listen to a bunch of different things. I was just listening to Regina Spektor, she’s always on rotation, Ingrid Michaelson…mostly singer/songwriter types. The Struts, Beach Boys, Lana Del Rey, I like all sorts of music.

What do you hope people say about your music?

I hope that ultimately it’s relatable. For me, the ones [performers] that impact me the most, I think: I know exactly what they’re singing about it.  All the songs on the new EP go through the different stages of relationships. I hope it meets people wherever they are at.

Tell me something you learned about yourself and about the world since Wanderlust?

Since Wanderlust, it’s been a journey. I think I’ve grown up since then. Three to four years ago I was traveling across the country a lot. I had a lot more hunger to see the world. I still love to travel, but I feel more settled in some ways. I hope there’s a maturity that comes with that. I don’t feel like I’m striving all the time. I’m learning to be a little more at peace. A couple of years can make all the difference. That’s probably the biggest change – being okay with where I’m at. 

You have been taking piano lessons since you were four; are the keys the only thing you play?

Well, I play the ukulele. I’m not a pro at it, but I can play enough to play my own songs. I got into playing acoustic guitar but I don’t have the biggest hands. I got two new guitars. I’m amassing a collection of instruments [laughs]. I have one semi-hollow thinline Telecaster.  I’m debating whether or not to sell my short-scale Telecaster, which is smaller than your average sized guitar.

Favorite composers?

I really love W.C. Handy. He’s got these wonderful impressionist tones. He can play all of these crazy sharps and flats. I also like Tchaikovsky and Gershwin. Pretty much anything that’s symphonic, I’m all about it.

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Have you been in love?

[Laughing] You know…I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever been truly all out. I’ve been close. It’s always been one-sided for me or the other person. Not at the same time. So, I don’t think so. Honestly, I think I’ve come close, [but] not quite. I’ve always been a very cautious person with my emotions…

Which do you prefer, the studio or the stage and why?

Both are great and both are stressful at the same time. I prefer the stage in some ways. In the studio I stress myself out. Essentially you don’t want to waste time. So you have to decide ‘this is the right sound.’ I tend to be a perfectionist.

I think I enjoy performing. I can have more fun with it. There’s the audience interaction. Although there are moments in the studio when you hear things come together and it’s really magical. It’s really gratifying. If I had to choose, I’d choose the stage.

How do make sure that you continue to grow as an artist?

Part of that for me is listening to other music. Being challenged. Being with other musicians. Just talking with and being in a community and conversation. Iron sharpens iron. There’s so much that blows my mind, so the bar always gets raised.

Describe a good day.

I feel like you’re asking the wrong person for this. I just had a conversation with a friend about this. You can go on Facebook and a post might say, ‘I got a parking spot in front of my building and I have freshly baked donuts. Today is a good day.’ A good day for me is something crazy like I won a Grammy! There are nice days with good weather, but a good day for me is something monumental.

What advice would you give other independent artists?

So many things. It seems very basic 101, but I have friends who do this. People sign agreements without running it past anyone in the music industry. I feel most musicians don’t know all the legalese. Do you know if you’re giving all your publishing rights away? Is this exclusive or nonexclusive? Be educated. Get agreements and contracts looked at. My friends and my uncle will ask, ‘When are you going to get signed by a label?’ I’m not sure if I want to. It would have to be the right deal. I have friends who have been shelved and dropped, and went the indie way after all.

I wondered if you would you prefer the backing of a major label.

I think if it’s the right situation, great. It’s hard to say. I think the biggest thing for me is creative control. That would be very important to me. Mainstream pop is not important to me. I really just want to write the music I want to write and hopefully people will like it.

Ingrid Michaelson is on a label but still considered independent. I think it’s cool that she’s been able to do what she’s done mostly independently. It’s funny, Regina [Spektor] is signed to major label. Major label execs will say you need this kind of personality, you need to be active on social media. Regina has a loyal following because she is who she is.

Are you ready for love? In one of your songs you say, “Give me wedding rings.”

You know what? I’m starting to become more ready for it. The timing of this interview is funny. I was thinking last night that I’m more ready to be in a relationship than before. I’ve always had a long-term perspective on life. How would that affect my career? So, I mean now, I think while music is still a high priority, I’m more open to the idea of being in a relationship. Right guy, right timing.

Photography by Bruce Kite

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Kim Edwards

Lovers and Loners

Standout Track: “The Book of Love”

LISTEN NOW at http://www.kimedwardsmusic.com

Follow on Twitter @kimedwardsmusic

 

The Genki Spark – Exhale Magazine

The Genki Spark—an all-female Asian taiko troupe—is smashing stereotypes and building bonds of sisterhood for Asian women in Boston.

Taiko is the Japanese word for drum, and these women are not afraid to use it.

“Asian women are taught to be quiet, to think of others first and not take up a lot of space . . . so I fight for space for others,” says The Genki Spark founder Karen Young.

In rehearsal and while performing, Karen encourages the group to be genki. Genki is a Japanese word that means healthy, happy and energetic.  And, it’s working.

Their exuberant performances with dancing and spoken word pleases crowds in their videos posted on YouTube, but the ladies of the troupe are doing much more than just beating a drum. They’re listening to each other closely, on and off stage.

“We’ve gotten comments like ‘Y’all don’t play for us, you play for each other,’ ” shares troupe member Trisha Mah.

Their bond runs deep.

“This is the first time in quite a few years that I have women I can talk to,” Trisha adds. “There’s a mob of women behind me to back me up. We’ve built this sisterhood. Internalized sexism and racism makes it hard [for women] to be close.”

With initial funding from the Boston Women’s Fund and fiscal sponsorship from ASPIRE (Asian Sisters Participating in Reaching Excellence), The Genki Spark was founded in 2010 as a result of a performance at the Boston Asian American Film Festival. They have since performed for various organizations, schools and corporations, including Boston Latin Academy, the Boston Children’s Museum and TEDxMassArt.

Karen was a founding member of Odaiko New England (ONE), New England’s premier performing taiko group. She performed with ONE for more than 10 years and conducted dozens of educational programs in schools across the state. She helped launch advocacy projects such as Youth on Board at YouthBuild USA, The Corporation for National Service and MAP for Health.

She received her BA in Human Ecology at Humboldt State University in California and relocated to Boston in 1993. Karen uses her skills as a trainer, counselor and facilitator to shape the women of The Genki Spark.

Here she chats with Exhale about why The Genki Spark is so special.

Why is The Genki Spark important to the Asian community?
I think we need more models of us taking leadership, being visible, telling our stories and sharing information. It’s misinformation that creates stereotypes.

Why taiko and not something else?
For me it was really about being introduced to it and having a visceral reaction to it. Twenty years ago I didn’t have the vocabulary to express how I felt. I didn’t know how to talk about issues of race or gender. I just knew when I saw people on stage that looked like me, I felt proud to be me. When I saw people playing taiko. . . it shattered something inside of me. Some mold I had been trying to fit into broke.

What are the things that you have done to ensure that women feel empowered and respected?
I’ve been really intentional about respect. Also, I’ve been very clear that as women we’re vulnerable to being catty toward one another and not treating ourselves or each other well as a result of societal mistreatment we’ve faced as women. I try to contradict the onslaught of negative messages by asking questions like: ‘What do you like about yourself today?’ . . . If someone is doing something well, I ask for some concrete appreciation.

What do you wish for The Genki Spark’s legacy?
That’s a good one. Ultimately, I want to leave behind a space where Asian women and girls can see who they are and who they can be.

What are some of the challenges you encounter as a Pan-Asian group and how can you be sensitive to other cultures?
I think we’re still learning how to do that. You have this honeymoon period in the beginning and then the hard stuff happens. The hurts and divisions between groups surface. It’s not just intercultural, it’s intergenerational too. So, I try to slow things down and address issues as they surface.

How do you share the mission with strangers who come in for one class?
Every performance, workshop or class, we talk about the genki spirit. Before we play taiko for the first time, we start with the genki attitude. When we invite members of the audience on stage, I ask them to say their name on the mic. You can jump, shout [or] explode! When you say your name, it has to be YOU times 10! That spirit shows in all of our work.

Can you pinpoint the moment you realized you created something special?
Oh gosh, our very first performance. The moment we finished, we hit the lobby, and there was such a feeling of: We did it! We were on fire. I had never led a group of Asian women before. I told them I didn’t care if they made a mistake, just be proud of yourself, be proud of what we’ve done. All of us held hands. I knew we couldn’t stop.

For more information on The Genki Spark, visit www.thegenkispark.org.

PDF version The Genki Spark Exhale Magazine

Ballet Hispanico – Exhale Magazine

Eduardo Patino photo

Eduardo Vilaro’s love of dance reaches far back into his childhood. A Cuban immigrant who came to America when he was 6 years old, he remembers music being a huge part of his life.

“Music was so connected to our culture,” he says. “For a lot of Latin music there are dances that go along with songs. Mambo has the Mambo, Tango the Tango, Rumba the Rumba.”

Vilaro is the artistic director for Ballet Hispanico in New York, where dance and culture go hand-in-hand. According to its mission, they explore, preserve and celebrate Latino cultures through dance. Through collaborations with composers and outreach in the community, the organization has grown since its founding by Tina Ramirez in 1970 into a multi-faceted educational institution.

Growing up in the South Bronx, Vilaro traveled to the New York Botanical Garden to escape the daily pressures of life. There, he began paying attention to the seasonal shifting of migrating birds. Their synchronized movements, precise and graceful, like the pirouettes and balançoires of skilled dancers, intrigued him.

He was hooked — on bird watching and on dance.

“I’ve always loved movement,” he explains. “Movement or gesture is a language we all share and can connect to.”

While in junior high, Vilaro vowed to make dancing his life. The music and drama from theater productions in school proved irresistible for him and sealed his fate as a performer. But, he wasn’t sure if he could share his newfound love just yet. For years, Vilaro kept his dancing a secret from his family using capoeira classes as his cover, while he indulged in ballet.

“It was kind of hard being a Latino boy who wanted to dance,” he shares. “I was hiding. I hid it until I graduated from high school.”

He began his dance training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. He has also studied at the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance. After years of studying and performing, Vilaro — who has a BFA in dance from Adelphia University and a master’s in interdisciplinary art from Columbia College — founded Luna Negra Dance Theater in 1999 in Chicago.

Vilaro served as the artistic director for 10 years and created more than 20 original pieces of choreography at Luna Negra. Two years ago he joined Ballet Hispanico.

“Luna Negra was a labor of love,” he says. “As artists we are always giving labors of love to the community. I wanted Luna Negra to live beyond me, so I gave it to Chicago.”

Now, Vilaro — who loves to cook when he’s not dancing or teaching — labors to make sure Ballet Hispanico stays true to its mission while remaining artfully innovative. As the company gears up to tour this spring with a stop here in Boston, March 9-11, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, he’s hoping to create moments that move people and affect them in a profound way.

“I think institutions like Ailey and Ballet Hispanico are important because both companies use their cultures and the evolution of their traditions to create a dialogue in the community and the world at large,” he says. “We are the beacons.”

PDF version: Ballet Hispanico – Exhale Magazine

Get a Ballet Dancer’s Body – Exhale Magazine

Boston Ballet Company Dancer Brittany Summer.          Jordan Jennings photo

Women everywhere are preoccupied with toning flabby arms, tightening up derrières and attaining washboard abs. With the adult open ballet classes offered by the Boston Ballet, getting a leaner body could be a few pirouettes and relevés away in their Boston and Newton studios.

Read more: Get a Ballet Dancers Body – Exhale Magazine