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 WHOevers – Performer Magazine

Chicago hip-hop has never been this smooth. Sorry Kanye, the WHOevers have found that feeling that A Tribe Called Quest imbibed and put their own kiss on it. They’re confident, “far from the regular” and are focused on making feel-good music to which listeners can bop their heads, as evidenced on the group’s debut album Renovations and their upcoming mixtape, due out this month.

Like Eminem, the WHOevers, comprised of Jesse Arthur Manaois (J. Arthur) and Lloyd Dotdot (DotKom), defy the stereotype for hip-hop heads. They’re not black urban teens spouting off about beating poverty with crack-slinging and back alley beat downs. They’re two Filipinos with soul and they’ve got just enough grit for street cred.

The two met at Northern Illinois University, where J. Arthur used to hang out, and formed a fast friendship rooted in their love for music. “DotKom was always looking for beats, so we exchanged numbers and started working together,” he says.

They had instant musical chemistry.

“We grew up on the same sound and we knew what we wanted,” shares DotKom.

J. Arthur used to listen to whatever was on the radio, from R&B to hip-hop from the ’90s. His parents got him into funk and soul records.  He has too many favorite artists to name them all, but makes sure to put it out there that he definitely rocks with James Brown.

Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five are a few of DotKom’s top influences, but they both agree that they’re big Tribe fans. The two show respect to the superstar group that most successfully fused jazz and hip-hop in their “Fantastic (Reno)” video. They both wore the bulging eyes Tribe used in their “Bugging Out” video.

Their album starts off sweet with a poetic intro from Jean Greezy and jumps right into “Take a Ride,” a fun Spanish-influenced uptempo track that brings to mind the feverish pace of fast cars on lonely highways. All in all, it’s a positive project that covers everything from their lyrical prowess, to having a good day to dealing with girls. Some standouts are the horn-laced and drum-punctuated “Spectacular Vernacular” and the chill “Turn it Up.”

Working with and supporting the careers of other artist friends – reminiscent of the Boot Camp Clik and State Property – are two things that J. Arthur and DotKom are committed to. The WHOevers are connected to a hip-hop collective called the SpeakEasy Rum Runners which include such acts as The Highest Low, The Kitchen, Slimbo Bombay, and the Poynt Blank Crew. They’ve only performed together once with about 15 of them jamming on stage.

Though you won’t find either of them playing the keys or wielding any other instruments, DotKom – who works as a substitute teacher – comes from a family filled with musicians. “All my uncles are musicians in the Philippines. They all skipped school to pursue music. One uncle tried to teach me keyboards and drums,” he explains.

Fallen to the same fate, J. Arthur took piano and guitar lessons in high school, but didn’t stick with it. But they do write. To get in writing mode, DotKom, the self-dubbed lyrical assassin and J. Arthur, who is always “cool, calm and collected” start off by drinking iced coffee and setting up a hookah.

“We used to write verses separately, but now we meet up and write together,” says DotKom. “Sometimes, J will start making a beat from scratch and we see where it takes us.”

J. Arthur, who works as a prep cook in a hospital by day, says they play everything by ear nowadays. Making sure that they’re on the same page creatively is important to them.

“We’ve been pre-recording our songs now. We used to go the studio and waste time and money. Now, we think it out and sing it on a program on the computer. It’s like doing a rough draft,” says DotKom.

Currently they use Cubase software for their dry runs. They have a decent mic, but the equipment and the space they record in aren’t as high quality as they’d like.

But they’re grinding. They’re on Facebook connecting with fans, shooting videos for their singles to post on YouTube, uploading to SoundCloud and tweeting. To get more of a following, they – like most artists – lean on free social media tools. “We learned to reach out to a lot of blogs. The Internet is a powerful tool. It’s the new streets now. [There is] no plastering posters. There’s social networks, SoundCloud, it’s easy access,” says DotKom. J. Arthur agrees. “We read a lot of local blogs. They put you on different stuff.”

Their hard work is paying off. Lately, the tables have started to turn when it comes to getting gigs. People have started to ask them if they’ll perform at different venues.  But they’re still working to book more shows. If there’s an artist coming to town that they like, they still try to put a bid in so they can be the opening act.

“Having a management team helps, and a street team. They are taking care of our emails, which are starting to get too crazy. Too many deadlines and asking for shows. It’s too much for an artist who wants to focus on music to handle,” explains J. Arthur.  “We were doing everything ourselves.”

In addition to their work as a group, J. Arthur – who sings the chorus on “Silly Girl” – has an EP out with Jack Flash called Out of the Blue. Not to be outdone, DotKom has a solo project called Words of Wisdom that dropped at the end of June. Even though they both have 9-5 jobs, they’re working hard to pursue their dreams.

But how do they find time to balance the demands of the group and their own solo careers? DotKom boils it down to their work ethic and respect for each other.

“We don’t interfere with each other. We love to work on music. But, if one person is away, the other person keeps on working.”

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photos by Stefan Klapko

PDF version: Performer Magazine 09/2012- WHOevers