For 2013 I’ve got a grand plan to speak to a lot more of the people that we write about on the blog, to try and shift the balance away from opinion so much. If you don’t agree with us, that’s fair enough, but we still want to post up things that you might want to read. To kick this all off we caught up with Robert Fidora and Macaulay Hopwood, better known as Curxes, who not only featured in our Advent Calendar / end-of-year-list substitute, but also popped up in the Blog Sound of 2013 longlist, as well as the BBC / Hype Machine 2012 Zeitgeist list.
Curxes released two singles last year, the first of which was Haunted Gold, which came out in April:
Roberta Fidora: Haunted Gold was kind of a departure from everything before it so that was like a bit of a “are people going to like it as much?”
Macaulay Hopwood : Yeah, it was a bit of a gamble. We thought let’s just do a song and not change direction completely but try something a bit different, turn it up to eleven. A lot of blogs that had written about us had pointed out a lot of 80s influences and we were worried that we were going to get pigeon holed as a revival band, so we thought what can we do to show that we’re really into these 80s influences but put our own stamp on it. And Haunted Gold just seemed to work, whatever it was we did with it.
There was also Spectre, which came out in August:
MH : That got a really good reaction. That’s actually an old song from our previous band, but I don’t think we’d ever recorded it in the right way, so we knew it had potential and we put it on the backburner when we started the new band, and we returned when we’d gained a bit of confidence in what we’re doing.
RF : It’s musical homebrew almost.
MH : It brewed for a while.
What happened to the old band?
MH : We were a four piece, a very typical dark 80s band, very guitar, punk based, like the dark days of The Cure, but a bit more frantic.
RF : But there was two of us into electronic music and the other two were massively into prog. It’s either going to go one way or the other, and they’re doing their own thing now that’s a bit more experimental and a bit more spoken word. Everyone’s happy.
MH : It was a mutual agreement in the end, and I don’t think they’ve got any problem with us branching out and doing our own thing.
RF : Yhe drummer’s quite pleased for us, which is nice.
MH : Spectre got a great reaction. We’re not sure whether they would like it or not, cos we’re doing songs which they might have played before
RF : And we were so pleased with it, it’s always one of those things like putting your unborn child out into the world
MH : I didn’t realise it was going to get as much love as it did.
RF : I was quite surprised at that as well.
MH : ..because we’d heard the song a million times, you become numb to it.
And then there was your Christmas song…
MH : That was recorded in November. We knocked that one out in a few days.
RF : Because we thought carefully for a couple of months about the choice of song – we were going to do Blue Christmas, or Please Come Home for Christmas. Then I saw Bon Jovi had covered it and I decided I probably didn’t want go down the Bon Jovi path. So we decided to do Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
MH : It would have been far too obvious for us to do an 80s cover as well. We really wanted to avoid that. We both love music from the past fifty or sixty years – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was originally in a scene from the film “Meet me in Saint Louis” in 1946.
RF : And it’s not a happy song – when you watch the scene that it’s actually from she’s consoling her teary sister!
Is the Christmas song going to become a recurrent thing?
MH : Yeah, we’ll probably crack it out next Christmas I imagine, or we might do another one. We were really pleased with how the Christmas song turned out. We only did it because Robin from Breaking More Waves said “I’m getting a few artists together to do a bit of a Christmas thing. Would you be up for doing it?” cos we’d never thought of doing a Christmas song. In fact if one of us had said to the other “Let’s do a Christmas cover”, we’d have been…<they each make horrified faces at each other>
RF : Christmas chills me to the core
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas sounded very different to the singles – it was slow and it was quiet
MH : We want to show people that we’re capable of doing different styles.
RF : We’re not always angry– I do run out of angry sometimes.
MH : When we come to do an album one of these days we don’t just want ten really really angry fast songs to be on there we want it to be nice and varied throughout. We don’t want to be pigeonholed as one trick ponies.
It was a very good end of the year, with the blog sound of 2013, and the BBC / Hype Machine zeitgeist list.
RF : The BBC one was amazing – I can’t believe we were above Grimes and the XX.
MH : It was kind of surprising really, I still don’t quite know how it worked – were we really blogged more than the XX? I still can’t get my head around that. I’m not going to complain about it though!
RF : I had messages from people – “I hope you’re listening to the f’ing radio”, I was sat downstairs, probably watching Coronation Street or something, and I was wondering what they were talking about so I turned on the radio and I was getting inundated with messages. It was amazing. My twitter started going mental.
MH : Always a nice surprise. Hopefully there’ll be more of that.
RF : I hope so. Maybe it might mean I don’t carry on writing sad and angry songs!
I only caught you live a couple of times last year.
MH : We didn’t play loads, we kind of kept it steady, we don’t want to play Brighton too much. I think we only did three or four gigs.
RF : I think it gives us more time between each one to tweak the visuals and hopefully move the set around and do some more interesting stuff rather than play the same thing every time.
MH : You just want to make every gig count as well. We were discussing earlier that we could play every week if we wanted to, you get a lot of promoters offering you gigs but we want to put on a good show, so we want to have our visuals which not every venue is capable of doing so we want to make sure we pick the right places to play
RF : Quality not quantity.
MH : There are some venues where we know that it’ll sound good so we hold out for those.
Tell us what you’ve got planned for this year?
MH : We’ve got a couple of songs that we’re putting out. We’re not going to call them singles because we’re not thinking of them like that, but there’s a new song coming out in March and there’ll be a video to go with that and another song which we’ll bring out the following month.
RF : It’s a contrasting pair again, a bit like Haunted Gold and (it’s b-side) Spires, a kind of nice contrast to each other.
MH : For us Haunted Gold and Spectre were like brother and sister – they were siblings. So we want to do something else now
RF : Yeah, we’ve got some cousins this time
MH : They’ve got some traits in common.
What are they called?
MH : The next one is called Further Still, and the one after that is called Valkyrie, which is a reference from called We by Yevegny Zamyatin. It’s a bit like 1984, but written by a Russian years before.
RF : It was written in the twenties. I read it after reading 1984 and I thought Orwell has essentially stolen his story.
MH : The songs is probably the most batshit thing we’ve done so far so we hope it’ll get a good reaction. It’s not a massive departure though.
RF : It’s got trumpets in it though, so that’s a bit different.
Is there an album on the way?
MH : No! The thought of an album terrifies me at the moment. It’s all very well doing odd songs but making an album, a cohesive body of work and making it varied to listen to from start to finish scares the hell out of me.
RF : I think we’re nearly there with ideas and the amount of songs, but it’s how the fit together.
MH : If we were to do an album right now it would be a bit disjointed so we’ve got to make it all fit together.
RF : We do actually want to rerecord Creatures and The Constructor (early singles). Another thing that makes the original songs very different from the new ones is that we changed the way we record them. They’re all re-amped and quite a few things have changed.
MH : With Haunted Gold, we thought let’s take a gamble – we took an influence from Sleigh Bells who distort everything, and thought about trying it with our stuff. Eighties music, but distorted to hell. So we put the drums and all the guitars and vocals through big Marshall amplifiers and the result was a cacophony of noise.
RF: And the others weren’t recorded like that so it would be nice to go back and re-do them.
Where do the ideas come from for the animations?
RF : For The Haunted Gold animation I was thinking “how can I show something that is gold without it looking really, really naff and looking blingy, but with it looking quite DIY”, so I thought about using glitter. I’d watched loads of stuff to do with sand animations and somebody won the Ukrainian equivalent of Britain’s got talent and rather than have someone singing stuff from musicals or someone doing big power ballad it’s someone who’s actually got talent who won it.
MH : I wish we had that here because it would show that there are actually talented people in this country who aren’t just interested in getting on TV and singing out of tune.
RF : So I got a little bit obsessed with sand animation so I thought “I could probably do that with glitter” but the problem was, for example if I could see that something was going to urn nicely into an umbrella, I didn’t plan that at all, I just started moving it around with a paintbrush, so it would be “move, move, scan, move, move, scan”. It did take quite a long time – there were thousands and thousands of scans. But there’d be problems where I had to tape back the lid of the scanner because I’d turned around and accidentally knock it on one occasion and all the glitter went everywhere so I had to start that bit again, and I did a bit where some money was going in a piggy bank and it flew away. It’s a Simpson’s reference but it looked too comical, so I had to go back to the last point at which at which the scanner was either empty or covered in glitter. I think it was like a hundred and fifty frames. So that was quite upsetting.
MH : When Roberta finished the videos she looked pale! Pale and bleary eyed!
RF : I looked like John Major!
MH : But with very glittery hair!
RF : I thought Spectre would be easier because I’ve learned how to use After Effects a little bit, and I’d had a little bit of practise before starting the next video, but the drawing just kept on running over and over and over and I had a bunch of really quite unfortunate stuff happen in a short space of time – I lost my job and I had a really bad breakup – so for ages I didn’t really have the motivation to do it, and gradually I started picking myself back up again – when you see him failing and trudging through stuff, I almost felt as if I’d become that character for a while. It’s quite sad but I got there in the end and I’m quite happy with the results.
How important are the visuals to Curxes?
RF : I think it’s very important:
MH : Ideally we’d only play gigs where we can put on our visuals. We always feel like there’s a limb missing whenever we play a gig without the visuals. It’s quite a bit part of what we do. And the reason we originally did it, we always like seeing a bit of a show – we love the Knife and they put on a great show – but we’re an electro band and a lot of it is on a backing track so don’t want to get ridiculed for just being karaoke.
RF : We do do most of it live. Kraftwerk have loads of visuals – if they got rid of all the robots and they got rid of the visuals it would just be a bunch of old men behind laptops.
MH : That’s my real problem with going to see electronic artists – if they don’t move around much on stage, they just have people stood behind keyboards. I find that so dull, really dull.
RF : We try and put everything into it.
How does it work with the two of you being geographically split (Macaulay is Brighton-based, but Roberta lives near Portsmouth)?
MH : well, we’re fortunate that our style of music allows us to be. We don’t practise as much as I’d like, but we both write songs on computer and send each other demos, and work out parts, and then we get together – we sit in Roberta’s house and come up with a few basic ideas. I’ll go off and program it, Roberta will go and write some lyrics and then we’ll put it back together and hey presto! There’s a song!
RF : Usually there’s couple of draft versions so it might start where I play you a chord progression and an idea for a melody, and you go and program a rough version, I keep that version to write lyrics to, you develop that version, and it goes backwards and forwards like that.
MH : I won’t have heard the final lyrics, or even a vocal melody, I’ll have written the backing and just somehow when it’s put together it usually works. As with any band, you have tons of ideas, but we probably only use about one in five of those. We don’t want to put out half baked songs ever. We sit on them for quite a while.