to the music business from one of the Tarheel State’s
finest rockers. Lapsed Big
fans, take note.
BY FRED MILLS
The BLURT staff put our heads (and ears) together and we
have the latest pick for our Blurt/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”: it’s Doug
McCurry, from Charlotte, NC.
Yours truly has a confession to make: he’s no secret to me. McCurry’s been active on the Tarheel
music scene since the ‘80s, working as musician, producer and engineer, and for
a good portion of the decade I lived in Charlotte, one of his bands, Big Brick
Building, was at the forefront of the Queen City scene. Over the course of
several cassette albums and CDs – Wimps,
Pimps, Peanut Butter, and Jelly (1988), Tales
of Priscilla Sinascope (1989), Big Brick Building (1991), Pulling The Tents Down (1993) – and
through regular performing, the trio consolidated its reputation as a
brainy-yet-danceable hi-nrg outfit, additionally notching a fair amount of
college radio airplay in cities across the country. My memories remain strong,
Sometime later, though, McCurry went on an extended
sabbatical, enforced, partly, by external circumstances, as you’ll read below.
As a result a lot of fans, myself included, inevitably wound up placing him in
the “whatever happened to…?” file – and for a longer period than, usual even by
rock standards. By my way of thinking, that makes the man, quite literally, a
“best kept secret.”
So imagine (a) my surprise when, out of the blue, I discovered
McCurry’s EPK in BLURT’s Sonicbids folio recently; and (b) my pleasure to be reacquainted
with his stealthy pop vision. He describes his album Seven Songs About Leaving (5-16 Records) as pondering “the
certainty of change, and the paradox of an unknown future that accompanies it –
choices, consequences, impulses, and indecision are manifested in events that
can haunt a person for a lifetime.” Indeed, a track like the densely-layered
but kinetic and pounding “Wake Up Call” has a sonically haunting/disturbing
quality, while “Mama Said No. 2″‘s psychedelic vortex and funky undercurrent
makes for a distinctively headspinning experience. Elsewhere, the briskly
strummed “21st Century Car,” with its bold blend of acoustic and ambient/electronic
textures, smartly updates the classic Byrdsian cosmic cowboy ethos, and “Dig A
Hole” has a kind of Beck-meets-John-Lennon vibe framed by hip-hop beats and a
recurring piano motif.
In short, a smartly-sequenced and diverse musical buffet
that hop-scotches across multiple genres (and eras); self-recorded and
self-performed, yet eschewing any traces of self-indulgence thanks to it
clearly being the product of a deeply-felt self-awareness. Nice to have the man
back on the boards again.
You can check McCurry’s music out at his official website or
his MySpace page – and if you’re curious about his old band Big Brick Building, they’ve also got a MySpace
page featuring video clips and song samples from back in the day. Meanwhile,
let’s see what’s on his mind now,
after all these years.
BLURT: What got you
into music initially?
McCURRY: When I was about three years old, I discovered my
parents’ record collection. Elvis,
Cowboy Copas, Everly Brothers, Ray Price, Little Richard – music from the South. That was a pretty good introduction! I started playing guitar and writing songs
while I was going to junior high school down in Spartanburg, and back then I tried unsuccessfully
to emulate the local hero Toy Caldwell.
But it was the music of the early to mid 1980’s – R.E.M., B-52’s, the
Clash, Elvis Costello – that really got me inspired. At first I thought I’d just pursue recording
engineering and production, but I found that I really wanted to focus on my own
I was in Charlotte while Big
was operative, and you had a pretty loyal following. Can you give us the capsule
story of the band?
In the late 1980’s, my friend Chris Peigler was helping me
write some songs, and he introduced me to Joe Kegley and William Earl. We did our first recordings before we ever
played our first gig, which is kind of funny because later on we were more
known for our live shows than the recordings.
It was always a thrill to perform a song for the first time, or headline
on a particular stage for the first time.
We had interest from several major labels, but nothing ever developed
into a deal. We added Jan Auten on
violin in 1992, and then hung it up shortly after our last CD was released a
year later. The times I remember most
fondly are being on the road – the jokes, pranks, and friendship. We had a lot of fun.
What was your musical
trajectory after BBB, and why did you go on what apparently turned out to be a
Shortly after BBB, I was in a serious accident, and
recovering from it made me assess how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I kind of retreated to be with my wife and a
few close friends. And I became a Dad –
by far the most important thing I’ve ever done, and the most fulfilling. My son is now discovering the magic of making
music, and I am rediscovering it with him.
So after all this
time: your first solo album. How did the record come about?
I started assembling some home recording gear a few years
ago, and finally got a little studio together.
The songs and the recording came together pretty quickly; that was a
conscious choice as I wanted to present a cohesive collection of songs in terms
of theme and mood. I was maybe a couple
of songs into recording when I decided I wanted to put together something for a
release. I played out all of the parts,
save for a few loops and samples. I’m
not really all that great at keyboards, bass, etc., but this was just a very
personal record that I really needed to do on my own.
It’s an extremely
diverse record, stylistically speaking – what influences you, or went into your
Well I’m proud that there’s pretty good coverage to the ‘seven
deadly sins’ on the record – that stuff will kill ya, you know! It’s a dark record, but I think the themes
are fairly universal. I wanted the first
track “Mama Said” to evoke an immediate response from the listener. Based on early feedback, people either love
the track or hate it – and that’s what I was looking for! No ambivalence. I’m pleased with how “Mama Said No. 2” turned
out, particularly the message of taking charge of your own life. There’s a video of that one as well, shot
near Clear Lake Iowa, where Waylon Jennings made a pretty good decision to ‘get
on the bus’. [See the video, below.]
While it is only a collection of
seven songs, just over a half hour long – I think it is a complete statement. I said all I needed to say.
appreciate artists who never allow themselves to be pigeonholed, they’re always
changing – Dylan, Prince, Beck to name a few.
Zappa was like that. Johnny Cash.
Has the response to
date been encouraging?
Some good reviews so far, some decent airplay here &
there. One reviewer suggested I get some
therapy, which I thought was pretty funny.
I’ve been using this airplay tracking service, and there are some
amusing statistics. ‘Mama Said’ was played
at 3 AM on a conservative talk radio station in Pennsylvania – I’m not sure how or why that
happened! And it was also played on an
ESPN affiliate in Florida,
not sure about that one either. I think
I need to have a meeting with my PR department!
I’ve targeted 175 independent and college
radio stations, mostly in the U.S. It’s still early, but so far I am pleased
with the response. The CD and download
is available through iTunes, Amazon, and the other major retailers.
Have you been playing
I did things backwards again, just like with Big Brick
Building. I recorded and released the CD, and I’m just
now thinking about playing out. For the
longest time I had no interest in performing live again, but now I’m thinking
I’m just about ready to jump back in. I
sat in on a gig with my friends in Hardcore Lounge here in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago, and that was
a lot of fun. I think you’ll see me
doing shows very soon.
From your point of
view, what is the Charlotte
music scene like today? Strengths and weaknesses?
There’s a lot of good music coming out of Charlotte.
I really like the new Jon Lindsay record, he’s a talented songwriter and
I’ve always been a fan of power pop. I
think Dylan Gilbert has a really bright future, his latest CD is his best. And in our house, the Avett Brothers get
played a lot.
There a number
of good venues for live music in town, I think that’s really improved over the
years I’ve live here. On the downside, I
don’t think our local print media provide adequate coverage, in print or
online. Informal social media is the
best source of information for what’s going on in town.
Lastly, with your
background, I suspect you’ve got a long-term perspective on the music industry.
I’m curious to get your take on how healthy things are in 2010 for independent
artists, and what kind of advice you might give to young musicians.
Today, it is so much easier to get your music out and
available to the world. You don’t need a
major label to get distribution. But because
there is so much music out there, promotion and connecting with your audience
has become a lot more complex. I’ve
learned a lot putting this recording out, but it seems the rules change
everyday with regard to how best to engage with music consumers. Still, it’s infinitely better than what
independents faced 20 – 30 years ago in trying to get distribution.
musicians, do what you love and commit yourself to it. If you are passionate about what you do,
there’s an audience somewhere that’s going to share your passion.