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"The Bend Of The World As We Know It"

Their single 'Faît Accompli' is storming the Top 20, their debut album's waiting to make a bigger splash and even John Lydon likes them. Is there anything that can stop Curve's ascent? DAVID STUBBS meets the demonic duo and discovers the secret of taking 'pure things and f**king them up' and why even sex symbols don't get Valentine's Day cards.

Pic: TOM SHEEHAN

(pic: Tom Sheehan)

THE TROUBLE WITH CURVE...

BARELY A YEAR AFTER 'BLINDFOLD' AND HERE WE ARE again, in Tom Sheehan's studio. A mere 400 days ago, more Maker readers had read Nietzsche in the original German than had heard of Curve.

Today, it's not easy to utter any introductory statements that haven't long since fossilised into truisms. The Dave Stewart connection. The drum machine. Toni Halliday's colourful and traumatic childhood and pop career. They're "contrived" - a sort of Monkees of Nineties indie pop. Or not. Short of speculating as to whether Dean Garcia secretly receives Christmas cards from a certain Uncle Jerry in The Grateful Dead, they've been queried and scrutinised relentlessly, every inch of the way.

Less than 400 days, and they've already built up a press file that, if bound in paperback form, would have one of those circus strongmen who tear up telephone directories straining every sinew.

There's no escape. Even as Sheehan snaps away, Radio 1's "Roundtable" is sounding away in the background. Curve's single, "Faît Accompli", is among the platters to be weighed in the balance and John Lydon is among the jurors. He's doing his waspish cabaret turn, tongue lashing everywhere, taking a hot knife to the buttery pop of Alison Limerick and Tony Hadley, among others. Dean frowns, while Toni quails with trepidation beneath her make-up. Are they next for a heap of snide invective?

Cheer up, I say, in case the worst happens. What does Lydon know these days? He's a camp old curmudgeon who probably lost touch with modern music back in 1978. But no one's listening.

After all, Curve haven't suffered a backlash. Yet...

"Are you trying to warn us about something here, David?" yips Toni. "Well, it happens. It happened to The Cure and, if they'd listened to their backlash, they wouldn't have carried on making records. You just have to keep your head down and get on with it and not forget what you're trying to do. And that's actually quite easy - just make records that you like."

Mind you, it does seem that you do care about what the critics say. Or conceal it less well than most.

"I'm really sensitive about it. I'd be lying if I said I weren't," says Dean with glum candour.

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CURVE enjoy a high degree of critical acclaim and commercial success, and probably remain "credible" (strange concept - implies a preferable alternative to "incredible"). And yet they have always had to endure a niggling resentment from some quarters, for a variety of reasons. The Dave Stewart/"contrivance" stuff they've fielded so often we can knock on the head. If Curve were Dave Stewart's Cunning Plan, how come he couldn't do something similar on his own, bleeding awful, solo album?

Because they arrived fully-formed with "Blindfold" and were welcomed straight onto the front cover, there was sense they hadn't "suffered enough", earned their spurs and supported Silverfish down the Falcon.

"Yeah, but f***ing hell, we've been through 10 years of a swimming pool of shit!" howls Toni. Certainly, Curve have a well-documented and impressive curriculum vitae of human misery. Toni grew up in Sunderland, for Heaven's sake.

What else? Subconsciously, I reckon there are some who resent your intimation of glamour. The lipstick and the foundation. Why take up space slumming it in the indie pigpen when you could just as easily find a place on the pop catwalk? So goes the logic.

"Well, they can f*** off and die as far as I'm concerned," responds Toni, genially. "I mean, I love glamour, I'm absolutely obsessed with it."

Carter's affable ugliness generates them more goodwill because the average gig goer can more easily entertain the lie that Carter's success somehow increases their own chances of sharing in their glory, just because they look and dress like them. But Curve draw a sharp distinction between their own onstage and offstage "attitude".

I'm not looking for a doffing so I wouldn't say that Toni Halliday is an Ice Goddess who enjoys a pint with the lads, but...

"I think that as a band we're just as approachable as any other band like that," says Toni. "People come up to us, talk to us, go and have a drink with us. We get people come up to us in the streets saying, 'Oh, can we go and have a cup of tea in the caff?' and we say, 'Yeah, sure.' It's just that we don't feel the need to restate it over and over and over again in the music. Bollocks," she spits, like a victim of Tourette's syndrome.

"I always wander around the gigs beforehand, always," Dean adds.

"But to me," Toni continues, "all the things that fascinated me were like seeing Mick Jagger on 'Ready Steady Go' behaving like an arrogant, petulant bastard.

THERE'S a further, Luddite mistrust of Curve's love of machinery. The drum machine (all that metal) is too cybernetic for some, I suspect. It exacerbates a furtive suspicion that Curve are not '4 real' - cut them and you'd hit steel wire.

"But we love all that, the harshness," Dean retorts. "We've got into messing around with guitars, processing the sounds and sending them through the Moog and you get these fantastic metal sounds. Like the beginning of 'Split Into Fractions'..." whereupon he and Toni unleash an impassioned volley of scientific explanations for Curve's art. Dean puts it in a nutshell: "What it comes down to is taking very pure things and f***ing them up."

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AND now, the new album, the debut album, lest we forget...

"doppelgänger" and a new crop of malingering doubts creep up. It isn't enough, is the initial reaction. That jackhammer, kick-start drum machine, the sudden flailing spew of dry ice guitars. Somehow at this late stage in Curve's career, they demanded some form of metamorphosis. Certainly, I say, the first couple of times it sounded good, but samey...

"It's our modern day Phil Spector production! It is like a wall, a barrage," concedes Toni. "And it does take two or three listens. You do have to go back and say, 'What is it, there's something in there?'"

And with subsequent listens, it's true enough. To begin with it is like being blindfolded. You're in the dark. Then, gradually, shapes emerge in the half-light. There are things there beneath the black ice - the finely wrought details of "Wish You Dead", the way "Horror Head" caves in in despair on itself, the predatory menace of "Faît Accompli".

It's recognisably Curve, of course, much as New Order are recognisably New Order, the Blue Nile recognisably The Blue Nile, etc. What did you expect?

"Because we've put out three EPs you'd think this was our fourth album!" Toni complains. But these are songs, living and breathing, kicking and squirming and bloody, not more bursts of noise from the same prototype.

No, if people are suspicious of Curve, it's because they're suspicious of metal, beauty, power, lipstick. The truth is that they're the Gift Horse they always were.

As it turns out, John Lydon agrees. Did I say curmudgeonly old cabaret turn? I meant, of course, spiky spokesman for a generation. He loves the Curve single. Best thing he's heard in ages. Universal relief descends in Sheehan's studio. Once again, Johnny Rotten has come to the rescue. And now, as I write, I hear that "Faît Accompli" has a midweek chart placing of Number 11. The story begins here...

(pic: Tom Sheehan) FOETAL ATTRACTION

IT always seemed to me that to put Curve among the likes of Lush and Chapterhouse was like putting a panther among kittens. Curve are anti that demure diffidence, more rapacious, more shameless.

"I couldn't think about being embarrassed about something I've wanted to do all my life," says Toni. "I'm just gonna throw myself totally into it. I feel like a hurricane inside..."

Why? Against whom, or what, is Curve's sense of boiling bile directed?

Dean: "It's not anti anything."

Toni: "We don't choose to be political in the songs, but I get just as affected by what I see as anyone else. Watching helplessly as politicians affect the world and you have to put up with the shit. And you feel totally ineffectual. The power of your individual thought - your identity - is stripped away as you become part of The Country, the conglomerate thought."

But Curve always sound possessed from within rather than from without. "Inside me" is a constant refrain in their lyrics and preoccupations. The hurricane inside me, the devil inside me, the horror in my head, "Why do you grow inside me?"

Toni: "I'd never noticed that, that was quite a good link! We do feel like we're offloading..."

Dean: "We learn a lot about our lyrics from what people say to us, the words that leap out at them."

Toni: "We do get people coming up and saying things like, 'I've been through similar things to you' and 'My mum did this to me!'. And you say, 'Fine', but, in a way, that's not really what it's about."

Do you draw on a fund of pervious bad experiences, or is life still a constant battle?

"Sometimes it's your own experiences, sometimes it's friends' or relatives' experiences, sometimes it's just going into a supermarket and the way the way the guy in front of you takes the change out of his pocket and slams it on the counter - makes you want to write a whole song about it!"

Thus are Curve painfully attuned to the bad vibes that lurk beneath the veneer of everyday existence. Either that, or expect a song on their new EP called "Those Bloody New Five Pence Pieces".

In interviews, you talk about wombing out in the studio or being crouched in the foetal position while laying down the vocals. Everything's stomachs, isn't it? What's it all about?

Toni: "I suppose it's a place where you feel comfortable and you can be exactly what you wanna be. It's like when you're having a conversation with five or six really, really close friends and suddenly things get really frank and things start coming out, then someone who's not part of the circle enters the room and...it's gone. And that's what we're interested in."

All of which makes it seem that you'd be terrified of playing live. What price the shamelessness, the Hurricane inside?

Toni: "But we are! That's why we use so much smoke. It's somewhere to hide. When I get panic attacks I can move back into the dry ice until I'm all right again."

Dean: "I get terrified on stage."

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MY own chink of doubt about Curve occurred at their gig at the Astoria last December. After a glorious year they were entitled to feel celebratory, but the whole atmosphere became over-excited with a flood of stagedivers overrunning the band and turning the affair into a chimp's tea party.

"Yeah, we'd agree," they say. "We'll have to do something about that."

There's nothing wrong with the Astoria that a good shark-infested moat wouldn't cure, I say. But in the first few numbers when their sound was failing, the air was one of wanton, spurious mass celebration for celebration's sake and this constitutes the first slip in the descent to stadium rock. It won't happen to Curve so long as they remember to keep their chill, their reserve.

Toni: "I can tell you, I was feeling pretty reserved that night because with all those people jumping onstage from song one it was impossible for me to do what I wanted to do. It's never bothered us before because it's never been that bad."

ASK WHY THE ALBUM'S CALLED 'DOPPELGÄNGER'

I'M sure no one's asked you this yet but...

"Don't! Don't ask us why the album's called 'Doppelgänger'. You don't want to know, David. We've just been over to Germany and all they were asking us was, 'Why is your album called "Doppelgänger"?' And, 'Don't you think this is very strange with U2 calling their album "Achtung Baby"?' and you go, 'No. So what?'"

Toni's just been to LA. More cultural misunderstandings. She relates how the Americans are trying to change the Stud Brothers' press biog of the group, about Toni's father being a pirate, about Dean being illegitimate.

"They were just so conservative!" she exclaims. "I'll tell you how humourless that race is. We go to a restaurant with these four friends of ours, go to a table and order one bottle of wine. And the waiter comes over and says, 'I hope you're not driving,' as he's opening the wine. And my English friend says, 'Not until I've drunk all that, I'm not.' And the waiter says, 'Well, I want you to leave the restaurant 20 minutes before I do. I don't want to be on the freeway with you people.' And this is one bottle of wine between six people! So we started winding him up and we said, 'Are you gonna snitch on us? Are you gonna call the police?' 'Anyway,' we said, 'we drive better when we're drunk.' And it went zooom! (does Concorde impression) straight over his head."

SNUBBING POP TV

AMID his glowing tribute to Curve, Lydon hinted that "lack of promotion" might be their downfall. Now, where was it I heard that Curve would refuse to do "The Word"?

"It's not so much a case of refusing to do it..." sighs Toni. "But why can't there be a really, really brilliant show? Why does it have to be this kitschy, tits-out-for-the-lads stuff?"

Dean: "It's cheap and nasty, isn't it? Especially cheap."

Toni: "I mean, no matter what anyone said about 'Snub' it was far better and at least it had some dignity about it."

What about "Top Of The Pops"? An even bigger sigh from Toni.

"Well we've already said we wouldn't do it because it was great the way it was before when everyone mimed. They didn't have to think about singing or anything, they'd just go on, say, 'Here I am', and do it. The first time I saw The Smiths and McCulloch on 'TOTP' - these things changed your life. Now they've lost the concept and it's just turned into a disco show."

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MAIL AND FEMALE

TONI Halliday, sex symbol of the year, didn't get any Valentines this year. Do you get any weird mail?

Toni: "Yes! This one guy wrote and said he wanted a picture of my knees. From the knees down to my feet."

Yeah. And when are you going to send it? I've been waiting six weeks.

"Hahaha. No, but you do get people who are pretty traumatised."

Toni reckons that Curve's audience is 60 percent male and and 40 percent female - an impressive ratio. Intriguingly, in spite of Toni's love of glamour (and she's got her hair done like Kylie's today) she successfully sidesteps the politics of gender and sexuality. Her lipstick is her warpaint, her clothes indie-neutral.

"I approach the music exactly as any guy would approach it," she says. "I don't see the difference between the sexes. I refuse to deal with it."

To spend an hour with Curve is to be totally convinced by them. As much as anything, they're fans. They even buy their own records, the suckers - rather than blag them like everyone else in the biz does. They're hungry enough to want it all, but modest enough to retain a sense of awe. Do you think you're the best band in the world?

Toni: "I think we've got a very good chance. One day."

Who is the best band in the world?

"The Jesus & Mary Chain. Definitely."

Dean: "I was blown away by the Valentines at the T&C. I was truly inspired."

And depressed?

"Oh yeah," groans Toni, "Depressed!"

In Curve's music, nothing is resolved. For all the turbulence of "Doppelgänger", by "Sandpit" it's like the Devil is still inside them. Maybe this is what people confuse with "sameness". The problem resumes next time. The problem is still left hanging.

As Winston Churchill would have said, had the great man lived to hear Curve, this isn't the Beginning of the End, so much as the End of the Beginning.

(article nicked from 'Melody Maker', 14 March 1992)

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