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1991 1992 1993-94 1996-98 2001-02

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"Heart Of Darkness"

In the cloistered inner sanctum of a converted church, Curve are completing their first album, 'Doppelgänger'. It's a secret, intensely private world. "You don't want anyone else there when you're lying under the desk in the foetal position, trying to get a vocal together..."

Story by Andrew Perry, Photos by Andrew Catlin

Maximum 'boost' and 'phase' at The Church, (from left) Toni Halliday, Alan Moulder, Dean Garcia (pic: Andrew Catlin)

GETTING ON FOR MIDNIGHT, IT'S A FAIR OLD trek across the mixing desk to the 'Boogie 23' control, but Alan Moulder whizzes over to it on a swivel chair of the five-wheel high-velocity roller type. Just reaching it has been a feat of no mere poise and agility and, on arrival, he nudges the button back a fraction.

To the less technically-attuned, the balance of sound blasting through the speakers at the top of the desk hasn't altered too perceptibly. It's still Curve doing 'Die Like A Dog' live at the London Astoria last December, very mean, very loud and very much like it was ten seconds ago.

We'll probe Moulder on this later but, for now, there's the whole four-yard square mixing desk to ogle. Beyond that are more banks of equipment all round the walls (lights, twiddlable dials, etc), like the hi-fis from every house on your street stacked in one densely-packed room.

Also in the room are the recording nucleus of Curve, Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia, who stand either side of Moulder, gaze intently into the middle distance and suggest things about "boost" and "phase". A TV fixed high up into one wall, flickers silently with grubby Monday-night fare. Magnum Jr offers somewhere to avert the eyes as 'Die Like A Dog' fades out.

"Brilliant!" declares Garcia with an enthusiasm impressively intact after the concentrated hours of studio time he's put in over the past few months on Curve's first LP, 'Doppelgänger'. Still, he has a right to be happy: this is the last track in the whole operation, for the B-side of a leading single, 'Faît Accompli'.

"Yeah," Moulder nods, "I reckon it's about done."

Silence, except for the finished tape slapping on the run-out spool.

Alan. About this Boogie 23 business...

Moulder strides over to a nearby gadget the size of your tape deck and strokes it like a baby. "This is the Boogie. It makes Toni sound beautiful."

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(from left) Turkey, Toni, Dean (pic: Andrew Catlin) IN DIFFERENT COMPANY, A VISIT TO The Church in Crouch End might be an overwhelming experience. For a start, as you approach it, you realise it's not just called that because it's in a Church Street or somewhere near a place of worship, it's, like, an actual church, converted some years ago into one of the biggest commercial studio multiplexes in London by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics.

Curve, of course, are signed to Stewart's independent Anxious Records, whose offices are situated opposite and, due to the convenience of it (financially, too, through the common ownership bond) Toni and Dean have mixed all their records here, with Alan (Toni's boyfriend) in tow.

Early on in the evening, there's a relaxed, fairly smokey atmosphere, as if the condensed, apparently medium-sized techno-den is second home to the three of them. Even the third occupant of the Halliday/Moulder abode in Kilburn, Turkey the dog, is allowed to wander in and out, barking furiously when strangers open doors.

Outside this hive of tape-hacking activity, the rest of the building resembles your wildest visions of a rock star's mansion. The entrance hall is stacked with silver, gold and platinum discs presented to the Eurythmics and, relegated to the warren corridors, there hang framed certificates for an assortment of big-time prize nominations, such as the Ivor Novello Award for 'Sweet Dreams'.

Going upstairs into the main studio reminds you of that scene in Batman where Kim Basinger wanders into Michael Keaton's trophy room, only there are no suits of armour. Above the oak panelling, 20-odd feet up, there's a series of paintings by a fave artist of Dave's from Sunderland. Around the vast bare wooden floor, the sound-proofed recording booths look empty and unlit. Near the main door, a huge white grand piano gapes open. Next to it, a stool, a gorgeous old Fender lying on the ground and a standing ashtray (three butts). It's total Dave Stewart.

Eye-buffetting extravagance, maybe, but the Eurythmics' whims benefit many - such as the artistes on Anxious, the label which Stewart's accountant was advising him to fold when Londonbeat suddenly went massive. Thus we have Curve.

Back in their room next to their allocated studio, it's less ornate -white paint, oak trimmings, green wall-to-wall carpet, another mute TV and a monstrously plush sofa with Turkey pegged out in the middle of it. On the other side of the door, the graft goes on.

Curve have widely been perceived as the landed toffs of the '90s UK noise crop, studiously groomed as an upmarket take on the feed-back maelstrom and hitting the Top 40 with their second EP, 'Frozen', thanks to a Filofax full of privileged contacts.

They've been painted into the corner of the shoegazing scene too. Dean points out that "none of those bands see us as doing the same kind of thing either", empathising rather with the more enduring Jesus & Mary Chain / My Bloody Valentine axis. The uninitiated might expect a cross between the J&MC's 'Automatic' and Cocteau Twins' 'Treasure'.

Toni in flagrant violation of Curve 50-50 hands-on working partnership arrangement (pic: Andrew Catlin) "In the end," reasons Toni, "I think people who listen to our records know it doesn't sound like a fuckin' Moose record, you know? It isn't us or them that ends up looking like fools, it's the people who write that kind of stuff."

Frosty stuff from a singer often portrayed as a lofty ice-queen diva in the mould of Siouxsie Sioux. True, her clothes are a regulation tight-fit black with a large pair of rocker shoes at the bottom (also black). Her hair's dyed a similar hue, but Toni is far from the forbidding character you'd expect behind the make-up. Her complexion is of the well-sunned, maddeningly healthy type. Eyes blue, but warm when she laughs, which is often. She talks readily and articulately with a liberal sprinkling of expletives.

Still, as the more detached and preoccupied Dean moves next door with Alan to pump up the reverb (etc), it occurs that maybe those two do all the dirty work while Toni swans around in the luxurious surroundings. Wrong again: she's a 50-50 hands-on partner in the technical operation of Curve.

"Generally I do all the sorting through the tapes. With this live thing, Dean's already been through them once to see if they were OK to mix (smirks), so he knows where everything is. On the first three EPs Dean didn't even turn up to the mixes at all, he just wanted to put them down on tape in the basement, and then me and Alan would take them into this place. I think he felt a bit intimidated here."

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(pic: Andrew Catlin)

THE MYSTERIOUS "BASEMENT" IS AT Alan and Toni's place, a fully kitted-out 16-track studio (mostly belonging to Moulder) where she and Dean write, perform and record the lion's share of what you hear on any given Curve song.

Fortunate, maybe, to live with a successful producer, Toni has since been on an on-going crash course to overcome the techno-fear which, she believes, has made the difference between her earlier career (in two previous - and eminently forgettable - bands, The Uncles and State Of Play) and what she can achieve now.

"Alan just taught me things in really simple terms. So Dean and I made it to the point where we, personally, could do what we wanted without anybody else needing to be involved. All the other things we'd done were part and parcel of how we actually got here, but we had to get beyond this stage."

From there the pair were able to start on a uniquely private mode of writing.

"It's all done really quickly, straight on to tape," she beams. "We don't sit there with an acoustic guitar singing a song and then, two weeks later, book into a studio and put it down. Down in the basement, Dean'll get a drum pattern up and I'll go, I quite like that, slow it down, speed it up, or whatever. Then he'll play bass along to it and I'll sing over the top. He literally records the bass while I'm singing. So it's writing as we actually record and, that way, we learnt how to engineer and produce records as we wanted to hear them. You don't want anyone else there when you're lying under the desk in the foetal position, trying to get a vocal together."

Where do the lyrics appear from?

(pic: Andrew Catlin)"They're just things I've written down - most on the album were done on the tour bus last June. Sometimes a line comes into my head and I write it down, then another one comes and then another and it ends up as a long sheet of, well, thought-associations.

"Other times I get four lines. Then, a couple of hours later I get another four, and then there's another four that I wrote down three days ago. So I put them altogether like that - very detached, insular, one-off moments that don't necessarily have any thread apart from that they sound right together."

And the trademark squealing guitar onslaught? Comes in later, does it?

"All the other things are embellishment and, like...the dramatics of it," she says, as if the Curve axe nirvana were but a sideline. "So it's quite easy when you know your objective is to make the drums, bass and vocals sound brilliant. Everything else just goes around them. The guitars are the things that make us go (savage look) and stick a spike in the middle of it all."

Often there are up to five guitars on the same song - played by Halliday, Garcia, Moulder and, from the touring band, Alex Mitchell and Debbie Smith. Dean, of course, who's still testing out the horrific aural possibilities of that live mix, won't leave the five-pronged attack at that.

"He'll just pick one section, sample it, reverse it and make it into something completely different - some weird processing. Without doubt, he's obsessed with music. And so am I."

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SO CURVE ARE PRETTY WELL FIXED, right? They can fiddle about for hours in the Kilburn basement at zero cost, they've learnt to make the sounds they want there and mix them up in The Church's lordly interior. The young Irish engineer Dick has roasted a couple of chickens which are now being devoured with some relish in the studio kitchen. And as Toni fondly recalls her recent, rather manageable-sounding couple of weeks in Hawaii with Alan, it almost seems that the duo's technically-advanced sound machine has no room for malfunction. Have Curve simply coasted into the royal family of indie darkness? Can nothing go wrong? Where's the rock 'n' roll danger?!

"Well, it's only been ten months since we put out our first EP," she counters, "so it still feels really little. We've still got our bunny ears on, we get flappy about it."

There have been three four-track EPs - 'Blindfold', 'Frozen' and 'Cherry' - the last of which was made in the intensive three-month stint that also yielded 'Doppelgänger'. Two albums' worth of uniformly startling material in under a year. In any language, that's some progress.

"Both of us quite like a routine," Dean explains. "We were both getting into this thing in the mornings when we did the LP, where we did a lot of exercise, opening ourselves up, being alert and then really steaming into it down in the studio."

Are we hearing this correctly? Routines? Mornings? Exercise? My Bloody Valentine took three years to make 'Loveless' and you wouldn't catch them working out even if offered a hefty cash incentive. Highly irregular.

'Yeah," Toni giggles. "We worked five days a week. Dean would arrive about eleven and most days we'd work out in the garden for an hour or two. Then we'd go down to the basement until ten or eleven at night. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Dean would go on till three or so, if he got on a roll and wanted to sort it out."

A tad workman-like perhaps, but Toni raves about days like the one when 'Coast Is Clear' (off 'Cherry') came about, complete and ready to mix, in a "frantic and frenzied" ten hours.

"It was like we were pissed or something," she says. "We were just laughing and cackling all the way through. You wait for those moments like you're an animal and someone's flinging you a bit of steak."

Toni and Dean try to avoid slavish, unproductive studio time and, similarly, prefer less frequent, full-blown "shows" to slogging through a list of "gigs". Up until now, the most Curve have toured is a 15-date UK jaunt last June, where they hated the "insanity" of having daily life laid on them, but 1992 promises gruelling itineraries on the back of the album - the 25-date UK jaunt starting on February 29, then to the States, then Australia and Japan, then (probably) America again...

Married with two kids, Dean doesn't hide his anxiety about touring the US of A, having played bass there with Eurythmics on two hefty mid-'80s schedules. He's wary of life on the road, and has a scheme for approaching it this time around.

"I'm very prone to wasting myself," he confesses quietly. "I like drinking. But we want to tap into things while we're travelling, take in all these feelings that are flying about - real ups and downs. Toni writes lyrics on the bus, but I've never had an outlet, so this time I'm hoping to take a little writing computer with me to store up stuff for the next album."

THEY'VE DEFINITELY HIT ON A STEADY groove and this, more than anything, answers for their comfort around the button-pusher's paradise of The Church mixing desk. Purposeful rather than profligate, Dean and Toni, together with Alan, are simply using what's available to get the results they want - solid indie principles. They all know what they're doing and, if 'Die Like A Dog' seems to come across exactly the same with that bit more on the Boogie, we'd best go along with their judgement. Even Turkey wags assent.

Dean's apocalyptic bass thunders out for the umpteenth time and Toni's voice does indeed sound "beautiful", breathing holy lyrics like "this is a world free from religion". Whatever that's all about.

"I won't get literal about it," she smiles, "because I hate any kind of dictatorial attitude in lyrics. And as for being a role-model spokesperson-strong-feminine kind of woman, that's not something I find within me."

How about being a sex symbol?

"That's all a joke, isn't it?" Or so reckons Dean. "lt all becomes very funny!"

"I just laffed me head off," she says. "When you live with somebody like Alan... I wake up in the morning and he goes, OK, sexy, make me some tea and get me some toast while you're at it.

"There again, we had a fan letter sent through and the guy said, If you don't write to me and tell me the lyrics of 'Die Like A Dog' it's gonna fuck my whole life up. We actually did write to him because it seemed so intense."

If the lyrics that do surface through the sonic debris are dark, unsettling images, as they appear to be on 'Die Like A Dog', doesn't Toni feel any responsibility for people's (mis)understanding of them?

"The lyrics are just there, open to everybody to find meaning in them, including me. I think people should be able to make their own decisions."

AT A COMFORTABLE MIDNIGHT-ISH sort of hour a cab is called. Whisking Toni, Alan and, of course, Turkey back to Kilburn, the cabbie comes over all anecdotal about the amount of business he gets from The Church...

"Four in the morning, sometimes (supressed laughter in the back seats) wearing leatherjackets and stuff, reeking of alcohol..."

Not Curve. They're firmly on the rails and hurtling forward by rules of their own making. Expect the fourth album by Christmas.

(article nicked from 'Select', March 1992)

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