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"The Cuckoo's Nest"

(pic: Phil Knott)British duo Curve Come Clean after a four year hibernation.

By Dave Kendall.
Photography by Phil Knott.

At first, it all seems a little unlikely. Unassuming, apparently indifferent, seven years since their first EP Blindfold and it's "Ten Little Girls," six years since the Frozen EP and "Coast Is Clear," five years since the first album Doppelgänger and exactly four since the second, Cuckoo, here sits Toni Halliday - Cuckoo! - wearing scant make-up, as if to prove she never gave a shit about all that "Britain's sexiest woman" palaver anyway. Right alongside her musical partner Dean Garcia, the restless, twisted architect of Curve's noisome pestilence, looking restful and... straight.

But by their fruits ye shall know them.

Their new album Come Clean, is a ferocious evolution of the searing energy on Pubic Fruit - the 1992 compilation of Curve's first three EPs - together with their two albums of original material. In the music, there is no room whatsoever for words like "mellowed" or "matured". Well, there may be some justification for "matured" as people. But "mellowed" is within Curvology, a concept void and without form.

"Anything you do," says Toni, "even if it's changing a car battery, if it's done with real love and respect for it, it's always done brilliantly."

And that's the reason why Curve haven't been around for four years, leaving many to suspect their extinction.

"We just had to take some time off," she says. "We'd become disappointed by the business of it and the criminal factor of it. We started to really hate it, and I don't want anyone or anything to ever make me feel crap about music. That's how much we love it.

"It was stifling. It's like when you're at school and they start to streamline you. They were trying to ram us into this funnel - 'You tour like 'cause that's what everyone else does.'" Part of the problem was that Curve's first incarnation - as pre-rave electropoppers State Of Play - and Toni's solo album, Hearts And Handshakes, were met with, ahem, less than open arms by critics and the public alike. After these ignomious beginnings, the overnight success of Curve took them by surprise.

"When things first happened for us, we were completely caught on the hop," she says. "We had no idea anyone would ever listen to us. And record one: six weeks later - front cover of Melody Maker. Three weeks after that - front cover of NME. We didn't have any time to set any groundwork, a platform for us to work on and be confident in our ideas and as people."

"And consequently," adds Dean, "you make some quite serious mistakes and put yourself through things you wouldn't now and shouldn't have then."

Early Curve records were released on Anxious Records, the label founded by Eurythmic Dave Stewart. But his friendship didn't help them avoid the anxieties of the record industry.

"Everyone thought we had it made, 'cause we had Dave paving the way for us," explains Dean. "But he wasn't guiding. He didn't say, 'Do this, don't do that, go meet this person.' He was just a mate: 'Really cool, nice video, come 'round for a cup of tea.'"

"In a way, it made it worse," says Toni. "'cause in England he's really uncool, isn't he? His public persona has always been dodgy, hasn't it? Even when he was with Annie, it was like. 'Oohh, that weird one over there, Goatee' - or whatever they called him. So we constantly had to defend him to these snidey journos. And they're like, 'You're his protégés.' And we're like, 'No we're not, he's got nothing to do with our records, he's never been in the studios once with us. He's just a mate that's got a label. And he's really cool."

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(pic: Phil Knott) And so after the Cuckoo, silence. Hibernation. Rehabilitation. And when they decided to re-emerge for a test flight, muses Dean, Curve were back at square one.

"We set up a little label on our own, and initially we said, 'Let's give ourselves six weeks, to see if there's anything there."

"And if it all sounds like Cuckoo and Doppelgänger, forget it," adds Toni. "You don't wanna be in '91 in '97. Just so you don't bore yourself. And we didn't. In our home studio, we were there for about a year. We got like 30 or 40 tracks. Then we gave them to Tim and he whittled them down and said, 'These 12. Those are the ones.'"

Tim is Tim Simenon, the producer of Come Clean, whom Toni had met through her husband Alan Moulder.

"Alan did quite a lot of Bomb The Bass stuff early on. And I'd met (Tim) a couple of times in cafes and had a quick coffee, and he'd always been in our circle of friends. And when he heard the tracks, he just loved it - he dropped everything, including his own album and soundtrack stuff, to do it. And that was really encouraging. He never had a big background on Curve, he was very fresh and new, and when we gave it to him it was kind of like a test for us.

"I see him more like a technician, he's not like one of those producers that goes, 'Get rid of all this stuff so I can put my own thing in.' But he was able to say, 'You can get rid of this, it's not doing anything,' or 'You should add that.' Dean was the main programmer on it. Tim's not a musician, he's not a programer, he's a DJ. So his angle was, 'Are the beats right?' Whittling it down, arranging it, weeding things out. He's a gardener. And he's a lovely man, it's a great vibe to have in the studio."

"And it was good being able to leave the studio," remembers Dean, "and give him his own space and not be up his arse, like how we are, really neurotic."

Tim Simenon was also responsible for some of the "weird noises" on the album, bringing in Skylab's Toshi Nakanishi. Other guest musicians are Flood, Justin Walsh from Elastica and, of course, Alan Moulder. But Curve, emphasises Toni, do not cop hip from anyone.

"We much prefer to quote sounds from our own source rather than steal them. So we will actually sit there with our Odyssey keyboards and spend hours and hours messing around just to get this happy accident to happen. Then you can go and sample that, and it's actually come from you.

"I don't mind if someone takes something from me, but we prefer to generate our own sounds."

The same applies for lyrics, which are sometimes equally random. An example: the album's opening track, "Dirty High."

"I did it off the top of my head, I didn't have any lyrics written down or anything, and I just went 'round to Dean's and sang the first thing that came into my head. And I just said, 'That's got to stay.' And I could probably go back and make up loads of things that it's about lyrically, but that's after the event. A lot of people think it's about drugs and opium. And it has elements of that, but it has sex as well."

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The album's first single, "Chinese Burn," had a similar spontaneous genesis. "It's like me arguing. I'd been on the phone upstairs with a girlfriend, and got really upset and walked downstairs and Dean had the track up and I started shouting. I was very pissed off. Then I thought, 'It really is like me talking to myself, the other side of my personality, the good and bad part of me.' I don't even know! But I do know it's revenge-driven; I wanted to hurt other people.

"I don't like to be specific. Loads of the time, fans come up to you and say, 'I think it's about this,' and you think, 'Yeah cool, that's better than the real idea anyway!' But I just feel like a conduit, especially with lyrics, since they come in a complete stream. I feel like they're coming from someone else. I don't even like to take too much credit for it. Someone's speaking to me.

"No, it's definitely not God. I'm God. (laughs) So's Dean. I just think some people are more in tune with other dimensions and as long as they're a pure vessel and open enough to allow it to come into their brain, they can use it. I saw this documentary in England the other day about Tricky, and he said exactly the same thing. And it's true, he just smokes weed and opens himself up, and it just comes in. And he has the same problem: no idea where it comes from.

"I think it's 'cause I'm brave enough to just go with it and not be too concerned with what other people might think. I have that kind of attitude, you allow it to go out even if it's a bit unhinged or crazy. I'm sure the music speaks to me as well, especially drums, they have melodies in them. I'm sure I'm schizophrenic."

Still crazy after all these years? Lurking within the bitterness and bile, Come Clean conveys a new sense of balance and purpose, a determination to embrace the darkness and find a new light. One glaring lyrical example is Toni's altered consciousness: "If I died now I'd be happy."

"I would be," she affirms. "I am really, really happy at the moment, and I've never felt like that in my life. I must admit I'm a bit of a worrier. But when I look back and I see my house and my husband and my dog and my friends, all these relationships have been developed over years, I feel really proud and really happy. I'm married now, and our relationship has been steady over the last few years. But there was peaks and troughs, and it went off the rails, and I started to hate myself for that. And I knew I was treating him badly and he was treating me badly.

"I did go and see a therapist for a short amount of time, and within a few weeks she gave me the tools to sort myself out. I am the sort of person who can absorb extremely quickly. It was hard at the beginning to use them, you'd be there at the same place, and there's a pit - are you gonna spiral? And you go, 'No!'

"And you start to visualise yourself not going to that place. You've been there a million times. It's totally boring. But it's hard to get out of that habit, because you've become addicted to your own foibles.

"I did a lot of work, especially about my mother, because I want to like her and accept her. I just gave up judging people. Full stop. Everybody. Someone said to me, 'What do you think of the Fiona Apples of this world and all this victim mentality?' And I'm going, 'Yeah, but how can you judge that or make a comment about that? I don't know what's happened to that girl. I've no idea.'"

Towards the end of the interview, Toni is assailed by self-consciousness: "All this, 'Yeah, I've been in therapy, now I'm happy' stuff; you're not going with that, are you?" She's worried about the hokey "Curve attain enlightenment" angle. Curve may have a sharper edge than ever, but she won't pretend to be the same tortured 20-something she once was.

"Nobody's clean and innocent on any level," she says. "But I just don't beat myself up about it anymore. I don't think you have to be fucked up to be edgy. That's another myth that had to go. Sometimes I think both Dean and I thought that was really cool, 'Oh, we're both fretting, and we're both really manic people,' and it was part of what we did. And that's not true at all. It just makes it harder. It makes everything more complicated. I don't think you have to be messed up to be hard and edgy.

"And on a band level, we just think it's important to state your intentions, your mission. We're not ever gonna turn into bland pop."

(article nicked from 'Raygun', March 1998)

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