The Curtain Society continue to make pop their way
by John O’Neill
If at all familiar with the sounds of the Worcester-based Curtain Society, you’d be inclined to think they’re a dower bunch of fellas. Brooding, introspective, maybe a little bit too serious — they’re like the misunderstood kid who dresses in black and stays in his room to write poetry while the rest of the class is at the keg party. It’s a point they’re acutely aware of and make passing reference to it no-less than three times at a recent sit down.
“We sound like we take it seriously, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people think we’re bitter,” offers guitarist Roger Lavallee of the band’s outlook. “But, we’re having a good time . . . it’s not get-up-and-party-music.”
Just one example in a long line of mysterious misinformation that surround the Curtain Society, who for the past ten years existed on a plane somewhere between the fringes of local curiosity and international renown. Always part of the Worcester scene but generally on the outside looking in, misunderstood by clubgoers as a goth band, mislabled by promoters as a Cure clone, and roundly ignored or dismissed by the established Boston media at a time when they were packing Boston’s better clubs, the unit have never fit in on the regional circuit. Playing a wonderfully sweet and melodic form of British-inspired pop, the band would seem too passé for the next-big-thing hipsters in Beantown, and way too elegant for the hard-and-fast rules of Worcester’s scene. Instead, they found success in odd pockets and across the Atlantic — popular in France, adored in Columbus, Ohio, and, a number-one radio hitmaker in, as improbable as it may sound, Des Moines, Iowa. And while this far-reaching prosperity would have been maddening enough to drive a nail into even the most optimistic band (after all, you can’t just load the van and head out to Lyon for the weekend), the Curtain Society are, all things tallied, just happy to be making music.
“It’s like growing hair, it’s just happening,” explains Lavallee. “We never put conditions of `If we don’t make it in three years we’re breaking up.’ We have this open-ended ethic. We’re doing it for esoteric reasons.”
“It’s the creative process that keeps us going,” adds drummer Duncan Arsenault, who joined up with Lavallee and bassist Ron Mominee five years ago. “We’re really doing this for no other reason than ourselves and hoping people notice. The steps we’ve taken can’t be taken away. They’re sure steps and they’re positive.”
The Curtain Society have also been turning out some of the more impassioned and best-written material the area has ever seen, and there’s no better example of this than their last CD Life Is Long, Still (Bedazzled). Mining the same shimmering, shoe-gazing landscape as their UK contemporaries, Life Is Long ping-pongs between contemplative and beautifully aching ballads reminiscent of Guy Chadwick’s House of Love and wall-of-pop pedals and guitar smashers that owe more to the harsher, yet no-less appealing sonic vibe of Swervedriver and the Boo Radley’s. Laden with effects, echoing guitar, chugging bass, and Lavallee’s understated vocals, Curtain Society create a dreamscape of sound that alternates from forlorn to hopeful, soft to loud, and production that goes from big to bigger. It is, at points, outrageously pretty and far more than one should hope to expect from a small band on an even smaller label. If this were England, these guys would have a legitimate shot at grabbing the UK by the shorthair.
“I’m trying to write songs that I want to be my favorite songs, things that give me the same goosebumps as `A Day In the Life,'” says Lavallee, who needs no coaxing to identify those who weigh heavy on the band. “We aren’t afraid of our influences because we have our own sound . . . we’re always aware of it. Every year we change our equipment, it still sounds like us!”
Ready to celebrate their 10th anniversary this Saturday at the Above Club, the Curtain Society have no regrets and quietly continue their assault on success, recently landing “Beautiful Song” as promo music on NBC, and contributing “Swing/Evanston” to a compilation from the music ‘zine Dewdrops. (For the record, they’ve appeared on a total of seven comps a movie soundtrack; and they’ve released two full-length CDs and two 7″ on Bedazzled and seven cassette-only projects on Lavallee’s Apostrophe imprint). All they lack now is a hit song, which may come with the new “Two Wonderful Stars.” Still an uncompleted track, the rough mix alone is arguably their strongest song to date and one that adds Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys harmonies to the mix. Which isn’t that surprising given the boys’ penchant for the large scale.
“We’re an arena rock band trapped in an indie band,” jokes Lavallee before continuing his assessment. “We can look back and appreciate where we’re at and what we’ve done. We sort of break even, which is more than a lot of people can say. . . . We’re more successful than we ever thought we’d be.”