Curtain rises again with new CD
By Scott McLennan T&G Entertainment Columnist
The Curtain Society is easily one of the more familiar names to those who follow music coming out of Worcester, and nothing physically has changed about the band since early 1994 when Duncan Arsenault signed on as drummer alongside bass player Ron Mominee and guitarist Roger Lavallee, who charts the birth of the band back to some songs he wrote in 1988.
“We haven’t changed our name or our members,” Arsenault said during a recent sit-down with the band to discuss the group’s new album, “Every Corner of the Room.” “But this album is not by that same band.”
How could it be? About 10 years have passed since The Curtain Society released its last full-length, “Life is Long, Still,” during which time each member of the band grew musically, personally and professionally. Yet rather than outgrow the boundaries of a rock band with sharp pop sensibilities and progressive sonics, it seems the members simply let the band grow along with them.
“We’ve been together so long that being in this band is just part of who I am. Every new thing that happens to us redefines what we are as a band. This record doesn’t have as much to do with the last album as it does with all the things we’ve been through since the last album,” Lavallee said. “I suppose you don’t stay around as long as we have without reinventing yourself.”
And reinvention began immediately after The Curtain Society saw “Life is Long, Still” fail to live up to the members’ expectations. When that record came out in the headier days of alternative rock and new sounds were supplanting grunge’s lock on modern rock, many saw The Curtain Society as the naturals to break out of Worcester and onto the national scene.
Yet when that promise did not pan out, The Curtain Society did not undergo radical revision, instead raising its own standards, convinced that its progressive pop leanings held appeal beyond indie-rock obsessives and local followers. “We are convinced that this is something for normal people if they get exposed to it. The trick is how to get it to them without the backing of a major (record) label,” Lavallee explained.
So the band has been hitting creative Web sites that promote independent music, and through its publisher in New York City landed a couple of songs in the daytime soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” It’s all forward motion, according to the band.
But the band is not forgoing the good ol’ fashioned record release show. The Curtain Society celebrates the release of “Every Corner of the Room” Saturday at the Lucky Dog Music Hall, 89 Green St., Worcester. Feathermerchants, Dirty Ticket and Gutta are also on the bill.
“Every Corner of the Room” is The Curtain Society’s most assured record yet. A few songs, particularly the Brian Wilson-invoking “Diver,” strip the band’s craft to pop essentials. And the closing run of “Not Very Long,” “Motorcycle Baby” and “Anchor” form an atmospheric suite of sparse, ruminative tunes.
Yet without jarring the flow of the 13-track disc, The Curtain Society also lets loose the guitar squalls, bass rumbles and rhythmic soundscapes essential to the album’s freshness. The album’s oldest tunes — “Beautiful Song” and “Two Wonderful Stars” — remain its catchiest and both are tight, perfectly paced numbers that fill a listener’s head without overwhelming the senses.
“Beautiful Song,” which dates back to a 1999 recording circulated locally, was the first song Lavallee wrote after the “Life Is Long, Still” disappointment started to fade. He was driving to a gig in Cambridge when he came up with the melody. He scribbled down what he could and taught Arsenault and Mominee the basics backstage at TT the Bear’s nightclub. The three hammered out the details and opened that night’s show with the song.
All agreed that the bar was set high for the ensuing album. But one of the complaints The Curtain Society had with the way “Life Is Long, Still” unfolded had to do with its being rushed to completion. So for “Every Corner of the Room,” the band lifted all deadline pressures and let the project move at its own pace.
With Lavallee having free reign at Tremolo Lounge recording studio in West Boylston as its chief recording engineer and producer, and all three members of the band pretty solid multi-instrumentalists, plus a decade’s worth of song sketches to play with, the removal of deadlines practically ensured that “Every Corner of the Room” would be a long time in the making. Oddly enough, some of the songs that made it to the album were first-take recordings. The spacey “Feather,” for example, is pretty much the demo version of the song that Arsenault posted on the Web for curious fans long before the album was completed.
Yet one of the benefits of being a band for so long is that the intuition among the members of The Curtain Society is as sharply honed as the musical skills, so when Mominee and Arsenault told Lavallee that “Feather” was finished, he was smart enough to listen.
That bond was ever so apparent during a recent gig by the band at the Grafton Inn. Though the audience was stacked with musicians who are friends and frequent side-project collaborators with The Curtain Society, nobody joined the band on stage during its riveting set. An additional person would have been a trespasser, toppling the delicate balance achieved among the players.
“We know what it takes to make the songs sound good,” Lavallee said. “Ron is more than the bass player. Duncan is more than the drummer. I am more than the guitar player and the singer.”
“The fourth member of the band is the song,” Arsenault said. “And we don’t want to piss him off.”