Ty Curtis has released six albums and in 2014, his album Water Under The Bridge appeared on Blues Rock Review’s Top 20 Albums of 2014. Earlier this year, Ty Curtis released Blame Me, and Blues Rock Review’s Bob Gersztyn spoke with Curtis about the album, his plans for the future and beyond.
Was making the new album Blame Me, different or the same as your previous ones, since you co-produced it?
It was different in the fact that it was the first record where I got to choose the musicians that I work with and have the final say on all the songs, but as far as the recording process, it was mostly the same, trying to concentrate on capturing the live bass and drums and making sure that those were alive and happening.
So everyone involved was chosen by you?
I got to have my long time drummer, Jerry Jaques, who I really like a lot, play on the album, the whole entire album, so that was really cool. He played on the 2012 record, Ty Curtis, but Brian Ferguson played drums on the last record Water Under The Bridge, so it was nice to have Jerry come back, because we play together a lot, live, he’s my guy, live.
Almost every time that I’ve seen you perform over the past five years Jerry Jacques has been in your band.
On some of the recording when I first moved down here to Texas I had to use somebody else, but it’s nice for that to work out.
Since you mentioned moving to Texas, I was wondering what prompted your move from Oregon?
To challenge myself musically and I had some relationships down here with some people that I wanted to try and explore. I made three records down here, so it’s been cool as far as the recording process and the studios. It’s really nice recording out in the hill country, it’s got a really cool vibe
What about the music vibe, since Austin is a pretty famous music town?
I just went to check out Glenn Fukunaga at the Continental who was playing with some really great players, Casper Rawls was on drums and Dony Wynn, a bunch of really great players. Being exposed to that really good music is kind of like having that excitement and inspiration motivating me to write a lot of new songs and feeling creative lately.
So is the music scene in Austin lively all the time 365 days of the year?
Because it’s so sunny down here, they can have more music outside, because it’s not raining, basically. They’ve got more calendar days for more events and opportunities. I’m just starting to get into that. I was playing when I first initially got down here for Hudson Moore, but I kind of took that gig because I needed the money, but it just wasn’t my kind of music, so I kind of got out of that and came back to record and work on the songs that you hear now on this record and some of these have been songs I’ve had for two years and another that I had for two weeks, it’s kind of funny how some things turn out.
Is there a particular way that you write a song?
I usually sit down with a riff, I’m actually over here at my friends house and we’re working on some songs. Mike Scott is his name and plays bass for me as well down here when I can’t get my other guys to play. He’s been helping me out and he has a PA and things like that, but basically what I was getting to was I just wrote another riff when I was over here. It’s something that I start out with, where it gets in my head and is infectious or makes me excited about rocking out to that groove. Sometimes I’ll think of drum ideas in my head when I’m making the riff up. Jerry, my drummer can relate to that. I’ll be excited about a song and I’ll mouth the drums to him of what I think the song should be or how I’m hearing it in my head. The other way that I write songs, is like when I have a lyric or a story written as either a poem or a lot of thoughts that I end up condensing to make more melodic. So I might have written out some words for a story, but when I put it to the chords, they get trimmed down, or I may think of a simpler way to say it. I try to approach songwriting by trying to tell a story and then pulling from things that I’ve gone through in my life, which recently I’ve been through quite a bit. I’ve been channeling those emotions into the songs.
What do you use for inspiration?
I listen to a lot of old records and I have a collection of L.P.’s and a turn table in my living room and I listen to a lot of Bad Company and Foreigner, the old Robert Cray, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Wes Montgomery and Lou Rawls. I’ve got a bunch of piano players and a whole bunch of different things like classical, Al Di Meola, Paco di Luci`a and trying to expose myself to all different styles, so I can hear all the different approaches to music, so I won’t be stuck in only one way of thinking about music.
Has there ever been any new type of music that you heard that threw you for a loop?
Yeah, the band LCD Sound System. I hadn’t ever listened to them and I got to see them live. They’re not blues or blues rock at all, but for the style that they did I really respected it because of the musicality and the really infectious melodies that they come up with. I look for inspiration in all different styles of music as well as world type music. I have a lot of jazz influence from my grandpa. I had this period in my life where I asked him who his favorite players were, so he sent me copies of his favorite LP’s. He’s a jazz piano player and he’s 94 now and he’s lived a very musical life and has done a lot and knows a lot about artists that you’d never even know about. It’s nice to be able to ask your elders about artists that you’d never know about. Those songs end up inspiring me, even when I don’t realize it. When you listen to those songs the progressions and melodies get ingrained into your brain and you somehow come up with your own version of what you heard, like in the progression of a song or maybe the melody of the vocal.
One time I read an interview with Jacob Dylan who said that his father (Bob Dylan,) would play obscure songs on the car tape player to show his kids where his inspiration came from.
Absolutely, in those old recordings, the quality in the recording may not be that good, but the music is amazing.
What are you going to be doing in the future? Do you have any plans to go abroad?
We’ve been talking about doing an island tour. We just got to go over to Hawaii and played over there and we met a really great artist named Keahi Conjugacion and she’s about 71, I believe. She’s headlining festivals over there and we were able to sit down together with her at the Palace Theater in Hilo and made a really good connection with her and she’s been helping with getting our stuff over to Hawaiian radio stations and they have good connections with setting up a tour on the island and I’m hoping to set up a tour the islands. I just got to play in Hilo at their blues and jazz festival, which is really amazing and I doubled it up as a honeymoon as well as playing that festival, it was a lot of fun.
When did that happen?
I got married on July 8 and we were in Hawaii in October.
Congratulations on your marriage.
Thank you. I’ve been playing shows here in Texas, mainly as a duo, while I keep pushing forward and working on new songs. I’ve got a new song that I’m going to be trying to play with Keahi, who I met in Hawaii. I think that it is going to be called “My Proof,” but it’s a blues, jazz, gospel vein. It’s a little of my jazz influences, from taking jazz guitar in college from Christopher Woitach, but also just listening to those jazz LP’s that my grandpa burned for me.
Now that you’re married, how do you manage family life with your musical goals?
It’s tough! It’s really hard as far as going back and forth a lot, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without the love of my wife and the devotion that I have for her, as far as keeping myself together on scheduling and booking and keeping me motivated. It’s tough, it’s a hard thing to do, as far as calling music your career. I’m starting to look for little side jobs, just to keep myself feeling alright financially in the off season. I’m working on getting more shows here in Texas, but it’s harder to break into some of the spots that have it locked down, as far as booking out for months ahead. My hopes are to get in the “Continental Club” and other clubs that are very hard and difficult places to get in to play, because everybody wants to play them. The Continental holds about 150 people when it’s full and it’s just an old style bar on Congress in Austin and it’s really nice. They have really good sound there and a sound person along with lighting. We’re going to be playing on December 17 at the hotel Van Zant. which is a really nice place in Austin. We’ll be doing that gig on the 4th floor and Jerry will come down. That’s one of my better gigs that I’ve gotten here in Austin. I’ve played some private parties, like one at this really nice ranch house and have done some duos. It’s tough financially to try and bring Jerry out for the gigs, when you don’t have money coming in from playing. Summertime always has the good months, but it’s getting hard to be a musician, because everybody wants to download your song, instead of buying your CD.
Yeah, I understand what you’re talking about. The same thing happened with the publishing industry. I used to freelance for a half dozen magazines and now, none of them even exist anymore. Some were replaced by online publications that either pay much less or nothing at all.
I’m here in Austin working on some stuff with another drummer and I’ve talked to Jerry about it already and he and I are totally cool with it, as far as when he can’t make it down to Austin that I can use somebody else so I can pick up opportunities to play with another rendition of my band. So I’m working on songs with him and that way I can pick up more opportunities when I can’t make it work financially by flying Jerry down here. I’m trying to get him a drum set permanently down at my place. We’ve been borrowing and renting drums and we were going to borrow drums again for these shows, but it’s going to work into a permanent thing with gear stored here. So those are all my goals, but I’m just thankful for all the fans that we have and people who have purchased CDs and support me. You can’t do it without them, so it’s really awesome.
Has your equipment changed since your first album in 2006? What are you using now compared to then?
Yeah it has. During the Stubborn Mind and the first albums I was playing with a Gurlich amp, which is half solid state half tube and I had a ’62 Fender reissue guitar that was basically stock. Now I play a 1978 Gibson 335 and I use RedPlate amplifier’s out of Arizona and I play Psionic audio pedals out of Memphis, Tennessee. I’ve gotten better quality gear. I also have “Austin Speaker Works” speaker cabinets, made right here in Austin. I’m also sporting as well their speaker, I think it’s KP40 or something.
Is there anything that you would like to add that we didn’t cover?
I really look forward to getting back to Oregon and playing shows and I’m just trying to work on some new songs and I’m going to be playing some slide ideas, getting those together for the next album. I want to record a live album, so that is part of the goal as well.
Is there any particular place that you would record it at or would it be a series of concerts?
I’m thinking possibly down here in Austin, because I know three different people that can do it for me. As far as the resources for being able to get that done, maybe not as expensive as it would be in Portland or maybe because I just have better connections down here. I’m sure there’s definitely people up there that can do it. The guy that did my video, he’s been working for the set of Grimm, so he’s been getting really good with camera work and I’ve known him since high school, but he’s really busy and I want to do another music video, which is another goal for another song on the album, but that takes money and time, and his time and I’ve got to get that all set up. Hopefully by the middle of this next summer, I’ll have another video out, but most of all I want to thank my new wife Sara.
Interview by Bob Gersztyn