Keith McCurdy is a long standing and important part of the music that has been created in this mystical city. McCurdy’s unique and intelligent songwriting entwines seamlessly with his rare and distinctive voice. No one sounds like Keith. We are pleased to catch up on his rooted past, driven present and ambitious future.
I remember seeing you play in the basement of Local 121 many years back when I was just starting to see the greatness of the local music scene. The energy was high, your band was raw with the great sounds of grunge and rock n’ roll. That may have been 7 or 8 years ago, reflecting back now how do you think your sound has grown?
Well, I don’t want to play rock and roll anymore, but who knows? I think I worry less about what my music is trying to be and I don’t have any expectations of success or failure and that’s certainly liberating.
I like the gothic-folk, danse macabre thing I’ve got going on right now. I love playing with Diane, and Amato when he is able. It’s a nice compact little ensemble and I think it evokes a great atmosphere that appeals to my tastes in the most perfect way. I like making music that I would personally want to hear, I’m sure that’s common but sometimes I have the feeling some people are thinking too much about how their work will be received and base the construction on those anticipations.
I’m sure that is advice that any writer or artistic creator could find valuable.
What are you working on these days, musical and otherwise?
I’ve been writing new songs that continue a similar direction I had wanted to explore further from Mortis Nervosa. I had started school full-time after releasing that album and have been studying Classics and English Lit. I have been learning Latin and Ancient Greek and have begun the nascent developments of what will be an album of songs written in these languages. This will be an ambitious undertaking since it is no easy task, but in the meantime I plan on recording a few new songs I have finished now as digital singles hopefully sometime in the winter.
When did you start writing?
I suppose you could say I started when I was a kid, but I didn’t start seriously writing songs and singing until I was about 15 or so, and almost exclusively in a collaborative setting with bands.
You have three albums out; Bastard Children 2012, Household Items 2013 and your most recent Mortis Nervosa in 2016. How they are different in inspiration and production?
Well, the first one was the first time I ever put out a “real” album…so, if you put it in perspective, I had been performing “professionally” for about a decade when I started recording Bastard Children, and Vudu Sister was an infant concept. It was during a flirtatious exploration in a style of music that was new, foreign and fresh to me. It was also the beginning of my involvement with what was the local music scene at the time. Prior to that, I had never really established any strong connections with local musicians. It was an exciting time in Providence, for me.
With Household Items, I was getting back into electric rock music and I had wanted to make a record that reflected on the kind of music I grew up on and had influenced me to pick up a guitar and start playing in the first place. I made it with good friends and my father, who was essentially responsible for those early influences.
Mortis Nervosa is something I’m especially proud of because I think I finally found a sound that illustrates a refinement in my own writing and craft. I also made it with people who have been generous with their time enough to have stood by me since the inception of Vudu Sister; and so, this record faithfully portrays how the ensemble sounds live on record with little distinction.
For Mortis Nervosa, I was inspired by a collection of children’s ghost stories in a book I grew up with, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, as well as Edgard Allan Poe, Grimm’s Tales, among others. These all served as catalyst which informed the construction of the lyrics, melodies and concept of the album.
What are some of your biggest influences and how would you describe your sound?
Currently, I eat up anything Polly Jean Harvey has ever done. I think she is an artist’s artist, and I relate to her process and philosophy concerning the craft. Many of my favorite artists are women, especially from the “riot grrl” movement like L7, Babes in Toyland and Hole, of course. It’s probably not very apparent to most people, but I do quite a lot of gender-bending in my music. I never write with a feeling of “masculinity” and that has never felt entirely natural to me.
I think beyond the obvious melancholy, gothic aesthetics to the sound, there is some humor in my music albeit dark and possibly an irony in the lyrics. I try to find something new that interests me in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m revisiting the same thing, but I also acknowledge motifs that serve me that I will frequently draw from. If I had to pinpoint a “sound”, I’d say the ensemble in its current inception has obvious influence from Rasputina.
Some say Providence is a ‘love it’ or ‘leave it city’. You’re still here. What do you love about it?
I’m still here. Ha.
Well, I don’t drink anymore so I don’t see anyone enough anymore to get tired of them. That’s half a joke.
I think it’s a beautiful city, and comparatively clean. We have great cafes and quirky artistic community. I live at AS220 and I am forever grateful to live in such a place under the umbrella of such an organization that cares as it does about artists and the arts. That’s not something you see in every city.
I have grown tired of complainers about this city, I have a lot to be grateful for living in it and I think sometimes some people take this city for granted.
I certainly agree that we have a lot to be grateful for in this city.
How have you seen the community of the local music scene change in the city?
There are different trends that catch peoples’ attention, but that’s normal. It’s a rotating cast with some memorable guest appearances, I feel like someone who visits their old college and finds different faces on familiar bodies.
I think sometimes politics gets in the way of art, taking precedence over the quality of the work itself and that bores and worries me.
What are some highlights in your musical career from shows you’ve played to some of your favorite collaborations?
Since I first started, playing in bands with friends with whom I felt indestructible. Since Vudu Sister, meeting and making music with Diane, my violinist, has been a source of many emotions but pride (healthy pride) being a big one. We played FooFest in 2013, after the Newport Folk Fest (which was an underwhelming experience), but FooFest was a great time and we played one of the best sets we’d ever done.
We love having you at The Grange, as for other venues in the city do you have any favorites?
I like the Columbus a lot. AS220 can be a good room sometimes. You put on good house shows at The Grove.
I appreciate that! We look forward to your show tonight at The Grange Providence! Thanks for catching up with us.
See VUDU SISTER live tonight, September 26th 2018 from 9:30-11:30 pm , this show is free!
Interview by Chrissy Stewart
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