Catie Curtis‘ career as a
signed musician started in 1996 and has been going on strong ever
since. There is no doubt in my mind that she was able to reach folk
rock icon status thanks to her songs’ ability to take you back to
specific memories regardless of if you’ve heard the song she’s singing
before. She writes from the soul and is somehow able to tap into the
universal human experience.
Earlier this year, Curtis released her 11th album, Stretch Limousine on Fire, and it
is a powerful reminder of how and why she’s been able to maintain such
a strong career. We got to speak with the refreshingly down-to-earth
musician about her music, gay parenting, officiating weddings and being
asked to perform at the White House for the second time during Obama’s presidency.
AfterEllen.com: First of all, congrats on
the release of your 11th album!
Catie Curtis: Thank you!
AE: So many artists barely make it
past their second album and are able to continuously release fresh
music, much less make it to icon status.
CC: Well thank you! You know, I
subscribe to that theory that half of success is just showing up. And
I’ve been showing up for a long time. [Laughs] You can’t help but learn.
AE: Well and the audience keeps
showing up for you, too, so it’s not just a one way street there! So as
an artist with a long career do you ever look back and say, “This is my
eleventh album. Wow, how the hell did I do that?”
CC: Um, not really. (The
albums) mark chapters in my life so I don’t look back and just see this
huge stack of music and feel like, “Oh, so much done!” I feel like
every record is a haircut or a girlfriend or some place I lived or a
phase I was in where I was traveling or living or what I was in to. Or,
“Oh that was my religious phase.” [Laughs] It’s not that you can tell
on the record necessarily — and I think since record number three, I’ve
been with the woman who I’m now married to. So there hasn’t been much
from the drama department.
AE: [Laughing] Well that’s good!
Always a plus!
CC: Now I just need to find
other things to write about — that was difficult at first!
AE: I can kind of understand that.
Even as just a writer, I find that my best writing has come when drama
was happening or some kind of painful event.
CC: Yeah you need a little of
that. You know, even just having periods of having separation from your
loved ones or the people in your life, just being alone in the world
sometimes. Just touring or for whatever reason it’s just important to
have some of that time to come back to yourself.
AE: Well that makes a lot of sense, actually. As someone who just listens or just shows up to a concert — you don’t necessarily think about some of the pain that’s involved in
being away from your family or just your normal lifestyle — and maybe
that alone will give the edge that the artist might need.
CC: Yeah, I think so. You never
really get too comfortable with your life because you’re always saying
goodbye and going somewhere new. As much as touring can be a challenge
for me and my family, in some ways I think it gives all of us a bigger
appreciation for each other.
And also independence. You know for our
children — my wife and I have two kids — we both travel. She doesn’t
travel quite as much as I do but they really understand that they’re
safe and they’re happy with me and the same goes for her. The two of
them bring each other a lot of comfort, too. I think it’s good for them
to be able to trust these transitions and trust we’ll come back.
AE: I find it really interesting that
you’ve gone from your last album’s title, Sweet Life, which paints a
picture like Bob Ross paints happy trees, to a darker album title whose
name makes me think of how great things go up in flames. I know the
album deals with loss and not everything going the way you planned, but
what happened? It seems like a pretty big leap.
CC: [Laughing] Yeah … well when
I wrote Sweet Life, I believe in trying to be hopeful, which isn’t the
same as being optimistic. Hope is incredibly important to me so I find
hopeful things to write about and try to show appreciation for life.
But I’m also a realist and I know that as hopeful as you can be it
doesn’t mean the outcome is going to be good. And I think in this world
there are lots of reasons to be concerned and we can’t protect
ourselves with money and individuals can’t protect themselves with a
It’s just the nature of life is transitions and endings as
well as beginnings. I like to bring that out because I think with Sweet
Life people interpreted that as being kind of “Pollyanna-ish.” And it’s
not — look, I wrote a lot of it during the Bush administration and there
were all of these troubling events going on but I look at my kids and
think, this is a really sweet life. And I wanted to appreciate the
things that are beautiful. I think that the song “Stretch Limousine on
Fire” and a lot of the other songs on this record are, in my mind
consistent with my philosophy, but also look at the more ironic side to
AE: I mean, definitely. The song order
in fact is even like that. You go from “I Do,” which is so sweet and
maybe not saying that everything is perfect, but for the most part it
CC: Yeah, that’s the most
bubbly sweet song I’ve written in years. Kind of like, “I believe in
our future together wholeheartedly,” and then it goes into “Wedding
Band” which about breaking up. “When I met you I was really wounded and
maybe that’s why we got together.” And it’s like, “Oh gee it’s a good
thing because you’re amazing. But, really, it could’ve been anybody!”
AE: Ha, well I can relate to that!
— I’ve done it many
times. So you have to have this kind of irony when you talk about
weddings because people go into it believing they’re going to be
together forever and so commonly that’s just not what happens. And in
the meantime you have the majority of gays and lesbians not even being
allowed to get married. So I feel like there’s a lot of energy around
getting married surrounding me right now.