James Curry is not a he, it’s a they: two gifted singer-songwriters, Brian Tischleder (vocals, guitar) and Casey Fearing (lead guitar, vocals), who perform exquisite folk blues. James Curry add a haunting, existential edge to the raw, rural stuff for which we remember Woody Guthrie, the young Bob Dylan, and Joe Hill.
James Curry will be performing at the Red Room, upstairs at the Loring Pasta Bar (327 14th Ave. SE, Minneapolis), at 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 27. For music samples and information on other upcoming performances, see James Curry’s MySpace page.
For instance, the song “Back Roads” from their first album Brand New Suit features bare-bones guitar behind vocals as dry as the Dust Bowl. The lyrics go, “There’s a dream in my pocket / it’s a knocking, but I can’t go home / all alone / There’s a whisper in my ear / I hear when I’m all alone / A cold wind blows / Meet me on the back roads.” They’ve followed Brand New Suit with the just-released 13, teaming again with producer Joe Johnson to capture their distinct, compelling style. James Curry recently spoke with me about what they do.
DWIGHT HOBBES: How did the duo come about?
BRIAN TISCHLEDER: After the James Curry “full band” was dismantled, we felt the songs deserved a more acoustic, alternative feel instead of the rock treatment they were getting.
CASEY FEARING: Ten years ago, in the heart of Apple Valley, some guy was driving down my street, just staring at me while I played my guitar on my front step. I thought he was lost and, having been a pizza delivery driver at the time in that area, I was all excited. I could help him for sure. So, he finally stops in front of the house and gets out and walks up to me and says “You gettin’ good at that?” Meaning the guitar. I say, “Not really.” I had only been playing for a year on my own with only a few lessons under my belt. “I’m better on the electric.” “You want to be in a band?” he asks. So he tells me to learn “Sweet Home Alabama” and hands me the guitar tab book. [Eventually] we worked out a demo and ended up with Brand New Suit. The duo seemed to be a better representation of what we wanted to do with the music, rather than a full band. I loved the rock, but I love the softness, too.
DH: The writing on 13, the arrangements. It’s less sparse. Still dark, just fuller. Does it feel any different?
TISCHLEDER: The album is definitely different. The songs just grabbed our hands and led us down the path. We collaborated with Joe Johnson. He recommended musical elements with some of the top talent around town—subtle touches of musical color that really make a song come alive.
DH: “Hear Me Cry (Mary Thunder’s Song),” apparently culled from Native American culture, cites a war between a wolf of anger, jealousy, and self-pity; and one of joy, peace, and compassion. What’s that about?
TISCHLEDER: Comes from Lakota teachings that we’ve received from many of the elders from Minnesota to Texas.
DH: Okay, while we’re at it…Opening for you guys and Adrienne Nightingale at Terminal Bar a little bit ago, I got the chance to check out not only your music but the backing light-show. Lot of images of “Old West” Indians staring into the camera with eyes that seemed to wonder, “Just what are they going to do to us next?” And, in other interviews as well as at that gig, we’ve talked about the sweat lodge. What’s up with you two white guys and indigenous culture?
FEARING: My brother has been immersed in it for the past ten or twelve years. Brian and I have recently started to experience a little of the culture and I’ll have to say, I think I like it. It feels good and connects with my current belief system. I was raised without religion [and] have almost no knowledge of any religion out there. I am a self-motivator, strong minded. I have a real problem with people telling me what to do or putting rules down, especially rules about life! Life is mine, I’ll take it, thank you very much. I have a problem in just believing what people say. Religions are people telling you how you are supposed to live. A piece of me thinks there might be more than that, but I’m skeptical. I would say most religions are for people who are in search of something. I’m not. I look inside to how I feel in my heart and walk with that. Native culture seems to be a way that works with my way of thinking. I can say, right now, it feels good.
DH: Who’s doing the backup chanting on “Hear Me Cry”?
TISCHLEDER: Jesse Fearing and Meg Diviney. Both are committed to Lakota spirituality. Jesse is a sun dancer. Meg is training in the shaman ways. They created that heartfelt emotion that really made the song.
DH: James Curry performed on Martha Fast Horse’s Minneapolis Television Network special In Honor of American Indian Month, A Celebration: Past-Present-Future. Didn’t she express interest in having you on her regular program, “Wolf Spirit”?
TISCHLEDER: Yeah, she has. We’d love to work with her again.
DH: Listening to Brand New Suit and to 13, it’s obvious James Curry could’ve gone the Bruce Springsteen route, pursuing the pop market for raw-edged folk-cum-rock’n’roll angst. What happened? Too much integrity?
TISCHLEDER: Well I guess when you’re in the music business you better hang onto something. We’ve always tried to find the core meaning of the song and express it the most honest way we can. For better of for worse, we really never think about album sales or trends during the creation process.
FEARING: I’m not sure we could’ve gone that route. The songs talk. You listen and hear the appropriate instrumentation and do it. You’d have to have something different involved like a big corporate businessman who thinks he can make music or something. Sell, sell. Money.
DH: What does writing and performing this music mean to you?
TISCHLEDER: I guess songwriting gives me a sense of identity. Performing is the reward of your labors. Bringing it to the people, it really makes you feel alive.
FEARING: Well the two are very, very different things, feelings, highs, whatevers. I like a balance between the two. Writing and performing songs is why I’m alive. It’s how I release my insides and how I connect with life, the universe, the world. I feel blessed to have found it and to be living it.