Family Curse play deeply abrasive punk rock. Their new album, Twilight Language, is menacing and paranoid in all the right ways; writing at Noisey, Zachary Lipez noted that “[t]he record sounds mean, like the speed is still working but the visuals have gone sour.” It’s a bracing listening experience, and I checked in with guitarist Ken Edge and vocalist Erick Hughes via email to learn more.
The album’s insert has a quote alluding to trench warfare. Where did that originally come from — and how do you see that corner of history applying to the music that you make?
Ken Edge: I can’t speculate on where Erick pulls lyrics come from. He’s a vast well of cool literary/historical knowledge. On the music side of our songs, I’d say the writing is more influenced by the world around us and trying to establish tones/textures/moods that would without lyrics allow the listener to form some sort of narrative. As players we react to one another; bending, twisting, and dodging one another till a song is written. There’s a lot of improv going on when songs are first being formed. Then we whittle them down into their final forms and make adjustments as needed to make room for vocals.
Erick Hughes: The quote is from the diary of one Officer A.J. Rixon of the London Irish Rifles circa 1915 during World War I. History is the main character in its own story. We’re just along for the ride. We run on blood, not gasoline. But which do we value higher? And which provokes more lust within us? Slaughtering each other is a time-honored tradition.
On Twilight Language, you revisited some songs from earlier singles. How did the recording of each version of (for instance) “Julia Armant” differ from one another?
Erick: The only previously-released song on the LP is “Julia Armant,” which was the A-side of our debut single. The album version is more focused on the melody, not quite as bulldozing. Also, there’s handclaps. Handclaps make everything better.
Ken: The “Julia Armant” 7″ (the 2nd song written by Family Curse, the first being “Last Days”) came from a batch of songs from our very first recording session with the original FC line up in May 2011. The original line up was Erick, Jordan Sommers (bass), Sam Roudman (drums) and myself. Jordan Lovelace engineered that first Family Curse recording session in his band Tournament’s rehersal space in Bushwick. We recorded the music for 6 (maybe 5; I forget) songs in an afternoon. Then Jordan and Erick got together a couple times after that and caputured the vocals. Then there was mixing. Jordan first took a crack at that, and after a few rounds we handed the 2 songs we chose for the first 7″ off to Alex Newport (Future Shock Studios, guitarist and vocalist for Fudge Tunnel, producer of many many things you’ve heard of) who had the ear and the gear to really fill out the fantastic recordings that Jordan made for us. The process for this first batch was a little bit DIY, a little bit pro, and a lot bit all over the place. But fun.
The LP. That was a little bigger of a production.
First of all, we had just finished writing and learning songs with the new rhythm section (Sommers and Roudman departed FC at the end of 2011 just after the release of the Julia 7″). This time around we had Joey Andrew Santa Maria on bass, and Chris Kulcsar (singer for This Moment in Black History; guitar player for Chargers Street Gang) on drums. The new lineup meant a different, less ridged vibe for some of the old songs, and a greater sense of ease in writing of new song; this is maybe evident in the tonal shift of the new songs vs. the old songs.
We worked with Producer Jeremy Scott of The Civil Defense and Recorded over 3 days at BC Studio in Gowanus. If you’re not familiar with BC Studio … It’s owned by famed producer Martin Bisi, and it’s where Sonic Youth recorded Evol and Bad Moon Rising and Herbie Hancock recorded Rockit. We had more room (literally and scheduling-wise) to mess around with capturing the sounds and experimenting with overdubs. The rooms there are amazing, like a not-so-damp dungeon, with rugs.
We mixed across the street in Gowanus at Civil Defense before it was whisked away by Sandy. And finally mastered everything with Josh Bonati in Dumbo. The whole process took like 300 years. Then another 300 for the record to be pressed and the covers to be printed. The final result of “Julia” from that session is much more shimmery, big, and warm sounding. Couple that with the new take on the drum and bass parts, the song is a nearly completely different beast. There are parts in both versions that I like more in one than the other, but I wouldn’t say I favor one over the other. Each has admirable qualities. It is still one of my favorite songs in our set to play.
What does the concept of “twilight language” mean to you?
Ken: I kept myself in the dark on the actual meaning of the phrase on purpose, as I didn’t want to ruin the vivid imagery it evokes in my mind’s eye. It should suffice to say that it made me think of ghosts making out and the libidos of other things that go bump in the night.
Erick: I assume your readers know how to search the internet, so I’ll let them wade through the numerous interpretations and intentions of the phrase. And I highly encourage that, it’s interesting stuff.
My main take on “twilight language” is that essentially all communication in our current world is scrambled, short-circuited. Nothing means nothing anymore. Despite the Babel of the world wide web, people still feel voiceless. Art is dead, theatre is dead, TV is death, and even perpetual war fades into the background of endless information. The Beatles cannot happen again. No speech will ever match “I have a dream.” The only way to communicate to a large mass of people is by performing a drastic action that people will be forced to confront. Sandy Hook. Columbine. Charles Manson. Anders Breivik. 1972 Munich Olympics. Baader-Meinhof. Oklahoma City. 9/11. And countless others. They seem to be multiplying, like a virus. And the ultimate irony is – we don’t even hear these cries for understanding. The suffering of others becomes its own entertainment. Cheers!
There’s a song on the album called “NY NY NY.” Does the city serve as a kind of songwriting muse to everyone in the band?
Ken: For me, no. Maybe…inadvertently. Sure. There’s a lot of textures around this city of ours; I suppose they could slip in to one’s headspace while writing. I like to think I try not to sound like something coming out of New York and more like something coming out of a Doctor Who episode.
Erick: It’s virtually impossible to live in New York City and not have it affect you, and thus, your creative spirit The city wavers between exhilarating and inspiring to deadening and infuriating. Sometimes it feels like New York has just curb-stomped you and left you to die in the middle of the street. “NY NY NY” is a fuck-you love-letter to the Naked City. Long may she continue to be a moody, fickle bitch.
What are you currently reading?
Ken: On Deception by Harry Houdini, A Feast For Crows By George R.R. Martin, and a slew of comic books.
Erick: Bus-stop billboards, miserable looks on people’s faces, runes, and the occasional Theosophy pamphlet.
As Twilight Language winds down, the titles become harsher and harsher: “Trench Warface” and “Scorched Earth Policy” both come to mind. Was that a conscious choice as you arranged the album? And if so, where do you go from there?
Erick: Twilight Language is, in the end, like most things, about death. All kinds of death. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision; although I do like how the album flows.
Where do we go from here? Well, I suppose we could head back into the light. So, our next record will have triumphant horns and maybe some synth-bass.
Ken: I had nothing to do with the naming of the songs, that’s Erick’s thing. What I can tell you is that most of the older songs are on the B-side of the record. Maybe those are more aggro, because I was still drinking back then. I quit shortly after the new guys joined up and that’s when we wrote most of the songs on the A-side of the record. I feel like it has been evident in the newer songs. Especially on the songs we’re working on in the studio now. They’re more patient, and pronounced and in less of a hurry to spit themselves out. Calculation has become much more important… for me anyway.
Photo: Jackie Roman