DPRP’s Brian Watson recently got a chance to put some questions to Jim Radford and Sean Dunlop of UK / US band These Curious Thoughts, who released last year’s DPRP recommended album Let’s See What 2morrow Brings
Your first meeting in Peru sounds cool. Can you tell us about how a holiday encounter led to the two of you forming a band and making music together?
JIM: It was a pretty chance meeting; I was on a gap year…getting my head together after losing it from studying philosophy and psychology. I was in Peru doing the tourist thing and just happened to be getting a beer at a bar where there was a cool kid with a guitar playing Beatles covers..we chatted about stuff, exchanged emails and started writing songs from there… Peru was amazing.
SEAN: Totally random… Jim walked up and asked if I knew “I am the Walrus.” I played it, then we started chatting about the lyrics and Jim told me he was a lyricist. We shared some pints and had an interesting conversation with a local about the ancient history of the Mound Builders and its secret society. The local took us on a walking tour the next day to some of the Mound Builder’s secret sites. Peru was truly amazing. After that, we kept in touch and started writing music.
JIM: Well the previous band we were both in (Shock Of The Cold) did pretty well around the Detroit area- we recorded (4 albums) played loads of gigs, built up a reasonable fan base and competed in the Emergenza Battle Of The Bands – making it all the way to the final…oh we also did a few shows in New York…they were pretty crazy- the guys went without sleep for like 4 days, camped in the woods, got chased by bears and then the night of the gig the doorman got knocked out by the guitarist!
Alas as with most bands time caught up with us and everyone grew up and drifted apart…however from the ashes of that These Curious Thoughts emerged.
SEAN: Shock of the Cold was a great band. The New York trip was crazy-fun. We had a tight group of musicians and friends creating and performing some terrific sounds. Unfortunately, the time came when life’s obligations reared their dirty heads and ended the band.
How was the reaction to your last, DPRP recommended album, Let’s See What 2moro Brings?
JIM: Pretty good… everyone we played the record to really dug our sound and everyone we sent the album to in the press was very complimentary and said nice things… it’s a shame that we couldn’t play the songs live though to see how they’d go down… we are looking to change that this year though…
SEAN: Yeah, I would say it was well received by our fans and those in the industry who had a listen. I think the 2moro Album was a great album and I think our sound became a tad more matured and I think people took notice to that.
What are the logistical issues involved in recording 3000 or so miles apart? I’m guessing technology plays its part – how do you get to a finished album and when do you know it’s ‘ready’?
JIM: Man if it wasn’t for the internet and phones we would need a piece of very long string and two cans….ha. Most of the songs on “Mountains” have been kicking about for a few years..Sean did write a couple of new ones for it…we are writing songs all the time so have 30 or so at anytime we can go back to when we decide to get an album together… Personally I knew the album was ready when we decided the track listing and the concept for Mountains… We played all the demos of the finished songs in order and it just clicked…
SEAN: I think that we have mastered the art of writing songs together while so far away. In the beginning it was only email communications. Then we entered the phone conversation into the mix which created a whole another element. When Jim finally came to America in 2007 that sealed the deal, we wrote a couple of tunes in person. Now we have Skype and it has changed everything. We can hang out and chat as well as work on writing music. This exercise in musical creativity could not have happened and grown without the advances in today’s technologies. Regarding the album process, once we have a list of songs, I either build on the demo recordings or record new versions. When the songs have been mixed a million times, I finally settle with one of the mixes and we let it all out to the world.
You did an impressive Youtube electronic press kit for the last album where you talked through the record’s musical and lyrical themes. Using nothing but the power of the written word, how would you summarise the latest album?
I’ve Got God on the Phone
JIM: This has been knocking around since the Shock days – it was originally called Lord Don’t Slow Me Down… a homage to an Oasis song of the same title…but then we changed it…there is a demo of that song online with a cool video… You need to see Sean’s dancing!
SEAN: Haha, yeah the original is a bit nutty with my dancing… This version of the song is very much a reflection of the way Shock use to perform it.
JIM: Lyrically this song is kind of about our fascination with the “Mound Builders”. They were the prehistoric inhabitants of North America who, during a 5,000-year period, constructed various styles of earthen mounds for religious and ceremonial, burial, and elite residential purposes…
SEAN: The Mound Builders were and still are some quite interesting people. Their teachings are even more interesting. I think that’s what this song is moving towards. I wanted it to sound like it was me with an acoustic guitar playing surrounded by the Mound Builders on drums and then an alien playing his spaceship effects in the background…
JIM: There is a cool brewery that makes some awesome ales called Darkstar – I thought it sounded cool so wrote some words based on Darkstar as a title…
SEAN: This song has been around since the very end of Shock. We always liked it and I thought it would be nicely feature on this album.
Building Mountains from the Ground
JIM: Another song about worshiping the sky and communicating with various gods via some kind of conduit… we have kind of become obsessed with this notion…much like Ivo Shandor who worshipped Gozer the Gozerian, a Sumerian shape god of destruction…he made skyscrapers…look him up!
SEAN: Yes, this song embodies the Mound Builder’s ideology. The album was close to finished, and Jim sent over this lyric. It was originally titled Aristotle, but when I read the lyric, I said, nope, this is the title track, now I need to write a sweet song…
Nothing is Supernatural
JIM: I generally dismiss all religion and the accepted logic of science… many years ago if you believed in atoms you would have been burnt at the stake… now if you say you believe in god people think you’re nuts… I know a few…
SEAN: I am pretty moderate in my views on spirituality and religion. I don’t dismiss it, but I do like the physiological and philosophical exercise regarding challenging our belief systems in order to make them stronger. Don’t take anything at face value…
JIM: I would love to say this song is about David Copperfield but it’s not..in truth I think it’s about that feeling that everyone to some degree is acting…we all pretend to be something we not…we use smoke and mirrors and subtle sleight of hand to hide in plain sight….
SEAN: This musical tune actually came from a song I wrote my girlfriend. Jim’s lyrics fit better than my stupid love you stuff. This is one of my favorite tunes on the album.
Arctic Heart Attack
JIM: Imagine Sting dressed as a Yeti singing about Arctic Rain Forests with his Inuit friends as a backing band… that’s what I do when I hear this song… I also think about the cool hideout Ozymandias has in the graphic novel The Watchmen…
SEAN: This is another older tune. Its been around for awhile, and one of our faves. It’s our little environmental/political-esque argument.
A World of Dirty Water
JIM: I love Sean’s piano playing on this, the dude is so talented, he can basically play anything… I heard he once got a tune out of an old shoe… I think this song is about how shitty the world is these days… cheery eh?
SEAN: The trick was there was a mouse in the shoe that squeaked and made the shoe sound like a flute… This song is sweet. I added in some little sound effects to try to help visualize the song. If our music can create more images in people’s minds, then it will be remembered.
10 Days After
JIM: I have epilepsy… nothing too severe but after watching Control… a film about Ian Curtis from Joy Division I learnt that ten days after he hung himself I was born… this song imagines I am the reincarnated soul of a post punk singer… how cool would that be?
SEAN: Pretty cool Jim. This tune has got some great little moments in it.
JIM: I think I was thinking of the film Rainman… about the genius of Dustin Hoffman’s character (and acting) he is childlike and naive… what a way to live.
SEAN: I felt like Rainman during the recording… “13 minutes to Judge Wapner!”
I’m Not Insane
JIM: If your reading this and have gotten this far then you would have twigged that I am quite surreal… I often get accused of madness…
SEAN: This song is nuts. I remember when we first wrote it back in 2008 I did a little video to send Jim of the demo… its crazy. I think its still on YouTube somewhere…
JIM: We were monkeys, we became men, we went to space, we came back and they blew it all up… the manicacs…
SEAN: Again, I wanted to create a visual song with sound effects and such. This song is a good question posed by Jim. I wanted to take the listener on a historical ride that ended in bloodshed and rioting which you can hear in the background. Those are actual sound clips from videos of current events.
JIM: Every Friday night people go out and get drunk then tear into each other like animals- it’s in our nature to destroy ourselves but I guess as long as we have fun most people don’t care…
SEAN: This song is cool. It’s a bit different from some other tunes we have done. The chorus basically stays on one note for its entirety. There are some Mound Builder messages played backward in there as well.
JIM: Given What I just said about animals it’s nice to just get along-y’know just block out the bad and smile…
SEAN: This song was written around Christmas 2010. During that time of year you feel that human nature is good and that maybe we could all get alo… but them turn the news on January 1st, and remember the world is a messed up place.
When God was a Boy
JIM: That feeling that you’re old and everything else around you is dying… it’s sad to think what you were like as a child and realise that person isn’t who you are now… I guess reality washes away the innocence and the dreams we all once had…
SEAN: To me, this song means that humans have been around so much longer than the popular Western perceived view of God. I feel that I am speaking for universal human-being when I sing, “I was old when God was a Boy.” This song combines some old piano riffs I had and a new song to create a wonderful end to the album.
This album really takes the listener on a journey exploring our belief systems, history, mankind, self-awareness, evolution and again, religion. It’s a nice little trip compacted into an hour of good tunes. Writing music with Jim reminds me of reading a Hardy Boys book. You get to choose how the story will read…
JIM: We are working on two at the moment- one is more soft- a love album, the other is untitled but should be sweet, we have some song ideas down and some songs demoed… I am looking forward to hearing Backpack Full Of Tears and Jupiter’s Baby…
SEAN: The next album should be a nice breather, a bit lighter lyrically and musically. The one after already has some monster songs on it… I am excited…
Would you consider yourselves a ‘progressive rock’ band? How do you conceptualise the term and what do you make of the current prog ‘scene’?
JIM: I’m not sure what is meant by “progressive rock” to be honest… people have said we sound a bit like R.E.M with proggy undertones… we just write music and some people have said it sounds progressive… I like Oceansize, King Crimson and Pink Floyd… I’m not aware of what’s out there at the moment – though having read Brian’s interview Glass Hammer seems cool…
SEAN: Yeah, I would consider us a progressive band. Our sound is artistic and ever-changing. I think the prog scene has some good artists out there and I think people will turn on to the fact that there are still viable creative artists out there, you just have listen…
Influence-wise, who floats your boat musically and lyrically?
JIM: I love Modest Mouse, Oasis, The Beatles, Nirvana… they are my favorites but I will basically listen to anything…
Lyrically I would say Kurt Cobain, Issac Brook and David Bowie... pretty cool sounding odd lyrics are my thang…
SEAN: To feed my music engine, it takes classical music, musicals, 60s & 70s, and 90s grunge, and a handful of newer artists. I really do love all music.
What’s on the car stereo at the moment?
JIM: I don’t own a car!..but on the train I have been listening to Man Alive by Everything and Mines by Menomana
SEAN: Usually its one of our albums or demos I am currently working on. I think I was listening to Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album last…
If I pressed shuffle on your i-pod or similar musical device what would I be likely to get?
JIM: I just put my Zen on random and these are the five that came up
Anything More – Spiritulized
Rag & Bone – The White Stripes
Light of Love – T-Rex
Easy/Lucky/Free – Bright Eyes
Neon Wilderness – The Verve
SEAN: I just did the same and this is what I got…
Italian Leather Sofa – Cake
Friday Night – G. Love
Big Me – Foo Fighters
Codes and Keys – Death Cab for Cutie
Care in the Community – These Curious Thoughts
There’s mention that the band might go on the road – any news on this and would Europe get a look in?
JIM: It’s early days with rehearsals at the moment and touring depends on Nate and Nasty Sean- they are family guys (not like the cartoon) so extensive touring might be tricky…
SEAN: The live sound is coming together nicely. I anticipate some local gigs in the coming months. Europe is on the wish-list, we just need some more fans there!
What do you make of the resurgence of vinyl? Is there a ‘rose-tinted spectacle’ thing going on as I remember vividly LPs that jumped and skipped, and had to be returned to the record store, only for the replacement to do the same. I must have had 3 or 4 copies of Yesshows for example in the ‘80s before I got one that played on my Denon kit – a pressing fault I was told. Do you sell more ‘physical’ CDs or downloads and where do you see the music industry in, say, 5 years?
JIM: I think we have a few hard copies but being a virtual band has meant embracing the digital age so its downloads all the way…in 5 years time I think there will only be one band per continent and all wars will be settled via a battle of the bands scenario…like the film Robotjox…mixed with Rockband!
Thanks very much for your time, guys. It’s much appreciated. One band per continent would certainly make this reviewing lark easier.
Official website: http://www.thesecuriousthoughts.com/