Interview: Curse of the North on the album, Seattle, and streaming music

curseofthenorth

In case you haven’t read the full review, let me fill you in: the sophomore album from Seattle-based Curse of the North is great. It’s one of those albums that could have easily flown under my radar, but man, I’m glad it didn’t. From start to finish, it’s a well-written and brilliantly executed collection of songs that drink from the wells of classic heavy metal, old hard rock, and thrashing sludge ala High on Fire. Recently released through Static Tension Recordings, Curse of the North: I fully warrants your attention and I highly recommend buying a copy. Frontman and guitarist Christiaan Morris was kind enough to lend us his time to talk about the band’s history, their newest album, and the scene around Seattle. 

First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk. I know the band’s plate is pretty full right now with the album release and shows to follow. What’s the story behind how Curse of the North came together? How did you get started with the band, and what has been the main motivation for keeping it going? 

The origins of the Curse are pretty much when Nick Cates and I met. He filled in on bass for my old band and Black Houses for a couple shows. He heard a few of the heavier songs I’d written and was into them, we also both love heavy music, so we started writing music together.  That collaboration is really where Curse began, we have varying tastes and aesthetics that I think really make Curse what it is.  

The main motivation for keeping it going I would say is that same love of writing and playing music we are passionate about.  That and just plain stubbornness. 

Let’s talk about the new album: You’ve taken some big creative steps since your debut, and you especially dial up the intensity on songs like “Blessed Burning.” Did you set out to create a more aggressive album from the get-go, or did it just sort of fall into place when you started writing new material? 

I think we just set out to write the best record we could.  We wanted to make a record that you could listen to over and over again without getting tired of it, something that felt like the records we love, which meant to focus on writing real songs and great riffs.  As far as the aggression of the record, that just came out in the writing process, that and Burke Thomas is a monster drummer, he made everything seem heavier. 

One thing that sticks out about Curse of the North, especially in comparison to a lot of bands from your area, is that you’re firmly entrenched in taking a traditional metal approach. What has it been like to be an “old-school” band amongst a scene that is known more for its abrasive sludge metal? Was it a struggle at first to find your footing in the live circuit? 

Yeah, I don’t think any of us have ever really given a damn what the “scene kids” are doing.  For Curse, it’s always been about staying true to our vision.  About authenticity and being real, I joked with a friend of mine the other day that the word poser wasn’t around anymore, and how that wasn’t a good thing.  There’d probably be a lot more impacting art in the world if people called out the fakes.  As far as the live circuit, we just do our thing and hope people connect with the energy and honesty, it seems to be working. 

Something else I noticed about the new album is that, even though the music definitely nods to the old school musically, you guys are addressing some pretty heavy stuff lyrically—there’s this existential despair vibe, especially on the first two tracks. Can you talk a little more about the lyrical concepts on the album? Are they coming from a mostly personal perspective, or are you taking a different approach? 

Lyrics for me are always deeply personal. In the context of Curse I like to have them match the power of the music, and on this record I wanted to address a lot of the social issues of right now and how they’re affecting me.  Some of the songs are about debt culture and how it enslaves us, about the addictiveness and isolating influence of social media, the loss of personal morality and accountability. But some of them are definitely a  more personal take on how I feel in this maelstrom, Faceless, and Trees in particular are very personal.  I just wanted all the lyrics to be more honest and authentic on this record, which isn’t the norm for heavy music. 

Burke is the newest member in your trio. What’s the dynamic like between you three when writing and recording? What did Burke bring to the table for this album? 

Burke is an unbelievable drummer.  He brings the songs to life in a way no other drummer could, especially the way he and Nick work as a rhythm section.  Christ, sometimes we play shows and he will do even crazier stuff than is on the record and just blows me away.  I can’t imagine Curse without him.  

On a note tangential to lineup changes: In your time together, about five years now, what have been some of the high points and low points that you’ve experienced that have affected the band? 

We’ve definitely had a few bumps in the road. Nick and I are both extremely passionate people and players so when that is working it’s magic, but when it’s not it can be explosive. I think now we are at a place where we understand each other, and use our differences to our advantage.  High points for me are the last year and a half working with Nick and Burke on this record and playing shows together, never been happier with the lineup.  

Static Tension has taken you on board for releasing the album on CD and vinyl. Considering your past two releases have been independently released hat has the experience been so far to work with the label

Working with Static Tension has been great. It’s always a good feeling when you work with people who are as passionate about the music as you are. 

Going off of that, how do you think the landscape of releasing music has changed since you formed the band? Have you found that streaming services and such have negatively affected the band’s ability to continue, or the opposite? 

Streaming is actually something I was in a long discussion with a friend of mine the other day.  Although we agreed on the benefits of streaming music and the access it gives fans, I think our general consensus was that they underpay artists, which obviously affects the music negatively.  The artist royalty for streaming sites like Spotify and iTunes is .0023 cents a play.  That means if your song gets played a thousand times the artist only gets paid 2 cents. A million plays is only 2300 dollars.  These numbers were agreed upon by Congress in the late 90s when streaming wasn’t a predominant way people listened to music. It needs to change, but with tech companies lobbying for those rates to stay down, and only poor musicians or independent labels rallying for change I don’t know how it can.  These sites use the excuse of artist exposure to justify poor artist payment to new or smaller acts, and hold bigger acts hostage with their monopoly status, since radio and MTV aren’t particularly relevant anymore to break acts or access fans, not to mention that record stores are practically gone.  There’s almost a perfect ratio where record stores once were, now there are phone stores.  The tech industry has stolen the music industry, and still uses the rich rock star in the limo as the image to sell to the public as being gluttonous and greedy, when these tech companies are profiting billions, mainly because of these old laws.  Musicians were so happy when the big labels lost steam after Napster and illegal downloading took hold, but how are these giant corporations any better?  I hope it changes soon or there won’t be many new bands, cause after all, musicians have to eat, which most of my friends and colleagues aren’t able to do from making music.  And of course you can’t blame the consumer, who wouldn’t want to pay the cost of one album a month to stream unlimited artists?  

Last question, just for fun: What grinds your gears? Any pet peeves?

Reggae music.  Just hate it.  And yuppies. 

Huge thanks to Christiaan Morris for his time.

– Dustin

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