It's about high time that we had another Mick Dillingham Interviews feature. This is a hectic time for Mick with another couple of interviews coming up in the near future.
Here at IDHAS, we are big admirers of the magnificent Psych Pop purveyors, Luck Of Eden Hall. We also love Curvey's latest project, Custard Flux. So we thought it was about time that we caught up with the great man. Mick found out all about Custard Flux, including a track by track breakdown of the Helium album and much more.
Mick: So you moved from Chicago to Detroit. That must have been quite an upheaval for you both physically and emotionally.
Curvey: Yes. I really had no desire to leave Chicago, and my house that I’d been pouring my heart and soul into for ten years. But my wife was really burned out from working for the City of Chicago for twenty years and she was receiving job offers from all around the country.
So we decided to make the move for her career. I thought I could handle it, but it has really taken a toll on me psychologically. Detroit has a great music history, but I haven’t had much luck finding local musicians to play with and it’s been quite depressing.
Mick: So how did the Custard Flux project first germinate in your mind?
Curvey: My friend Lee Klawans, a great photographer and man of many talents, was managing an estate sale in Chicago, where they were selling an old harmonium, or pump organ. He told me that I should see it and that I’d fall in love with it, so I rented a trailer and drove from Detroit to Chicago to have a look.
Jim Licka had one in his keyboard emporium that I used to play on and I’d been wanting one of my own, so I bought the harmonium and brought it back to Detroit. I played on it for about a week before it started to fall apart. First, one of the old straps that work the bellows ripped, so I replaced both of them. Then the mechanism that allows you to play an octave higher without touching the keys broke.
So I ended up taking the Harmonium apart and gave it a thorough cleaning and replaced all of the felt pads and cloth hinges. Once I had it all back together, it was just about as good as new. My fantasy was, or is, to set up in the park and play progressive psych pop without any amps or p.a. A green dream, if you will, to share with the kiddies.
Mick: How did the recording process and musical approach taken differ from Eden Hall, what challenges did you encounter and what lessons did you learn from setting yourself this goal?
Curvey: On this project I wanted every instrument to be recorded with microphones, not plugged in directly, to give the songs a true acoustic feel. I don’t own an acoustic bass, so I had to borrow one from my friend Steven Chamberlin and it sounded fantastic when recorded. I never mic the bass when I’m tracking songs for The Luck Of Eden Hall. I always use amp software for that and occasionally for my guitar sounds too.
Another big difference is that I didn’t use a click track for most of the songs this time. My studio’s in the basement and my piano is on the first floor, so I had to run mic cables through a hole where radiator pipes pass through the floor to be able to record the piano. My headphones wouldn’t cover the distance, so I had to track the piano first and use it as a guide for recording the drums and the rest of the tracks.
That really helped give the songs a different feeling. I basically approached mixing the songs the same way I do with Eden Hall. As far as panning, I just limited the effects used to reverb and delay. I did learn a lot about blending acoustic sounds on this project, but it’s basically the same as mixing electrified noise.
Mick: In your mind did the songwriting process differ in anyway from what you’d done before….were you conscious of writing Custard Flux songs rather than Eden Hall songs or did you just write songs as normal and then let the creative approach turn them into something else?
Curvey: I wanted Custard Flux to be more progressive than it turned out, but pop songs flow out of me like slag. I had written a slew of tracks that were starting to lose their appeal and then The Hit Parade happened. I really liked the different time signatures in that song and tried to write more songs that way to break out of the typical pop mould.
Songs usually come to me eighty percent complete, and yes, I was very conscious of writing acoustic songs for this project. I knew I wanted to include a few instrumental tracks, but most of the ideas I had required electric guitar and echoplex. I saved a few to flush out for the second release.
Mick: If you had to sit down and re-record any of the tracks as Eden Hall versions how different do you think they would be. Are there tracks on the Flux album that you couldn’t fathom how to do an Eden Hall version?
Curvey: Oh, I think they’d all work as The Luck Of Eden Hall songs. Some of the tracks would be much heavier and psychedelically blown out, to be sure. I actually had a hard time not putting down more electric guitar solos on these songs, because I hear them in my head that way. There’s no sustain when using an acoustic guitar, so I really had to practice my scales, which has really improved my skills.
Mick: How about a track by track breakdown of the album.
Curvey: The Hit Parade. This track was written around the beginning phrase and the “I feel better” chorus. I liked the sound of the riff being doubled on piano and guitar. The lyrics are all about the high you get when you create something new artistically that’s well received by critics and the public.
Forevermore. I wrote this on the harmonium, but was really pleased the first time I heard the piano and harmonium parts together. It created a real dreamy circus feeling. The lyrics are about the current dingbat U.S. president and his administration.
Empyrean House. I wrote this track for a collaboration I did with Icarus Peel. I’d finger picked the guitar on the version he released, which was beautiful and mellow and I decided to rework the song for this project after playing it on my Harmonium. The lyrics are about experiences I’ve had in the wild, on mountains and in India, how man is really out of balance with nature.
Tiger. I really liked this riff. I record melodies on my phone for later use and it was one I’d thrown down. The chorus lyrics are from a Buddhist saying. My friend Gregory Chamberlin, who let me use his art for this project, is Buddhist and I wrote it for him, but it’s really about me.
The Shire Of Gingin. The name of an Australian town I’d passed while on vacation. Actually my wife was asked to speak at a conference in Perth and I was her baggage boy. I thought it would make a good song title, so I logged it into my handy dandy iBrain phone. The lick felt like dark magic and I had to learn a completely different set of scales to be able to riff on top of it, which was fun. I imagined the shire swirling with magic and genies.
Sleepy. This was written on the piano and is one of my favourites on the album. I really like the riff, which got a little buried in the final mix. I recorded most of the piano tracks on this album with the sostenuto pedal pressed, letting the piano strings ring. The song is about being lonely.
La Mort. I had this happy riff and couldn’t seem to turn it into a lyrical song, so I played solos over it and let an ominous blanket of dark harmonium engulf the end. The drums were added last. I was picturing a happy child blindly running through a field of daisies and tripping into an old well. I hope that doesn’t ruin it for you.
Out Of Phase. This is a track that was left over from The Acceleration Of Time sessions. I liked how it sounded on the piano, so I rearranged it and added the trippy ending. It’s all about relationships.
Golden Opportunity. I wrote this while on tour in England. I’d played at Kozfest and saw Soft Machine, who blew me away, and it rained the entire weekend. The mud was thick and hungry for wellies. I had a great time.
Tiger Reprise. Believe it or not, all the parts in this song were recorded as part of the Tiger track, but I decided to strip Tiger down for the final mix. I liked my solos and the drum part, so I mixed this version without vocals.
Helium. Written on piano. The Floydian bass line brought it home for me. I’d nearly scrapped it for being too pop, but I really liked the lyrics. Dreaming about the queen of psych. I was originally going to title the album Harmonium Chrysanthemum, but decided it was a little misleading and one of Gregory’s paintings reminded me of a helium balloon, so I made this the title track.
Bonus Disc. All of the original songs on the bonus disk, except for Innermission, were early songs I’d written for Custard Flux that fell out of favour. I’d grown tired of them. It’s usually a sign for me that I shouldn’t release the song if that starts to happen, but I remixed them and added parts that made them more interesting to me again.
Sweetened Hallowed. I premiered this song last summer at the Halfmoon in Putney. It’s a made up story about a beautiful, nice lady who gives money to children for candy.
The Feline Hallucination. Written on guitar, and a little more jazzy. Another fictitious story, this time about a guy who’s lost his mind. Me.
Innermission. Written on piano. One of my favourite instrumental tracks and I was very happy to get artist Shane Swank to create a music video for the song. You can check it out on YouTube.
Ascending Stories. The music for this was written on guitar after returning from tour a couple years ago, but I finished up the lyrics for this project. It’s about fighting depression.
Mick: So you put together a live band, how did that go?
Curvey: Well, I wish that were true, but I haven’t put together a live band. I’d really like to find some local like-minded musicians, but the Detroit scene is about electronica, Jazz, or hard and heavy rock. Everyone’s already in three bands, or committed to another group. I really wish I lived in England!
Mick: How has the response to the album been so far?
Curvey: Fantastic! The first review was out of Moscow, and blew me away. Shindig and Record Collector magazines have agreed to review it and I’m working on getting more. I’m so behind in my promoting. I’ll tell you I’m really happy to be talking to you again!
Mick: As ever you’ve come up with another dazzling limited special edition CD version. How was putting all that together?
Curvey: I wanted Custard Flux to look different than my usual releases and was extremely thrilled when my friend Gregory Chamberlin agreed to to let me use his paintings for the album art. That too was a lot of pressure off me from coming up with artwork. About four years ago, my wife and I backed the production of Glowforge, a laser cutting machine, because we could get one for half price.
It took three years for them to get the bugs in their design worked out and our unit arrived last year. I knew I couldn’t hand cut anything out with exacto blades anymore, because of the pain it causes in my hands. A laser cutter seemed perfect for one of my CD projects or possibly an etched vinyl edition.
I looked into pressing vinyl locally, but the cost was way too much, so I decided on a CD Box Set. The laser can etch images beautifully into wood. As I started pricing out the supplies needed for each Box Set, including wood, hinges, CDs, a booklet and postcards. I ran across some boxes for wedding DVDs that were already assembled with hinges and a latch.
They were one third of the price that it was going to cost me to make each box, so I ordered ten to test how they worked under the laser and was pretty pleased with the result. I had the CDs manufactured at Diskfaktory, where I’ve had CDs made since Subterrene’s release. Had 100 of each postcard printed by a place I found online.
The 16 page booklets were printed locally, and I saved money by assembling and stapling each one myself. Then I put the printed pieces in a paper envelope and sealed it with a wax stamp. The positive feedback that I’ve received from customers has been rewarding.
Mick: You say something about the CD version being edited?
Curvey: Yes, what I mean by that is some of the songs fade into one another. If you download the songs from the Custard Flux Bandcamp page, each one is completely separate.
Mick: Will there ever be a second flux album at some point or is this a one off.
Curvey: Oh yes. Number two is already starting to form in the ether.
Mick: Future plans?
Curvey: I’ve just finished up a recording session with Tim Ferguson from The Red Plastic Buddha and the three songs we tracked need to be released. Keith at Fruits de Mer Records has asked me to piece together songs The Luck Of Eden Hall has previously released on the label, plus a couple new cover tracks, including one recorded with members of Sendelica, for a new compilation LP.
Mark Lofgren and I will be getting together this winter to start on a new album for The Luck Of Eden Hall. I’ve been asked to record drum tracks for a project Andy Budge is working on and I need to finish up my work on a live album recorded in Glastonbury with The Cary Grace Band and Andy Thompson. That should keep me busy!
You can listen to and buy the Custard Flux album, Helium, as a download, CD or Deluxe CD Set (as mentioned above), here. You can find more about the delights of The Luck Of Eden Hall here.