Last modified on October 4, 1995.
The posters surrounding Roger Lavallee and Ron Momine [sic] of the Curtain Society at their downtown Worcester practice room display the names of some of their musical counterparts: Caterwaul, the Catherine Wheel, House of Love, Ocean Color Scene and...
"The Cure poster belongs to Puddle," Lavallee quickly interjected, having spent much of his group's existence combating the perception that they're a clone of the British pop supergroup.
"People who don't take the time to listen to what we are doing just kind of pass us off," said the 22-year-old, whose hair naturally resembles that of Cure front man Robert Smith. Many local clubgoers have taken that similarity to signify the band's identity.
Another factor that has led to a possible misunderstanding of the band's music is the great attention Curtain Society has received from magazines that have clumped them in with the gothic rock movement.
"We're not really a gothic band," Lavallee said, "but we've done a lot of (interviews in) gothic fanzines such as Phantasmagoria, Isolation and Esthetics, Vigilante, stuff like that."
Carol Page's book, Bloodlust: Conversations with Real Live Vampires, listed Curtain Society as a band to see. The articles have brought letters and requests for tapes from as far away as Japan and Kenya, and the group recently received an interview request from a writer in Brazil.
The Curtain Society convenes locally on Saturday, Nov. 20, at Ralph's, 95 Prescott St., where they'll help Puddle celebrate the release of the latter band's first full-length cassette, ...and they all begin with A.
Founded in 1988 in Southbridge by guitarist and vocalist Lavallee, bassist Ron Momine [sic] and drummer Jeff Paul, the Curtain Society has found the Worcester scene a tough market to break. They've followed the guide to success perfectly, aggressively promoting their shows by leaving endless leaflets on music store countertops and clubgoers' windshields, postering the city's college campuses and constantly supplying local radio with professionally recorded material of catchy pop songs that the rules of punk rock say you weren't supposed to like... but three hours later, you mysteriously find yourself singing them in your sleep.
Their seventh cassette release, Where Are You?, is an infectious 12-song collection that should be gaining the group new fans. However, widespread distribution of the material has been hindered by the group's inability to afford to press it in the more radio-friendly CD format.
"The problem is getting it to the people to hear it," Lavallee said. "I'm sure there's a lot more people in the Worcester area that would be into this kind of music that don't have any idea that we exist, or have any idea what we sound like." He describes the band's sound as "weird combinations of American hookiness and this swirly wall of sound that came out of my playing in my room with my equipment, flangers and delays."
The album is deliberately layered with experimental guitar tracks, vocals and effects and "a lot of backward tricks and a lot of odd production things that you probably wouldn't even notice -- but you would notice if it wasn't there."
Broken friendships and romances are Curtain Society's main subject fodder and Lavallee doesn't bother hiding the identities of those who've shattered his heart.
"A lot of the songs were written at very tring times in my life," Lavallee said. The Where Are You? album was written during one of those periods. "It was the best time to do it. I just separated myself from everything and I locked myself in the studio and let everything go out; I was bawling in the studio when I was doing vocal tracks for some of the songs."
The album also features the group's second single, "Chelsea," which is being distributed nationally by the Washington D.C.-based Bedazzled records and "No Answer," which was released earlier this year in conjunction with the Toronto-based An April March.
"Chelsea" is a strange choice to introduce the band to a national audience. It starts slowly, and it's doubtful the uninitiated will hear it enough times to let its trance-like lyrics ingrain themselves into their brains. "Destiny Again," "Dead and Gone" or "Naked" have better hooks, sound more radio-friendly and are more capable of leaving the all-important, good first impression.
Lavallee works out of Sound of Glass recording studio in West Boylston. Owner Charles Blaum used to explore the possibilities of sound as lead guitarist for the Nebulas in the early '80s. The two formed an instant kinship. "He is a wealth of knowledge and turned me on to a lot of music and sounds," said Lavallee.
In live performances, Curtain Society attempts to duplicate its studio sound. At a recent show at Ralph's, much of the group's energy was supplied by Momine's [sic] bass playing, which is easily mistaken for lead guitar and is reminiscent of the playing of Milton Gentry, bass player for the Nebulas.
Watching a Curtain Society performance is like visiting Stonehenge. There could be druids or there could be rocks, mystery or shamanship, ecstacy or fraud. Just as modern-day visitors wish the barriers surrounding the monuments would be removed, one hopes that Lavallee would just once come out from his array of effects and truly show Worcester audiences what he and his group are capable of as performers. They are not unlike one of Lavallee's strongest influences, Echo and the Bunnymen, who almost always were greater on record than in performance.
The group currently finds itself in an ironic situation. They've yet to fully circulate Where Are You?, but already must plan new recordings to keep the interest of diehard fans.
"It's kind of subtle," Lavallee said. "You have to listen to it a couple times. It's weird; everybody who likes it had to listen to it a couple times to get into it. Either you don't like that kind of music at all or you pass us off as a Cure clone band. Which we are not."
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