Last modified on October 4, 1995.
After seven-and-a-half years [sic -- actually six-and-a-half] years, the Curtain Society is threatening to become the group that finally breaks out of Worcester.
Carefully following the recipe for success, they released Inertia, their first CD, on a nationally distributed independent label. Major Boston radio stations are playing it.
They've performed a lunchtime concert for WFNX, been invited to WBCN, performed live on Tufts University's WMFO, and had influential underground broadcaster WMBR sponsor a party for the record label.
The Middle East Cafe in Cambridge had to hang the sold out sign last month at Inertia's release party. The Middle East has served as a stepping stone to a major record label contract for numerous Boston acts, most recently Letters to Cleo and Morphine.
On Saturday, March 11, they appear at Ralph's, 95 Prescott St. The following night, they'll be at Brownie's in New York City. Endless hours of hard work have begun to pay off.
"We've become respected and appreciated," said guitarist and vocalist Roger Lavallee. "It's as if the wind had been blowing against you for so many years and then it totally shifts, going your way."
The Curtain Society debuted on December 16, 1988, at the original Worcester Artist Group facility on Harlow Street. "It was a great gig, but I wouldn't want to look at the videotape now," Lavallee laughed.
Numerous demo recordings were followed by a cassette-only album. They got widespread distribution for their 45s by hooking up with Bedazzled Records of Washington, D.C. Soon, a compilation CD to benefit AIDS Action Committee Boston, featured one of their songs.
They embarked on a mini-tour of Detroit, Toronto and Providence last summer, shortly after drummer Duncan Arsenault joined the band, replacing original drummer Jeff Paul. Bassist Ron Mominee completes the lineup.
"It's always tough changing members after five-and-a-half years," said Lavallee. "Having a totally different element coming in that doesn't necessarily know where you come from and share the same influences is really awkward."
A shared musical understanding was important to the group's ethereal sounding material, the majority of which was born in the recording studio.
"I wasn't there in the studio when they created that mood, so I didn't know what they wanted to get across," said Arsenault. "It took me a few months to finally get hold of what they wanted and what I wanted."
Inertia was produced as a group effort at Sound of Glass Studio in West Boylston. The CD has given the group confidence it didn't have before.
"We're really proud of it," said Lavallee. "We wrote it, recorded it, mastered it. did the artwork, and pressed it in record time."
The pressure imposed by having a record release party scheduled before the band had even begun recording gave the album an edge not found in earlier Curtain Society recordings.
"We did every song, basically, in two tries," Lavallee said. "The vibes were just great. For the most part, we kept those original tracks. We just added more guitar and vocal tracks later."
With an impending deadline fast approaching, Lavallee and Arsenault drove all night to Toronto to master the finished product with Chris Parry [sic] of An April March.
Multi-layered production has been a trademark of earlier Curtain Society releases. Inertia has more of a live sound.
"It's not polished like a Styx album," said Lavallee. "We're not relying on drowning everything with reverb and echoes like we did in the past. We let the songs speak for themselves."
"Kissherface" opens the album with a spring thunderstorm of ringing guitars, "Holland" may steal some Duran Duran fans, and "You Never" is the third hit Wang Chung never had. Lavallee's British pop music roots bleed profusely.
"I'm a total glutton for '80s cheese pop," he admitted. "As a songwriter, I come from a cheesy '70s Cheap Trick background and that's basically where my songwriting skills were honed. The music I listened to growing up, it was like a guilty pleasure."
The dreamy "Ferris Wheel" and "Swing" display Lavallee's growth as a singer and a songwriter. Where earlier recordings barely revealed personal insecurities, his latest compositions explore the reasons behind those feelings.
Arsenault's crisp drumming, which sets "Plaster" into high gear, is soon joined by the frenzied swirl of Lavallee's guitar and Mominee's pulsating bass. Backward tracking brings the song to an apocalyptic conclusion, setting the table for the powerfully gentle and emotional "September Scar Two." The band may find itself a dance club hit with the "inert mix" of "Kissherface." Two compositions originally released on 45, "All Over You" and "No Answer," conclude the CD.
Lavallee, who hosts a Sunday night program on WICN, is surprised area bands don't distribute their material to a wider audience.
"Nobody ever calls and says, 'Hey, we have a new album out, can we do an interview?'" he said. "People just don't realize how easy it is."
While the cassette-only Where Are You gained the Curtain Society positive press, college radio airplay, and the attention of Bedazzled, the medium has its shortcomings.
"Radio stations don't really touch cassettes," said Lavallee. "Seven-inchers are an actual sellable product that radio stations will play and record stores will sell. People will take you slightly seriously, but not as seriously as they will if you have a CD."
The Curtain Society and Boston's Mistle Thrust [sic] recently hosted a Bedazzled night at T.T. the Bear's in Cambridge. They were joined by labelmates Siddal (Washington, D.C.), An April March (Toronto), and Viola Peacock (Detroit).
It's the greatest thing to know that there's this family of all these people speckled throughout the country," said Mominee.
Bedazzled is handling Inertia's national marketing campaign, while the group is placing advertising in Alternative Press, B-Side, and selected fanzines. Radio stations nationwide that report to the College Music Journal will receive copies of the CD this week, and a national tracking company has been hired to keep tabs on the disc's airplay.
As the recording makes its way up college radio charts, the studio it was created in, Sound of Glass, has closed its doors. Lavallee and owner Charles Blaum made it possible for many area bands to produce and release their own material at an affordable rate.
Lavallee has started working at Players Studio in Boston, where he recently produced Mistle Thrust [sic]. His past production credits include alternapop rockers Puddle, Huck and Jive Lama, plus hard-core outfits Thundercock, Knockdown, Overcast and Dive. He recently finished work on Beyond Id's latest project and two songs for an upcoming Apostrophe 45 by the Drones. Last May, he produced Mecca Normal's "Something To Be Said," a highlight of their debut Matador LP, Sitting on Snaps.
The Worcester scene received a much needed boost during The Curtain Society's Feb. 19 appearance on Boston Emissions, WBCN's local music program. The group had been invited to appear by regular host Albert O.
"He loved the album," said Barry Dennis of Bedlam Productions, which manages The Curtain Society. "He loved the cassette copy I sent him and set up the interview. It wasn't all that difficult, it was just a matter of doing it." Shred, who sat in for Albert that evening, invited the group to direct other Central Massachusetts recordings to the station.
Every time we do a radio interview we mention some of the other bands," Lavallee said. "I've seen a lot of local Worcester bands that have a shot to blow the market wide open. It's just a matter of taking the steps and make people take you seriously."
This file is part of The GweepNet Indie Music Archive. GIMA is personally maintained by its caretakers, not by the featured bands. Any lyrics, sound clips, images or other materials in the archive have been included with the permission of the appropriate bands. Any reproductions made without the written consent of the authors is strictly prohibited. If you have any comments, suggestions, or ideas for additions to these pages, drop one of us (or all of us -- email is good) a note.
If you're in the Worcester area, try dialing up The GweepNet IV BBS, (508) 791-6903, and experience "our living room on the net."