by Christophe Pauly
– Senior Photojournalist —
James McCurley of Vertica talks about the band, their latest album The Haunted South and more …
Hardrock Haven: First, I’d like to know how Vertica was born? Did you know each other from the beginning?
James McCurley: Vertica began with myself and Josh Ruppert (our bassist), and grew one member at a time with the addition of our first vocalist Meredith King and our guitarist Tyler Downey to now include Emily Brunson who did vocals on The Haunted South. We met through school mostly, as well as other projects throughout the years.
Hardrock Haven: I saw you’ve written every lyric so, was it planned from the beginning to sing alternatively?
James McCurley: That’s true! I started writing lyrics about 7 years ago, and when I started Vertica I felt that if anyone could sing my lyrics and feel something or connect with them, instead of just me, that would be a safe way to see if I was saying what I needed to say. I still get to sing some parts on the record, but I like the sound of two distinct voices for the most part, it’s much more interesting to me.
Hardrock Haven: Yes indeed! I was very surprised by that and that’s a very good thing to notice you have a very different feeling on every song.
James McCurley: Thank you! I really appreciate that, it was a lot of work to get right, I relied very much on my band mates to make it work.
Hardrock Haven: And I think you have done the right choice to express the lyrics meaning the best way possible, it keeps everything fresh and intriguing because when you listen for the first time, you don’t know where the melody is going to lead you and which voice you’re going to hear.
James McCurley: I very much hope so, I’m glad that you noticed that! I never want to get in the way of any value that might be in the lyrics or music. Also, everyone in the band can sing, Emily, Tyler and Josh all have tremendous voices. The main goal was to remain unpredictable!
Hardrock Haven: Musically, this album is quite remarkable. How did you work on the compositions? Did you do it altogether or separately?
James McCurley: That’s very kind of you, thank you. Our general “method” starts with myself forming an initial song idea with lyrics, which I’ll bring to Tyler and Josh so we can flesh it out and arrange it together. Naturally there are songs that were more myself or more the band, but that’s the usual way of things. I tend to play in a lot of, you could say dyslexic tunings in order to write more creatively, so the bands interpretation and additional parts also add a lot to the songs, so everyone is involved at some point or another. Compositionally my focus was to jump from genre to genre or even key to key somewhat frenetically, to mimic the panic that a lot of the lyrics describe.
I also think that transition from multiple tunings and working on that with Tyler gave it a unique voice, I brought something like six separate tunings to the record and Tyler learned how to play in all of them, it was remarkable. He’s a really impressive player.
Hardrock Haven: Did you change the songs during the recording?
James McCurley: Not substantially, though Jerry Guidroz (producer/engineer) helped us a lot when it came to honing in on our sound. Having two people mix it also helped make the changes more distinct!
I was able to speak to with Emily in depth about the lyrics though, and given her theater background, she was able to add life into the words with her performance. Hearing that in the studio was pretty special.
Hardrock Haven: You talked about Jerry, how did you begin to collaborate with him? And why did you choose him?
James McCurley: Thank you again! I want more than anything for people to be able to connect with the songs, especially if they feel marginalized or different because the thoughts they have are scattered or frightening. I want them to know their not alone in that, and I hope they find light in our songs. Jerry mixed and engineered our first EP (Something for the Nerves), and he has stood behind this since day one. He’s of course gifted behind the board, but beyond that we just owe so much of this bands existence to his belief in it. I’m happy to say he’s now a friend as well! So in all those ways I trust him.
Hardrock Haven: Was it easier to do this album with him did he give you some advices or remark about details that you wouldn’t think about..?
James McCurley: He did, he had a very objective view. His work on Obsidian and One Last Chance To Resurrect especially will always stand out to me.
Hardrock Haven: Those ones have a particular construction I like the atmospheres of the different songs …
James McCurley: He really saw the vision for those songs, I can’t imagine them being tracked without him. He also gave us room to explore though. For example on The Furthest Place, he let Tyler and I turn off every light in the live room except for a candle. He knew the track needed to sound ominous and dark, so he gave us that environment to record in.
Hardrock Haven: Did you tried them live to see how the audience was reacting?
James McCurley: I actually specifically kept the songs away from anyone but the band in the beginning, just to keep it pure. That probably sounds silly, I just knew I could trust everyone in the band and didn’t want an outside influence to scare us from being honest.
Until it was mixed and mastered, Jerry was really the only one who’d heard the entire album.
We are playing some new ones in Richmond, VA this Friday though, I can’t wait for that.
Hardrock Haven: You really have a particular idea about your work. You definitely know what you want. That’s not common especially for a young band.
James McCurley: Thanks, I just know how many options people have minute to minute, it’s thousands of bands and you can listen to them for free. If Vertica isn’t always giving everything to the fans, we don’t deserve them. We’re so fortunate that we have a chance to play music for people, I never want to take that for granted or just put out a song that I or the band hasn’t poured over. The message is so personal, I’d be lying if the music wasn’t direct.
Hardrock Haven: Yes, I think people will be attracted by that too.. Your determination. It doesn’t sound like a first album.
James McCurley: That means a lot! We genuinely didn’t want it to sound like our first go at things.
Hardrock Haven: I don’t know how things are in the U.S. compared to here. You know, many bands here in Belgium and France are complaining about the way that everything’s changing. They can’t find a way to be promoted or supported by a label or even tour … so is that the same in the us or did you find some support easily?
James McCurley: It’s definitely been turbulent everywhere in terms of record sales and the types of deals bands are offered. I think now more than ever it takes patience, even working other jobs or taking gigs that aren’t what you’re looking for. Support really came from our friends and families, it all had to be local. There’s a sea of bands in the US right now it’s very hard to be visible nationally.
Hardrock Haven: The problem is also too much productions on the market.
James McCurley: Absolutely! It’s crowded, but that leads to some very unique acts trying to stand out
Hardrock Haven: Yes perhaps that fact could oblige people to be more selective. Also, there are more and more legal action against some presumed plagiarists.
James McCurley: That’s true, there is so much content people are seeing an inevitable cross-over. I think the best way to go about writing at this point is to stay as honest as possible, don’t try to be another artist because it will almost certainly water down your work.
There’s also that saying, “skill is honed by lack” and I think that’s more and more being implemented in the arts. Particularly in things like support, labels used to be much more involved in starting with bands from the beginning, but now they want to see you establish yourself first. So now that young bands lack the initial label support, they develop skills to stay afloat and connected to the people who care about their music.
Hardrock Haven: Yes, the process is different. But then you only keep those motivated artists … that’s a huge advantage.
James McCurley: Exactly right, the hardship weens out people who might be less committed or who put less of themselves on the line. And it’s not black and white, certainly it’s unfair to certain bands and advantageous to others, you just have to focus on your own work.
There are also more unconventional label/artist relationships. For instance, Radiant Records was kind enough to feature us as an undiscovered artist on their store, which was really driven by mutual respect between the band and everybody at Radiant. So in that way, the interactions can be even more genuine, even if there isn’t a mountain of money moving around.
Hardrock Haven: So, you have to find people who trust in you. Those people will give you the opportunity to be visible.
James McCurley: Certainly, and for us Jerry Guidroz and Chris Thompson have been those people, I’m so thankful for their efforts with us.
Not mention how supportive our families have been on a ground level, we’re very fortunate to have people around us who understand why we do what we do
Really there is a countless list of people who were kind when they did not have to be, we’re just grateful to everyone.
Hardrock Haven: So now, you’re planning a tour?
James McCurley: We are! I’m not allowed to release the full schedule yet but we will at least be in North America this summer. Until then we’ll be playing shows on the East Coast in the spring!
Hardrock Haven: I hope the best for you and the band. I would be very happy to see you if you have any opportunity to come to Europe.
James McCurley: Thanks so much Christophe, we would absolutely love to come to Europe. I am working as hard as I can to get us there by the end of this year. Hopefully we can get coffee and talk in person!
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Visit the band online: http://vertica.bandcamp.com