A Chat with Cy Curnin of The Fixx, Cy Curnin interview

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He's been the lead singer of The Fixx since 1980 and seen them through hit singles like "Red Skies," "Secret Separation," and "One Thing Leads to Another," but once in awhile, Cy Curnin likes to stretch his legs and step into a solo state of mind. Curnin's recently released his second solo album, The Returning Sun, and Bullz-Eye had an opportunity to discuss the creation of the record, the status of The Fixx (as well as a few of their stellar but underrated albums from the ‘90s and ‘00s), the strangeness of having one's band be defined by the decade in which they originated, and the state of the music industry as a whole.

Bullz-Eye: Hello?

Cy Curnin: Hi, Will?

BE: Yes!

CC: It's Cy.

BE: Hey how are you?

CC: Good. How are you?

BE: Not bad. Good morning.

CC: Good. Is there a good line? No echo…?

BE: Not that I'm hearing, anyway.

CC: Good, good, good. Sometimes when I call out on this line, it starts to get an echo.

BE: Nope. Sounds good this time.

CC: Good, that's good. And then the wife will pay the bill.

BE: Well, there you go. So I understand from both your publicist and your podcast that you've just come down from the mountain…and that that's not just a figure of speech.

CC: Exactly. Even Mohammad has to go to the mountain. It wasn't top of my list last year, but it's top of my list of places to go back to.

BE: And which mountain was it? That part I didn't get.

CC: Everest.

BE: Oh, wow! Excellent!

CC: I got…I can hardly say "roped into it," but I got invited along through the Love Hope Strength Foundation, which is a leukemia awareness foundation for early treatment. Mike Peters, from The Alarm, is a two-time leukemia survivor, and he formed this charity with James Chippendale, who's a rock and roll concert insurer, and he was also a survivor. And when Mike was going on tour when he'd been told he had cancer a second time, he was looking for some doctors in America that could help him out, and they both realized they had a great database. A lot of the problems out in the world are, you know, early detection, early treatment, blah blah blah. And so they wanted to sing out this message from the highest points. Started off with the Empire State building, then Snowden, because Mike Peters is from Wales, and then somebody came up with the bright idea of going to Everest. There was a party of 38 trekkers…cancer survivors, some investors that had donated a lot of money, and six or seven musicians. I was one of them and Jamie from (The Fixx), also. We went up there and we broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest rock concert ever, at 19,000 feet. It was amazing, because one thing you do when you go up there is you…obviously, you're struggling a little bit with altitude and stuff like that, but you lose your identity, in a good sense. You lose all the crap and baggage of who you are back there, and it's just you and the mountain. And I really got the sort of proverb about Mohammad going to the mountain. It clears you out of so much stuff. And on top of that, really being inspired by all these people that have just been off chemo for six months, and they're marching along right next to you. By the time I came down, I was, like, "I'm never going to complain about anything again," you know? So that was that. And I got back on Halloween, which was my mom's birthday, and that's the day I released my solo record, which is called The Returning Sun, which has a few useful clichés in there.

BE: (Laughs) So why another solo album? Why not another Fixx album?

CC: Well, we're just getting ready to do a Fixx record as well. There are periods where I write some songs that I just feel aren't quite Fixx-y, or they were written so much on my own that I feel they are more of a solo effort than a band effort. These days, when we write with the band, we're all together, and we conceive stuff together, because it's more about collaboration than anything. So I was in New York after the second divorce, going through the sad dad thing, blah blah blah, and all these emotions were coming out. And I recorded it, and it sat there for awhile, and then I suddenly realized, after the record industry seemed to be collapsing everywhere, that the internet is a great marketplace; I had half of a name out there, people should know me a little bit, I felt, "Well, I'll just build my own website and put the record out that way." And using the traditional form of P.R. and having Carol (Kaye), the publicist, and just putting the word out that way, I'm getting a lot of visits to my site. With MySpace and CD Baby, it's much more personal; I'm in control more. You sell less, but you make more. It's kind of just the way the world is these days, and I'm getting some good feedback on the record, so I thought, "Well, why not?" You know, here we go! And it just works. It bolts on really nicely to what I'm doing with the band. And I know Jamie's getting ready to put his solo record album out as well. I think we've been together for so long…it's like a marriage, where you're allowed to sleep around and no one really cares. So that's what we're kind of up to, and I think we…collectively, we gain from the experience of being a part of it. It brings a different energy when we're back together, and it defines in my head what is a Fixx song and what is a Cy Curnin song.

BE: Well, now, having Jamie's guitar on your record adds some instant familiarity of it, but did you ever consider having another collaborator, just to kind of draw more of a line between you and the Fixx?

CC: Well, I did, you know. Actually, I really did. But Jamie was around in New York at the time, and he just…he came to the studio to visit, see what I was up to, and he said, "I'd like to play on that." And I did have other people try and play stuff on it. Maybe it's because I'm so used to what he does, or we're just so inextricably linked through our own history that I couldn't wrap my ears around anyone else. Yeah, there are a couple of tracks where it is very definable…my voice, his guitar.

BE: Yeah, the opening track in particular, "We Might Find It."

CC: Yeah, true. But I started the album with that one to make people think, "Ah, there he is, that's the Fixx boy," and then…

BE: I wondered if that might be the reason why.

"I think (The Fixx have) been together for so long…it's like a marriage, where you're allowed to sleep around and no one really cares. It brings a different energy when we're back together, and it defines in my head what is a Fixx song and what is a Cy Curnin song."

CC: Yeah, I figured I'll just get it on, put it on the first track, and then I'll take the journey off on the side rides from there. And, you know, Jamie's, like, my best friend as well, so we play on each other's stuff and do things together all the time; we went up the mountain together. It just feels…the ying and the yang; we're like each other's ying or yang…depending on who's the ying that day.

BE: I saw on "Remember Me When I'm Gone" you teamed with Jeannette Obstoj again for the lyrics.

CC: Yeah, that actually was the song that kicked off the whole album. I was walking past my fax machine in the days when faxes were still…when I still had one a couple of years ago…and all of a sudden, this fax comes out: "Urgent: remember me when I'm gone." I was, like, "Oh, my God, that's like a suicide note." And I knew that Jeannette's a bit of a drama queen when she wants to be. I read the lyric and it had a sense of urgency, and I just picked up my guitar, and within five minutes, once I found her lyrical rhythm, I just had knocked it into some kind of shape. And I went, "Wow, that's one of the best songs I've written in a long time." I didn't really ask too much of it; it just came through me. One of the things when I'm singing her lyrics, I have nothing to worry about whether this line's any good or whether this word's right, because she's very anal about each word that she picks, and if you try and change one word here and there, she has a fit. So for me, it's just all about the singing, the performance, and the music, which is sort of a day off for me, because I am normally more known as a lyricist as well. So I love writing songs to other people's lyrics occasionally.

BE: When was the last time you collaborated with her?

CC: On that song.

BE: No, I meant, prior to that, when was the last time?

CC: Prior to that…well, she had given me a book of sort of collective poems, and we did a couple of things together, but the last song that was really out there was "Secret Separation." And "Woman on a Train." Those were the last two that had really made it to the public forum.

BE: And you've got production on the album with Doug Beck.

CC: Yeah, Doug Beck was introduced to me through a guy who was building my studio in Manhattan, and he was a remixer working with a guy called DJ Boris, and they were known for their industrial mixes that they were doing at the time. And he was, like, "Can you get Cy to send me the dates for ‘One Thing Leads to Another'? I would love to have a crack at a remix." So he did that, came back, and Jellybean Recordings released it. I got to know Doug a little bit, and we said, "Well, why don't we just have a go at writing something new? And the first thing we did together was "The Future's Not What It Used To Be." We put that together, and that was soup to nuts in four hours, like in the old songwriting days, and we had such a laugh that it continued into two tracks, three tracks, and before you know it, we were just going, "Right, this is the album, let's get to the end of the road." Because he was busy with his remixing, too, I sort of had to wait until he had some down time, and then I was on the road with The Fixx for a bit, so he had to wait until I had some down time. So there was a bit of pits and stops. But we eventually got to the end and, you know, we felt like there was a good sense of accomplishment. We're actually working on a new one right now. We've already started one new song for another record for whenever. Keep it going, you know.

BE: From the credits, it looks like the one song that kind of stands out is "The World Will Always Turn." Was that from a different session?

CC: Yeah, that was a different session, and a different friend, actually. That was with a guy called Clark Stiles, who is another friend of mine: a fantastic programmer, another remixer, but West coast. Different sensibilities. When I'm in L.A., I'm in sort of a different vibe, I suppose – a West coast head – and I had just come off of a long tour, and I just went to visit Clark, and we knocked that one off in a couple of days. It had a real kind of jumpy, funky lyrical thing going on in the background, vocals coming in, sort of lessons that I had learned from Rupert Hine back in the day when we were doing "One Thing Leads to Another," the way those backing vocals work there. So I was having fun with that, and Clark did a real stellar job on it, so I thought…I was one song short, so I decided to put that one on this record, too. I kind of like that track, too. That's my favorite one.

BE: Yeah, I like it as well.

CC: It's the one I mention when people say, "Which one are you working first?" If there was to be such thing as a single, I think that would be the one.

BE: In another world, where there are still proper singles.

CC: Yeah, exactly. People can just go and cherry pick what they want. It's just getting it out there; that's the trick. Using television. Everyone wants a song in "Grey's Anatomy" or whatever it is, in a movie, and la,la,la,la,la. And we can license the old Fixx tracks to T.V. commercials until the cows come home – I mean, it's a great income – but as soon as you give people something new, they're, like, "But that's new." And I go, "Yeah…?" And they go, "Well, they might not know who it is." And I go, "Oh, so that doesn't serve a purpose for you, then." And they think, "Well, no, it doesn't." And that's fine. That's just a machinery to get something new from somebody who is known that kind of went haywire for a bit. I'm not actually complaining. For me, it's quite a healthy thing. Young kids growing up today have a different way of promoting themselves. They start locally – they always did in America, start locally – and get a ground swell going, and now they've got their own sites and they're able to sort of follow the ripples of their music a little bit more closely. They do shows for nothing, sell CDs for very little or even give CDs for nothing, and do shows for a price. It's however you want to make your living; you can do it any way you like.

BE: And you, you're doing your distribution through CD Baby.

CC: That's right. For now, I'm doing it through CD Baby; I'm up on iTunes now as well. I've got the music and all the sort of download people are coming on board, and then for the rest of the world, I'm off to meet and…this January, I'll try and do a few distribution deals with individual countries. What happens there is if you pick up a little distribution deal, say, with Denmark, for example, you'll get a record company who will commit to buying a couple thousand, two thousand CDs, maybe five thousand, but then they have to go out and promote it to some extent, so you get press. Free press. Once you get the free press, then you can put a tour on the back of it, so you go off and wind your way around the world. And so that so that's kind of my next step: just do these little one-off deals and see where it leads me. But just using my site, I've been having orders from Chile, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland…I was quite amazed. I was like, "Wow, there's somebody in Chile who's heard of my solo album, and they want an autographed copy?" It's great. It's something you didn't really think of in the old days; you were just, like, "How many have we sold for this week's count, Karen? Where am I going?" I mean, it was just…there was a separation between the creative side and the business side. In fact, we didn't really pay much attention to the business side, in a way, which is maybe a good or a bad thing. But now I feel like a baker…putting my little dough balls in the oven, and then pulling them out and letting the smell of the cooking bring the people in.

BE: Well, I've been following The Fixx since…well, since their commercial heyday. But, for instance, I've praised Elemental to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen to me.

CC: Yeah, that's a great record, isn't it? I think that's one of the best Fixx records, too. After the hiatus that we took off, we all came back with this twist of emotions and nailed quite a few tracks on that, "Fatal Shore" in particular.

BE: In fact, I saw you guys when you were touring behind it, and you pulled one of the ballsiest moves I've ever seen, one I still tell people about: you played basically the entire new album before you ever played any of the old hits.

CC: Yeah.

BE: I thought that was awesome, because, that way, people have to hear it, and you know they're going to sit still, because they want to hear the old hits, too.

CC: Yeah, exactly. I mean, some people shoot you down. The promoters, they want to hire you on the fact you are going to play the hits, you are going to play the hits, and you go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but we'll do them at the end, sort of like as a medley." And, yeah, you do have to present what you sell, and lots of people will go off and say, "Oh, they didn't play any of their old stuff." You've just got to be ballsy these days; otherwise, you don't get anywhere.

"Jamie's, like, my best friend as well, so we play on each other's stuff and do things together all the time; we're like each other's ying or yang…depending on who's the ying that day."

BE: I also enjoyed the Want that Life album as well.

CC: Oh good. Another sort of element, I guess it's…as aging or maturing as musicians, you celebrate…when you're younger, you hide your limitations, but as you get older, you tend to celebrate them more. And it brings out different vulnerabilities…or sensibilities, I should say…in music, and I think there were some pretty winds and turns, a good, eclectic Fixx album. Most…a good Fixx is quite eclectic, because we'll wake up one morning and be very sort of bright and "hey, ho" and in an upbeat mood, and the next evening we'll be very dark and, you know, like "No Hollywood Ending," that song, deep and dark. That's what I like about being in this band: we're all bipolar, but not all at the same time, so it's in spikes.

BE: How have the latter Fixx albums done for you? Do you sell them at shows, so the people who are hearing the songs for the first time get to…?

CC: Yeah, exactly. We do sell them at shows. The problem we had with Elemental and 1011 Woodlands – which is another record we did with CMC – is that CMC then got bought out by Sanctuary, and then when we were trying to buy back the catalog because CMC was done going down the crapper, they actually came in, and the only way they could keep their value up was to just say, "No, it's worth a lot more." But I said, "It's only worth a lot more to you if you're selling it. If you're not going to sell it, you're just blackmailing us into making it worth a lot more to us. Which, of course, it is, but it's not worth that much in terms of…you might as well keep selling it until something else happens, and we'll wait another year, where we can go back, and the price will drop 50%, and we can go in there and buy the tapes back." But, meanwhile, we're busy getting ready to do another record, so upwards and onwards, you know. Stuff is out there, and you can get it online, or get it in the stores, if you're lucky. Eventually, we would like to just clean house and sweep all these things back into our camp. Actually, we're talking to someone in L.A. who cleverly mentions the word "audit" around record companies and their mood all of a sudden changes. "Oh, yes, what can we do for you?" Collectively, there are a lot of bands in the same boat that are all, like, scratching their heads, wondering where this went and that went, and if we all come up together and do a sort of communal audit, you can really shoot…y'know, catch them like David and Goliath. And the record companies think that if they can get away with it nine times out of ten that it's worth doing, but if one little guy starts scratching away at the surface…for instance, this last year, we found over $700,000 sitting in different accounts that should have been paid over to various other accounts that were keeping us in the red. So at least we got back to zero. It was good: we didn't actually get any money, but we're back to zero.

BE: It's a start.

CC: But I don't want to be negative. I'm in a good space right now; the band is playing better than ever. Because of the dollar, it's a bit hard to get over there and tour as much as we'd like to at the moment, so we're just sort of limiting ourselves to doing the summer packages. Like, last summer, we were out with The Alarm and The Psychedelic Furs, and that did really well for the promoters; we were filling the sheds. We had to cancel some of it because John, the guitarist, had a baby, or his wife had a baby, so we had to cut the tour short. But this year, we are going to go back out and do the rest, and go in other areas that we didn't reach, and hope that the dollar improves to make it be easier for us to travel over there.

BE: I think the last time I saw you guys, you were paired with Rick Springfield.

"Everyone wants a song in ‘Grey's Anatomy' or whatever it is, and we can license the old Fixx tracks to T.V. commercials until the cows come home – I mean, it's a great income – but as soon as you give people something new, they're, like, "But that's new."

CC: Ah, wow. That was a one-off. We had one of these agents that…like, those dates tend to play well, but they're not…people can scratch their heads and go, "Why is that? Why are The Fixx playing with Rick Springfield?" But he happens to like the band, and he likes us being with him because I guess it makes him look a bit tougher, and we like it because we pick up girly fans. Now and then, they go, "Well, we had no idea; we just thought you were great musicians, but you guys are quite cute."

BE: Well, with the Rick Springfield audience, I think that as long as you shake your butt, you're okay.

CC: Yeah, yeah, there you go. And you have to flip your fingers through your hair a bit. But he does it so much better than I do.

BE: Well that's why you opened for him that night, I think. He was the one in his element.

CC: Where was that?

BE: It was in Portsmouth, Virginia.

CC: Oh yeah, under the tent there. That's a great gig.

BE: It is, yeah. It's a really nice venue right there on the water.

CC: Yeah, I really like that gig. We dip into Vegas quite a lot, because our age group is there now. You go on early, because the casinos want the fans to come in and lose money afterwards, so they don't want you on too late. So you go on early, they pay you tons of money, and you get a great show; they have great equipment. It's a win/win situation for bands at our level now, and thank god for Vegas, you know. It keeps us working.

BE: Not to get negative, but does the so-called "80's circuit" ever get frustrating for you, or do you feel like the people who listen to you anyway are…

CC: Yeah, but it's kind of done now. It's just starting to wind down. And, yeah, when we go out with The Alarm and some people say, "Well, that's kind of an 80's package," but we're trying to take it into another realm. What I think is strange is that…okay, there's blues music, there's heavy metal music, there's R&B music, there's this music and that music, all different kinds of music from different periods that were given their own names. 80's music happened to be labeled with the time it came out, and I don't know what that was from. Maybe just the age that we lived in. How wonderful the 80's were. We were so self-aware, being in the modern age, and something to do with George Orwell's 1984 or something, being a very futuristic thing, but by the time it came along, it was just like any other period in history. But the label stuck. Then there was "alternative"…but alternative to what? It's like the theory of relativity; you have to have two things to compare to be relative. It's a duff slogan for music from that period, but it was a very original music period. But the 80's…going around, people just expecting the hits, coming along and reminiscing and being nostalgic…I don't mind that as long as people accept where they are today and are prepared to take…as you say when we played Elemental, this is where we are now; that's where we were then. As you're watching the show, can you remember back to where you were? Look at you now; has your life grown; how do you think about this? It's just as much about the audience as it is for us, and it's a state of mind. To me, it's like a play; you use different songs to get different elements out to bring the show to a conclusion, to the same heights…like the story of everyman, if you like, in any moment. And we use different songs in different positions, but it has peaks and valleys, and the way I convince myself, you know, here we go, out playing as if we were doing a Shakespeare play, you know, and there you are in Act Three. One thing leads to another, and it's Act Three, so you just have to keep doing it and dig deep and look for the emotion and the reason why you wrote it and the relevance of it today and there always is. Luckily, enough Fixx music had enough enigma to it that it fits in any time period; you can always reapply it to events today.

BE: For our site, we're getting ready to put together a piece, the title of which will be "They Escaped from the 80's." But the whole premise is going to be that so many of these bands and artists that, okay, yeah, their heyday, commercially speaking, may have been in the 80's, but they've done so much great work since then. And I'm immediately behind Elemental as an inclusion for that.

CC: Well, then, that's great. We'll very much appreciate that; we're very proud of that as a band. I think there were some good wines that went in the bottle in the 80's that are really magnificent for drinking today, and there are some that went in the bottle that are crap. It's just keeping your eye on it…if you're an audio follower, if you love music, anyway, you'll know. The mass market, maybe they've moved on, but I have a feeling, though, that…what I've noticed in especially the last three years…and again I talk about our generation, I talk about people that were in college…but let's say, when The Fixx's Reach the Beach came out. Now, they're sitting in front of their computers as a leisure, and they're scanning all over the place, downloading this, downloading that, and they go to what they knew then, and it's less embarrassing for them than if they had to go to a record store and file through this, that, and the other. So that's really helped us. And I've really noticed a blip of connection and My Space, you know, if you do a …this is with many thousands of people that we've got on The Fixx MySpace site, the age group is right there, and then we pick up their kids. A lot of them have got kids who have been brainwashed; sitting in the back seat, listening to Fixx albums…and lo and behold, a few of them have gone, "Your music is so much better than the crap they're selling us today, and we love what you're doing." So that's inspiring.

BE: Well, I've got a two year old, so I'm trying to steer her down the right path already.

CC: There you go, and God bless you for it. We have some things…we have grandparents, parents and children coming to the show. You know, from the Oakland Bowl, playing to eight thousand people, opening up for The Police, to doing two thousand to see the show in Vegas; it's peaks and valleys, but it's still about the music for us, and it's still pulling the same strings in us that it did then. In fact, I'm more aware of the luck that I have to be able to express myself through music, because when I see some of my friends who don't have an ability to express what's going on inside of them, they seem to have aged or gotten stuck in a moment, to quote Bono, that they can't get out of. And for music…for us, as Shakespeare said, "If music is the food of love, then play on." And it keeps you young. And it's nice to see people coming out for whatever reason, getting away from their cocoon and their fears, where they think bin Laden is going to crawl through the window and bomb them personally; it's just nice to get people out of the house. These are interesting times that we live in.

BE: Last question, and then I'll wrap up. What's your favorite underrated album by The Fixx that you feel didn't get the love that is should have?

CC: Well, we already mentioned it twice. (Laughs) Elemental is definitely my favorite album, because it's got some songs on there – "Happy Landing," "Two Different Views," "Fatal Shore" – that we still play in a Fixx set today, and those songs have gone on to become firm favorites for those hardcore fans. We just missed the boat in terms of…the record company thought they were signing something that was going to be one way, and they just had a bunch of heavy metal radio promotion guys promoting it to heavy metal radio, and I said, "Well, there's your problem right there!" And they wondered why they weren't getting a thousand ads a minute, and I said, "Because you've got to find someone who knows where it's got to go!" And the late 90's, it was a bit lost. People had thrown the baby out with the bathwater at the stroke of midnight on 1990; everything 80's was off unless you were on a higher plateau…Prince, Madonna, U2. Everything else went out, and grunge came in, and apart from Pearl Jam and Nirvana, no one else really delivered long enough, so it was just like bad wannabes bouncing around on the radio for awhile, and it just really sucked and it lost its way. And then people were talking about Napster, and that's when the record business really went to sleep…and died in its sleep, I think. But music lovers go on; we carry the torch, you know.

"Just using my site, I've been having orders from Chile, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland…I was quite amazed. I was like, ‘Wow, there's somebody in Chile who's heard of my solo album, and they want an autographed copy?' It's great. It's something you didn't really think of in the old days."

BE: What were your thoughts of Ink? Do you have fond memories of that album?

CC: There were some really good songs on there; a very patchy record. Strange period for us; we changed management, swapped labels mid-album. It was one of those records where…we were suddenly managed by this guy called Allen Kovac for the end of it, who was, like, "I'm going to make this album huge!" He was being goaded by MCA; he was kind of running MCA from the background, and he said, "You need to do this; you need to write with this guy." And he sat me down with Scott Cutler, who is a good songwriter, and we wrote "How Much is Enough?" together and "No One Has to Cry." Which are good songs, and we played them, but at the time, I just felt that something had seeped in from the outside into the dome, the biosphere that we were as The Fixx, where we were unique to ourselves only. And so that album had a little bit of that. But with hindsight, again, very eclectic. There are some favorite songs on there for some of the fans, and a lot of the fans, it's their favorite album, too. It's just got a lot of different elements on there. There's a little track on there called "Make No Plans"; it's a completely lulu track, but I love it. When we play it live, we turn into this kind of really… it's a real turner.

BE: I was working at a record store when the album came out, so it was regularly in our in-store play. So I fell in love with that more than maybe a lot of people would have, just because it was on all the time.

CC: Yeah, yeah, I mean it was a good record, but for me, it was just…I guess it was the period; we were just bouncing around left, right, and center, and I have to say that the end of the 80's…the writing was on the wall; you couldn't get things on the radio as quickly as you wanted, and things were changing. But that's the constant state, change, isn't it?

BE: True. To say the least. Well, it's been a pleasure speaking with you.

CC: Likewise, too, Will. Anyone who loves and who champions Elemental is a star in my book.

BE: Well, I appreciate that. Well, I've got your website, obviously, since I got the podcast, so as soon as this interview gets up, I'll send you the link…and as soon as we get this piece together about the bands who escaped from the 80's rolling, I'll definitely send you the link for that, too.

CC: Oh, fantastic, man. I'm looking forward to it. Take care!

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