Dean Garcia Comes Clean on Curve and SPC ECO’s Past and Future
Curve were one of the most influential groups of the '90s; their blend of shoegaze, trip-hop, electronica and alt-industrial gave rise to hordes of imitators. Yet, none of their contemporaries matched the enigmatic, gothic vibe of the U.K. duo, which consisted of vocalist Toni Halliday and multi-instrumentalist Dean Garcia at its core.
Garcia has been involved with myriad projects over the years, most notably SPC ECO, a dream-pop band that features his daughter, Rose Berlin, as lead vocalist. I caught up with Garcia to learn about the unique dynamic of their relationship, his thoughts on Curve's impact and whether there's any hope for a Curve reunion in the future.
I understand that you’ve been collaborating with Rose since she was a small child. How soon did it become apparent that she would develop into a full-time collaborator?
It was always in my mind as something to nurture, so I would say it was from the moment Rose was born. There were many numerous occasions while messing about with various instruments, drums, etc., during her childhood that paved the way to all of the recordings we've since made. It all stems from those times and the fact that we just really enjoy writing and recording songs together. I remember being mesmerized one time with her when she was playing an old boomy kick drum in a simple tribal way while singing deep blues in a kind of PJ Harvey-like voice while staring out of the window. She was entranced by it, as was I. It's all about that — joining the elements and letting yourself go with it. I / we base everything we record on that principle.
Do you influence Rose’s vocal presence and melodies? How does the writing process unfold? How much of it is formed on your end, and how does Rose contribute?
Rose forms all of the melodies and phrasing on her own. I am with her and record her while she's making the initial vocal passes with the track, as we like to have no previous ideas before we start. It's all done in the moment and by chance: complete free-form and off the wall. Once Rose has recorded two or three vocal passes, I then go in and comp what I feel are the best moments, and arrange a basic vocal take. From there, Rose will revisit the song and form the words and develop the melodies from what she originally sang. We have always worked like that. It enables surprise and feels natural to us; we often keep a lot of the original voice takes and just replace certain others. Rose just gets lost in it, as she did in childhood, tapping into the unknown in the quest of making something unique and special, which in turn makes you feel alive, happy and whole in a way like no other. Creating music is very good for that.
SPC ECO has been quite prolific, releasing at least one album a year since its formation. What are your plans for 2017? Can we expect a SPC ECO tour?
No tour unless we're made offers we can't refuse or a serious demand is there. We love playing live, but it's not high priority for us. If we got something away and we could sell good shows, we'd definitely go with it, but as it is, we're a best-kept-secret-type band that only certain people know of. (Which has a familiar ring to it.) We're a recording band that will always make records. We released three albums and EPs last year. I'm not sure we'll be doing that this year, but we'll certainly release an album and a bunch of singles or EPs in 2017. That's the plan, anyway. We're halfway [finished] with a new record, but we're taking our time, allowing it to breathe and develop.
The textures and percussive elements of Curve — and all of your posthumous projects — have always existed in a unique realm. At the risk of oversimplifying your sound, few artists have executed the mix of shoegaze and trip-hop so flawlessly. (Bowery Electric and Isabel’s Dream come to mind.) Could you recommend any bands that you consider to be kindred spirits?
I don't know of those bands you mentioned, but they're as good as any, as I believe it all to be subjective and up to the listener to decipher and come up with their own comparisons and likenesses, etc. Once something has been released, it's no longer just yours — it becomes everyone's. Everything has already been done in all forms of art over and over. It's all derivative in some way; it's just a matter of somehow absorbing what has gone before and making it your own. Any band / person / whoever that likes to genre-bend and are open to sound in all forms are kindred to me. I don't know the names or follow new bands in the ways I have done in the past; it's all moved on for me now. I get influenced by music or sound design that I hear within film. I've no idea who made it — I just take it in and am subliminally effected by it.
What were some influences for Curve’s sound? What are some current influences?
Around the time Toni and I were recording, it would have been bands of the time: MBV, JAMC, Spiritualized, [Happy] Mondays, [Stone] Roses, Public Enemy, Cocteau [Twins], Massive [Attack], as well as any noisy, alt-rave culture bands that were in full flow around that time. My first post of call is the beat or pulse of the track — same then as it is now — and that influence always stems from artists like James Brown. Gotta be on the good foot from the off; otherwise I'm lost.
I’ve always felt that your first project with Toni, State of Play, was a great and underrated New Wave band. What are the chances of a reunion or reissue of Balancing the Scales?
Hopefully [none]. That record involved a processed, completely unconnected, stressful and manipulated set of songs that became a benchmark life lesson in how NOT to make a record. A Traumatic Series of Wrongness would have been a better title. There were some great things that came from that time — one of them being meeting Toni and the recording we made quietly on our own one day called "Metropolis," which was a special bonding moment between us that would serve to reconnect us down the line, which is exactly what it did.
I thought that How Ambient Is Your Dat Box? was one of the best things you’ve ever released, and I’d often wondered what sort of ambient material you were capable of producing. Most of this material was recorded between 1994-1996. Is this sound something we can expect more of?
I can be very ambient when the mood takes me, as it does and has done on many occasions. I think of it as music for a nonexistent film. There's always more of that. All I need now is for someone to come along and ask me to sound-design their brilliant film for them, but until that happens, the space-changing music will always be with me. Rose and I work on sound installations from time to time; in fact, we're just about to put another one together for an upcoming show she has in March.
You’ve been a member of Gang of Four, Eurythmics, Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Are you still pursuing a career as a touring live bassist?
I've never really pursued a career as a live bassist. It has pursued me, though. As to going out again with other artists other than my own projects, it's very doubtful, but if Dave [Stewart] and Annie [Lennox] asked me, I would. Pink Floyd or Eno, same. Other than that, I think I'd rather stay at home with the fam.
Is there any hope for a Curve reunion in the States? The time seems ripe for early '90s bands that are in your wheelhouse, considering how much of a renaissance there has been for the Curve sound. How about a vinyl reissue or box set?
It was suggested, and certain moves were made, but it became clear that Toni just doesn't want to open up that box of tricks anymore. I totally understand her reasons and respect it wholeheartedly — life on the road is a world unto itself, and best done around an age or time that is right for everyone. It's a total headfuck being on a tour that you don't want to be on. Luckily for me, that has never happened, but I have come close a few times. Some things are best left alone so you can concentrate or apply yourself to what is actually important to you in this moment, which is exactly what we're both doing. There is a reissue in the works of the Anxious [Records] years, comprising the first three EPs, Doppelgänger and Cuckoo, along with a bunch of related oddities that will be released at some point this year on vinyl and CDs, which is cool.