We met up with Mick Fansler and Jan Marshall of The Curls last weekend at Cafe Mustache to have a chat about their musical influences, playing Pitchfork this summer, their latest tour and their new singles and forthcoming album this spring. It was a lively conversation with the two, who got married last July. Mick runs a dog walking company and makes videos in his spare time; and Jan is finishing her Masters in Elementary education; but the two are at the heart of one of Chicago’s most interesting acts, the hard to peg down The Curls!
MF: Mick Fansler
JM: Jan Marshall
CCS: Kyle Land
CCS: So you guys got back recently from a little run (tour)?
JM: Right at the end of August, we got back. Spent two weeks out there, it was a nice little tour.
MF: Yeah, it was a good tour.
CCS: Where’d you guys hit?
MF: We went up through the Mid-West and into Canada and came down the East Coast. We hit New York . . .
JM: Boston, Philly
MF: Yeah, Philly. Burlington, Vermont which was pretty funny.
JM: We went down to Atlanta.
MF: Toronto was really cool. The best shows of the tour were Athens and Atlanta. Not sure why but they were packed, crazy shows.
JM: Hands down, two really fun places to play.
MF: We played at the 529 in Atlanta. It’s kind of like The Empty Bottle of Atlanta.
CCS: You guys have been around for 4 or 5 years?
MF: We were just trying to figure that out the other day, and I think it’s four years. I had a project before called Bear Weather. That’s when I started playing out and it transitioned into this.
JM: I think the first show that I played on was the last Bear Weather show before we became The Curls.
MF: That’s right. At the beautiful Abbey Pub.
CCS: R.I.P. Saw some weird shows there.
MF: It was a weird place. They would book the weirdest shit. We played there and then the next night Sage Francis would be playing. What are you doing? What is the vision of this place? You have Irish food and weird ass bands and washed up hip hop guys.
CCS: What was the genesis behind The Curls and bringing everybody in?
MF: I got sick of playing acoustic music without a drummer. That was the initial thing. I just got sick of playing singer/songwriter and folk stuff. That’s got a smallish ceiling. At that time I was getting obsessed with Elephant 6 stuff. That kind of weird pop music. I wanted to have a full band, and I wanted to bring in a horn player which is how Jan ended up in the band. Because our guitar player at the time was working with her.
JM: And in terms of the band building up, it wasn’t all at once, it’s been a growing progression. I came in as a horn player, and as we were recording the next album; as we were beginning to do the production on that we had bigger and bigger visions, which obviously has continued on through our entire career. We brought in Anna (Holmquist) to record vocals on that, got them in the band; and then our guitar player, the one who introduced Michael and I left the band so we had this gap there. And then we met Rami Atassi. We were blown away by him immediately.
MF: He’s just this sick experimental jazz guitar player, well that’s what he does mostly. I saw him play with my friend’s band a few times and to me what I saw was an Adrian Belew (King Crimson) style guitar playing that could be applied to pop and rock music. The past two years has been building it into the unit we have now. We’ve had a constant flux of bass players. A Spinal Tap situation almost. But we just brought in Matt Puhr, he plays with the band Crown Larks. I think he’s gonna be our guy.
CCS: Where do you guys see it going in the next year or so?
JM: Definitely getting out there as much as we can. After being able to play Pitchfork this summer and going on tour, we’re already thinking about the next tour. Because next year we’ll have another album.
CCS: Yeah, you’ve already dropped a couple new singles.
JM: Yeah, we’ve put out a couple singles that will be on it. So we’re looking to finish up the production on that and keep things rolling with a couple of multimedia projects.
CCS: When do you think the album’s coming out?
MF: I think it’ll be March of next year when the whole thing comes out, but we want to keep releasing things. It seems that’s the reality when you’re trying to stay relevant, when you’re trying to move up, is to keep slowly putting shit out.
JM: It’s hard to be quiet for months on end. We want to let ‘em know we’re working, we’re working hard.
MF: We’ve been talking with a few labels and trying to coordinate putting out a full record.
CCS: So there is the debate about what genre you guys fall into. How do you all see that? Not that we care about genre all that much but a lot of people do. Where do you see yourselves falling?
JM: That’s so funny because every submission we have to do has a drop down menu that you have to click on, we agonize over it. Is it pop rock . . . or is it art rock . . .
MF: I click on Adult Contemporary. (all laugh) I don’t know, that shit’s pretty annoying. But I’ve been kind of riding the art rock thing, because it’s a pretty general term. The connotation of that to me is it can be anything. Like Palm is a modern band I like . . .
CCS: We just saw them.
MF: Yeah we were on tour at the time, wish I could have caught that. Yeah Palm kind of fits that or like a Talking Heads, and the 80’s movement with Nowave and all that kind of shit falls into it. It’s a weird thing. I don’t think it’s a problem but it can be for us when we’re trying to promote ourselves. Every song on our records is kind of dipping our toes into something else. Half our record is one thing, half is another.
JM: I think that comes from all the individual members of the band having very different musical tastes. So when we’re coming into the writing process you’ll have a bit of R&B influence in there and some experimental jazz influence and more just pop influence. That’s why there’s such a smorgasbord, you know.
CCS: Do you all write collectively?
MF: Yeah, I would say generally Jan and I construct the songs but everyone else adds their part to a degree. Anna sometimes writes lyrics when they sing on a tune. Rami just gets free range to do what he’s gonna do, cause I trust him. That’s one of the things I’m excited about is our new bass player. He’s got that classic, arty, disco funk style. He’s really into jam bands; so it’s introducing a new element into the smorgasbord.
JM: My secret is I’m trying to get us to go that way.
MF: That may be where we’re headed, genre wise. We might end up slipping there eventually. Some combination of jam band and art funk. I’ve been listening to a lot of Gary Wilson lately. I would like to make something closer to that. Everytime I listen to a record, I’m like, we should try and make something like that.
JM: This is what we should be doing . . . but still be ourselves.
MF: Generally a band, especially younger bands, you have a sound that you find out works in some way, so you’re gonna use that as much as you can and you get used to writing in that way. It can work either way, but some of my favorite bands are just trying different things with every song. Or are just really fucking good at doing the thing they do. I apologize for swearing. (all laugh)
CCS: What are some of your favourite venues in Chicago?
JM: To play or see shows at?
CCS: How about both.
MF: I like the Hideout a lot.
JM: Duh. To play and see shows. They are fantastic. They always book really good stuff and being there, it’s a well run place. We’re going to see Guerilla Toss there tonight for my birthday!
CCS: Happy Birthday!
JM: It was yesterday, but we’re celebrating tonight. The Hideout is a good one, I always like . . . I think the sound is really good at Schubas.
MF: There’s a french guy that runs the sound there, he’s such a classic sound person, in that he looks like he hates everyone. But he’s really good at running sound. And I think he’s one of those guys that if you get through to him . . . I think I’ve seen him smile a couple times now. Which kind of took a little bit. Till our third time playing there, I think. Empty Bottle is great, I think it’s my favorite place to see shows. Playing there is great too though.
JM: I think Sleeping Village .
MF: Yeah that’ a new favorite. I really liked playing there. And they seem to be curating some really good shit. We had a really good experience there. We had really good sound. They treated the bands nice.
CCS: What are some bands in Chicago that you think are being overlooked?
JM: Oh yeah, Matthew Shelton, I feel like he is the biggest one that is being overlooked.
MF: He’s been around a long time too.
JM: He’s a true artist in every sense of the word.
MF: He made a music video with us before and I’m making one with him now, he’s kind of a jack of all trades, a true artist. But his music, he plays an mbira a lot of the time. He’s just a brilliant songwriter. He’s in the vein of Stephin Merritt, if you’re aware of him; mixed with Bill Callahan, lots of African music influence. But he’s very unique in his own right.
MF: Oh yeah, the two bands I always have ready for this question are Woongi and Wei Zhongle, my two favorite bands in Chicago. Wei Zhongle is a super dope trance pop band, check em out.
CCS: What other bands influence you all?
JM: I think it goes in phases.
(Talking Heads starts playing and the conversation devolves into how Deep Purple was playing while we interviewed Sonny Falls and now Talking Heads while interviewing The Curls. Life is full of irony.)
CCS: You were saying?
JM: I find that I go through phases of being obsessed with certain things. Like during the writing and recording of Super Unit I was listening to a lot of Frank Ocean and pulling influence from that . Sun Ra is another influence.
MF: Warren Zevon I draw from a lot. Alex Cameron from a songwriting aspect. It’s kind of all over the place. Like the records we’re trying to make. Orange Juice is one of my favorites. Polished pop music with something weird underneath it is always my favorite stuff to listen to. Who were we just talking about today that we listened to a shit ton on tour.
JM: Jerry Paper.
MF: Yeah man, Jerry Paper. I fucking love Jerry Paper. That kind of goofy bedroom R&B pop stuff with weird saxophones. I like that stuff.
JM: I really like Chameleon World. That kind of stuff.
CCS: Where’d you guys record the new album?
MF: We did it at SHIRK studios, and we’re doing overdubs and things at Pallet Sound in Bridgeport.
JM: With Michael Mac.
MF: Yeah Michael Mac (Macdonald) produced all of it. He added some things, played bass on some tracks. He’s been filling in on bass as a stopgap for us while we brought someone new in.
JM: He’s been our summer lovin’ bass player. Just April to August. A little summer romance.
MF: He went on tour with us and it was set up beforehand that it would be his last set of shows with us. Now we’re getting Matt ready to do this festival with us in Michigan next weekend. It’s gonna be his first show.
CCS: So Jan, you said you came in as a horn player. When did you start bringing in keys?
JM: When one of our guitar players left the band there was hole there, melodically speaking.
MF: He would play MicroKorg sometimes so that whole layer was gone.
JM: One day I was visiting my Grandma and she showed me this old keyboard that used to belong to my Uncle who passed away in the early 90’s. And it was that Roland JX-3P. “Oh I have your Uncle’s keyboard. Do you want it?” I was like “Yes, yes I do! Thank you for hanging on to that!” He passed away in the early nineties and she gave it to me in 2013. That’s a long time to hang onto something that no ones using. But once I got that, Mick suggested to bring it into practice sometime. And I did and I started messing around with it, it made some some really great noises.
MF: Yeah, it’s a really great instrument.
JM: It is. And there’s a lot of sentimental attachment there too, because there a some programmable patches on there that are still the ones my Uncle made that I’ve been using. It’s definitely been a learning curve though. I think there are quite a few songs from our catalog from when I first got the keyboard that we no longer play.
MF: For many reasons. (all laugh)
CCS: So was your Pitchfork set the first time you had a full ensemble? With back up singers and dancers and a full horn section?
MF: It was the second time, slightly different personnel. We had done it once before when we put out Super Unit. But we put more rehearsal time in for it this time. I just figured why not, for that type of stage. It was so cool that Nnamdi did the same kind of thing. Also had a huge awesome band.
CCS: Paul Cherry too.
MF: Yeah and Paul yeah. It was pretty cool to see.
JM: When you meet so many talented people, and when you have an opportunity like that, you can’t help but want to bring them up there with you. To get to play with as many of our friends that we can.
CCS: You guys have anything else to add?
MF: Visit our internet sites, cause I post very often. Quality content. We just got announced for a show October 30th at Empty Bottle. With The Hecks and The Goon Sax. I’ll plug that. And we’re at The Owl October 3rd with Rob Jacobs, Bill MacKay will be joining him on guitar.
CCS: Well thanks for talking with us! See you two at your shows!