Five Questions: Catie Curtis

It’s safe to say that singer/songwriter Catie Curtis has been around a few blocks, musically and otherwise.

It’s safe to say that singer/songwriter Catie Curtis has been around a few blocks, musically and otherwise. She has carved out a solid career and slogged it out on the folk circuit over the course of more than 20 years now with support from an array of record labels and a multitude of fans.

Now, with her new release, Flying Dream, Curtis is on her own… in more ways than one. She parted from the label she’s been with for the past nine years (Compass Records), as well as the wife she’s been with for the past 17. Ever thoughtful about life and love, Curtis is taking both departures in stride as she issues one of her strongest albums to date.

You’ve been through some major life changes lately — personally and professionally. You don’t really come off as a tortured artist type, so does all of that upheaval hinder or help your creative process?
For me, part of being an artist is being tuned in to gut feelings, trusting your own sense about changes that need to happen. So the upheaval that follows is actually neutral to me — not torturous or triumphant, but just what is. The past nine months have been difficult emotionally, but through everything that is happening (my separation from Liz and leaving Compass Records), I feel like I’m alive and awake and drawn toward where I need to be. The only thing that kills my creative process is being checked out.

Someone was talking recently about having to redefine songs for themselves, to attach new memories to them so they can keep listening without the tug of heartache. How does that work from the artist’s perspective, having to sing songs that have, perhaps, painful, associations?
I am not willing to give up songs, even if I have painful associations with them. I just play them, and they are redefined by the energy of the audiences. The tricky thing is that, sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of a song before I realize that it’s going to trigger the audience to think of, say, a recent tragedy, or it’s going to trigger me to think about a personal loss. When that happens, I’m choking back tears onstage.

With more than 20 years of music under your belt, how has your career shifted — particularly the balance of work and family? How do you keep it fresh for yourself and your fans?
Music is all about being present in the moment. Every night is different to me. Because I only tour in three-to-four day spurts (to maintain the balance with the kids/family life), I don’t get in the kind of ruts that I would when I’d go on six-week tours. I just don’t experience burnout on these shorter runs! I also love playing brand new songs — I really get a rush from that. If I know I’m tossing in one new song, the whole show feels more exciting to me.

How’s it feel to be a truly independent artist for the first time in your career?
I have been relatively independent since I started working with Compass Records in 2005. Before that, my labels (EMI, Rykodisc, and Vanguard) could all be a little heavy-handed in steering my career. Compass was more of a partner with me, providing support, promotion, distribution. I just came to the point this year where having legal ownership of the masters became more important because I want to share the music in whatever ways I choose. I raised the money myself and I got to make every decision without running it by someone else. It feels pretty freaking great, to be honest!

On the new record, you teamed up with Kristen Hall to co-write and co-produce. How did that partnership come to be?
We met through my hairdresser and Mary Gauthier. Long story… Anyway, we wrote one song, and then another. We really hit it off creatively. Finally, we had most of a record. Kristen wanted to be sure I had a good producer. She helped me look for one until we both realized she should do it! She had such clear and delicious ideas for each song. I absolutely loved working with her. She’s genius.