Sean Kirkpatrick Brings Nervous Musical Energy to the Cactus Club
Sean Kirkpatrick has got the sad bastard thing nailed. Except, when this particular sad bastard gets out of bed every morning, he doesn’t pick up an acoustic guitar. He bangs out all kinds of dissonant and claustrophobic chords on the piano like a frantic, genius composer. Think Chopin at his most moody, then transport the late classical pianist to *now* and surround him with the influences of sinewy post rockers such as Polvo and Faraquet and the minimalist art rock of Sonic Youth. Finally, place Chopin and his piano in a cabaret setting, and one might get the result that Kirkpatrick has so beautifully achieved as the frontman for Dallas’ Nervous Curtains.
A recent review of the band’s debut Out of Sync With Time [Latest Flame Records] compliments the music on these bizarre qualities, Razorcake’s Jimmy Alvarado reviewing it as, “piano-heavy stuff with bits of cabaret, gloomy synth pop and other stuff…all over the map sonically…the bulk of what they’re doing takes a bit more effort to digest than pop in, play loud, and move onto the next thing, which is a definite plus. They also have the dubious honor of producing the bleakest cover of the Minutemen’s ‘Jesus and Tequila’ I’ve ever heard.”
Jarring, yet fixating, Kirkpatrick and his band mates’ (Robert Anderson and Ian Hamilton) music involves no guitars, yet needs none of those to pack a punch. Nervous Curtains, sans guitar, brings the same, crushing and offsetting qualities that fans of Kirkpatrick’s other band, The pAper chAse will find familiar. Fan-belt spoke to Kirkpatrick before Nervous Curtains hit the road for the Midwest, making a stop at Milwaukee’s Cactus Club this Friday.
You’re now in the middle of a mini-tour: Lawrence, Kansas to Dubuque to Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, then back home again. What stop are you most looking forward to?
Well, we’re really excited about the Chicago show. Empty Bottle is a great venue, and we’re opening for Disappears there. That’s the new band by former 90 Day Men guitarist, Brian Case. They’re having their release for a new album on Kranky Records that night, so it should be a good one. Milwaukee should be a lot of fun too. I’m looking forward to seeing all the bands. I’ve played at Cactus Club a bunch of times, but never with this band. It’s a really cool room, and Milwaukee people are always nice.
I put out an album under my own name in 2007. It was more of a singer-songwriter vibe. When I did some release shows for that record, I asked Robert and Ian to back me up. The three of us played together for a while and eventually found a chemistry. That, in turn, strongly influenced the writing of the Out of Sync material. All these songs were written for this band, with this instrumentation in mind. I see it as a totally separate venture than my solo material. This is a rock band.
Your debut album (out this past winter) Out of Sync With Time is tagged with the word ‘paranoia’ a lot. Indeed, Nervous Curtains creates a dissonant, panicked sound environment — where does this nervous musical energy and inspiration come from?
It’s just something I tune into a lot. I see myself and people around me reacting to fears (both rational and irrational), and I find it interesting. It’s exciting to me when I can get it to resonate in the music just the right way; it’s like finding the right combination of rhythms, notes, tones and effects to simulate some psychotic behavior I might be describing in the lyrics. But I still want it to be fun, in a way; I still want it to have a certain rock and roll vibe to it. Bands like Sonic Youth and Polvo are really good at that. I try to take those kinds of concepts and move them into pianos and synths.
Your piano compositions are minor key oriented — ever feel like you’ll be stuck writing in minor from now on? Could you write a true Nervous Curtains song in a major key?
My songs are somewhat dark, but I think they’re not without a sense of humor. “It’s Cramped in the Casket” is a really funny title, don’t you think? And I do like to balance major keys in my songs. The song “All Yesterday’s Parties” is primarily in a minor key. But the chorus of the song shifts to a major key, and the song’s subject becomes consumed in his past glories. Of course, by the end of the song, this joyous nostalgia becomes a great source of pain, as he is unable to reconcile his unraveling, alcoholic presence with his infallible former days. So yeah, I guess I can’t really write anything major and upbeat without somehow turning it upside down and making a funeral out of it.
How did you cross wires with Chicago’s [by way of Milwaukee’s] Latest Flame Records?
We had the album completely recorded and had no one to put it out. So I “shopped” it to about every label I could think of. I had a copy of a Latest Flame release by the Belgian band Hitch, so I just mailed them a disc. Dan [Hanke], there at the label, contacted me shortly after, and we started talking. We feel pretty fortunate to have hooked up with them.
Nervous Curtains plays Milwaukee’s Cactus Club this Friday, April 16th. Also playing: Disguised As Birds, Kings Horses and Owner Operator. 9:30 p.m. 21+