I had the chance to sit down with my good friend Curtis Peoples before his show at Birdy’s Bar & Grill to conduct this interview. It was very laid back, very low key, and an incredible time for Curtis and I. We laughed and talked about his life on a little more personal level than you get out of most interviews. I learned a lot about Curtis and this is just one more chapter in the book that will make this man an incredible star in whatever he does in music.
While I was typing this, I was listening to his album “Curtis Peoples” and all I could think about was his inevitable success, the friendship he and I have built over the last three years, and what’s in store for his future. My friend Jenna had the chance to meet Curtis last night as well, and she was as impressed with his demeanor as anyone. I just want to personally thank you, Curtis, for the time you spent with me and I look forward to what’s next.
So is your real name Curtis Peoples?
It is my real name. It’s funny, because before I started this… it was just a cool last name. But now people think it’s either a band or a stage name. My uncle has the same name – I was named after him – and he gets a big kick out of the merchandise. It all has his name on it.
When you play as a full band who is behind you? How long have you known each one of them?
It’s interesting because I still consider Slim (Gambill) as part of it. He doesn’t play with me as much anymore because he is with Lady Antebellum. I have known him going on 6 years now. Dave Yaden is my keyboard player when he can be but I treat him more as a featured guy. I bring him out for the bigger shows and really highlight him. Daniel, who plays guitar and bass, is always with me. He plays guitar on acoustic tours as well. He has become my right hand guy. Darla is my drummer and she is just great. I have known them both for 4 or 5 years. They used to play in another band in San Diego. It’s about finding the people that really fit – the ones that fit the vibe to be a band and not just a bunch of musicians.
How old are you?
26 (whispering) but people think I am 22. Across the board that’s the answer I get.
When did you first start playing music? When did you know it was what you would do for the rest of your life?
I started playing when I was 12. I had a band called ‘Chicken Jam’ and then we were called ‘3 Simple Words’. We were a joke band but then became what I thought was going to be ‘the band’. We really started when I was 14 and we did well in San Diego. If we had stayed together I think we could have been great.
But when I was 14 or 15 that was it – I knew this was it for me. Never for a moment did I doubt it or has it changed… much to my parent’s dismay. No, no. They were always cool about it and then as soon as they knew I was really into it, they were in it all the way. My dad said that they always decided to stick with me because if they didn’t side with me, I would do it anyway.
What jobs, other than music, have you had?
My first job was working at a picnic catering company, with Daniel actually, and we had to wear a yellow shirt and green shorts. Short green shorts. Then I worked at a ‘Jamba Juice’ but it wasn’t a ‘Jamba Juice’. It was a smoothie place. Then I worked at a video duplication company at the front desk. And I worked at a coffee shop. And no, it wasn’t Starbucks, it was just a place Dave Yaden and I used to hang out at all the time. My boss would work around my schedule and that was great. If I needed to leave town she would let me go which was awesome.
What, in one word, is your genre of music?
Well, it’s not one word. It’s two words. I am ‘coffee-shop/arena–rock’. Hyphenated with a slash.
Out of all the songs you have ever recorded, which is your favorite and why?
My favorite, that’s tough. I guess that my favorite would be ’Holding Me Down’. That is so not a singer-songwriter song and the whole record is kind of about not being that. Not that I don’t love being a singer songwriter. I just wanted to make something that sounded more like a rock band and not John Mayer. ‘Holding Me Down’ is something that Matt Wertz would not cut…or write. Plus, it felt like an 80’s song and I enjoyed that very much. And the band loved it. The band that played on it, including Slim and Dave, we had fun the whole day, and they loved playing it.
Who are your biggest influences musically? Personally?
The Beatles, and the funny thing about them is they don’t influence my songs at all, by the way things sound, they do two things for me. They allow me to know that it is OK to write different pop songs as long as you sound like yourself. They have so many different pop songs, but it works because it is them. And they know how to say everything they need to say in 3 minutes and I subscribe to that philosophy. Like you listen to ‘Hard Day’s Night’ and at 2:20 the song is over. The song is done, but it doesn’t leave you wanting more or feeling like it’s un-finished. I really learned how to cut the filler out of my songs because of those guys.
Pearl Jam was the band that got me to really want to do music. In high school I used to carry a Pearl Jam picture book and read it all day long in class. Tom Petty has become a big one especially with this record. We kept thinking about Tom. It changes, there are the big ones, and then it changes. I would say Third Eye Blind and their first record. The song ‘Exit Scene’ I told Dave I wanted a song that was like one of the last songs on the Third Eye Blind record. I wanted to leave you with something and made the record go somewhere and not end. A ‘To be continued…’ feel.
Oh and you said personally. Personally, Slim and Dave are big influences on my career. My manager and close friend, Craig Hammond, is a big one. Vick Fuentes is one of my closest friends and the stuff that he does with his band and the way he markets it teach me a lot. In turn I know I have been a big influence on him. I am happy that friendship has lasted over 20 years. Also my dad is a huge, huge influence on me.
Where is your favorite venue in the states to play?
That one is always tough. The Bitter End in New York is always fun. But the Roxy in L.A. is where I have put on the CD release show and was the best show I have ever played. I put on my full rock show with guest stars. Tyler Hilton, Vic, Tony Lucca, they were all there. They have a curtain there and when you go on stage and the curtain comes up – that is very cool. It is awesome. That night I didn’t want to see how many people were there. People were telling me there was a long line, but I had no idea until the curtain rose. It was really cool. And then we opened with ‘Danger Zone’. We played ‘Jump’ at the end too. I wanted the whole night to be a blast and it felt right.
What are you drinking while you are singing?
Water and when I can help it, tea. The throat coat stuff. I got that from Josh Kelley. (Curtis just tur
ned off the signal to his phone. But he knows how to fix it. He does this all the time…) But mostly just water. I drink a lot of water and I never drink before I play if I can help it. I don’t drink that much anyway but I sing like shit when I drink before I play. Drinking dries my voice and I already have kind of a raspy voice. And if I drink, by the 5th or 6th song it’s painful.
What is the funniest story you have from a past show?
I was doing a song in San Diego and there was a shit load of people and we were rocking and everything was great. And I wanted to see everyone. It was one of the venues where everyone was at eye level and I couldn’t really see people in the back. So I grabbed a stool and I tried to get on it and I get on it and it wobbles and I fell off. The hit was hard and the mic stand fell on the floor. It was bad. I got back up and sang. But no one in the back could see it. And I kept bringing it up when I met people afterward and people were like “I didn’t see that.” So I felt even dumber because I could not let it go. I didn’t even try to see if the chair was sturdy before just jumping on it. It was a good effort.
Who is your favorite band to play with?
Sadly, I don’t play with a lot of bands… but artists that I play with a lot are guys like Tony. Tyler is one of my favorites because our audiences are the same. People seem to like our rapport together. Tony and I have found a strong touring bond for how different we are both musically and personally. We bring something to each other on tour. I bring a youthfulness and optimism and he is so smart and so grounded and experienced it’s like having a big brother with him.
When you career is done what is one thing you want people to remember you for?
There are two careers I want to have. One… is the ability to even just play for clubs. I want to play at small places and have two hundred people show up. And then, I want to be on the radio. I want to have one of those songs where they are laughable how old they are. The ones that remind you of high school. Something that goes on forever. Even if it is just one song. Whether it’s like Bruce Springsteen or A-Ha. Forever people will sing that song. It’s super cool.
Tell me more about your relationship with Tyler Hilton.
It was, um, I didn’t totally believe in fate but I never thought about it until this part of my life came together. John Mayer had just broke and that made being a singer-songwriter an easy avenue to go. I met Tyler playing shows in San Diego and became good friends. Same age, and the same personality in a lot of ways, and we had a lot of fun hanging out. He asked me to go on tour with him, when he was opening for Gavin DeGraw and Michelle Branch, because he was able to bring someone along to help out. I had never been on tour and I went on as a roadie slash assistant tour manager. I didn’t look like a roadie and they didn’t treat me like a roadie. I hung out with the bands and everyone treated me like a musician.
From that I met Dave, Miley, Darwin, and they were all playing with Joe Firstman. When I got back to L.A. off that tour I had my Beatles tattoo; so many things changed. I felt like I was in college. I never went to college, so that was kind of my college and I freaked out in a good way. And then everything took off. Through Dave and Tyler I had this whole new life and all these new friends. In L.A. it can be hard to find a home, but it was easy. I had fans. Through Tyler I had made all these fans. When I played my first show in L.A. I had a packed show. It was really cool. I am fortunate for that. Tyler is a friendship that was put in my life for a reason. We have stayed really close. He always has been supportive of me and me the same for him.
Explain the Ryan Cabrera TV show that you were on and what that did for your career.
That did what I thought it would. The best thing that came out of it, and at the end of the day if I am never on MTV, I can say I played one of my songs on MTV. And I got a friend. I was actually just at his Halloween party.
They never said your full name on his show, so I knew it wasn’t going to do much for that. But I made a lot of fans out of it. People did the research and found out who I was. And I knew it wasn’t American Idol, and I wasn’t going to blow up, but it did a lot of good. It gave me a nice little boost of legitimacy.
Who have you written songs for in the past?
Its funny because all my co-writes I end up cutting all of myself for whatever reason. Timing, or anything. I wrote one song that was supposed to be for Josh Kelley, then Rascal Flatts, then to Elliot Yamin. ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’ was supposed to be for Tyler when he was on Maverick still. His A&R guy wanted it to be his first single, but Tyler ended up never cutting it. It was too pop for what he was doing. I wrote with the singer from One Republic, who was once Dave’s roommate, he is probably the biggest musician I know.
What is the next step for you as a performer?
All I care about is making sure that thousands of people hear this record. I got on the Rock Boat, and it’s cool how that worked out. I’ll be touring and trying to get some placement. Hopefully some TV spots and then to get on the radio – it is all building blocks. I’m on a small label that’s a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, but I don’t have Warner Brother’s money, sadly. At least for the next year I will be pushing this record – at least through 2009. I will tour another year after that if something breaks and if it doesn’t I’ll record another one.
Where are you 5 years from now?
In a perfect world, I’ll be 31, (thanks for pointing that out Jenna), I think by then if it is not from this record it will be the next record. I think I will be doing 1000 seat venues and will have gotten some radio airplay and I will be off and running. Not the top of where I am gonna be but I definitely will be in a good place. I’ll be in a financially and emotionally good place in my life.
If you could be one fruit what would it be?
I would be a banana. They go with so many things. They are good in cereal, smoothies, they are a good snack by themselves. The chocolate dipped bananas are good.
I want to start a trend. I want to leave you with the last word. Go.
You have to believe completely in what you are doing or you won’t be able to do it. If you don’t believe it… why would you do it? If I do not fully believe that I am going to do it on some level, these things that I have said, I should have given up a long time ago.
I have seen that with many of my friends already. I thought Josh and Tyler would be super-huge by now. Tyler is well known, but he is not John Mayer. He is not gigantic. It doesn’t mean that a year from now he won’t be there. We didn’t know that he would do a movie. His first movie out was an Oscar winner.
I didn’t know that I would meet Marshall and make this record. You just don’t know. All and all, in the end, all I can say is we’ll see.