Cursed: Enemies with the Industry

Cursed: III: Architects of Troubled SleepCursed: III: Architects of Troubled Sleep (Goodfellow, 3/25/08)

Cursed: “Magic Fingers”

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The nihilistic lyrics and abrasive sound of Ontario hardcore act Cursed easily defy any stereotype of perpetual good cheer routinely lobbed at Canadians. With three of its four members originating from lauded ’90s hardcore outfit The Swarm, hostility is part of Cursed’s pedigree. Its last release, III: Architects of Troubled Sleep, lives up to the band’s reputation as one of the most raw and pissed-off bands in hardcore.

But on this particular Saturday afternoon, the day after a back-to-back set in Ottawa, Cursed drummer Mike Maxymuik is affable and eager to talk about the future of his band. Is it ironic for a band well known for its proclamations of imminent doom? Maybe. But these days, the band has cause to indulge in a moment of optimism. After guitarist Christian McMaster’s struggle with carpal-tunnel syndrome put the band on hold for several months, they are back on the road in support of III.

“It was scary for a while with Christian; it was a rough rehab,” Maxymuik says about McMaster’s recent surgery. “He works pretty heavy manual labor [in his day job] and he’s been playing guitar in bands since he was 14. It got worse and worse to the point where he couldn’t even hold his pick.” After a five-month hiatus to allow McMaster time to heal, the band’s touring schedule of Canada and Europe tests the waters for a longer tour later in the year. “He seems to have healed pretty well. We’re all really confident about touring now.”

The latest release was worth the relatively lengthy wait. As with its previous full-length albums, the simply titled I (2003) and II (2005), the band’s sonic brutality hearkens back to classic hardcore and thrash like Napalm Death and Black Flag. Though the band’s overall sound remains unchanged, III’s clean, stripped-down production amplifies its sound with a new sense of urgency, and the result is its most ferocious release to date.

The tone of the album is established with an opening collage of chilling sound clips that evoke scenes of war and psychological torture, one of them sounding vaguely like George W. Bush. The idea of the clips was “[vocalist] Chris Colohan’s baby,” Maxymuik says. “We set up a little room, and while the rest of us recorded, we set him in there with headphones and a DVD player. He brought a bunch of DVDs and ripped a bunch of shit.” And the origins of the clips? “I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t talk about it even if I did know,” he laughs.

“All the anger and personal frustration you put into the music turns into complacency. [But] the balance keeps you grounded. It’s like a really fun vacation.”

Maxymuik is quick to acknowledge longtime friend Donny Cooper, the band’s live sound technician and producer of its last two EPs, as a key element of III’s production. “When we were figuring out what to do and who we wanted to work with, [we thought] ‘Well, we could go to some producer’s studio or fly some guy in to work with us,'” he says. “‘Or we could use the guy that does our shows with us and knows what we want to sound like.’”

The unprecedented experience of being able to write, rehearse, and record the album with an unchanged lineup gave Cursed an opportunity to take its time, experiment, and nail down the record’s sound as a unit. Briefly a five-member band, second guitarist Radwan Moumeh departed in 2003, and bassist Dan Dunham replaced Tom Piraino in 2004. III is the first full-length to feature the same lineup both in and out of the studio. “We spent a bunch of days recording it, took a break, and then mixed it,” Maxymuik says. We spent time tweaking little things here and there. I’m definitely happier with the way this came out than anything we’ve done. I think we all feel that way. We didn’t stop mixing it until we were happy with it.”

But don’t mistake Cursed’s new diligent studio approach as a slickly produced bid for attention from the majors. The musical and thematic focal point of III is “Friends in the Music Business,” which sends a middle finger to bottom-feeding industry drones. After a 15-minute barrage of sound, the album slows to a grind, a bile-drenched tirade that ends with a repeated growl of “Don’t call me, and I won’t call you.” It was a natural soapbox for notoriously outspoken Colohan to get some things off his chest. “We just sort of winged it,” he says.  Laughing, he continues, “We told Chris, ‘Hey, remember how you hate the music industry? Here, we’re going to let you rant on this song and burn as many bridges as possible.'”

The song was clearly borne from experience; after years of alternating nonstop touring with day gigs and five releases on four different labels, the band has come to terms with not thinking of itself as business first. “None of us ever want that because it will take the life out of you,” Maxymuik says. “I don’t want to name names, but we’ve toured with bigger bands where it seems like they’re going through the motions.”

So it’s pretty safe to assume that Cursed won’t be making a move to a major label anytime soon. “I don’t think that they would want to work with us, or us with them,” Maxymuik says. “We function way better when we’re hands-on.”

Cursed’s DIY ethic is more than lip service; it’s essentially what keeps the band alive. Though the band uses booking agents for tours in other countries, the recent Canadian tour was a band effort, with members getting on the phones with friends and booking gigs themselves. The two-set gig in Ottawa, for example, was played in the basement of a record store. “Of course, we made more money than we would’ve playing a bar, but it’s also more personal and way more fun this way,” Maxymuik says.

Such is the life of independent musicians, the back-and-forth grind of balancing jobs with their creative lives. For the members of Cursed, it’s a choice with which they’re ultimately satisfied. “It’s about [the band] not feeling too much like a job. You’re not really living, just doing the same thing over and over again. All the anger and personal frustration you put into the music turns into complacency. [But] the balance keeps you grounded. It’s like a really fun vacation.”

[Ed. note: After being robbed during a European tour in 2008, the members of Cursed went their separate ways.  The band remains broken up.]

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