Out songwriter Catie Curtis talks about living the sweet life

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The vivid songwriting of Catie Curtis has garnered a solid reputation over the years as a deft combination of insightful lyrics with a soulful energy unmatched by most of her contemporaries.

Entailing strongly relatable emotional narrative, Curtis’ writing has encompassed domestic violence, corporate greed, religion, homelessness, peace and gay issues among others.

Far from being a one-hit wonder blazing furiously on the strength of one song only to fizzle into obscurity a month later, Curtis has garnered a rock solid fan base through word of mouth without the dubious benefit of music industry hype.

Curtis’ studio work, engaging live shows and impressive touring career in the US and Europe have earned rave reviews and widespread recognition.

Her songs have been featured on TV shows including Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, Alias, Chicago Hope, and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as in several independent films. In addition to an impressive touring schedule in her own right, she’s also toured with such luminary performers as Dar Williams and Mary Chapin Carpenter and as part of Lilith Fair.

This commitment to touring has resulted in a devoted, grassroots fan base. These days, she is predictably on the road playing 100 shows a year, both solo and with her band.

Readying her tenth effort to date, Sweet Life, Curtis finds herself doing nothing less than defining her genre with this release. Sweet Life sparkles with positive energy while managing to steer clear of false sentimentality and syrupy sappiness.

Anything but sticky sweet, this album is like a mature embrace, from the warm and winsome coming-of-age allegory “Are You Ready to Fly?” to the languid, sepia-toned “What You Can’t Believe,” on which she disperses the doubts that gather, as the lyric puts it, “under darkening clouds.”

Backed by an array of Music City vets, including longtime Bonnie Raitt collaborator George Marinelli and Alison Prestwood, who’s accompanied such artists as Shawn Colvin, Rodney Crowell and Peter Frampton, Curtis stretches out as broadly as at anytime in her 12-year recording career.

That’s evident in the playfulness of the ‘30s-styled barroom plaint “Lovely” as well as in the ‘70s soul groove of “For Now,” which exudes Muscle Shoals sultriness.

Catie Curtis’ tenth album and sophomore release on Nashville-based Compass Records, Sweet Life is due in stores Sept. 9. Curtis will be performing in Nashville at 3rd & Lindsley on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. with a $10 cover charge.
 
Recently Catie Curtis took time to speak with O&AN during an exclusive phone interview about the album and living the life of a family woman with a partner of 12 years and two young children.

O&AN: You are well known for the depth of emotion in each of your works. What feelings do you feel most strongly define “Sweet Life” in context of your previous releases to date?

CC: A lot of my past records have been written when I was going through a transition or a crisis of indecision. This one is in the context of I’m kind of gliding along and making the decisions if I’m going to get married or if I’m going to have kids or where I’m going to live and so forth.

Suddenly I find myself in a place where a lot of those questions have been answered for me. I’m married. I have kids. I have a home. On one hand the reality of it may want to make you tear your hair out because the household can be so chaotic, but on the other hand you kind of have to step back and realize “Wow, this is what we’ve been working for all these years and it’s pretty sweet.”

O&AN: Considering your description of your last work, Long Night Moon, as being reflective of your new life as a parent, would you say that Sweet Life was a continuation of those themes?

CC: Long Night Moon was more about the light in the darkness and trying to get through it all. This album is more of a “yee-ha!” When you first go into the transition of having kids I feel like you kind of go into a tunnel where you can’t see your old life and you can’t see how you are going to get through the early years.

But you really start to nurture it when they are finally old enough to put on their own clothes. I feel like we are actually becoming a group with an identity. We are starting to experience each other in a way that brings a sort of “with-ness” that is absent in those early years.

O&AN: Does the album deal only with family matters or are you also trying to explore some other themes in this work?

CC: I see a lot of thoughtful, kind people beating themselves up about the things going on in the world and all the bad things that have been happening. I think we all know that there are hard times to come and whatever happens with the economy and global warming and so on, I don’t think we have to be miserable through it all.

I really am in this place where I just try to take the joy that I can from the world no matter what and that’s what this album is all about. It’s important to keep a positive outlook.

O&AN: As much time as you spend on the road performing how do you find time to make a family work back home?

CC: I never pictured myself as a family person ten years ago but I find that now I’m here and it’s about trying to strike a balance between having a lot of family time and still allowing myself to get away from time to time. The musical community of Boston is important to my partner and myself so we still do a lot of things away from the family.

O&AN: As a resident of Massachusetts where it is legal for gay couples to marry, what is it like for you when you travel to places like Nashville where those rights are not afforded the gay community and even the idea of being gay is sometimes less acceptable?

CC: I had an experience where I was in Nashville making this record and I had to go to the doctor. Well, obviously I get my insurance from my wife and they didn’t understand what I was talking about.

I ended up telling myself  “just pretend she’s my husband” in order to fill out the paperwork and I never thought I would ever be saying that. It suddenly dawned on me what difficulty it must be for anyone having to constantly deal with beurocracy. I realize how well we really are treated in Massachusetts in comparison to the rest of the nation.