Galen Curry honed his skills as a musician in the most intuitive way: by playing music whenever and wherever possible. He [has] played in jazz combs, chamber singing groups, wedding bands, and wind ensembles. He has toured the Eastern Seaboard with a rock [outfit] and Eastern Europe with a concert choir. For years, Galen front Upstate New York alt-rock band The Beds and Virginia funk-rock ensemble Ultraviolet Ballet, and it was with these bands that he began to find his voice as a songwriter.
Galen’s musical talents are now focused on a burgeoning solo career. Based out of a vibrant Charlottesville, Virginia, music scene, Galen honors his southern heritage with unmistakably American tunes that supplement his singular tenor with clever lyricism and upbeat rootsy instrumentation, but it is his penchant for heartfelt and rollicking live performances that definitely set him apart from the crowd.
Whether “I Tore Down a Mountain,” or “Oh, Mama,” the clever hooks and chorus lines of Galen Curry’s music nourish the listener with a gentle calm. Winner of the 2010 First Amendment Writes competition held by The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, Curry is undoubtedly a blossoming voice in Charlottesville’s local music scene and beyond.
But it isn’t the land of Hooville Curry considers home, it’s Potsdam, a small town in upstate New York, where his family moved when he was just five-years-old. “That’s where I grew up,” he says. “It’s where I became active musically.” And active he was. Curry honed his music skills playing piano, bassoon, clarinet, guitar, and singing in choirs throughout Lawrence County, eventually forming his first rock band, The Beds.
“[It was with The Beds] when I instantly fell in love with being a front man. We played a ton in upstate, and did a few short tours around the northeast, hitting a lot of hot spots like NYC, Boston, Burlington, and everywhere in between.”
Then came an opportunity to go west for the young men of The Beds to the City of Angels to film their first music video: “Need to Dream,” about a desperate dream addict played by actress Melanie Wilson. Even though the band has since dissolved, Curry still reflects on this stretch of his life as a period of growth, personally and musically, and also as a time to move on. “We were all young and would play during our summer breaks in college, but eventually it just didn’t really make sense to play together because of the distance.”
A NEW DIRECTION
By this time, Curry was studying music at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. William & Mary “really broadened my horizons,” he says. “It was there I started appreciating singing jazz and also southern Appalachian old-timey and bluegrass music.”
It was also there, down the gingerly paved road of DOG (Duke of Gloucester) Street, the songwriter formed his next band, Ultraviolet Ballet.
“We wrote a lot of original songs and also played a number of covers dominated by old Prince classics. After we graduated, we all moved together from Williamsburg to Charlottesville to continue playing music together in a larger and more music-friendly town.”
“Things went well and we landed an opening slot for the mash-up artist Girl Talk, but following a time things fizzled and we stopped playing together. The breakup was definitely amiable though,” Curry makes sure to add. “We still get back together to play when we can in various forms including Shockadelica, an all Prince cover band,” which recently opened for the Michael Jackson tribute band, Who’s Bad, February 24, 2011, at The Jefferson Theater, located on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.
ON PERFORMING: NO BREASTS, ONLY COW TURDS & BLACK SABBATH
When I asked Galen to tell me something wholly unique about himself that happened before, during, or after one of his performances, Curry doesn’t have any stories to confess about signing the breasts of a 20-year-old, or better yet, the sagging breasts of a 68-year-old. (I was really crossing my fingers for the latter)
Instead, the 24-year-old singer/songwriter admits, “because I like playing all different kinds of music, I tend to find myself in strange situations playing really weird gigs.” Take for example, The Redneck Fest. “Two years in a row, we [The Beds] played a festival befittingly known as The Redneck Fest. Opening for country legends The Kentucky Headhunters,” Curry says, “was super fun.”
But perhaps it was the audience at hand that really set the fest apart. “Our crowd consisted of a ton of people seated atop straw bales, having cow shit flinging competitions, and mud wrestling each other, among other things.”
At another occasion, he was asked to put together a rock band for a UVA Halloween party. “I wasn’t told any other details, so I got a group of musicians and we showed up the day of the show to find out we were playing in one of the UVA dining halls. It was ridiculous. There they were, poor college kids trying to eat their dinner having no idea what was going on, and we were playing Black Sabbath and “Monster Mash” at super-high volumes.”
Curry is a huge proponent of high-energy performance, as evidenced by his live shows.
“I hate watching bands where the musicians all stand still and don’t really look like they are having a good time. Even after doing it for so long, I love singing and playing more than anything else. I like to think my performance reflect that.”
Judging by the turnout of his audiences at his local shows, I believe he has secured this feat.
“A little booze,” he is quick to append, “always helps loosen things up too, but I think my natural energy and stage presence are my strengths and make me an individual and strong performer (to be totally vain for a second).”
Curry accepts his overactive imagination and uses it to his advantage when penning new songs.
“It’s typical to write about heartbreak or being in love,” Curry says, “but [I prefer] to think up stories or scenarios far more interesting than anything that has ever happened to me. When I write, I try to include a healthy mix of reality and fantasy.”
After the demise of Ultraviolet Ballet, Curry began writing his own original songs. “They were folksier, alt-country, singer/songwriter type tunes. I had written some songs in the past and equipped with a handful of new songs, I decided it was time to record a solo album.”
His previous bands all had recordings, but had never actually released a real record, “and it was something I really wanted to do.”
In the spring of 2010, he recorded his first, Some Perspective, at The Sound Studios in Charlottesville. Engineered and mixed by James McLaughlin and mastered by Fred Kevorkian, the album features the accompaniment of former bandmates and others, including members of The Beds, Ultraviolet Ballet, and The Rock River Gypsies (a bluegrass/american fusion band also based in Charlottesville) to which Curry lauded the entire effort as “a great experience” with an outcome he was very much happy with. The album release party was held in June 2010 with a warm reception.
Soon thereafter, Curry won the fifth annual First Amendment Writes songwriting contest, a local competition co-sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center and the Music Resource Center. Of the eighteen finalists (8 poets and 10 songwriters), Curry came out on top. Judges included Red Light Management (Dave Matthews Band, Alicia Keys, Ben Harper) music executives Patrick Jordan and Stu Smith, as well as acclaimed poet Gregory Orr, et al.
ON THE CHARLOTTESVILLE MUSIC SCENE AND HIS NEXT STEPS
Since then, the Charlottesville born turned NY transplant and back to C’Ville again musician, has been hard at work writing new songs for his follow-up album and is even considering a move to Austin, TX, in the fall, admitting his plans, at least for now, are “still up in the air.”
But even if Curry leaves, the community he has left behind won’t be forgetting him any time soon.
“One of the great things about living in Charlottesville is the music community. I frequently sit in with The Rock River Gypsies and steal members of their band to back me up on various occasions,” he laughs. “Whenever I have a free Monday night, I hit up The Local which is kind of like an open mic night for songwriters. Every week, we get a prompt and have to write a song based on the parameters of the prompt. It’s hosted by a band of great musicians and more than any other open mic I’ve been to it seems to be a congregation of all of Charlottesville’s best songwriters and music personalities.”
With Curry at the helm, it sure sounds like it.
Photo credit – Ryan Babarsky