30 Minutes with Cy Curnin of the Fixx
"The most interesting thing in life is change." So says Cy Curnin, singer of the perpetually shape-shifting synth-rockers the Fixx, in discussing both his creative (and personal) wanderlust and the impetus behind his second solo offering, The Returning Sun (Cy Curnin/Squirrels Eat Nuts; available at cdbaby.com). He also has a jones for surround sound, which makes him our kind of guy.
Your new solo album The Returning Sun is a very personal project in many ways. Yeah. Sometimes, when you're in a band like the Fixx, it becomes like a boy's club. And when we first started in the '80s, I never really wrote love songs. I was an angry young man, so whatever was on the front page was what I wrote about. "Downfall" and "Red Skies" weren't quite the same thing Duran Duran were doing, but somehow we got packaged through the MTV thing, so you take what you can to get in the door. And once you're in, you can't pull the fuse - well, you can't until you get to the fusebox, anyway. Which we finally did, and the Fixx evolved.
I've always written songs just for myself that have a certain vulnerability about them. I've collected them, and through the years, they sit there. I play them at home, but I don't record them. Well, I do record them when they're ready. I like to keep songs alive. Your emotions change over the years, so songs change.
Based on the style of songwriting you've employed with the Fixx, is this album a risk for you, to have you out there so "naked"? Well, there are risks in any kind of exposure. When you're young, you hide your limitations, and you waste a lot of energy hiding them. I eventually realized that you gain a lot more energy if you celebrate them and let them go, and that's what this album's about: Letting the vulnerability go.
Take "Remember Me When I'm Gone," written by Jeanette Obstoj, who did the lyrics for "Secret Separation" and "Woman on a Train." One day, she sends me this fax: "Urgent! Remember me when I'm gone." She was going through a really tough period. And I love her as a friend, but in comes this dramatic, literate woman with her mind gone over the end, a scorned woman who had come undone. It took me a while to get the rhythm of how I wanted to sing it. After dinner, the guitar chords came out and boom, in 10 minutes, there it was. And I thought, "That the best song I've written in years."
Cut to when I decide to build a studio on Broadway and Lafayette [in New York City], in the TVT Building above Serafina. Some friends of mine run a huge marketing company there, and they gave me a room where I could put a small studio. The guy who built it for me is good friends with Doug Beck, who writes for EQ magazine and also does remixes. My guy tells Doug he's building a studio in SoHo for Cy Curnin, and Doug goes, "Oh man, I'd love to do a remix of 'One Thing Leads to Another.' " So we call him up and boom, he did the remix. We got on so well that we got to working on this album. The first song we did was "The Future's Not What It Used to Be," written in a few hours like in the old Tin Pan Alley days.
We realized we had a chemistry. But Doug said, "One thing I don't do is work with people going through divorces" [laughs], but we still recorded "Remember Me When I'm Gone," and I loved the way it felt. He had a lot of G4s, and he made sure that he could keep the files as big as possible. We would go and mix in the ProTools suite down the hall, and I had my studio finished by that time, so we were doing some work there too. And then Jamie [West-Oram] from the Fixx came in...
Jamie's still way underrated as a guitar player in my book. Yeah. He's a genius. I remember watching him up on Mt. Everest teaching sherpas how to play guitar. [Go to cycurnin.com for more on this amazing venture.] He's such a genuine soul. He's my favorite human being; I even named my son after him. When you're around people that open, it opens you up. It's like stars in the sky. Together, we have this way of communicating without words. The nuances were there from what we do with the Fixx, but this time we did it for me. I just love the way he was able to come join me in my vulnerable moments. He would go home for a couple of weeks and come back when I was ready to do some more. It was all done over a couple of years.
What's your view on vinyl these days? I would love to have some current vinyl Fixx. Adam [Woods], our drummer, is a big champion of vinyl. He sees the kids going in and out of his local record shop, and that gets him excited. He's been telling us for a few years now that we should be doing vinyl, and he's right.
I like the size of an LP. I like what it represented. It's a zen square, and you measure your life in terms of little squares. And when you look at them this way, the artwork projects across the room further. I like that you had to take it out of the sleeve, like a ritual - the anticipation of it. Also, the two sides; that was another important side of the equation: "What's Side 1 going to be like? The last song on Side 1, I'm really looking forward to that." [Producer] Rupert Hine was really good at doing that. He had it down to a science: "This song has to go after that one." His technique stayed in my head. I learned a lot from him.
You've always been a fan of surround. How come? It makes music more visual. With it, you can do cinema for the blind. You can do a Greek restaurant in audio terms. When a cat suddenly sees something you don't with its sixth sense and runs up the curtains, you can do that with surround sound. It's just a fantastic medium. While I do love what [mixer] Martin Rex did with the original  1011 Woodland stereo mix, the  surround mix gives the songs new life. We had a great time meshing the old with the new when we revisited all those old songs at Woodland Studios in Nashville, and then we fleshed them out. Take "Woman on a Train": whenever we play it live now, we go with what Jamie came up with for Woodland, something that's not on that song's original  recording. Other songs like "Precious Stone," "Cameras in Paris," and "One Jungle" take on new meaning in 5.1. Because surround is a different arena, Woodland is now my favorite record. If anyone comes to the house and asks what I do for a living, I put that disc on as my answer.
That's good to hear, since we're very passionate about surround sound here at S&V HQ. It's a mindset, isn't it? You can do almost anything with it. The basic concept was, "Okay, we're going to put the drums in the middle of the room, we're going to visualize the bass as essentially omnipresent, the guitars can come both left and right, and the keyboards can be all around." It was a good experiment, and I'd like to do more.
The downside of music today is that everyone has gotten used to the MP3 "crunch." Its okay on your iPod and all that, but you need to go home and listen to the full bandwidth. Check out to what Trent Reznor has done with Nine Inch Nails; he's a master of separation. We've got to keep quality alive. Championing this kind of listening should be standard. Music still needs headroom, but we have a generation that seems to have gotten awfully claustrophobic.
Would you consider recording more things in surround? I'd love to hear you revisit some of the original Fixx albums. I'd love to do that. Tapes are being baked as we speak. We're going to do a lot of experimenting while we record the next Fixx album. [Update via Cy's unedited comments in a February 14 email correspondence: "The Fixx have finally booked time for late Feb early Mar to get cracking on our next masterpiece. Vinyl and surround sound I think don't you?"]