I sat down with Curse Mackey before his performance in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, where he shared a bill with old friends My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. Whether you first heard him as the singer of Texas-based industrial noise act Evil Mothers, with the Grim Faeries, as a contributing vocalist for My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, or on one of his many collaborations with industrial supergroup Pigface, if you’ve been in the dark alternative scene for a bit, you’ve definitely come across his work. A few months ago, he put out his debut solo album, Instant Exorcism, which has been well-received by fans old and new…and without a doubt, showcases his various musical influences and talents beautifully.
1. The album has a few underlying themes from what I can tell…there’s the exorcism/religious overtone and then there’s the dystopian theme, like the lines about “counting down days as we choke” in “Bone In The Throat” and of course [there’s] “Dystopian Dope.” And [it’s] also in “Blowmindr.” There’s definitely this sorta sci-fi/cyberpunk thing going on. What was some of your inspiration, both musically and lyrically?
Curse: I was raised in a southern baptist environment in San Antonio, Texas. Religious iconography has always resonated with me, I have a nice collection of crucifixes and religious art. From a young age I have read a vast amount of speculative and science fiction, fantasy, and stories of the macabre and bizarre. So as a writer, I’m inclined to paint my words to evoke the themes, atmosphere and conceptual elements you have mentioned.
2. “After You, Destruction” seems to kinda speak to your roots with Evil Mothers and the 90s industrial scene. Was that something you were thinking of during the writing process?
Curse: “After You, Destruction” was one of the first three songs I wrote for INSTANT EXORCISM and it is definitely an industrial dance song at its core. It is partly inspired by “1984”, the British dystopian science-fiction film written and directed by Michael Radford, based upon George Orwell’s novel of the same name. This was one of the songs where I allowed myself to utilize spoken word samples as a bit of a tribute to late 80s/90s industrial-dance music while still creating something unlike anything I’ve written before, it’s been going over quite well for me live and it’s getting a lot of club play so that’s exciting.
3. Do you think you’d ever release any remixes besides “Somewhat Possessed”? A lot of the songs on this album seem like they’d translate well to club mixes, for example.
Curse: I started my career as a DJ specializing in dark electronic dance music so my album naturally falls into that realm. So remixes, yes and if anyone would like to do one, then seek me out.
4. Tell us about making the “Somewhat Possessed” video. Where was it filmed and who was the director? That sort of lagging/blur effect gives it such an unsettling vibe, as well as the footage being inverted or manipulated to look degraded…what were some of the visions and inspirations behind this video?
Curse: That was a fun video to make. It was all shot, edited and directed by the super talented Rona Rougeheart of the band SINE from Austin, Texas. We purposefully took a DIY approach. We shot it at our house in Austin, TX and also filmed me in the oldest cemetery in Austin which just happens to be about 50 feet from our house. Which is just perfect for us, ha! It’s a performance- focused video with plenty of surrealistic, psychedelic texturing because, well, we like the surrealistic and the psychedelic!
5. I didn’t know what to expect with the new album…I mean, I’m familiar with Evil Mothers, and then of course Pigface…and that was kinda the last I’d heard from you. So, in my eyes, you kinda just swooped in out of nowhere with this amazing album! Like I heard “O’Blasphemy” and it’s so cool…it’s sort of dark, and just…almost like if Nick Cave did industrial music…It just really grabbed me. I’ve been listening to it just as a solid unit, back to back songs. Just throwing it on and listening through, totally losing myself. So yeah…well done!
Curse: Thank you very much, that means a lot…I really appreciate that analogy too. I guess it’s kinda like, working with those guys [Thrill Kill Kult] and Evil Mothers and Pigface, all these large enterprises and large creatives forces…it really came about because after Pigface was going dormant for longer than I wanted, there had been a series of delays on the tour. Martin Atkins was in a car wreck, so his back was all out of wack…we had two or three years of tour delays during his recovery. So I was like, “I gotta do something else.” So I started working on a record in 2016…I started doing this as a solo project, but it was more a kind of ambient, experimental sort of vibe. And I was also doing some live interpretations of some Evil Mothers and Pigface stuff to help flesh it out. And then by doing those performances, that just sort of manifested in all this new material. Now that I’m doing more of these solo shows and opportunities are developing, I have to have something brand new to work with. So that really moves and motivates me to get out there. Rather than just re-hashing old stuff or making it up on the fly, I wanted to have a cohesive body of work that represents who I am right now, while bringing all of that past along with me to some degree. But also while giving it a very contemporary aesthetic.
6. Well, some of it’s very danceable, like I can throw it on at a goth/industrial club night and people would dig the hell out of it.
Curse: I’m a big fan of dance music and dark electronic, industrial dance music…goth…
Curse: That was the reschedule of a previous cancellation in Orlando, so it was basically the last date of the 40-year anniversary of Bauhaus with David J. They’d played 90-something shows and this was to be the last one. And Peter was unwell, and I was only there because my girlfriend’s band SINE was the opener for that show. I sing on her record, so I was only going down to sing on that song. So I went out to sing with her, and then I walked offstage, and then David J was hanging out watching the show. And we’ve played a couple of shows together so we have some familiarity, and he was like “Well, it’s not looking good, Peter’s not gonna do the show, I don’t think…I mean, he might show in the next 20 minutes, but if he doesn’t, then I guess we have to cancel on this crowd a second time…I really don’t want to.” I mean, it’s not a good scene, for 1200 people to get cancelled on twice. So he’s like, “Well, can she [Rona of SINE] do what she’s doing with her keyboard and percussion sample rig, during our set? And then, I’m sure you know some songs…so you could sing.”
So I thought about it for a minute…fortunately back in the day Evil Mothers used to do some Bauhaus covers. And I’ve listened to that stuff for so long, and DJed, and since we’d just seen Peter Murphy in Austin and had been listening to him again, I thought, “Well, here are the five songs that I’m most comfortable singing. So yeah, let’s do it!” And then as soon as SINE was done playing, I went out there and told Rona and was like, “Peter’s not coming, so looks like we’re gonna play with these guys, David J is gonna join in and I’m gonna sing, and you do your thing.”
That must’ve been surreal as shit! (Laughs)
Curse: It was! So we quickly went into a band meeting and came up with this approach of doing this sort of deconstructed Bauhaus in dub, almost live remix, improv kind of thing.
Well, yeah, they’ve done some of that anyway. Some of the Bauhaus stuff I love is where they just sorta go off.
Curse: Yeah, real deconstructed and spaced out.
I feel like a lot of that is David J, too. I’ve met him a couple of times, he’s really cool. And one of the things that strikes me about him is that he thinks outside of the box, but he’s really kinda methodical about it. So I could see that being a good combination for the show. That must’ve been a trip!
Curse: Yeah. It was!
8. So tell me about the tour, what else has been happening?
Curse: It’s been great because it’s a real blessing for me, having worked with them (Thrill Kill Kult) in the past, to have a new record and to be brought out to do what I do. To kinda keep it in the family, so to speak. It’s been a great tour. And it’s just…Frankie (Groovie Mann) and I, he’s one of my very best friends in the world, same with Buzz (McCoy). So, every day is something fun and cool, and we just laugh and make fun of ourselves and don’t take life too seriously. While still putting on a great show and trying to connect with people in every city.
Because for me, this is almost like a brand new thing…it’s like a brand new band. My name’s been around and I’m associated with some very cool acts, but this is the first time that it’s been only me up there during the performance. So, everything that’s gone wrong, from technical difficulties to tripping on cables or whatever, it’s all on me. And I like that, because there’s a little bit of a fear factor. Not quite stage fright, but a new form of adrenaline that I haven’t felt in a while. So, I’m really excited. Each of these shows is like going to each city for the first time. The exposed nature of just being up there by myself with the sounds that I’m making.
It’s two-fold as well…I was out with Clan Of Xymox in November…Ronny Moorings is the main guy from Clan Of Xymox and he ended up playing on my record, the first track, “Submerged.” The guitar on that track is all Ronny. And he’s like, “I love what you’re doing because you’re only one person. You take up your footprint onstage…if you had to, you could do it in a four-by-four foot space. It’s not like, six guys coming in, it’s just you and your girlfriend. We love that you guys integrate so easily, there’s no drum kit or big amps, no drama or attitude…just a self-contained unit.” So for me right now…some people are like “You should add a percussionist or get a couple of people playing synths behind you or whatever.” And I’d like to do that at some point. But economically, with what I’m doing right now, I don’t think so. I think once the stages get bigger and the budgets get better, yeah, then I will scale it up. But right now, this is working.
Curse: Uh…I’ve heard rumors. I have to get through this tour first! (The rumors are true!)
Yeah, you know, Martin is so…
Curse: Vague? (Laughs)
But he still manages to create hype about it. I don’t think I’m gonna be able to get to Chicago [for the show]. I’m really disappointed.
Curse: Well, there’s fourteen other shows.
Yeah, I just thought of Chicago first because I’ll be there for Cold Waves…
Curse: Well, there’s always Austin. That’ll be off the chain, it’ll be like a hometown gig. SHOULD I actually be involved… (nudge nudge wink wink)
10. Well, if you are, just act surprised when they tell you about it. You didn’t hear it from me! So, the other thing I was wondering about…it’s hard to phrase this as a question, it’s more a thought I had while I was listening to your album for the, well, fifth time on the way to the gym. I was thinking how it’s sort of goth but also industrial. And I feel like that crossover is sometimes rare, especially now. I’ve been in the industrial scene for a while and I kinda started as a goth kid, and then moved over a little into industrial. But I’ve gone back and forth a bit and I’ve noticed that it seems like nowadays, it’s a little more divided…what do you think?
Curse: To me, I don’t really care about the label of it so much. There’s industrial, or goth, or dark wave…but to me, those all blend. It’s dark alternative music. It’s not mainstream, although it’s popular as fuck when you start looking at The Cure and Depeche Mode. And those guys are just as valuable to me, or a band like Clan Of Xymox and Cocteau Twins…like that early 4AD stuff…Dead Can Dance…This Mortal Coil, Bauhaus, all of that…Killing Joke, then into The Birthday Party and Nick Cave…Coil…Throbbing Gristle…then you start getting into post-industrial or early industrial dance stuff, like Skinny Puppy and Cabaret Voltaire, you know, Wax Trax…Ministry, and now today, with Youth Code and 3Teeth as well as bands like She Past Away and other up and coming acts. So there’s a really cool blend of just what I think of as, music of the dark side. When it starts breaking down into scenes, I’m not too interested in local scene politics. I see every little city in America shoot itself in the foot because you have two factions of DJs that can’t get along, so they’d rather have 30 people each at their nights, instead of having 80 or 100 if they combined forces. I just make the music that inspires me.
Yeah, I’ve noticed the same thing. It’s been weird to wrap my head around it as an artist because there’s this sense of loyalty to the entire umbrella of dark alternative, as you said, plus all the crossover.
Curse: Well, I’ve listened to all kinds of music, like classical…I listen to like, outlaw country, so that’s all in there too. I like great storytelling and atmosphere.
11. What are some albums you’ve been listening to lately that you really like? What’s been the soundtrack to the tour? Now I’m putting you on the spot! (Laughs)
Curse: I got so enraptured in my own music during the production of the album, I wasn’t listening to other stuff, I was just in my bubble. Let’s see… (pulls out phone to open Spotify) what’s on the show playlist? Well I’ve been listening to a lot of old David Bowie, some Clan Of Xymox…I like ACTORS.
Oh yeah, they’re great, I saw them at Cold Waves last year.
Curse: I’m always a big IAMX fan, I love those guys…my girlfriend’s band SINE…her record’s really cool…lots of Stooges lately…for newer bands I like Ritual Howls, Soft Kill, OhGr’s new one, “Tricks”…I like Cold Cave, Drab Majesty, Boy Harsher, like when I DJ I’ll play a lot of that stuff. The Horrors, I like their new album…These New Puritans is pretty artsy, kinda like Coil in a way. Their new album’s really cool…Standalone, which is Steven Seibold from Hate Dept…he’s on Negative Gain too. That’s a good record. You’ll like it. HEALTH, I like them too. Mr. Kitty is cool…yeah, then all of Gary Numan’s contemporary stuff, like for the last 5-10 years has been really great. I’m just glad that the old guys are still at it, from Nick Cave to Gary Numan, that generation, like they’re in their 60s and they’re still rocking out. It means I could do that someday, you know. It’s inspiring.
Curse: I got involved in Negative Gain because they wrote me a big fat advance check and gave me a bunch of blingy jewels while wining and dining me into submission. Aside from that, the reality is that amongst the short-list of labels I wanted to work with, Roger and Micah at Negative Gain were very complimentary to my music, the most agile in meeting specific production deadlines and hitting a release date that would coincide with my 2019 tour schedule, and our deal is equally beneficial to both label and artist as long as we both continue to put the time and effort in to making this release as successful as possible. So it’s a perfect pairing really. In addition, I do have a number of friends on the label such as Steven Seibold of Standalone who actually mastered my album. Steven Archer of Stoneburner, Mr. Kitty, Aedra from Fires, Goo Munday, Andy Deane of Rain Within, Matt Fanale of Caustic/Klack and I’m making new friends daily like Josh and Luna from SYZYGYX, Jack from Panic Priest, Culttastic, Astari Nite, and I’m probably forgetting a few others. Suffice to say Negative Gain is making cool things happen in the world of contemporary, dark electronic music and my friends Twin Tribes, who are also from Texas just signed with NGP so it’s becoming a very strong, diverse family of artists!
Curse Mackey’s solo album “INSTANT EXORCISM” is now available on vinyl, cassette, CD and digital formats from Negative Gain.
Connect with Curse Mackey
Stream Instant Exorcism at https://open.spotify.com/artist/0usgY8btlTK2oA5B2nxaSC