Exclusive Premiere: Check Out Nervous Curtains' Scathing New Dallas Ode.
It's no secret we've got something of an affinity for songs about Dallas around here. So you can imagine our delight when we learned that Nervous Curtains third LP, called Con and due out October 2, will feature another track to add to that canon.
But “City of Hate” isn't just an ode to the long-unchanged mentality of Dallas' citizenry. Rather, it's chock full of references to the Kennedy assassination, as well as allusions to several other famous songs about Dallas.
So, yeah, we're pretty stoked, then, that Nervous Curtains passed along that original song and its Black Taffy (read: Donovan Jones from This Will Destroy You) remix for us to exclusively premiere. Check out the original song immediately below, then keep scrolling for the remix and for a Q&A with Nervous Curtains frontman Sean Kirkpatrick about its inspirations.
You're pretty politically involved — or, at least, you seem to be pretty outspoken about that type of stuff on social media. Didn't you work, in some capacity, with the Wendy Davis campaign?
I got involved with that campaign and did a lot of volunteer work. I wasn't an employee or anything, but I worked with Battleground Texas. I did a certain amount of social activism. My wife is really a lot more involved in that kind of stuff. She goes to lots of protests. We're very involved with the Black Lives Matter group. I go to some of that stuff with her, but I'm so busy with music I haven't had time to do much of that.
But then you get to put some of that into your songs…
Right. I mean, the new album as a whole… it's not necessarily a political album, I wouldn't say. It more just looks at the whole concept of beliefs, what we believe and our biases. The word that really keeps coming back in the album is “conviction.” So, while conviction is often looked at as a positive attribute that drives one, what's to say it can't also be some sort of a blinding force? Or something that contributes to self-delusion and ends up creating paranoia? I have a lot of fun with those kinds of ideas. That's more what the album ties into. Everybody is so impassioned with their beliefs, but we're not all right. How often do we really ask ourselves whether we're right?
How does that apply to “City of Hate,” specifically.
“City of Hate” is really the one song where I do let my own beliefs be known a little bit more. I mentioned the paranoia. That's the song where the paranoia really comes bubbling up to the surface and I can't contain it anymore. I had the idea for that song last year when we were acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, and, every morning, KERA was doing a special about the political and social climate in Dallas leading up to Kennedy's visit. I had heard the term “City of Hate” before, but I had no idea that it was that strong. There was just this mass movement of insanity with all these people that thought that Kennedy was a secret communist and that integration was a communist plot. It was fascinating. I recently read this book Dallas 1963 that's all about that. It was really fascinating to see how a lot of those kinds of sheer paranoia that don't seem to be based on any kind of reality are echoed in today's society — like with the Jade Helm thing and everything. I've had a lot fun watching all of that. But, y'know, there's people that have dedicated their whole lives [to it]. They left their homes and they're wandering around, tracking these government exercises. What drives people to do that? It's wild. It's just sort of talking about all those different attitudes. Around that time, also, was the republican primaries for the 2014 elections. I don't even really watch broadcast TV or anything, but still I was inundated with all these commercials everywhere I went. Everybody was trying to prove how much they hated the EPA and how much they hated immigrants. It was like this contest to see who hated immigrants more. It was so toxic. At the same time, people were saying Dallas was changing, Texas was changing, it's going to go blue. It's weird to reconcile these two things that you're hearing. I had a lot of hope for a while. I worked with the campaign and everything, and we all saw how that ended. Now here we are.
There's a line in the song about being born on the anniversary of the assassination. Is that an allusion to your own life?
No, not really. It just seemed like a good way to start the song. It sort of personified this darkness that seems to be ingrained in Dallas' DNA. Also, I reference The Flatlanders song “Dallas” in there, and the Silver Jews' song “Dallas.” I enjoy doing that kind of stuff as a songwriter, sort of playing connect the dots. It's interesting that all of these songs have a darkness to them. It's interesting to me that Dallas is commonly portrayed that way. I've lived in Dallas for 15 years and I never planned on staying here this long, but some really good things have happened to me in Dallas. There was a time when I just wanted to get out. I just wanted to leave. And then I ended up staying here. Now, I really enjoy being here. I feel like there's a lot of great things happening in the city, and people doing cool stuff. We are somewhat progressive — y'know, compared to lots of other parts of Texas. So I don't have to feel totally isolated in my own personal views. Even as I'm saying all that, American Airlines Center is sold-out with white people screaming for a lunatic that wants to put barcodes on immigrants and ship them back to Mexico. Just crazy, hateful stuff. I don't expect this kind of dichotomy of extremities to die down anytime soon.
Like, maybe we're not as far removed from the “City of Hate” nickname as we like to think we are.
Right. What I learned from reading Dallas 1963 is that Dallas was really resistant to integration. It really came in some really painful waves of implementation — and that wasn't that long ago. What, 50 years?
You mentioned The Flatlanders earlier. Do you have any other favorite songs about Dallas? There are quite I few I've found that also reference the Kennedy assassination.
I put a Misfits reference in there. There's a Mickey Newbury song on Looks Like Rain that mentions Dallas. It's just sort of a passing line, but I tend to notice whenever people do mention Dallas. I can't really think of any others off the top of my head.
I saw that Daron Beck of Pinkish Black helped produce the new Nervous Curtains album. Can you speak a little bit about his involvement?
We did some of the songs with [This Will Destroy You drummer] Alex Bhore at Elmwood, but then we went and did some more songs at Echo Lab with Matthew Barnhart. Daron was involved in that second session. He was there pretty much the whole time that we tracked. In addition to that, I gave him demos to all the songs beforehand and he gave me feedback. There were some songs that he really kind of shaped. But “City of Hate,” I think he liked the demo, and said, “Oh, this is going to be an easy one to do.” He didn't really have any strong suggestions on it. In the middle section, he told us to turn up the choir Mellotrons just to make it more dramatic. I was joking around with him because it has that breakdown in the middle of the song that, to me, is really heavy metal. Daron isn't really into heavy metal. He's in a band that's associated with heavy metal and has been on two really big metal labels and played with all these big metal bands and everything. I was joking with him, “I think our band is starting to sound a lot more like Carcass,” and he was like, “Yeah, I think my band is starting to sound a lot more like Air Supply.” He's really into soft rock. That's his favorite music. It's funny, our different preferences on that and where we've ended up with our music.
Another song, which you just premiered on CMJ, has cocaine references. Some would argue that makes it a song about Dallas, too. Is there anything else about the album influenced by living in Dallas?
Actually, it was CMJ that said there were cocaine references. I never really saw it that way. I just wanted to use the imagery of flashing white lights, and how that could be some sort of trigger of paranoia — or a static, religious experience as well. I don't mind if people think it's a cocaine reference, either. It doesn't bother me. The songs are definitely influenced by the people of this area, for sure. There's a song called “Progress” that has a lot to do with what I was talking about initially with convictions, and people having such strong ideas and never stopping to ask themselves if their ideas are right. I definitely include myself in that. It can be easy to get inside a bubble of your own biases. Not any explicit Dallas references, but definitely informed by the people and experiences that I've had here.
I was thinking about that the other day — that if you're trying to gauge society's beliefs based of your Facebook feed, well, you've probably already whittled your friend group to people that already believe similarly to yourself. Your own beliefs are just being reinforced and you kind of get the sense that everyone in the world thinks the same as you. Then you realize, “Oh, the Donald Trump thing sold out the AAC.”
I think about that kind of stuff a lot. I try not to stay in a bubble. There was a time when I was subscribed to all these liberal media sites like ThinkProgress. I was reading those and then reposting them and stuff. I was not doing anybody a service by doing that. I try to get my news from relatively unbiased sources. I've gotten more restraint as far as trying to preach about stuff I believe in all that time. I've realized it gets annoying.
How did the Black Taffy remix of “City of Hate” come to be?
I just thought it would be fun to have some people remix some of our songs. We know some talented artists that work in, sort of, the electronic realm. Donovan is really into chopped and screwed music. A lot of his stuff is influenced by the Houston screw music. It seemed cool to take a song that has a lot of urban references in the lyrics and put into that kind of realm. I gave him all the separate tracks, but what he did was not what I expected at all. We had a chopped and screwed version, too, but I decided we should go with the non-chopped version. He totally inverted the song. The part that he made the hook is really not the hook at all in our song. “Image fractures in the mirror / ultraviolet reflection.” That's also another key line in the song. Dallas is very much known for its shiny buildings, buildings made of mirrors, even so much that we build new ones that cause works of art to physically deteriorate in our beautiful new Arts District. That's a very Dallas kind of thing. It was really cool that he made that the hook. I never would have thought about it that way. He really reworked the chord progression in a way that really made an interesting companion piece. Sometimes remixes can be just a vanity project, but I feel like he really took the song and made it say something a little bit different, from a different angle.
Nervous Curtains will play album release shows for Con on Friday, October 2, at Dan's Silverleaf in Denton, and on Saturday, October 10, at Double Wide in Dallas. Cover photo of Nervous Curtains by Hampton Mills.