Interview: Dean Garcia of Curve & SPC ECO

Interview: Dean Garcia of Curve & SPC ECO

Multi-instrumentalist mastermind Dean Garcia has made a name for himself as part of 1990s shoegaze-labeled duo Curve (alongside frontwoman Toni Halliday). After Curve’s demise Garcia continued to thrive musically, collaborating with other artists on several projects over the years, most notably with his daughter Rose Berlin as the down-tempo/dream-pop duo SPC ECO. Garcia is currently involved in the project M A D with Monti (Curve, JAMC), SPC ECO with Berlin, and now a new (ad)venture as S T F U with Preston Maddox of Bloody Knives. In the following interview Garcia gives an update on all his musical endeavors, with the latest news about the imminent release of SPC ECO’s Anomalies album, S T F U’s upcoming debut album What We Want, and intriguing details about Toni and Curve.

Northern Transmissions: Hello Dean!  I’m dead chuffed to have this opportunity to touch base with you about all the music-related creations that you’re involved in these days – and you have a ton going on!  First up, what are the vibes like for you at the moment?  Are you in hyper-drive mode with preparations for the imminent release of SPC ECO’s Anomalies album?

Dean Garcia: The mood is good, thank you. It’s been a very productive year so far… Anomalies is up next, I’m both excited and relieved as it’s been almost a year since it was made, we’re not keen on holding things back as you may have gathered…

NT: You’re such a prolific artist, recently delivering a run of SPC ECO records, a collaborative album as M A D with Steve Monti and a stellar batch of guest artists, and now your music project S T F U with Preston Maddox of Bloody Knives.  As S T F U, you’re dropping your debut album, What We Want, this July.  How did this joint venture with Preston come about?

DG: It goes like that sometimes and when the urge is with you, you have to jump and roll with it, Rose and I are very prolific, we mind meld and just go at the recorder full tilt, it’s nothing but a pleasure working with Rose on the SPC ECO records, it’s also a much-needed therapy for us both. S T F U came around because the time was right.

Preston and I have both wanted to collaborate on something for years, but the timing has always been out of sync. Out of the blue I contacted Preston and we set about it, we made the majority of the record in two months, sat on it for a bit, and added a few tracks to finish it off. The record had a mind of its own, it always knew what and where to go, we just made it happen. A pain-free experience for both of us, no microscopic agonizing bullshit, just a stream of thought and a series of performances captured, developed, and arranged.

NT: What do you hope to provide sonically with What We Want that you haven’t done with SPC ECO or the M A D collaboration?

DG: There’s nothing specific to provide other than what I do with what I’m given, it’s always the same mentality and thinking behind whatever it is I do musically, I don’t separate as such, I just go with the flow of the piece at the time, the rules are always the same i.e., no rules, everything is allowed, uncensored, unruly and instinctive, the trick is allowing yourself to explore that approach and not be distracted by such things as “Maybe they won’t like it.” or “You can’t do that.” thoughts. Once you have that all in the bin and start to have fun with the music, you’ve won.

NT: What was it like to work as a “duo” with Preston?  How did you suss out who would be playing specific instruments?  Did it depend on the song?

DG: I threatened him and bullied him into submission, I told him that if he laid a finger on the bass I would chop his fucking hands off. It’s fair to say he did the same to me but far worse, so psychopathically extreme and specific were his demands they are best kept between Preston and myself. Let’s speak nothing more of it. Other than that, he’s a lovely man who I’d happily share tea with so long as I had Christopher Moltisanti there to shoot him at a moment’s notice.

NT: Yikes! OK, so who thought up the name S T F U and why do I keep thinking it means “stuff” instead of what it really stands for?!  (The moniker reminds of when the clothing label French Connection was really big and they used the tag FCUK and all I kept thinking was…)

DG: After over-thinking and sending a few dreadful names back n forth, I was on tumblr one day checking out some new shit and it just came to me, big bold letters and abbreviation, something irreverent and sweary, I sent it and we went with it.

We still like it, which is cool, unlike the SPC ECO name, which we loathe. We tried to change it once to B O F C, again very sweary (not saying what it is) and irreverent, but no one liked or understood why, we wanted to change the name and it just confused everything, so we changed it back and are now stuck with it. That’s the way, I s’pose. And yes, it does conjure up subliminal words, I really like it, would be cool on a T too…

NT: What We Want is full of vividly absorbing, ominously menacing, strung out, smoky noir, nocturnal transmissions.  What makes you gravitate, in general, towards densely textured, moodily brooding, slow-burning sonics? 

DG: How long have you got? LOL I don’t know what I find so absorbing and fascinating about the miserable, bleak, and noir, I just find it has an endless depth, a bottomless pit of inspiration, it always has, I’m not a miserable person (insert background laughter),  I just have a morbid fascination, and have probably watched one too many Béla Tarr films. I watched Tarkovsky’s Stalker the other day for the first time, which was awesome, and have become very familiar with all the Ingmar Bergman films. Don’t get me started, I just love them all so very much.

NT: Well, actually, some of the album’s tracks, like “Do It Now”, “Dead Right”, and “Deeper”, have more of an electronic dance music tempo.  Have you ever contemplated crafting a straight-up club-ready EDM number?

DG: Those were all generated by Preston as he knows I dig the 80’s electronics, EDM doesn’t do it for me over any length of time, in fact it starts to upset me very quickly. I’ve listened to a lot of Trance Goa Minimal Whateverthefuck it’s referred to, but I can’t connect to the point of wanting to completely explore it.

The only dance bands I connected with fully were Fat Boy Slim, The Chemicals, Prods, and Underworld, the Dubnobass record particularly, and “Born Slippy”, as they all captured a time and feeling much like the Pistols did years earlier. It’s anti-establishment and of its own accord, which is always good. These particular tracks you mentioned felt like a nod back to early electronica, but as always I like to genre-bend and take a little from this and that to make it into something undefined, to cross the boundaries, well, attempt to anyways, but still leaning heavily on the noir to keep everything in check.

NT: What We Want revels in a psychologically dystopian vision due to Preston’s lyrics, but also because of the heavy industrial and darkwave atmosphere.  Did you know from the start of S T FU that this is the world you wanted to create on record?  Do you want to reflect modern society or project what could befall civilization in the (near) future?

DG: Preston is the clever (moody, unapproachable, austere) one, his dystopian vision is just a fragment of his very sick mind, I dread to think what goes on inside there, I have discussed this sort of thing with him once before, but wished I hadn’t. Also, any social comment or reflections on modern civilization within the music I make are entirely unintentional on my part. Preston knows what he means, I prefer to remain subjective or silent even about such things, mainly due to fear of retribution from him, who as you are aware by now, is not the nicest tool in the box, and also he’s twice my size and would fuck me up in a second.

NT: You recorded your forthcoming SPC ECO album, Anomalies, with your daughter Rose Berlin, as always.  What was the creative process like for this go-around?  Linking this back to S T F U, is Preston a guest artist on Anomalies?

DG: We actually recorded a whole load of songs over a year which have transpired into 3 releases: Dark Matter, Anomalies, and All We Have is Now. Anomalies falls in the middle because we’ve held it back due to its physical release via Saint Marie Records, we thought it best to give them a proper new release for their marketing strategies.

All were recorded in the exact same way as we always do, which is just go with the flow and see what happens, no pre-conceived ideas and all very much within the ‘no rules’ parameters. Rose and I still have an unreleased album lurking within the recordings throughout this time that we’ve put to one side for the time being. Once we start recording something, it just happens, it’s the chemistry we have, it just works. Preston is not on Anomalies, he’s only been on one other SPC ECO record and that was You Tell Me, where he guested on a couple of songs with Rose. 

NT: And what’s this I hear about you and Rose trying to squeeze in a SPC ECO EP to go along with Anomalies?!  Do you have the time – and the energy to do this?!

DG: Yes we do, it’s progressing nicely, we have about four new tracks on the go, we want them to be very in the now when they go out, to give the record a more current feel, we don’t like the holding back music concept as we feel it’s counterproductive and makes things out of sync for us, so this is probably the last time we’ll be doing this for any SPC ECO releases in the future.

NT:  As you mentioned, the SPC ECO album is being released on Wyatt Parkins’ super-cool Saint Marie Records label.  How is S T F U’s What We Want being released?

DG: We are discussing this now and will probably do our own thing for the STFU release, the thinking is to press a 100 CDs to start and work from there, if we repress we might do the next batch with a different cover image and so on to keep it unusual, I’m thinking out loud about this, so nothing is set in stone, so don’t take this as a given, also I don’t want Preston to get upset and release the dogs on me again…

NT: Oh, and speaking of your prolific sensibilities – and Preston, I just realized you and he did a non-S T F U (and non-M A D) composition titled “Steal You Away” back in 2012!  How does this song fit into the scheme of things?

DG: That song is an anomaly of sorts, I worked the music with my our mutual bud Perry Pelonero around the time I was recording the You Tell Me record for SPC ECO, but this was a track Perry and I had ear-marked for a different project, unsure of what to do with it, we decided to send it to Preston for vocals, I love this track as it was the glue that paved the way for this STFU release. We also recorded one other that I included on the same DG solo comp ( DAS HAUS V1 ) called “No Way Out” which is also very cool…

NT:  And are there any other music-related endeavors you’re tackling at the same time as SPC ECO, S T F U, and M A D?

DG: I have been speaking with Toni again. I’d like to record a new Curve record with her, but so far the timing/feeling/mutual inclination, etc…, etc… has not been in sync. I have always said never say never when it comes to all things Curve-related. The ball is rolling and the lines are open, so… Never say never it is. Re: Toni working on other projects, I believe she will always be involved in music at some level, I’m not entirely sure tbd…

Interview by Jen Dan