May 11, 2017 | by Jeff Wilson
What would music be without small labels headed by people who love a niche genre and connect with an equally passionate audience? That’s where all the good music comes from — no, not all of it, but certainly we’re better off because of devoted fans who form their own record companies in order to help non-mainstream artists share their music with the world.
Sometimes the music isn’t fully appreciated until long after the label folds, but in the case of Curious Music, it’s more like it took a long hiatus after its initial 1989-2001 run. Since then interest has grown considerably in krautrock and German electronic music, which have been the label’s stock-in-trade, with a discography that includes albums by (to name a few) Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Conny Plank. That uptick, along with David Bowie’s passing (“It gave me pause for reflection, for sure, and made me wonder if I was fully exploring my own creativity,” Russ Curry, the founder of Curious Music, explained), helped bring back Curious Music.
There was one other development that helped inspire Curry to once again take the plunge. As a decades-long record collector — he appreciates both the warm sound of vinyl and the exquisite packaging that sometimes accompanies it — he noticed that like-minded people are now much more common than they were even 10 years ago.
The relaunching of Curious Music began with a limited edition vinyl pressing of 2008’s Inlandish by Roedelius and Tim Story, an album that was initially only released on CD. New Curious Music releases are also available digitally, and Curry also has some digital-only releases in the pipeline, including a digital archive series for the music of Achim Roedelius. Add to that some recent and upcoming installations for Roedelius and Story in museums and other venues and you have what sounds like someone who very quickly became fully immersed again in promoting the music he loves.
Eager to learn more about Curious Music, I recently had the opportunity to ask Russ Curry some questions via email.
NO RECESS!: Explain how you made the transition from fan to heading a label that releases the type of music you love.
Russ Curry: When I was about 12, I first heard, usually by accident, records like Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, Cluster’s Zuckerzeit, NEU!, and Devo’s first album. The beautifully idiosyncratic nature of these records, and the strange yet alluring imagery, lit a fire within me. Being from the Midwest, the idea of seeking a path as an individual and finding one’s own way was quite a profound thought for the young me, living deep amongst the corn. “To thine own self be true” — this was the message I heard in the music. It was as if I had stumbled across a secret world with its own internal, cloistered, yet wholly formed language. I felt like the only boy in Iowa who knew where the secret garden was.
This music was simply unheard of in the Midwest. So over time I developed the idea of sharing. I felt I had discovered something as important and impactful as the Beatles, Thoreau, Chuck Berry, Paul Bowles, or Mozart. (I still believe this.) I thought, “Why doesn’t everyone know of and love this music?” Like Andy Hardy, I decided — I’m going to start a label! I only need to show them the way, and they will come!
I should say that I remain a fan first. I try to make the creative decisions relating to the label from the perspective of a listener interested in an enjoyable, immersive experience. Like me!
NR!: What musicians have you worked with the most?
Curry: During the ‘90s, I worked a lot with Moebius and Roedelius (aka Cluster) on various projects. We did a Cluster tour in 1996 and a Roedelius tour in 1999. I also worked with them on a number of new releases and also licensing projects. For example, Gyroscope (which morphed into Astralwerks, I believe) released the entire Cluster-related Sky Records catalog in ‘95/’96 — I helped put that together. I owe them both a tremendous amount of gratitude for their generosity of spirit and in sharing their creativity with me over the years. They taught me a lot. Moebius passed away in July 2015, and we all miss him very much. When working on the new projects, particularly the artwork, I sometimes ask myself, “What Would Moebi Do?” I embedded a secret tribute to him in Nordlicht.
I need to mention that since the beginning of Curious Music, Tim Story has had a hand in almost every project — he’s sort of an unofficial partner. He is not only an accomplished composer/musician in his own right, but his technical expertise in the studio has been critical. He has been very active in the relaunch both creatively and technically. He is the one who preps the tracks for vinyl and knows how to get that lovely warm sound.
NR!: What was the most popular release from phase one of Curious Music?
Curry: We released Apropos Cluster by Cluster in 1990. It was their first album in nine years, so there was a bit of excitement around that one.
NR!: Why did you decide to relaunch the label?
Curry: For a few of reasons. First, the fire within me and the passion to work on unique, artistic projects has never dimmed. It would have by now if it was going to. Second, I have a clear (yet always developing) vision of what I think the label can be. Lastly, I’m obsessed with vinyl, as are many people. That’s good! I think there is an audience for our work.
NR!: What’s different this time around?
Curry: I have acquired a great deal of business experience since Curious Music 1.0. I’m hopeful I can put this knowledge to use. I’m still wildly enthusiastic and passionate, but hopefully tempered at least a little by some wisdom. Maybe not!
NR!: Why did you choose Inlandish to launch the reboot of the label?
Curry: I have always loved Inlandish. I think it’s the most cohesive of the Roedelius/Story collaborations. Additionally, I knew I was going to pay special attention to the packaging and wanted a release with a great cover and artwork. The art of Inlandish is gorgeous. It was a natural choice for something that could be presented in a very nice manner.
NR!: Are any of your old releases still available?
Curry: All of my old releases are available on CD in the “archive” section of our website at curiousmusic.us.
NR!: So what’s in the pipeline?
Curry!: Nordlicht by Roedelius/Hausswolff [was released] on March 30. This is a new release on clear 180-gram vinyl, which will also be available as an mp3 and FLAC download. It’s fantastic. Then Buzzle, a two-LP reissue of one of Tim Story’s more experimental releases. After that, I’m happy to say we are going to expand the colors in the Curious Crayonbox, so to speak, and are licensing two releases from Warp Records. First, Second Sight, the second solo album by Kate St. John. She is best known as a member of the Dream Academy. It’s a beautiful album. Then Luxa, Harold Budd’s 1996 album. An amazing record. These two will be out sometime in summer. I anticipate we will continue to diversify our releases, while maintaining the essence of “curiousness!” Initial reaction to our first two releases has been very strong.
All of our releases are on colored 180-gram vinyl with a high-resolution, numbered (and often signed) art print. We have four or five more projects in various stages of gestation, both reissues and new releases. Great things that I hope people will like.
NR!: Name a couple desert island discs in the electronic or krautrock tradition.
Curry: My desert island discs would be (in no order, choose what you want):
David Bowie, Lodger
Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
Moebius & Plank, Rastakraut Pasta
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
Michael Rother, Lust
Iris DeMent, The Trackless Woods
Kraftwerk, Computer World
Neko Case, Middle Cyclone
Space out to this Inlandish track for a taste of what Curious Music is all about.