After one listen to his soulful, voluptuous, hip-swaying music, you might guess that Curtis Harding was raised by a gospel singer. You would be right. You might also guess that he is an alien sent here from whatever planet Prince and Bo Diddley are from to make the world more sexy, one song at a time. You would probably also be right, but that cannot yet be confirmed or denied. The Atlanta-based, Michigan-bred singer recently released his debut album Soul Power on Burger Records, and is about to set off on a mini tour of the East Coast tomorrow. I chatted with the handsome crooner about Cee-Lo, Cheetos, and Saint Laurent.
(photos by Sara Nataf)
Your mom is a gospel singer. When did you start playing music?
CH: I grew up playing music in the church. Singing mostly.
What was the first instrument you played?
CH: Drums. My sister is a refined pianist PEE-AN-IST. Her nickname was Spanky grow up. (Laughs). She’s married and has kids but she plays music, mainly for herself.
When did you first start doing music outside of the church?
CH: When we moved to Atlanta, when I was 17 or 18. I started a rap group with a friend of mine.
What was it called?
CH: Proceed. We started going to different shows, meeting different people. I started doing promotions for La Face records, and that’s how I meant Cee-Lo. I started singing back-up with him after I got featured on his first solo record. I learned a lot then.
Was Cee-Lo nice?
CH: (Laughs) Yeah, he’s a nice guy.
What’s a funny thing about him?
CH: What’s a funny thing about him?
Yeah, like what’s a funny fact about him that people don’t know. Like what kind of snacks does he love? Does he collect porcelain rabbits?
CH: There are a lot of things! Snacks-wise, we all like Cheetos, and beer. He’s a hilarious guy, very comical.
Okay so you’re singing with Cee-Lo and then….
CH: Then I just started writing with other people, different musicians. I taught myself how to play guitar.
And now we’re here. I feel like we’re skipping some stuff because we went from 17 to Cee-Lo to…how old are you now?
CH: I’m 34.
Definitely missing some years here.
CH: In between that was just a lot of living and traveling. I lived in Toronto for a minute. That was great.
What were you doing up there?
CH: Just living, man. I had just turned down a deal with Virgin, for a group that I had started, because I didn’t want to do it. The group was called The Constellations. I was pretty fucked up at the time. I finished the records, turned the deal down, and moved to Toronto.
What happened to that record?
CH: It came out. I don’t think it did too well though. It just turned into something I wasn’t necessarily into, directionally. I left for personal reasons as well.
So then you were just living in Canada?
CH: Yeah, I was working in a bar, bar-backing.
Listening to people’s sad stories.
CH: Yeah, or dealing with my own sad story (laughs). But I had a great time. I loved Toronto; Toronto is the shit man. Ultimately I’d like to go back at some point.
So some things happened, then sad stories, then bar-backing, then eventually back to Atlanta?
CH: Back to Atlanta, and started writing songs again. I had written some songs in Toronto, and I had written some songs when I lived in Michigan. In Atlanta, that’s when I started hanging out with Cole (Alexander, of Black Lips).
How did you guys meet?
CH: We met at a bar. Where else?
CH: Yeah I did, but I always wrote songs for myself. But I started working on that project to bring myself back into music again. Also, I enjoy collaborations. And then somewhere along the line, I called up Cee-Lo, and went out to Chicago for Lollapalooza, and Black Lips were playing that Lollapalooza too. That’s where I met Danny and he signed on, and flew to Atlanta. Then Danny and I started writing songs for the project, and Cole and I had already written a couple of songs as well. When Black Lips came back from tour, we went into the studio and recorded. We actually have the record done, it’s just a matter of refining it.
And this whole time you’re also writing your solo stuff?
So when did you start playing shows solo?
CH: Right around the time of the first Burgerama, about two years ago.
Did you and your band tour?
CH: I hopped on to a Growlers tour, and came out to LA and played Beach Goth.
Can you talk about the Saint Laurent stuff?
CH: Depends on what you want to know.
How did it come about?
CH: Oh yeah Hedi (Slimane, Saint Laurent designer) came out to Beach Goth, and Burgerama actually. He inquired about me; I guess he liked the show. We met up the next day, and he took some photos. Then I went back to Atlanta, and he flew me out to LA again, and the rest is history. We shot the music video, then I went to Paris. I played the Saint Laurent after party. It was nice.
Are you like, into fashion?
CH: No. I’m into style. I don’t know shit about fashion.
Catch Curtis on tour:
Tue. 06-10-14 New York, NY Mercury Lounge
Wed. 06-11-14 Brooklyn, NY Glasslands Gallery
Thu. 06-12-14 Washington, DC DC9
Fri. 06-13-14 Pittsburgh, PA Three Rivers Arts Festival
Sat. 06-14-14 Chicago, IL Schuba's
Sat. 07-12-14 Atlanta, GA The Earl
Thu. 07-17-14 Nashville, TN Exit / In
Fri. 07-18-14 Louisville, KY Headliners Music Hall
Sat. 07-19-14 Asheville, NC The Orange Peel