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The Fixx Reflecting Back and Looking Forward on Vibrant New LP ‘Every Five Seconds’ (Q&A with Cy Curnin)
The Fixx tapped into American music listeners’ collective consciousness like few others during the second British music invasion of the early 1980s. “Stand or Fall” and “Red Skies,” the London new wave band’s initial hits at U.S. rock radio, expertly captured a Cold War paranoia felt worldwide. That apprehension about nuclear war returned a few months ago when Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Fixx continued to ponder life’s big questions in other successful singles like “Saved by Zero,” “Are We Ourselves,” “Driven Out” and “How Much is Enough.”
Over the past decade-plus, The Fixx’s music has been heard in TV shows and films (Hawaii Five-O, Breaking Bad, Gone Girl). More recently, signature song “One Thing Leads to Another” was featured in an ADP television commercial.
Now the band has returned with its captivating 10th studio album, Every Five Seconds (released this past Friday, June 3), its first all-new collection in nearly a decade. Filled with front man Cy Curnin’s usual thought-provoking lyrics and impassioned vocals, not to mention mesmerizing soundscapes from guitarist Jamie West-Oram, keyboardist Rupert Greenall, bassist Dan K. Brown and drummer Adam Woods, it is a contender for this writer’s best albums of the year.
The striking cover art continues The Fixx’s long association with veteran visual artist George Underwood, who famously did album images for David Bowie (Hunky Dory, Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust).
We checked in with Curnin from London, where the band was rehearsing for an American tour launching on June 10 (see dates below).
Rock Cellar: When did the wheels start turning for Every Five Seconds?
Cy Curnin: The wheel started a few years ago. We released Beautiful Friction in 2012 and we were touring and performing that for a few years. Then we realized it’s always good to have something fresh. We started writing and discussing this in 2016-17 and really gained speed in 2018-19 with the hope of putting this out in 2020. But then the pandemic came along and slowed everything up.
Rock Cellar: What effect did the COVID-19 pandemic have on completing the album?
Cy Curnin: Luckily, we were already done with the recording. It was just the mixing, sequencing, and mastering that was taking place [during that time]. So, we weren’t too disturbed.
Rock Cellar: Does putting out a new Fixx album help you maintain a sense of vitality as a songwriter?
Cy Curnin: Yeah, definitely. As a band, we always include recording and writing as part of the gig. There’s always inspiration in the wind. I think it adds to the legacy. You know, what we thought and felt back then. The audience has grown up with us. It’s good to spin the top of that backdrop and increase the field of being for us all. On this one, we’re reflecting back and looking forward. Times are changing.
Rock Cellar: Did the polarization and shift in American society provide ample lyrical inspiration for you, particularly on new songs like “Closer” and “Wake Up?”
Cy Curnin: It did. At first, it depresses me. Then it sharpens my pencil and gets me asking, “Why and how did this happen?” Then you start looking for all the various reasons. As a writer, there’s a lot of starting points for discussion. No one has all the answers. Philosophically, things change, but the human emotions through the years have always been the same. It just seems that we settle now.
Once we’re in one camp, we’re not allowed out to borrow from the other camp. So the pendulum is swinging, but we only stick to one side of the argument. That’s very dangerous in democracy. I often think, “Who do we think we are in the room now?” Maybe we take a trip up the string that the pendulum’s hanging on.
I was also feeling that, for me, freedom is the right to move from one side to the other. You let your mind take in from both sides to get a balanced view. I think that’s what we’d like to bring to The Fixx audience a little bit too. Because they’ve been there before. In 1980, we were all young minds. The world was [a certain way]. We had hopes and dreams. It hasn’t quite gone to plan, but has the world ever gone to plan?
Rock Cellar: Every Five Seconds has a sonic cohesiveness reminiscent of early Fixx albums. Would you agree?
Cy Curnin: When we set out to record this, we wanted to record and write it as a band. We went into a rehearsal room and spent lots of hours, days and weeks just playing songs and getting a feel for it as a unit, which is what we used to do.
The sound of the band and the raw five parts clicking together became the basis of the songs … It’s very easy to over-record these days and go off down a rabbit hole of sound and technology. If you lose track of the cohesion of five instinctive players, you can get lost. We were lucky that we were able to draw on each other’s comforts.
Rock Cellar: One of the album’s standouts is also the oldest — the intriguing “Lonely as a Lighthouse” — where Jamie’s electric guitar work evokes The Wall-era David Gilmour. What made you decide to revisit it?
Cy Curnin: We played it once and never recorded it. We always felt that we missed out on the recording and could never quite get it right. The fans took note of the lyric. Before Facebook and MySpace, there was a fan page on the ‘net called Lighthouse. That’s where the fans could go and talk and discuss Fixx things.
We always felt it was an endearing tune for them. We wanted to celebrate the fans and the journey they’ve had in their in-depth belief in us and to thank them. So, we finally took a stab at recording it. We really got the groove where we wanted it.
The missing part of it all was — we wrote it when Danny [Brown] left the band for a little while due to health reasons. It was during his absence that we wrote the song and tried to get it recorded. It didn’t quite happen then. When Danny came back, he was the missing link to make the groove work.
Rock Cellar: It has a real cinematic quality, with the opening coast guard-type radio chatter and lyrics referencing the sea, harbor walls and walking ashore.
Cy Curnin: It’s probably the most progressive-sounding track that we did. It has a dramatic middle break that was just stream of consciousness that we all fell into at once. We kept it and it was a good departure for us, that little bit.
Rock Cellar: “Wake Up” and “Suspended in Make Believe” seem to touch upon social media and where we are today with it all.
Cy Curnin: Yeah, I think so. “Wake Up” [is about] this sort of slow fog that’s putting everyone to sleep. We all feel that we’re so connected and so wonderfully free with all our smart phones and everything else. But we’re all trapped in the sound bites, uncooked images, and phrases. We latch onto things. People just read headlines and don’t read stories anymore. I wonder if people read anything in depth. It was a commentary on that.
Rock Cellar: With most people getting their news from social media these days, it hasn’t boded well for the newspaper industry.
Cy Curnin: It’s a sad state of affairs. I still like to read a good newspaper and a good book. I’ve tried Kindle, but it just doesn’t have the same feeling.
Rock Cellar: Same here. You open the striking “Closer” by singing, “Burn a bridge/blow up a car/torch a flag/I’d bear the scar/hustle for peace/settle for less/fundamentals make their bed.” What do you think we’re getting closer to?
Cy Curnin: We’re getting closer to a raw rupture that will really ask people to stand up. I think the belief system in their politics will fall apart. I think maybe the birth of a new party will come. I really feel America needs a third voice in the arena. I’m hoping this rupture will create a still moment where common ground and common sense will come back. We’re getting closer to that. They say the ball won’t bounce until it’s hit the bottom.
Rock Cellar: Jamie does a rare lead vocal on the sublime “Woman of Flesh and Blood,” which he has said is about “being under the spell of a woman’s entire physical and spiritual self.” What did you think when you first heard it?
Cy Curnin: He was shyly saying to us, ‘Hey guys, I’ve got this song. Cy: Here’s the lyrics if you want to sing it.’ There was just a nature to the way he sang it [to where I was], ‘No, I can’t sing this. Let’s leave you singing it and I’ll sing this retort.’ It gained a schizophrenic nature in the delivery, but we really wanted to keep his soft sweet tone in there. I think it’s about time. He’s always shied away from singing lead and I thought it was great. We should celebrate that at this point in our careers.
Rock Cellar: The album title Every Five Seconds comes from a lyric in “Lonely as a Lighthouse.” How do you think the title sums up the album?
Cy Curnin: I think it sums up the fact that we’re all angstfully wondering where we are. All we want to do is be loved. We’re so insecure that Mother Earth doesn’t love us that our own mother’s voice is lost in the past and we’re searching for a connection.
If you look in someone’s eyes, are you nervously looking for acceptance or are you expecting an angry glance? Deep down, you really want to be able to look at that person openly in the face and say, ‘I love you,’ and see the love back.
When I was a kid, my grandfather used to take me to a lighthouse at the bottom of the street and he would say, ‘That light goes round every five seconds. Each lighthouse has its own timing of flashing.’ I’m looking for this constant [light], this thing I can truly believe in or bring me home and I’ll see it every five seconds. That’s the love I’m searching for. I figured that’s what we’d call the album. We’re all, deep down in our hearts, looking for a way home.
Rock Cellar: Besides The Fixx music, you’ve also been busy with solo releases, putting out the Superseded and 12.12 EPs and full-length Lockdown album. Would you consider yourself prolific? How do you determine what songs are more suited toward The Fixx or solo?
Cy Curnin: I’m always writing. There’s many days in between. I’ve got a recording studio at home. I live in Santa Cruz, Calif. I have a good little circle of friends, musicians. I’m always knocking up songs. Sometimes, there are things that I just want to express in a simpler way. A way that I do it without asking or joining in.
If you can imagine a painter … a musician gets used to lots of people painting the same painting with all these brushes going round the canvas. But sometimes a painter just wants to be alone at the canvas. That’s what the solo stuff is about. Momentary snatches of life that go by. I just grab them, and I can’t get past the demo. I record it and leave it as is, the simplest little first rendition and see if people pick up on that nature. My girlfriend likes the early versions of songs, so I did it under guidance for her.
Rock Cellar: On Lockdown, I thought “Rock Bottom” was a standout. Did you play all the instruments yourself?
Cy Curnin: Yeah. I was bouncing around, playing stuff and I had a lot of fun with that.
Rock Cellar: When you used the lower register of your voice on “Hell Hath No Fury” and “Just Like the Rest of Us,” it reminded me of Leonard Cohen.
Cy Curnin: Yeah, I was just trying to summon up this dark devil voice. Definitely Leonard Cohen-y, for sure.
Rock Cellar: You recently did a guest vocal on the song “Shifting Tides” from the Whispers EP by Portland group Rooftop Screamers. How did that come about?
Cy Curnin: [Band leader Mike Collins] contacted me through Facebook and said, ‘I don’t know if you do this, but would you fancy singing a vocal on one of my tracks?’ He explained the project he was doing. I thought, ‘This will be fun.’ It was during the lockdown, and I thought, ‘Great. I can still do some work.’ He sent me the tracks and I did what I felt worked. He wrote the lyrics. Great little tune, isn’t it?
Rock Cellar: Definitely. This past week marked the 40th anniversary of The Fixx’s debut album Shuttered Room. How would you rate it among the rest of your catalog?
Cy Curnin: As a parent, you always have this huge respect for your first child. You see yourself in your first child and you have high expectations. Looking back, without the success of that [album], there wouldn’t have been the same kind of opening for the second [one]. We were lucky. We came in and it made the right noise, had the right chimes on it.
Two songs — “Stand or Fall” and “Red Skies” — are still staples in our [live] set. They’ve become huge singalong songs as you’ve seen when you come to the shows. They’re like the parentheses of the set. That always sets the tone and off we go.
Rock Cellar: With those two songs in particular, could have ever imagined that they would still be relevant 40 years on?
Cy Curnin: Like I was saying earlier — when you tap into the emotions of humans, things go round, and things stay the same. We make the same mistakes. There’s a chilling, dumbing down in politics right now and we’re almost doomed to make the same mistakes quicker than we were before. The lessons of history. I don’t think people even turn up at history lessons anymore. They just slam straight into them like bugs on a windscreen. They don’t see it until it’s too late. Tragic.
Rock Cellar: In the past, you’ve admitting to being annoyed when people refer to The Fixx as simply a “synth pop” or “Eighties band.” Do you think that’s a lazy way to describe your music?
Cy Curnin: Yeah. What is ‘80s music? There’s ‘70s music. There’s ‘90s music. I don’t think people have a handle on what to call it. There was a lot of great music that came through in that [‘80s] period. It wasn’t just synth-pop or rock. It was when there was a lot of compartmentalizing of music. There was AC, Hot AC, AOR and then there was MTV. So many divisions that the only thing they could come up with to encompass the whole period was ‘‘80s music.’ [Still], if it’s going to get people still talking about us, I’ll take it. I will say it was the last great original period of music. During that period, there was some incredible music that came out that didn’t sound like any music prior to it.
Rock Cellar: It still remains popular among a large swath of age groups.
Cy Curnin: It had a cleanliness; a cleaner sound and it was different. It passed through many membranes and became a soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives. The beats were different. The subject matters were wide and varied. There was a little something for everyone with it right then.
Rock Cellar: Is it hard to believe that some of your biggest hits are 40 or more years old now?
Cy Curnin: It is crazy. It’s like watching the grass grow. It creeps up on you. Suddenly, it’s like, “Whoa, that’s so long ago!”
Rock Cellar: What was it like singing background vocals on “I Might Have Been Queen” and “Better Be Good to Me” from Tina Turner’s Private Dancer album? You also appeared in the music video for the latter track.
Cy Curnin: It was one of those random blessings that happens. Producer Rupert Hine was asked to record two songs for that album (Rupert and Jamie co-wrote “Queen;” Jamie played guitar). We happened to be in the studio recording Phantoms at that time. We broke down our sessions for four days for Tina to come in and do some recording.
I was totally blown away by the serenity and power coming out of her being. It was just what we all needed. Our careers were taking off. Personally, I was discovering the teachings of Buddhism. She was very well versed in calm and that philosophy. I had many interesting conversations with her. She taught me how to stand better for singing. Even though she would be jumping around and doing this, that and the other — when she was belting those notes out, she would stand with those famous legs locked and loaded and belt out from her diaphragm. She gave me a few pointers on that. I’m truly blessed for that.
Rock Cellar: Have you ever been able to determine why The Fixx found more success in America than at home in England?
Cy Curnin: You know, I’ve toyed with the idea of the fact that I’m half English and half French. I never really felt fully English in England and never felt fully French in France. But I did feel complete when I moved to America.
I wonder if the battle between the two — searching for a national [identity in America], which was originally a big melting pot — and the backdrop of the philosophical view that we have on a lot of things connected with that kind of generation. The grandparents were from another country as mine were. The parents were trying to make good and toe the line in the new country and the kids were brought to school in this hopeful thing and they all find that’s a crock of shit.
Rock Cellar: Countless bands who started around the same time as The Fixx eventually broke up and reunited, yet your core four have stayed the course. Why do you think that is?
Cy Curnin: There’s a deep friendship. We all had a very similar background. It was remarkable to us then and it’s remarkable to us now that we actually really do listen to each other like brothers. We don’t compete; there’s no singular ego. There’s maybe a collective ego that we have. “Best band in the world” and all that stuff. We know how to argue creatively without being destructive. I think a lot of bands have suffered along the wayside through pulling apart. I don’t quite know what it is because I’ve never been in another band. All I know is what we have is very secure and heartfelt.
It’s tough for a lot of bands to stay confident and relevant when the genres are changing. At the end of the ‘80s, everything that [thrived during the decade] was like they threw the baby out with the bathwater.
Along came grunge and radio said, “We’re playing all this.” Then they suddenly realized that they lost their lunchtime market [i.e., The Flashback Lunch specialty shifts]. The audience didn’t quite grow as much as they thought and the stations that were still playing the ‘80s [music] were getting the numbers back.
Then the nightclubs were still playing the ‘80s music and it grew and grew. It never really went away. It came back. The bands went, “Ooh, you can have the reunion tour,” and there were shows like Where Are They Now? [and VH1’s Bands Reunited]. People were actually interested in what happened to them. Little signs showed that the market force was still in place for bands so they reunite, and they think, “We shouldn’t have been so sensitive. We should have stuck together.” It was probably tough when you couldn’t get a tour and keep the lights on.
Rock Cellar: In the 2000s, you joined Mike Peters of The Alarm at several of his Love Hope Strength Foundation charity events, including a hike up Mount Everest as well as Machu Picchu, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Pikes Peak. The Fixx even recorded the tune “Moving Mountains” and donated the proceeds to LHS. What was that hiking experience like? Did you train at all beforehand?
Cy Curnin: It was totally life-changing. He first asked me to climb Everest in 2007. I was turning 50 that year and thought this was exactly what I need to do. Then I said to Jamie, “Do you want to go on this trek to Everest?” He looked at me and said, “You know, that sounds just about right.” Mike asked me in August and within two months, we were on our way to base camp. Without much training or anything. We had the best time.
That showed me Mike was the hardest working man in rock and roll for a lot of reasons. He showed me how much of the music [business] shenanigans you don’t need. If you have an acoustic guitar and a passionate song, you can sing it to people halfway up a mountain and you’ll really touch something in yourself as much as anything else.
He gave me the confidence to come back and start doing acoustic tours on my own — something I never dreamed of. I’d like to wish him well. I know he’s been sick. He had to cancel a tour and I know he must be devastated by that because the guy just wants to work every day of his life.
Rock Cellar: What is your opinion on rise of streaming over the past decade?
Cy Curnin: Now it’s just “get it out there and get as many people listening to it.” Whatever it takes, whether you sell it or you hear it, it doesn’t really matter. It will get people to the live shows. What we do notice is we have more and more people coming to the shows. The shows are selling out consistently. We’re not playing enormous arenas anymore, but the shows we do play our size are selling out. There’s a younger generation discovering us, and they are really inquisitive. It’s growing, which is great. There’s less income from the recording/audio side of things, but there’s more income and a more solid feeling playing live, so we get to do more playing live which is great.
Rock Cellar: I noticed some of your studio albums were missing from Spotify. Any chance of that changing soon?
Cy Curnin: We’re waiting to see how we’re going to do a retrospective package at the right time. [With] two of the titles that are missing, people that are genuinely looking can find them for sale at The Fixx website store. We sell the only copies and actually generate a steady income on those titles. By keeping it away from Spotify, it may mean that not everyone can hear it. They can go find it on YouTube if they want, but it generates a little trickle which is good …We’re talking about something for the next wave of anniversaries [packages, box set]. We’re actively putting stuff together.
Catch The Fixx on the band’s U.S. tour. The schedule:
June 10 – Las Vegas, NV – 24 Oxford
June 12 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater
June 13 – Tucson, AZ – Rialto Theatre
June 15 – Santa Ana, CA – Observatory
June 17 – San Diego, CA – Music Box
June 18 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre
June 19 – San Francisco, CA – Bimbo’s 365
June 21 – Seattle, WA – Triple Door
June 22 – Portland, OR – Aladdin Theater
June 25 – Fort Collins, CO – Washington’s
June 26 – Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre
June 28 – Omaha, NE – Waiting Room
June 29 – St. Louis, MO – Delmar Hall
June 30 – Milwaukee, WI – Summerfest
July 1, 2022