Curse Mackey has been forging a path in the industrial / dark wave world for nearly three decades. I first met him as a deejay and front man for San Antonio’s Evil Mothers. Since then he went on to form Grim Faeries, became a periodic member of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, and synth player and vocalist for the ever changing industrial collective Pigface. On May 10th 2019, however, Curse released his first solo debut, aptly titled Instant Exorcism. Prior to his tour with Thrill Kill Kult, I was able to pick his brain a bit about the experience…
WW: You’re debut solo album, Instant Exorcism, is slated for release on May 10, 2019 (although pre-sales began on 4/10), You must be stoked! Can you tell us a bit about it? Who did you work with regarding the recording and the production on the album? Where was it recorded?
Curse: Sure, it was recorded in a couple of locations which would be my home studio as well as Scary American Studio in Austin, which is run by Charles Godfrey who is an incredible engineer who has also currently co-producing the new Trail of Dead record…and he’s worked with Explosions in the Sky. He co-produced the new Sine record as well. He was the engineer on the last couple of Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s records. They have a very great set of equipment and he’s just a fantastic engineer so he really helped me to get this record started and kind of pushed me to get it going. Like we just got in his studio and did a couple of synth jams…we just broke out the synths and some really strange devices and recorded for like 30 minutes. Then I went into that material and started pulling elements that I liked and those became the foundation of the two songs that became the first two singles on the record, Oh Blasphemy and After You Destruction. So Charles was integral in motivating me to pursue really getting it done…he sent me down a path. From there, I started writing more material and a friend of mine named Chase Dobson who is an old friend of mine from when I lived in Tampa. He’s worked with a number of artists that I like but mainly we had been talking about doing something for years. He’s an expert when it comes to working with an Ableton and working with synthesizers and drum machines, and is also another incredible engineer. So he was able to take everything that I had done up to like songs 6 and 7 and take that body of work and just give it the sonic refinement that it needed to where it would stand up against anything that the bands I’m influenced by ever put out. So Chase took that body of work and made it sound as good as bands like Ministry or Skinny Puppy or Nine Inch Nails is doing. We wanted to get to that sonic level. So those two guys are really crucial and Steven Seibold, who is a long term collaborator of mine in Pigface and has his own projects (Hate Dept.) and a new thing called Stand Alone…which is really cool. He mastered the record for me so I got to work with somebody that I have a lot of confidence in for that final touch of sonic refinement. So I had a good team helping me out. I couldn’t have done it alone.
WW: How long did this process take. Was it a couple of years??
Curse: I think that it took about 6 months. I started in the studio back in July or June and then we finished it at the end of February. So I’d call it about a year of writing and thinking about needing to do it to actually getting in the studio for the first session to finally getting the finished product in hand. Let’s call it a year, as well as a lifetime of pandemonium to be able to write the tales that I did.
WW: What all instruments are used on Instant Exorcism?
Curse: There’s an armada of synthesizers, drum machines, effects processors, as well as software. I had live guitar contributions by Ronnie Moorings. He is the mastermind behind Clan of Xymox. Live bass, live drums. Chase Dobson also contributed live instrumentation. It’s definitely a very hybrid modern electronic record.
WW: So on this upcoming tour, are you taking other musicians with you?
Curse: For the most part what I’m doing right now is a one man band type of approach…just me and a collection of synthesizers and drum machines that I carry with me. It’s very live in its approach to electronic music. I process all of my vocals live, and the synthesizers and drum machines are all processed through a centralized Pioneer mixer so I’m basically able to give myself an almost in dub remix treatment based upon spontaneity the vibe of the night. So it’s a really cool way for me to perform having spent my entire career working in bands that have huge amounts of equipment and lots of personalities from Evil Mothers, to Pigface to Thrill Kill Kult. This is the first time where it’s just me, alone, onstage so it kind of added a whole new level of fright that I hadn’t experienced in some time. It’s just me out there exposed so whatever happens, it’s just all on me. It’s a new level of exposure or vulnerability that hasn’t existed in the past. I definitely can foresee this expanding to include multiple performers on stage, or guests along the way, but right now it’s just me.
WW: I read that you hooked up with Negative Gain during SXSW and were thus able to release your album. How did that come about?
Curse: So I was coming to point where I was like, do I self-publish this thing and create my own label…which I did basically create my own publishing company specifically for this record. But also, I really wanted to have a motivated label partner. I know it’s a very DIY time but I felt, for this record, that it was critical to have a label that was already doing cool things. For promotional purposes as well as for access to an audience that I don’t already have. Also they have just been doing it so they have a network of press, a network of retail stores and a network of customers and other like-minded artists, that I felt strengthened the power of the release. So I had about 5 labels on my short list. I also had a very tight timeline, from the point to where the record was finished and going into tour. So I needed to figure out which label was going to be the most motivated to jump on this and not be like, well we can schedule you for an October release. And Negative Gain, hands down had the most positive and quick response and were ready to roll up their sleeves and do everything to get this record out just in the nick of time, so to speak. This was I’ll be traveling on tour with products…I’ll have CD, vinyl, cassette and a publicist with a full team working the record. Whereas, If I was doing this myself I wouldn’t have the product in hand or have that team behind me while I’m out there playing. So it worked out really good. Negative Gain has some great artists. They’ve been doing a SXSW showcase every year for the last few years, local artist Mr. Kitty is also on Negative Gain and he’s been doing well with them, and Steven Seibold’s new project Stand Alone just came out on Negative Gain. And they’re based out of Chicago so to me, in a lot of ways, they were the most Wax Trax style group of people…they just kind of got it, instantly. So that was very refreshing and exciting.
WW: So who are you touring with? Or are you going out solo?
Curse: In touring in support of my other band My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. The Austin show is May 31st at Elysium with Sine. So that’s a cool thing for both Rona and I. The tour starts May 5th in Las Vegas and runs through June 15th. Then we’ll go out for another leg in the fall. We’re also doing the Cold Waves Festival in Chicago, and might have a potential Pigface tour for the end of the year.
WW: So what all do you do with Pigface?
Curse: Typically a lot of vocals and a lot of samples. Depending on the song it’s either running the keyboard rig or it’s a lot of vocals. It’s an inter-changing modular Leggo set of a band.
WW: You’ve been with them for a long time…
Curse: I’ve done every Pigface show since the late nineties. There’s been a bit of a gap recently but the tour is definitely announced. We’ll see who’s there when it happens!
WW: Who’s in Pigface today?
Curse: That’s the question of the day! I don’t think there’s an answer.
WW: How would you describe Instant Exorcism?
Curse: It’s definitely a powerful dark electronic / alternative industrial record…which, to me, takes my favorite parts of everything from Nick Cave to Twitch era Minstry, Skinny Puppy, Coil, some Depeche Mode (the darker sides of DM), maybe even the trip-hop vibe of Massive Attack and some of the 4AD records etherealism of dark ambient Lustmord, and blend all these elements into something that is uniquely ME. Uniquely Curse Mackey. And Instant Exorcism is that sort of a transformation that we can all have through art and live performance where you can be fearful or in a certain negative space but the moment you crossover the threshold into that space of making music and making art…you’re onstage to perform and you’re exposed and you’re kind of able to exorcise that demon and come out on the other side…hopefully with something cathartic and positive.
WW: I read that you did all of the artwork for the album. What medium /s did you use?
Curse: I’ll grab the pieces (brings out three canvases). So I did these paintings and collages in a sort of William S. Burroughs cut up style, you know in bits. And Rona Rogueheart from Sine did the photography and sleeve design based on this artwork from the photos she took and kind of montaged it all into a really cool package.
WW: That’s badass.
Curse: Thank you. I’m really happy with it. I’m also glad that the art itself is also my creation and not just a hired gun graphic design job. So I’m creating a lot of pieces of original art for kind of the deluxe packaging, VIP kind of super fan package. So those will eventually be for sale.
WW: Speaking of Sine, you did a song on that, Drugs.
Curse: Yes, I did Drugs with Sine. Haha.
Wendy: Was that the extent of your involvement.
Curse: I was in the studio a lot and had the privilege of watching the record be created kind of from the ground up. Rona did incredible and she also worked with Charles Godfrey from Scary American. I would hang out, and I did some vocals and jammed on some synth that might have made it on there. And I was just another set of eyes and ears. Then I’d go work on my record for a while, then come back after some progress had been made. It was fun to watch that record being made and provide some spiritual guidance.
WW: So I kind of have to hear about the now infamous Peter Murphy show in Orlando.
Curse: So that was pretty nuts! Rona had done some networking with AEG Presents to try to get us involved in some other shows that we were interested in in the southeast and then randomly she got an email about a week and a half before the show asking if Sine would like to open for Peter Murphy, which of course was a yes. Well Peter and I share the same booking agent and they approved it, so basically we were just waiting on Peter to approve it. So the week of the event it was finally approved and we scrambled to make travel arrangements,while Rona’s working 24 hours a day programming lights and improving her show to be of that caliber…for a 1200 capacity sold out venue. So while she was onstage performing I was watching from side stage and I had just basically gone to Orlando to support her and sing, well to do Drugs, onstage with Sine. And then I looked behind me and David J Haskins and Mark Gemini Thwaite, the guitarist are watching as well. So I’m like hey, how are you guys doing (quick hugs) and David J’s like, “I’m totally fucked right now. It looks like Peter’s not going to be able to do the show. We have until show time to see if he gets here but I need to know (he points to Rona and her cool little synth and drum rig), Can she do that with us during our set? Trigger drums, and fire off some synth sounds and ambience. And you know some of our songs, I’m sure, right?” And I said yes, so he says, “Well then you sing and if he doesn’t show up we’re going to do this kind of deconstructed re-imagined Bauhaus in dub free-form improvisation kind of thing, and we’re just going to make some fucking magic happen, okay?” And I’m like Okay…
So then I’m waiting for Rona whose onstage going “Get ready for Peter Murphy!”. And she’s still in the dark on this whole thing. So as soon as she gets done I quickly go out there and tell her don’t break down your rig and just come with me, don’t make any expression or face. Yeah, don’t go OMG! Because we don’t want to telegraph anything to the audience. And we go straight into the dressing room to meet with David Jay and the rest of the band and just start talking about how to do this. And he keeps referring to In Dub, this record by Youth and Killing Joke…which I love. They’re like, yeah I love that record. So we put that on for inspiration and talked about William Burroughs, and Charles Bukowski and surrealism and kind of found this common thread of how we felt like we could take it. And then of course once we were onstage it’s like okay, well here we go!
So they did two songs and then called Rona up and she played, so there with three kind of instrumental versions with David Jay adlibbing of the lyrics. Then I came out and we went into this rock-n-roll industrial juggernaut version of In The Flat Field and Stigmata Martyr. And then God In An Alcove. Then I left for a song and then came back for a nine minute surrealistic version of Bella Lugosi’s Dead and I was running Peter Murphy’s delay unit that does all those crazy effects…running his space echo. For me that might have been one of the most geeky goth kid moments where I realize that I’m running Peter Murphy’s effects equipment that makes that signature sound on Bella Lugosi’s Dead. The fans themselves and the band were just incredible. Some body could really have gotten hurt if hadn’t been such a chill audience. Having an artist cancel for a second time I would be fearful of whoever had to make that announcement’s well-being. Even the staff at the venue were very supportive of us and I felt so bad for them because they had to through that a second time and that poor audience that came back a second time. So David Jay really rose to the occasion. My respect level for that guy…I already respected him artistically but just the way he took charge and rallied and walked into the fire. So what happened together with the audience was a once in a lifetime thing that I won’t ever forget. And I’m glad that Rona (from Sine) got to share that together as a couple. That was really huge for us and pretty neat.
WW: In addition to music, you are also a well known deejay. What kind of stuff do you like to play and where / when can we check you out?
Curse: I just found out today that you can hear me deejay at the Wax Trax House of Vans party that Ministry and Cold Cave are playing. At Fairmarket on 4/19 and the Wax Trax Industrial Accident documentary that they’re showing. So that just came about today. I love deejaying with vinyl. That’s how I grew up and really got into this whole scene, being an industrial goth deejay. For this set I’m going to use mostly vinyl from my old Wax Trax collection. But I’m really just into what is new and ground breaking in alternative heavy dark electronic music. When I was growing up it was kind of that Wax Trax era. So that was what I was into, and early Depeche Mode and New Order, Bauhaus and all of that stuff. Now I’m always interested in what’s the next wave. I’ve always been interested in introducing new music to like-minded, open-minded people. And that’s what I’m all about!
WW: I saw in your bio that you were involved in a couple of book publications. Can you tell us something about that? What were they and what was your involvement?
Curse: It’s kind of a sideline. I’ve always been into art and through producing events I was fortunate enough to curate an art exhibit with H.R. Geiger, the great Swiss surrealist known for Alien most notably. I’ve done a couple of big group art exhibits and have managed to just compile all of those and document them well enough to create a couple of books. It’s almost entirely unrelated to my music, but ultimately maybe those will cross over…now that’ I’m making a lot more art myself. One of the books is called Draw and it’s more than 600 drawings compiled by me and a guy named Erik Foss. He was an artist out of NYC and he and I put together the Geiger exhibit and the Draw exhibit. There’s drawings from Gibby Haine’s and Karen O from the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s, Alex Gray, as well as contemporary tattoo artists and other weirdos. And Rites of Passage is another exhibit and that was all painted snowboards. That was a project I did in partnership with Burton snowboards, same thing…famous tattoo artists and pop graffiti guys. It’s been a few years since I put out a book but I’m pretty sure there will be another one.
WW: Any chance of an Evil Mothers reunion show? Or is everyone all married up and old?
Curse: No! I would never say never to doing another Evil Mothers show if the right circumstance came about. I love Patrick Sane and what he and I and the other members (Bob Dog) were able to accomplish. It just all goes back to what I was getting at early regarding doing this solo performance which is very refreshing for me…versus dealing with the logistics of trying to pull people from all over the country and large amounts of oil drums and all of the other things a performance requires. It’s mainly just time too. Right now it would be very hard to slot it in, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t pull something together at some point. I’ll never say never.
WW: Any final words of wisdom?
Curse: I just hope everybody will grab Instant Exorcism and literally give it a spin…because it will make your head spin.
Check out Curse Mackey:
Check out Sine: