Interview: Curtis Nathan Curry and Dave Gajda present Flowers on Mars

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FLOWERS ON MARS

This year, the Recording Academy has launched an initiative to provide Spoken Word with its own category during their esteemed Grammy Award presentation. Though the project is in its early stages, the poetry community is thrilled! This initiative is what led The Poet’s List to learn about Flowers on Mars, a spoken word album by poet Curtis Nathan Curry and musician Dave Gajda; two artists who are gearing up to be early entrants for the Academy’s consideration.

Little did we know, Nathan and Dave embody The Poet’s List’s mission to the fullest. They are two unique individuals who are boldly convicted to their truths. And yet, they share a deep friendship, a passion for the arts and a desire to help those who need it most. 

We are so grateful to have conducted this interview and we hope you enjoy!

 

“Dave and I are so opposite on so many things. He is an Atheist. I’m a Church boy. He’s very liberal. I’m very conservative. And yet, we love each other dearly and we can still find common ground within music and art. And it’s that mutual respect and admiration, that quest for commonality, that will really drive the poetry community forward and help her to thrive.” – Curtis Nathan Curry
 
 

On Flowers on Mars

Congratulations on your spoken word album! We are excited to have a listen. How did the project come about?
 
Dave Gajda: So, Nathan and I met in college and became good friends basically right off the bat, working together on a number of projects over the years. After we graduated, he’d still send me his poetry and we stayed pretty close. I think the big thing that lead us to a long-term collaboration was when we partnered up to do a track for a fan-made tribute to Kevin Max, who’s been an artist we’ve both admired for years . It was a really great experience [that proved we] could work long distance, with us living in separate states now.
 
Curtis Nathan Curry: Yeah, Kevin was and still is a big influence for the both of us. In fact, Raven Songs 101 was my inspiration for this album and it singlehandedly made me want to get into spoken word. So one day, I just kinda had this crazy dream and called up Dave and said, “Hey Man, I got all these poems and I really want to put them to music. You up for it?” And that was that.
 
Dave: It helped that we could each trust the other creatively that no matter how weird we wanted to get, it was going to work. 
 
Nathan: Dave was the only guy I wanted to collaborate with because I knew he would get me. Ever since I first met him, he always had a flair for oddball things, things that were different, especially when it came to music. And he really likes to push the envelope. But, so do I. So I knew that there was no way we would NOT be good collaborators for this record! It just meshed really well. There was enough
difference to keep it interesting, but enough similarity to keep it all tied together.
 

Can you describe the album? 

Dave: The album is eleven pieces over ten tracks. In terms of feel, I wanted to give each piece its own musical identity, letting them each hit a bit differently. In the end, despite my inclination to pack every second with as much musical information as possible, I wanted it to have space to breathe. It’s an album of poetry, and the poems aren’t long, so I didn’t want to overwhelm them with music. I wanted the poetry to be the focus.

Nathan: For me, simply put, this album is all about longing to take a leap of faith. Struggling to let go of the past, but going for it anyway… regardless of the outcome. Because, let’s face it: that’s the only way any of us grow and see change in our lives.

Dave: I’m a massive nerd at heart and, for this, I wanted to show myself through musical composition as Nathan does through his poetry. As a result, this thing is littered with musical references, whether it’s to Muse, U2, classic jazz, the Bioshock games, or Twin Peaks.

Nathan: Dave did such a tremendous job with the instrumentation and I cannot sing his praises enough.

Which track is your favorite and what is it about? 

Dave: I’m sure Nathan has his own takes and stories about these pieces. The words are so personal to him, and so I can only talk about everything from a musical perspective. I did want to touch on the eleventh piece – the second half of the tenth track – “Before the Throne.” I don’t consider myself a very religious person, so I struggled with this piece for a long time. Then, unfortunately, a good friend of mine – a guy we both knew in college – committed suicide. It was awful, but I went to his funeral here in Nashville and, sitting there, listening to them singing hymns that he would have hated, I was struck by the weight that it all carried. The gravity of just a few notes on the piano. I can’t listen to that track without being transported back to that pew, surrounded by people I hadn’t seen in years. It was heavy.

Nathan: It’s so hard to pick because I truly love all the tracks for different reasons. Every one has its own unique strength and personality. I personally have always loved “Wax Souls”- it’s just such a break from the rest of the album… in tone, in subject matter. But I think it also best represents where I was at that point in my life. I was trying so hard to make a name for myself, driving myself crazy in the process, but finally coming to a place of ultimately realizing and accepting the beauty of my mortality and my limitations. It was a very freeing moment for me.

How can people purchase your album?
 
Dave: The pre-release version is on SoundCloud right now, but we’re working on a full final release that should be much more widely available on streaming services.
 
 
 
 
Any other notes?
 
Nathan: Well, first and foremost, Dave is my hero. He takes my lemons and turns them into the most delicious lemonade. He is an abstract collaborator. He is a unique and rock-solid guy. And I’m so grateful that we can share in this journey together. We created this work because we both desire to be more than just storytellers: we want to share our hearts with the world. We live hours away from one another, we are polar opposites when it comes to our beliefs and ideals and political viewpoints. But our love for art and the human race and for each other transcends all of those differences. Never let time or distance or politics or whatever keep you from doing what you love and loving those around you. When it’s all said and done and the music fades away, love is all that remains.   
 
Dave: I just wanted to say that if you or someone you know is battling suicidal tendencies, please find help. 800-273-8255 is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or, for that matter: reach out. We may not be your friends, but that only means we’re not your friends YET, and we don’t want to miss the opportunity to be.
 
On Curtis Nathan Curry + Dave Gajda
 
Where were you born and raised? Which aspects of your hometown have molded you as a person? 

Nathan: Louisville, Kentucky. My family is very close. We all live here and we all spend a lot of time together. So that down-home closeness and community and bonding is very important to me. It’s helped me to cherish and appreciate all my relationships and it’s made me fiercely loyal to those closest to me.

Dave: I grew up on an island on the coast of Florida, right on Tampa Bay; a place called Anna Maria. The mainland is where Fernando Desoto first landed, and it’s amazing. Pirate culture was huge there, with a pirate festival every year and a men’s service organization that always seemed to involve a bunch of island men getting drunk, dressing up, and riding around on a trailer made to look like a pirate ship. It was basically a cartoon, and I’ve got multiple tattoos either in tribute to or in reference to how big pirate culture was in my life growing up.

The other big thing was music. I don’t know if we were a disproportionately musical community of kids, but you were weird if you DIDN’T play something. And many of the kids I knew played at least two instruments. That kind of childhood shaped me. It helped instill in me a sense of looking out for your people, of finding ways to make bad things better. Like, enjoying hurricanes because it meant that the beach actually got waves, even if they were threatening to wash away everything you’ve ever known. [It] conditioned me to see music as an essential part of every day life.

What are some of the topics that you are most passionate about, even if you’ve never written about them?

Dave: Oh boy. I’m very political. I believe that society only works if we’re trying to make life better for EVERYONE, regardless of race, beliefs, sex, sexuality, where you came from, or anything else. You take care of your people, and that means EVERYONE. Not just the people you want it to be, not just the people who look like you, not just the people who can afford it. From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. I’m a big time BLM supporter, very much into children’s education, very much an LGBTQIA ally.

Nathan: I work in the education system at the elementary level. Therefore, I see a lot of the divide that happens politically and culturally. I am always a big advocate for engaging the community and bridging that gap between the races. Poverty, unfortunately, is a big determination in our systems. And money has all the say-so. These kids are no longer human beings; they are job security and a means by which the higher-ups can keep their pockets cushioned. It’s all about testing and stats and numbers and IEPS. The humanity of it all has been severely diminished, and that is both saddening and frustrating.

Other than poetry, what are some of your interests?

Nathan: I have been drawing cartoons ever since I could hold a pencil. Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera were a big part of my Saturday morning ritual. I have: illustrated a few books; I’ve had my work published in a short-running newspaper; and I am currently in the process of illustrating a children’s book series. I love classic Disney animation. I’m a Disney trivia freak. Just ask my wife.

I love music. I play piano and I lead worship at a Nazarene church in Louisville. My taste is very eclectic. I can listen to just about anything, but early 90’s alternative rock, jazz, and classical music are probably my go-to’s. I really like listening to movie scores, too. My degree was in dramatic arts so I did a lot of plays in college. I would love to be in a feature film someday. I would also really love to try my hand at voice-over acting. Simply put, I want to be a cartoon when I grow up.

Dave: I love music. It’s been integral to my life since my dad would sing “Silent Night” to me before bed as a kid. I’m also a big comic book nerd. I love reading in general, though. I just finished getting blown away by Asimov’s Foundation universe. I’m a big sci-fi guy.

What has been the greatest piece of advice you’ve received thus far, poetry related or other?
 
Nathan: As far as writing poetry goes, comedian James Austin Johnson once told me something I have never forgotten. “Show; don’t tell.” A poet uses words to paint a picture, and that picture can become so pompous and unobtainable if it becomes oversaturated with excessive verbiage. Paint your
picture, move on, and leave the rest to your audience. Apart from poetry, one of my favorite sayings is “Whatever you feed grows.” It’s a great reminder for me to always stay positive and to always keep looking on the bright side. Don’t pour your time and energy into things that will ultimately bring you down and bring down those around you.
 
Dave: It’s not so much one that I’ve been given, but one I’ve learned. I heard “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” for years… and I think that’s garbage. Anything you do for work eventually becomes work. I’d say there’s no shame in giving up if chasing the dream you have kills the reason you wanted it in the first place. It’s better to do things as an enthusiastic amateur with passion than a professional who hates the thing they only wanted to do because they loved it.
 
What is your ultimate goal—with regards to your career or life in general?
 
Dave: My goals now are pretty simple. I want to make people happy. To leave the world better than I found it in whatever small way I can.
 
Nathan: To love my God and to love those around me. To find joy in serving others. “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”
 
 
On Curtis Nathan Curry + Poetry
 
How long have you been writing and when did you begin to claim the title of poet?

Nathan: I have always loved books. Ever since I was about six years old, I would write my own stories and attempt to put them in a book format with my own illustrations and everything. There was just this freedom, a “no rules, anything goes” mentality to it all, and the lure of that was pretty intoxicating.

It wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I really developed a deep love for the English language. I would read the dictionary a lot and I loved Shakespeare. I just wanted to have all words and their meanings at my disposal. At that same time, I also experienced a really rotten break-up. So my remedy was to immerse myself in words and to use them to express my deepest feelings. So I was about 16, 17 when I really started to call myself a poet.

When I got to college, I had a great professor who really pushed me and gave me a lot of constructive criticism. However, all the poets he recommended were so inaccessible to me. Their work was so academic, pompous and long-winded. Then I discovered a great quote by Charles Bukowski. “An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” That became my mantra and my Holy Grail of poetry- to paint a simple picture with my words and leave the rest to the audience.
 
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How personal is your poetry? Do you tend to write about things which directly affect you or do you also venture out?
 
Nathan: I think it’s a healthy mixture of both. I like to climb over the wall and create worlds, but it also has to be personal and it has to have some kind of take-away. I don’t like to preach, but I do like to make people think and ask questions. I’m a bit of an extroverted introvert when it comes to poetry, I guess.
 
Spoken word album aside, would you describe yourself as a performance poet or do you tend to focus on the written word?
 
Nathan: I’m probably geared more towards performance. Early on, the focus was definitely the written
word. But as I grew and developed other interests like theatre, music and illustration and [as I] really found my voice, it sort of evolved into performance art. I still love sitting down and reading, but being able to take those words and make them “pop” is hugely satisfying to me.
 
In what ways would you like to see the poetry community grow and evolve in the coming years?
 
Nathan: I would love to see poetry continue to step outside its own walls and venture down other avenues: theatre, the Church, modern art. Mainstream music is a place that is slowly starting to gain momentum in that regard. Bob Dylan, Bono, Kevin Max, John Lennon- these guys were always trying to inject their poetry into their work and I think they produced something really unique and special. I would love for more people to take that ball and run with it, so to speak. Don’t limit yourself to just the page.
 
What do you appreciate most about the poetry community?
 
Nathan: The diversity of it all. We all come from different places, different walks of life. And we all paint with different colors and different types of brushes. This album is a perfect example. Dave and I are so opposite on so many things. He is an Atheist. I’m a Church boy. He’s very liberal. I’m very conservative. And yet, we love each other dearly and we can still find common ground within music and art. And it’s that mutual respect and admiration, that quest for commonality, that will really drive the poetry community forward and help her to thrive.
 
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Final Words
 
Nathan:  We are working on a follow up album that we are both very excited about. It’s called “Goodnight Dead Man.” Coming Soon! [Also,] life is a song and we each only get one verse. So start singing! 
 
Dave: You all are awesome for doing this. Thank you for giving the two of us the chance to connect with you and your audience and to share with them. Flowers on Mars was a really great time and, in the end, it may just be the result of two good friends goofing around with words and noises. But we’re proud of the words and noises we made. And, whether anyone else loves it or hates it, we’re so thrilled to be able to show you this weird mess we made.

 

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We are so excited for Nathan and Dave. We plan to keep an eye on both their individual careers and collaborative works. We hope you will do the same! Keep up with them, here:

*This interview has been condensed and arranged for brevity and flow.

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