Interview: Curtis Nathan Curry and Dave Gajda Present Good Night Dead Man

The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Good Night Dead Man - Curtis Nathan Curry - Dave Gajda


In 2021, The Poet’s List had the honor of interviewing poet, Curtis Nathan Curry, and musician, Dave Gajda, on their album, Flowers on Mars. Throughout our conversation, the duo was extremely forthcoming on both a creative and personal level; and their depth and complexity was entrancing. Therefore, we were ecstatic to speak with them again regarding the release of their latest project, Good Night Dead Man.

This album is an absolute treasure. Sonically, there is a distinct individuality about each track; something that Dave is intentional about. Across the 15-track album, you will find touches of everything from rock, jazz, funk to symphony. Poetically, Nathan’s words are striking—with many gems and lines that beg a rewind. He diversifies his cadence and delivery between tracks, making for an intriguing listen. Between the written content and the musicality, it is an emotional listen, and an experience that we liken to that of a movie score.

Ultimately—just like the pair behind the project—Good Night Dead Man is layered. Listeners who may have come looking for one thing will inevitably find so much more.

The Poet’s List is proud to present our second interview with Curtis Nathan Curry and Dave Gajda:

On Good Night Dead Man

When we spoke in 2021, you’d already begun work on Good Night Dead Man! What was the initial concept for the album and did it shift throughout the creative process?

Curtis Nathan Curry: I started writing more poems in 2020 that were very similar in tone to the first album, but then life happened. COVID, leaving a job, finding a new job, and having another child—all of these factors played a significant role in the shift of the creative process. It took us about two years to complete this album, but I’m really glad that it did, because those experiences really moved the album in a direction that I never would have intended.

Dave Gajda: So, our creative process is more or less is that Nathan says, “Hey, I’ve got these poems, they’re going to be an album, it’s going to be called X,” and then I start on the music. That’s super simplified and there’s so much communication that goes on, but that’s the gist. As such—though, he came to me with the album title—I loved it. To me, it opened the door to so many possibilities, and I found it so compelling immediately. I knew that I wanted to take it in a different direction, darker than before, but in as complex a way as I could manage. Not sadness, but almost begrudgingly hopeful. That was something I tried to keep in mind from the very start, and it’s something that carried through almost every track, musically.

Curtis Nathan Curry: The name of the album is inspired by the song “Wake Up Dead Man” from U2’s 1997 album Pop. I fell in love with the imagery of the title and I wanted to put my own spin on it. So instead of waking up the dead man, I just put him back to sleep. (Laughs)

There is a line in the titular poem that sums it all up: “As you soar to higher heights / and leave that man for dead.” It’s not about something that is already dead. It’s about the act of putting something to rest once and for all. And in my case, it was about burying all of the doubts that I had about myself. [Our first album] Flowers—for me—represented a lot of fear, insecurity, and soul-searching. I was always questioning myself and always apologizing for being myself. I was a bit of an oddball. I [enjoyed] things that most people did not understand, like poetry and art.

Dead Man was a liberation for me. It was me going through all of these experiences, coming out on the other side, and saying out loud, “You know what? I am going to own this. I am me. And for that, I refuse to apologize.”

The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Good Night Dead Man - Curtis Nathan Curry - Dave Gajda

When you consider your previous collaboration—what aspects of your production process did you retain for this album and what differed?

Nathan: Keeping it raw and in the moment is the number one rule for me, just as it was when we collaborated on Flowers. I gave virtually no input to Dave when it came to marrying the music and the words. Whatever Dave felt in that moment was more than enough for me. I really cared about what he thought because I knew he would take it to a place that I could not and he would do it as honestly, genuinely and professionally as he could.

It’s also very important that our ideas do NOT run parallel. The clashing of our minds and our individual creative processes, I feel, has always been our greatest success. We both bring different flavors to the table. But, when you bring those elements together, the end result is a really complex, layered and interesting concoction. I knew that if we started fine-tuning and nitpicking and narrowing it all down, it would not only slow the creative process, but it would lose its spontaneous edge.

The album has a more mature sound. In those two years, we literally journeyed from boys to men. We pushed ourselves into new territories, especially Dave. He stepped up and sang the hook on “Dear Michigan” and he absolutely knocked it out of the park. I was so proud of him and still am! Listening to that track always takes me back to high school and singing lead vocals in various garage bands. It really captures the spirit of being young and wide-eyed and reaching for the stars. I absolutely adore that song.

There was just no fear involved with this album. It was all comfort. Total and complete comfort and confidence in ourselves and what we were doing. Even in my delivery of the lines, I didn’t feel the need to speak in a certain way or be so cinematic. I was just speaking the words, naturally, genuinely, as myself. I think it’s that honest confidence that really drives the words home and really sets this album apart from the first one.

Dave: The previous album, Flowers on Mars, was really a learning experience for me. It taught me where a lot of my limitations were, both in conception and execution. I’d never written music for spoken word before. I almost treated every stanza as a verse, usually punctuated by a “chorus,” or just lay down a static bed of music and call it a day. With this one, I focused on trying to truly integrate the music to the poetry; to pair them in a way that would accentuate Nathan’s amazing poetic abilities.

The other thing about the last album was that I was trying to make sounds be what I wanted, rather than what they were. The use of brass, I think, is a good example. The brass doesn’t sound like true brass. It’s fake and tinny sounding. I think it was a lot more effective on this album, though, because it was never supposed to sound like a full brass section. I could let it be fake and tinny and embrace that sound, rather than trying to fight it. I love limitations—they’re amazing for creativity. And, for this album, I was able to lean so much more into those limitations. [I] let them guide me, rather than fighting them.

The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Good Night Dead Man - Dave Gajda
Musician, Dave Gajda

We have quite a few favorites from this album! But if we had to choose our top tracks, we are obsessed with “Absolver,” “King of Shadows” and “One more drop of midnight.” How did you go about organizing the track list?

Dave: Those are all fun tracks! What’s fun for me is that, in creating the musical identity of the album, I’m essentially working backwards. I get the track list from Nathan at the start and go from there. A lot of the early conversations we had about this album were centered around David Bowie—an artist we both adore—and, in particular Blackstar, his final album. I wear my influences on my sleeve. So what I did, in terms of this album, was almost using that as a start and spreading out from there. From the very first track, I was borrowing ideas from that album, especially in the drums and bass. Then, stretching to pull in more of his discography, like borrowing the essence of the bassline to “Fame” and building a song around it. Then, finally, by the end of the album, drawing from other artists and what I find so compelling about their work. If you listen, there’s a lot of Bowie in there, but also a good amount of Nina Simone, some Pulp, some Mike Oldfield, some Blink 182, some Richard Wagner… It’s an eclectic mix. (Laughs)

Nathan: Definitely eclectic! (Laughs) Thank you so much for that. You know, there were a lot of poems I wrote that didn’t make the cut. The tone just didn’t match or they were just a step out of place. One piece that comes to mind is a poem called, “Jack.” It’s basically about Bob Dylan and Alan Ginsberg sitting in front of Jack Kerouac’s grave and playing the harmonium. There was a lot of good imagery, but the story kinda went a little too far out of the world that I was creating.

One of my favorite surprises on the album was “Beyond (for Abby)”. Again, I gave Dave zero context and just let him do what he wanted with it. What he came up with was quite surprising and not what I had in mind! Those are the creative moments that I live for when someone as brilliant as Dave can just take all of my work and turn it on its head! If anyone truly wants to know what it’s about, they can ask me, but I’d hate to spoil the secret! (Laughs)

Again, that is an important ingredient in putting out these poems. It cannot be too telling. My favorite art in the world is the art that forces you to make up your own mind. YOU have to come to your own conclusions and takeaways about the piece. Good art should not tell you everything or give away all of its secrets. So with that in mind, I really tried to create and pick pieces that not only gave you a striking visual, but [that] were also kinda vague and open for interpretation at the same time.

I was also careful to place the pieces so that the overall story would progress. I didn’t want to rehash Flowers all over again. I wanted to make sure that I threw those sharp right turns into the mix. There are solemn, thoughtful moments, but then, there are bold, expressive proclamations. That variety and those moments of “switching things up” really keeps things fresh and it allows us the opportunity to explore different realms as creators.

The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Good Night Dead Man - Curtis Nathan Curry
Poet, Curtis Nathan Curry

Nathan, we love this string of lines: “With every sweet and lovely word, I paint your wounded mind. Absolving your iniquities, so you would not see mine.” Can you talk about the poem “Absolver” and how it came about?

Nathan: Thank you very much. This was one of my older pieces, dating back to December 2017. Interestingly, the title of poem is inspired by the last line of dialogue from the 1984 film “Amadeus.” As Salieri is being wheeled out of his room, he passes by the other residents of the insane asylum where he is currently staying. He proclaims “Mediocrities! I absolve you!” Absolve initially was not a word in my vocabulary bank, but I loved the sound of it so much that I knew I wanted to use it. So I looked it up. “To declare free from blame or guilt.” I decided to make it into a noun: Absolver. I would become the Absolver for the one whom I loved. I wanted to create this tension and irony from within; a person who can set other people free, but can never allow themselves to be set free. That was the application for me because that was very much who I was at the time I wrote those lines. I could offer myself to others, but I couldn’t receive anything for myself. It was that personal, emotional conundrum that really drove the direction of the poem.

Dave, from the incredible diversity displayed on this album, we can tell that you have an extensive knowledge of music! In our last conversation you mentioned that you grew up in a musical community. Can you elaborate on which genres molded you as a child? Also, how do you currently maintain your range of musicality?

Dave: I grew up on rock and roll. Some of my earliest memories are sitting on my dad’s lap, listening through Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell album on vinyl, or jumping up and down on my bed to Elton John. And, to this day, Jim Steinman is my favorite songwriter of all time. I love music that is way too over the top, and he was the king of it. All due respect to even, like, Brian May and Freddie Mercury, but Jim Steinman could have written, “The Show Must Go On,” but neither of them could have written “I’ll Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” I also did and do really love ska and punk.

In terms of how I maintain my range of musicality, I really look at these albums, and songwriting in general, as beginning with an experiment. “One More Drop of Midnight,” for example. That really came out of loving “Tubular Bells,” the theme from the Exorcist, and trying to figure out what made it work so well. The answer is the odd time signature, which gives the entire thing an unsettling feel, so I emulated that as a way to play with it, then, from there, it became a matter of, “Now what can I do with this?” Some layering, some additional textures, and I had this kind of haunted canon. I’m always learning new things, though. New techniques. And then [I] draw inspiration from whatever I have so far until a piece feels complete in its identity.

Nathan, poetry-wise, which track from Good Night Dead Man would you hope to serve as a representative for the album?

Nathan: Speaking for myself, I think the title track best represents what the album is all about. It’s about allowing yourself the chance to be you. It’s a declaration of independence and to be quite honest, it came to me at a time in my life when I really needed to hear it. It’s the moment of truth that really turns the album in another direction. It may not be the most artistic statement on the album, but it is the one thing that I really wanted the listener to hear. If all of the other tracks vanished, this is the one I would keep.

Dave, music-wise, which track from Good Night Dead Man would you hope to serve as a representative for the album?

Dave: I’ll be honest, this is hard for me. They’ve all got their different personalities, so to speak, so it’s hard to choose one and say “Yes, this is what this album is about.” I think, ultimately, that would be a question for the listener. If I had to choose one as kind of the distillation of musical ideas, though, I’d probably say “Yellow.” It’s got its fingers in enough places that if someone were to then listen to any other track after, it would make sense, as opposed to, say, a pop punk song followed by a moody electronic piece.

The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Flowers on Mars - Curtis Nathan Curry

On Poetry + Life

Nathan, we first connected with you around the time that the Recording Academy announced their new category dedicated to Spoken Word Poetry. As we all know—the category is finally in existence, with its first winner awarded during February’s ceremony! How do you feel knowing that this has come to fruition and what does this mean for the world of poetry?

Nathan: It offers us a great opportunity and at the same time a great responsibility. It really is a double-edged sword for me. Now, I will admit- I am very happy that the Academy is recognizing the power of spoken word poetry and celebrating that and sharing that with the world. Creators are being given a platform and a chance to be heard in a different and unique way. I rejoice in that with every fiber of my being. I am, however, nervous that it will create a formula that will limit the creativity and cheapen the product. People will want to win and so they will write whatever is necessary to win instead of just being true to themselves and their art. Also, poetry is a super subjective medium and a very acquired taste for many. What speaks to one may not necessarily translate to the masses. So, I’m excited about the potential. But if it’s going to be done, I hope it is done respectfully and with a much broader vision in mind.

Dave, in our last interview, you shared about how you have both been impacted by the suicide of a close friend and you spotlighted the National Suicide Lifeline for our readers. (A number which has amazingly since been shortened to 988.) Mental health is a very important topic amongst poets. How does it feel to know that attention to mental health is expanding? Are there any words that you can offer to poets who may be struggling?

Dave: I’m so glad they shortened that number!

I think expanding attention to mental health is so important and I couldn’t be more glad it’s happening, because, as serious as it was at the time of the last interview, it’s only gotten worse. We’ve had an entire pandemic and, like, six apocalypses since then! Of course mental health is garbage for so many people.

To poets who may be struggling, though, I’ll say this: you’re not alone. I’ve almost lost my fight several times since the last interview we did. It’s hard. There are days I’m not even convinced I’m through it yet. It can feel like it’s impossible. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, the hardest part is feeling isolation in it. The way I’ve found to fix that, though, is to talk about it openly. To tell people that in September I stood on a bridge trying to get the nerve to take the shortcut down. I tell people that, and it’s amazing, astonishing, how many people have been in that exact position but never let anyone know.

If you’re struggling and reaching out for help is too much, that’s OK. You don’t have to reach out. You can just tell your experience and you’ll be astonished how many people [share] the same one. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you’ll see how understood you are and how very not alone.

Until we can normalize talking about that, though, nothing is going to meaningfully change. 

The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Flowers On Mars - Curtis Nathan Curry

Do you have anything else that you would like to share?

Nathan: I am so beyond grateful and thankful to still have Dave here and to be sharing in this journey with him. I’m glad to see him thriving and pushing forward and continuing to give life a try. He is always a dream to work with. He not only delivers musically and artistically, but he delivers on a personal level. He is always willing, always dependable and always there if you are in need. He is just a rock-solid guy, a rock-solid friend and a brilliant collaborator. So I just want to thank you, Dave, for joining me on this crazy journey and sharing your life with me. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to be your friend. Can’t wait to see where the next album takes us!

And thank you guys again! You all have been so supportive and so kind and so open to us and our work. We are humbled by your praise and we appreciate you and all the work that you do to keep the poetry community alive and vibrant.

  • The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Good Night Dead Man - Curtis Nathan Curry - Dave Gajda
  • The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Good Night Dead Man - Curtis Nathan Curry
  • The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Good Night Dead Man - Dave Gajda
  • The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Flowers On Mars - Curtis Nathan Curry - Dave Gajda
  • The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Flowers On Mars - Curtis Nathan Curry
  • The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Flowers on Mars - Curtis Nathan Curry

Please support Nathan and Dave by checking out their Soundcloud! You can keep up with them, here:

Soundcloud: Nathan Curry + Dave Gajda

Instagram – Nathan: @thenateescape

Facebook – Dave’s Band: Obsidian Critters

The Poet's List - Poet - Poetry News Spokenword Video - Shop - Merchandise - Merch

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the featured artists (ie. poets, authors, writers and experts) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Poet’s List LLC. Any content provided by the artists are of their opinion, and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything. Legal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s