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Neon Limelight’s New Artist Week Featured Interview: Disco Curtis

Disco Curtis - myspace.com

Pop/rock foursome Disco Curtis know a thing or two about maintaining fans. The Dallas-based teen band are known for spending hours reaching out to their growing fanbase on Myspace and Twitter, replying to every single message.

It’s that kind of passion that took the guys from being a little known band playing in front of one hundred people in the mall, to preparing to rock for thousands on the Van’s Warped Tour. It also helps that their brand of pop is smarter and edgier than your average fresh-faced band.

Neon Limelight called up Disco Curtis’ lead singer and songwriter Tanner Howe to talk about DC’s start, their love for their fans, the hardest worker in the band, and how music has changed over time.

Neon Limelight: Where did the name Disco Curtis come from?

Tanner: The name Disco Curtis actually came from a man named Curtis who is a real person and he was a disco master in the 1970s. That’s when he was younger and more hip. [laughs]

NL: [Laughs]

T: He actually used to play disco music—he was a drummer—and he would wear a brown paper bag over his head. And he would play in these different venues with different bands and he was known as “the mystery drummer.” But his name was Curtis and he was a disco drummer and he is also a disco instructor, disco ballroom dancer. We met him and befriended him a couple of years ago and we’d always joke with him and call him Disco Curtis. Then when we were starting the band we decided to name it in honor of him as just the mystery drummer, the brown paper bag drummer. It was something kind of different and random. No one else could have that name. It’s something different.

NL: What did he think of you guys naming the band after him?

T: At first he was slightly embarrassed. He was like “Oh no!” At first it was kind of weird for him but now the more recognition we start to get, he starts to get kind of like, “Yeah, this is cool,” and he starts to like it more. His daughters are actually big fans of ours. But it was kind of funny.

NL: Awesome! So how long did it take you guys from the formation of the band to record deal to kind of get started?

T: From formation to record deal it was about a year. Almost exactly actually. It was a lot of playing shows around the Dallas area to kind of build that up first before we were going to go across the country. Even before the shows, it was months of just preparing online. Just getting ready for playing shows and doing all that. It was just talking to people and reaching out on Myspace.

That was a huge part of our band’s beginning. It still is now but especially in the beginning, even before we played shows and before we knew people or anyone knew us, it was all just our Mypace friends. We would spend about 8 hours a day, every day, for months and months just responding to every mail or comment that came in and just talking to people on there.

Before we did that over a year ago, we played [in] another band. So as far as the music side of it, we had the tightness of having played together since we were in elementary school.

NL: Oh, OK!

T: We met at a young age and started jamming [laughs]. When it came time to do Disco Curtis in our senior year, we didn’t have to play the music. We just wanted to meet more people. So a huge part of it was talking to people online and reaching out in that way.

NL: Definitely! What would you say was the hardest part of the journey?

T: Hardest part of the journey was when we were first getting out and whenever we were playing the beginning of the Hot Topic tour, it was hard because we’ve never been out of the state of Texas. We started to get a decent following in Texas so we decided it was time to go across the country. So we set it up toward the northeast and played a bunch of shows on the way and it was hard at first because there were no support. There was no headliner. It was literally just us and every person that was there was there because we pretty much hand picked them to come. We would meet them and invite them to the show and so it was hard at first to do that.

NL: That sounds scary.

T: As the word started to get out, more and more people caught on and started coming to the shows. And it was really cool because as we were doing the tour, more and more people would come to each date the later the date got. So first we were doing 20 kids would come out to a show, then it was like 40 kids, and then by the time we were up in the northeast, we did some shows with Boys Like Girls and we had done all these Hot Topic [shows] and I guess the word spread and we were doing 100 kids at Hot Topic and it was cool for us [but] in the beginning it was hard to get that rolling.

NL: Yeah and it has to be so scary. You have to have a lot of confidence to just walk up to people and invite them to a show.

T: Yeah because you walk up to someone and you’re like, “Hey! Come check out the show! We’re playing at Hot Topic at 6:00,” they immediately think, “Oh, they suck! They are such a garage band,” but it’s just because we’ve never been to that area. There was no support. Usually, whenever you’re a new band and you go out on the road [you’re] usually the opener for the big headlining acts. So then those people see the headliner and they see you and they’re like “Oh, OK,” and that’s how they meet you. Often times, that’s how it works, but when you go off alone, it’s kind of scary. Everyone that comes is here for us and we’ve never been to this area and we don’t know what to expect. So, we would talk to people on Myspace and invite them to the show.

It was cool because we ended up meeting a lot of close friends because of that. People that we were actual able to talk to and hang out with quite a bit. People that didn’t know us and we didn’t know then but by the end of the night, they’ve got a band that they like and we’ve made new friends so that was really cool.

NL: That’s so awesome and I think that’s what a lot of bands need to get in their heads. They have to do that ground work because those are the fans that will stick with you through everything. So you guys are on the right track. Reaching out to fans so that your fan base can grow? That’s awesome!

T: Yeah, that’s what it’s all about! They’re the reason we get to play music for a living. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we love so it’s all thanks to them.

NL: Now that you guys have a fan base and you’re going on more tours, are you ever overwhelmed by the schedule?

T: Not so far. I mean, we’re just excited about it. I know that February is going to be pretty busy for us. We’re going off to LA. We’re going to be writing and doing shows and doing a lot of different things as far as, you know, it’s not just a tour. We’re going out there to write and record and do all kinds of things so it’s going to be busy but we’re excited about it.

It’s our job but I don’t even see it as a job because it’s what we love. So, overwhelmed? I wouldn’t say overwhelmed, but it’s just us having a good time.

NL: Nice! So, tell me about the EP, “Play With Fire, Get Burned.”

T: The EP, “Play With Fire, Get Burned,” I wrote most of those songs my senior year of high school. Each one was written from a real experience that I went through at a time in my life. It was funny because actually, as I was writing them, they told a story because they are real life stories. So each song is a certain time so if you put them in order, they all tell a story. So the EP from start to the end it tells a story from the beginning of “Ashley” to the end of “Breaking Hearts.” So, that’s the fun side. A lot of people don’t know that.

NL: So I’m guessing it doesn’t go well with Ashley?

T: Oh no! [laughs]

NL: [laughs] So tell me about your “disco cave” where you write your songs.

T: Oh, my disco cave! My disco cave is where I do a lot of creating. It’s the secret room behind the bookshelf. [laughs]

NL: [laughs]

T: I used to always write in there. It’s kind of been my get away place like if I ever need to just focus on something and write a song, that’s where I go. It’s kind of cool because it’s behind a bookcase.

NL: What are your favorite kinds of songs to write?

T: My favorite songs to write are the ones that get me through a hard time. Like if there is something bothering me, and I write a song about it, that song immediately becomes my favorite. It’s not even really as much as what it’s about as much as it is about that I was able to write this song to tell this story whenever I was going through this or that

And that’s a good feeling. And then listening back to it, it’s almost like therapy. I really enjoy doing that. Also, songs that people can sing along to always make me happy. Something really catchy that people can kind of catch on to and it’s easy to sing along with. That’s always fun because then I know at the show—I can just picture it in my head as I’m writing. I’m going to be able to see kids singing along to this.

That’s really the most rewarding feeling is having people sing along and watching people sing the song with you at a show.

NL: Yeah, definitely! Who would you say is the most disciplined when it comes to band work?

T: AJ is more disciplined when it comes to band work. I mean, we all work really hard for this band. We kind of do some different things like I’m really disciplined in the songwriting side of things and the performance. Those are things that I really hone in on. I’ll spend hours and hours and hours writing a song—writing multiple songs. But AJ, AJ’s a little workaholic! [Laughs]

NL: [laughs]

T: He doesn’t rest. If he’s not doing something, he’ll find something to do. He doesn’t take breaks. He’s always drumming and practicing to become a better drummer. He’ll drive for hour and hours and hours on end because if he’s just sitting in the car, he’s not happy. Then if he’s not driving—because he got too tired and he cant practice drums ‘cus he’s in the car, he’ll get on the phone and call people. He’ll start doing all kinds of business things and tweeting people. He just can’t sit still. He’s a workaholic!

NL: That’s awesome! So you guys are about to go out on the Warped Tour. How exciting is that?

T: That’s exciting! We are beyond excited. It’s going to be hot but its going to be fun [laughs]

NL: Are you guys nervous at all? Because there’s a lot of people, every might!

T: There are a lot of people but I wouldn’t say I’m nervous. I always get some nerves before a show. We’re all human [laughs] but I’m more excited than anything. Knowing that we’re going to be revisiting some of those places we hit on the Hot Topic tour and on the Boys Like Girls tour. Going back to those places is going to be really cool seeing the old friends and meeting up with people again. And also getting to meet new people on new dates, we are really excited about that because there are so many places we haven’t hit. Just seeing the comments on our Myspace like “Yay! You’re coming to this town now,” I’m really excited to meet that person.

NL: What are you looking forward to the most on the Warped Tour?

T: I’m looking forward to a lot of things on it. The most is meeting the new people. There’s people that have been listening to us since the beginning and we were seniors in high school and couldn’t tour and now we’re finally going to get to meet those people that have been listening from the beginning of Disco’s career so that means a lot to us and we’d love to give back to them and hang out with them. That’s what I’m most excited about. Meeting the people.

NL: What are you guys looking forward to the most overall in 2010?

T: 2010? Looking forward to touring really. It’s going to be fun. Because I don’t know what tours might come around. I know we’re on the Warped Tour. There has been talk about a few options for spring tour. You know, I have no idea what the fall holds. If we’re on a big tour in spring and we’re doing the Warped Tour, I don’t know what the fall will have in store but it could be new something great, something beautiful. I don’t know what yet. And in touring, we’ll get the opportunity to play our music in front of people and share it with them and share love with them at shows. That’s going to be one of the coolest things.

NL: Yeah!

T: Like I said, creating that music that people can relate to or sing along to and then seeing them at the shows. And seeing them sing along. I’m actually excited about it. It’s going to be cool.

NL: You guys seem to thrive off the touring.

T: Yeah, that’s the thing. We haven’t been able to do it for so long and it was always something we wanted to do. We were dying to get out on the road. We just want to play, you know? [Laughs] We just want to do it and now we have the opportunity to so we’re really excited about it.

NL: Nice! In the last decade, what do you think of the music that’s come out?

T: I like it! Some good stuff has definitely come out. I know the “electronic” theme blew up pretty huge. Like the dance music scene. That’s pretty cool stuff. It’s not exactly what Disco Curtis plays but I love it.

The kind of dancey-techno-electronic music scene. Also, Lady GaGa! Some how has made mainstream music into dance/electronica/pop music. Pretty cool if you ask me! I like it! It’s just kind of fun. It’s different. 3OH!3 and Cobra Starship have become mainstream somehow. Those were bands that I was listening to that were the definition of [the] underground scene so it’s pretty cool. I’m pretty excited about that.

NL: What do you guys think you’ll bring to 2010 that will change music?

T: The thing about our music is we’re excited about it because we don’t know the exact direction or the exact sound that it’s going to have. It’s definitely going in a new direction. It’s going to blend some different styles. It’s not going to be generic pop music. We’re incorporating some new elements so it’s going to have a mature sound and have a dancey sound. It’s going to be all kinds of different things put into one.

We’re going to add some piano. But more than anything, it’s going to be music written with a purpose. Something that you can sing along to and relate to. Like the lyrics of Dashboard Confessional. That deep meaning behind it but something that someone can dance to, something catchy. Pretty much trying to make it an all in one package. Something that multiple people could get in to. We’re trying to broaden the horizons!

It’ll be fun! It’ll be good. I’m excited to hear what we come up with in the studio. I know I’ve been writing a lot of new songs and I know kind of the direction but I want to hear the final sound. We don’t even know what it’s going to sound like yet which is one of the most exciting parts of it.

NL: Awesome! Well Tanner, I think that’s all from me! It was so awesome talking to you and I think you guys are going to go really, really far.

T: Well thank you very much! I appreciate that!

NL: Keep that focus. Keep that drive with your fans. As long as you keep up with your fans, you’ll never be let down.

T: Yeah, and I love our fans. Our way of looking at it is they invest time into us and we want to invest that same time back into them. It’s a two-way street.

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More on Disco Curtis: http://www.myspace.com/discocurtis

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