Vudu Sister have never been afraid to conjure spirits to spur creativity. Over the course of three albums they have dabbled in dark styles of goth, ghost folk, and indie grunge. Heck, they even have an EP, Burnt Offerings, that is entirely in Latin. Recently Vudu Sister’s singer-songwriter Keith McCurdy took the plunge of quitting his day job to become a full-time musician. As I write this, McCurdy is currently overseas finishing a month-long tour of Europe. McCurdy has relayed that the shows have been some of the best he’s ever played and he’s never felt more appreciated for his music. McCurdy and Vudu Sister have several projects on tap including completing a new album and producing Stregalia which comes to Askew on May 26. Before McCurdy took off for Europe, we chatted about taking the full-time musician plunge, Vudu Sister’s current lineup, touring Europe, his influences, and of course Stregalia! (What’s that? Read on!)
Marc Clarkin (Motif): You recently made the leap of faith to become a full-time musician, how has that impacted your songwriting?
Keith McCurdy (Vudu Sister): Since I started performing professionally in my late teens (early 2000s), my older, more experienced peers would always say, “It’s a full-time job.” I understood this but it took me a long time to develop and build a foundation strong enough for me to feel like I could feasibly do this. I quit a horrible job at the beginning of 2022 and started fastidiously gigging. Even though The Sister has been a thing for thirteen years, and I’ve been performing for over twenty, I really consider this Year Two of my career. It’s frustrating and exhausting, I don’t make a lot of money, but I’m much happier and for the first time in a very long time, I feel some sense of hope and possibility for real growth. I’m not sure if it has affected my songwriting, since I’m always thinking of how to attack the next piece of creative work and how I can explore new things or approach what I do slightly differently than I had before. I try not to repeat myself, while still chiseling away at what I become more comfortable with considering my “sound.”
I love what I do and I care about my craft, getting better, and exploring different sounds. I cannot get any meaningful progress done if I do not devote myself utterly. I released four albums while working more than full-time, going back and getting my degree, and it left me so depleted, I made many mistakes (I’ll make plenty more) and now I’m just at a point where I need to go for this, and not look back.
MC: You have been playing with a new cellist, Isabel. Is Vudu Sister now officially a trio with Diane (O’Connor) and you now? How has Isabel impacted the band’s sound?
KM: Diane (O’Connor) and I have been playing and collaborating since the inception of The Sister. I have always wanted to incorporate a cellist and we were extraordinarily lucky to meet Isabel (Castellvi) last year when we were invited by Zan Barry to perform at CelloFest. We started rehearsing and actively collaborating together on new songs, which we’ll be recording for our upcoming album. She and Diane play really well together and are a joy to observe and work with. Isabel is probably one of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with. The two of them are just such a force of talent. We have been meticulously unpacking songs and it feels good to do this as a team rather than having me bear the weight of most of the writing. I think you unlock some real magic when you work with others, especially when there is really good chemistry. For this album, we’ve also worked closely with a good friend of mine Alexander Garzone (Divey) with whom I co-wrote our second album Household Items. Alex and I have a long history of writing really well together. He started out as a drummer, but he trained himself to sing and become a multi-instrumentalist. He has a great mind for songs and melody.
MC: You are going on tour in Europe, how did that come about? Where are you most excited to go?
KM: I started doing short bursts of performances in Europe a couple of years ago, after developing relationships with fans overseas who have been a huge help in getting me back and finding places for me to play. It’s mostly in Italy, Spain, and France, where I have the most vocal support. I love Italy, particularly Sicily. Europe has been incredibly good to me and there’s a strong sense of appreciation for the arts. I’ll be playing in France from April 27 till May 6 and then back and forth from Spain to Italy from May 7 to May 16. This has been a very DIY operation with the incredible support of good people I’ve come to know over the years.
MC: How is the new album coming along and when are you shooting for a release?
KM: I visited a number of different studios this time around before I made a decision. We’re slated to record sometime this summer. I want to take my time with this album and would rather not rush to just release it as another local release show. We plan to put out some singles first before we make definite plans to officially release the whole album. It is very possible that we could release it late fall this year, but it might come to a 2024 release. It’s too early to say.
MC: In the past, Sister has explored a variety of genres from gothic folk to grunge to songs in Latin – how would you describe the new tunes?
KM: Much of what has informed my writing for these new songs has been a lot of newer music that I’ve been exposed to. I am always very inspired by women artists and have really come to love people like Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle, Agnes Obel, Arooj Aftab, and countless others. Emma Ruth Rundle inspired me to explore lower tunings and I picked up a baritone guitar because of her album Marked for Death. I recently saw her in NYC and Boston for her latest album tour and it was one of the most powerfully raw performances I’ve seen. Very inspiring. Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman have also been a big part of my listening homework for this album. I really want to bridge a darker, almost metal or post-metal sound with the string-heavy somber-ness of what we already kind of do, without losing some of the whimsical humor that I like to inject. I can’t really avoid some of my impish tendencies. We often refer to our music as gothic folk (we’ve been called eldritch folk before, which I approve of), I think there’s a bit of goblin rock in there too.
MC: You are putting together a huge event called Stregalia on May 26th, what is Stregalia?
KM: We’ve been brainstorming a variety show to hold in hopes we could do it many times, especially in the fall, in different towns. The idea is to capture a kind of carnivalesque, witchy caravan essence as a nod to my heritage as someone part of Romani descent and with a Sicilian grandmother who practices Stregoneria (witchcraft). Packing up, and traveling from town to town to sell your wares, is how my family made our living when I was growing up. My grandfather grew up in a vardo (wagon) and his sisters practiced dukkering (palmistry and fortune-telling) which they also taught to my grandmother. So, this is all very familiar to me and very much in my blood. Stregalia is meant to celebrate these things with an assortment of music, dance, and art vendors. Thematically, I want it to appeal to outcasts and weirdos who LOVE dark culture, whether it be metalheads, horror buffs, Lovecraft fans, witches, and anyone who is involved with fringe culture. My hope is that if it is a success, we can grow it and take it further.
Stregalia, a night of witchery featuring performances by Vudu Sister, Savoir Faire, Jake Wasson M.D, burlesque dancing by Maiden X, tarot readings, and more goes down at Askew on May 26.
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