"Being deeply rooted to a rural area is the defining aspect of every issue that I've ever cared about," says Sven Curth. "At the same time, it's probably been the demise of everything I've ever done, because it means I'm pretty much doomed to failure. There have always been musicians and troubadours, and they've always gravitated to urban areas, because you have to have people to be able to entertain people, you know?"
And with that, the bard of the Blue Line sighs.
More skilled than most chart-topping lyricists and guitar-players, the singer and songwriter behind Lake Placid's very own rock 'n' roll juggernaut, "Jim," continues his seemingly everlasting Adirondack tour as a solo performer this winter, playing songs from his two solo albums at Mad River Pizza in AuSable Forks on Jan. 31, Grizle T's in Saranac Lake on Feb. 6, and Smoke Signals in Lake Placid on Feb. 22.
Released without fanfare in 2011, Curth's second solo album, "Con Disco Rotario," is polished and profound. As a whole, "Disco" feature the best lyrics of Curth's career and a mix of relaxed songs and the customary six-string virtuosity.
Though he's been a mainstay of the regional circuit since the mid-'90s, fans perhaps shouldn't expect Curth to keep this up forever.
"I've always had a dual personality: One foot in the woods and the other trying to be onstage and they don't co-mingle so well. I think the foot in the woods is going to win out. As I get older I'll just remove myself more and more."
News: Can you give me a biographical sketch of yourself?
Curth: I was raised near Johnsburg until I was 10, and then my father got a promotion as a forest ranger based out of Ray Brook. We moved to Lake Placid in 1985. I left to go to Berklee College of Music for two years, then I did one year of classes in Texas, then came back and finished at Berklee, and by finished, I mean dropped out. I've been in the Adirondacks ever since.
News: What year did you leave Berklee?
News: The same year the first Jim record came out.
Curth: Yes. That was one of the reasons I was so intent on stopping school and pursuing the band. It seemed kind of silly to be in music school when you've got a paying proposition. So, I lived here and played in Jim. Jim started in '95. File it under "seemed like a good idea at the time." Stay in school, kids.
News: How has being from Lake Placid influenced the band?
Curth: Well, I decided I was going to do it on my own terms and refused to leave the Adirondacks. Being in the woods is just so important to me. The quality of life, being here, is more important than anything else, really. Some recognition is nice, of course, but it's not really about that. Some degree of success would have been nice, but you look at the people who are meteorical: It just destroys them, time after time.
News: Do you get Jim show offers often?
Curth: A fair amount.
News: What do you say?
Curth: I almost across the board say no (laughs).
News: Some days feel like it and some days you don't.
Curth: Mostly, I don't. How often are you going to want to be doing stuff that you were doing when you were 25 when you're 40? I still like a lot of it and I'll still stand by a lot of it. Some of it makes me cringe, but I'm sure some of the stuff I'm writing now will make me cringe in 10 years. You grow, you change, you move.
News: Do a lot of people tell you that your second solo record is your best record?
Curth: I like to think that my most recent record is always my best record (laughs). That's the one I called in all the favors for and spent the most time and money on.
News: The lyrics are much more mature.
Curth: I think I've gotten way more selective. A lot of the things that I've put out over the years are killing me. So, I won't make those mistakes again.
... Every word is vital. That's one thing I've picked up from country music. It's a very structured format, and it's all little puns and entendre, but every word is vital. Country tends to be more refined in its simplicity. Every word has to be perfectly thought out, and it all has to come together, both in the sense of the topical matter and in the sense of how it sounds and rolls off the tongue.
News: Do you listen to a lot of country?
Curth: I despise everything that has to do with modern manufactured music, but older country, like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and non-mainstream, non-pop country.
Every once in a while I listen to a pop-country song on the radio and I think, "Oh, that's clever. Whoever wrote that: good for them. They must be proud of themselves." Of course, whoever sings it probably didn't write it. There are so few people writing their own stuff.
I like "outlaw country" - a little irreverent, a little twangy, rural.
News: Is it true that you hate punk?
Curth: Kind of. I'm a firm believer in questioning every establishment and every institution. I despise institutionalism. I think people tend to pigeonhole themselves into genres, and their disenfranchisement with the establishment becomes uniform in itself, and they end up having the same stupid protocols that they're rebelling against. That's my big gripe with punk music: There's a formula to how it's gotta sound, and how you gotta dress, and who's involved, and who gets to classify themselves as punk, and what "real punk" is. There's a rubric to it.
I hate protocol - across the board. I wouldn't say I'm an anarchist, but I think personal identity and individualism are paramount. Every person has to question every paradigm and decide whether or not it's relevant, and that holds true with questioning any movement or subculture or sub-subculture.
News: How big of an influence was Phish on Jim?
Curth: When I first heard Phish, in the '90s, I was so impressed. They came out with these albums that were wildly diverse. They questioned paradigms. They did really educated, high-level interpretations, really pushing the envelope.
As far as being influenced by them, I think it was more that I was probably influenced by a lot of the same musicians that influenced the guys in Phish.
News: Do people have misconceptions about Jim?
Curth: What don't people have misconceptions about?
News: Anything that stands out?
Curth: I think Jim got lumped into the "jam-band" movement very quickly, whether or not it applied. The vast majority of Jim's songs are three-and-a-half minutes long. Almost all of them have some kind of solo in them, but it's rarely extended. Sometimes we'll do some improvisational stuff onstage, but as far as "jam band" being something that took off from Phish and the Grateful Dead in the '90s, with 10-, or 20-, or 30-minute improvisations, it's just not that kind of band. It's very succinct and song-oriented.
News: High-speed genre change.
News: Do you ever regret the band name?
Curth: No, I don't regret the band name.
News: Is it really an homage?
Curth: Half homage, half joke; Jim Gunardson was a bizarre and hilarious friend and I found it appealing to have a medium from which I could do whatever I wanted without attaching my name to it - a position I've shifted 180 degrees on. Now I don't think I would write anything under a different name. At that point, I thought it was cool to write songs under somewhat of an alias.
News: Did you write songs in character about Jim's adventures?
Curth: Not really. Every once in awhile Jim would say something that I would put into a song, but it was always from my point of view. He always got stuck with the blame for all this stuff.
News: "I like coffee, I like tea. I don't like the way you're looking at me."
Curth: Yeah, he said that.
News: I always say that you know a band's made it when they start being embarrassed by their fans. So, when did Jim make it?
Curth: Well, I'm not sure about that definition, but by that standard, Jim was a success from day one.