Curtis McMurtry on Playing At a Bar Mitzvah and One Definition of Music Industry Success

December 12, 2014

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

I drive a 2006 Toyota Corolla. It has about 141,000 miles on it, gets about 40 to the gallon. I’ve put what I consider to be a ton of money into maintaining it, but it hasn’t broken down on me yet so it’s been worth it.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

I tend to skip breakfast almost always unless I am staying with friends/family who cook. I don’t stop driving for lunch either. Venues frequently feed me, and so I eat 1-2 meals a day. In terms of eating healthy, when a venue has a salad, I get a salad. That’s not always possible though.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I re-string my guitar every six-weeks, which is really waaaaay too long between string changes. I break about 2 strings a year. I spend about $200 on strings every year because I always buy two packs so I have a back up.

Where do you rehearse?

My rehearsal space is my home. There is a turkey claw hanging from a guitar string on the ceiling that my bandmates and I refer to as the anti-mistletoe. If two people stand under it at the same time they have to fight to the death. The fight commences instantly, and anything in the room (cymbals, guitars, distortion pedals) can be used as a weapon.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

The first song I wrote was called “I Once Was Evil.” It was a blues song from the perspective of King Kong and Godzilla, who in my version of their story eventually renounce their destructive ways. “I once was evil, but I turned good, I was punching down houses in Hollywood.” I was 4 years old when I wrote it.

Describe your first gig.

My friend’s Bar Mitzvah. He wanted to get together a band to play his own party. He played drums, two other kids played bass and guitar, and someone foolishly decided I should sing. We were called the Sneetches, and we played mostly Beatles and Green Day covers, with at least one original about saving the rainforest. I wore a terrible fedora from Target. That was our only gig for that band.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

Currently my job is to travel and play music. My last day job was working in a used bookstore in Nashville. My favorite day job was working in the music library at Sarah Lawrence College, where I went to school.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Admittedly, my music income has gone up in the last year, but that’s only because I actually have some now since I graduated college and started touring. It’s not much. It’s not nearly enough to live on. I expect it to maybe double in the next 5-10 years, which will get it to “barely enough to live on” which will be okay.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

Being tall helps. If I could start it over again I would definitely be tall instead of short.

Though Curtis McMurtry is only 23 years of age, many of the characters in his songs seem to have given up on life decades ago. His debut solo album Respectable Enemy chronicles the narrations of unapologetically bitter individuals still haunted by the ghosts of lovers and friends they have long since driven away. Few other songwriters inhabit such lonely, spiteful people with such conviction. From the doomed narrator of “Foxhole” to the resigned nostalgia of “Eleanor’s House” Curtis writes to break your heart into sharp, jagged pieces.

Curtis was born and raised in Austin, Texas and grew up listening to local songwriters like Matt The Electrician, Jon Dee Graham, and his father, James McMurtry. From 2009-2013 Curtis studied music composition at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, primarily writing contemporary chamber music for banjo and strings. In 2013, Curtis moved to Nashville to sharpen his songwriting skills by co-writing with veteran writers including Fred Koller and Guy Clark.

McMurtry’s latest release is Respectable Enemy.  You can find him online and on the road.