Jenny: What influenced you to become an acoustic guitarist and a singer/songwriter? Why is being a musician so important to you? How would you describe your musical style?
Curt: My mom’s side of the family is very musical and I was surrounded by my mom playing piano, my aunt playing guitar or my other aunt singing. I suppose it is in my blood. However, I was a bit of a late bloomer and started off teaching myself piano in high school after being amazed when my mom played a rock song. I had no idea that could be done and was used to her (or my sister) playing classical or something I didn’t recognize. That probably was the spark to get me going and it wasn’t really until after college that I learned guitar and many years later that I started to write. Becoming a singer/songwriter later in life really was a way to express my emotions. Writing became such a good release for me. I would say that my music is very real and I try to write about real things to my life. Sonically speaking, I always say that my sound is acoustic rock with a touch of funk for flavor.
Jenny: Do you play using music theory or do you play by ear? Have you had any schooling and/ or lessons or are you self taught?
Curt: I did play the clarinet for less than a year when I was a kid. While it wasn’t my favorite activity, it did at least force me to learn what those little black dots and lines were on sheet music. While I forgot a lot, I do think it helped me to learn piano on my own as I was able to figure out which keys corresponded to which notes. I have had limited lessons in my life, so for the most part, I play by ear. I am so bad at reading notes.
Jenny: How many guitars do you own? Which one is your most precious and why? What kind of strings, amps, etc do you use? What piece of gear would they have to pry from your hands?
Curt: I have four acoustic guitars, one electric and two bass guitars. I do also have a ukulele if that counts. I’d say my favorite is my Takemine. For some reason I just love the sound as it is both warm and bright. The thing is a beast and has never let me down at a show. Honestly, I have been using the standard Takemine strings which have been great and I usually plug into the house PA system wherever I play.
Jenny: Who are your musical influences? Why? Name your favorite techniques from your influences.
Curt: I have so many bands that have influenced my over the years although I don’t necessarily sound like some of them. I would say I love the positive vibe of Stevie Wonder, the energy of Sublime, the guitar styling and vocals of Big Head Todd & The Monsters and the horns of Oingo Boingo. Yes, a very eclectic mix that has seem to have shaped my sound. In terms of techniques, I’d say I love muting and partially muting my strings. I just being able to play a chord in many different ways depending on how much pressure either hand uses on the strings.
Jenny: How does music affect you and the world around you? Why is music so important to you?
Curt: Music is one of those things that can touch everyone. I love that I can write a song and to me it means one thing, but to someone else it can mean something entirely different, but still have a deep impact. I just appreciate music so much that I can’t imagine life without it.
Jenny: Who do you think is the world’s greatest band and/or musician? Most underrated?
Curt: This is such a tough question to answer. I don’t know if there is a greatest band, but I do know there are different bands that can really draw a listener in and take them on a journey of what they are feeling. I am a big Stevie Wonder fan and think that not only is he an incredible musician, but he has such a great way of drawing you in. In terms of underrated, I can’t believe Big Head Todd & The Monsters is not bigger than they are.
Jenny: How do you feel about winning “2008 Best Of Bay Singer/Songwriter”? What other titles and/or awards have you received?
Curt: Winning the 2008 Best of the Bay Singer Songwriter by the SF Bay Guardian was a huge honor because it was voted on by my fans. The title really did help to legitimize what I was doing and encouraged me to keep writing and performing. I am also fortunate to have received a lot of great recognition and press. Most importantly, I was excited that the legendary former Senior Editor of Rolling Stone, Ben Fong-Torres, liked my album and gave me a great quote to use as follows: “People keep comparing him to other artists, but I think he just sounds like Curt Yagi, and that is plenty good enough. This is one excellent singer and songwriter.”
Jenny: Tell me about yourself. Who is Curt Yagi, as a person and as a musician? For those who have yet to be acquainted with ” Curt Yagi And The People Standing Behind Me” please tell us about you and your band.
Curt: I think I am absolutely the same genuine person in my musician life and my life otherwise. I just try to be who I am which I think is evident in my music. When I get the full band together, it is quite a fun time as we have had as many as 12 or 13 people on stage at once. I am lucky to have a great group of musicians in my band, some of whom I knew prior and others who I met on Craigslist.
Jenny: On a daily basis, how much time do you spend practicing guitar, as well as singing and songwriting? Please describe some of the warm up exercises you use and any helpful tips you might have for other musicians.
Curt: I do try to play guitar every day, but I don’t always have the time. Since I am self taught, I don’t actually have a warm up routine and simply just play, play, play and sing, sing, sing. I probably should take some lessons, but am pretty happy with how far I have come on my own. I will say that when I was just learning guitar, I found the best way to improve was to play along to some of my favorite songs and just continue through the entire song even if I would have trouble keeping up. It seemed to force me to get better quicker.
Curt: Like I said before, growing up with some family members who were musical really helped me to develop the love of music. Having said that, my family loves the fact that I write and perform and they try to make as many shows as they can.
Jenny: How do you feel about the music industry of today? How important is it for you to engage your audience and connect with you fans?
Curt: The music industry has changed drastically over the years in both good and bad ways. I do think with technology, it is so much easier for independent artists to self record/produce and reach a large audience online. With that, there is so much music out there and it seems that many artists are using their finished songs for marketing (i.e. giving it away for free). I think this has caused the every day listener to spend much less on music which makes it challenging for musicians to do what they love as a career. I do think it comes to giving your audience a little extra to make sure they feel special. I try to make sure I am very active on social media as well as simply talk to my audience before and after my performances. They are a big reason that I perform.
Jenny: You are the Executive Director for a non profit organization “Real Options For City Kids (Rock)”. How does it feel to be part of such a wonderful organization and can you tell us about it? How do you balance your time between working there and being a musician?
Curt: I feel that my daytime work as Executive Director is really my dream job. We do lots of positive programs for children and youth in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley. I have worked for ROCK for nine years and have loved every minute. What is great is that since I am the boss, I can really dictate my own schedule as long as I can get my work done. This flexibility allows me to be able to focus some of my time on my music. I have been doing a bunch of mini-tours lately and don’t think I would have been able to with a regular job.
Jenny: Who in the music business can vouch for you and/or your bands ability?
Curt: I think the Ben Fong-Torres quote that I mentioned early was the biggest thing that has helped my music career. Other than that, I have had some great write ups from various local and national sources including the San Francisco Chronicle, All Access Magazine and KFOG radio. It is always such an honor to be recognized for all of my hard work.
Jenny: You write all of your own music. Where do you draw inspiration from when you write songs and what is your favorite part about the songwriting process and what is your personal songwriting process?
Curt: In looking back at when I started, I think I first wrote as a way to express my sadness for losing my father. Hearing my old songs, and even some of the more recent, there is definitely the theme of remembering and loss. Other than that, I like to draw just from my every day life experiences. I think my favorite part of songwriting is putting words and music together to come up with a concept. Once I have a good idea of the direction, I love the fine tuning part to make sure that the song really conveys my message.
Jenny: For beginners, in order of importance, what should they be learning if they want to play guitar or want to become a Singer/Songwriter? For advanced musicians, what advice would you have for them to get to the point your at in your musical career?
Curt: For beginning guitar players, I would say it is important to master the basics (e.g. chords, strumming, etc.). Just like myself, I am a big proponent of finding music you like and playing along with it. That really helped to keep me engaged and focused. For songwriting, I would say it is just like any sort of writing, maybe start off with throwing as many thoughts as you can on paper until you can find a good direction to proceed. For the more advanced musicians, I would say to get where I am, understand the importance of the business side of the music industry. Just because you have a great album doesn’t mean you will be discovered. I have found that it really does come down to working hard and being persistent to make sure you are always finding unique ways to line up the next great gig or find a media outlet for another good review.
Jenny: Are their any current projects you are working on and/ or tours and special appearances we can look forward to? Tell us about your new album “Close My Eyes“. How would you describe the styles you used and what songs are very personal and close to your heart?
Curt: I suppose I am always writing and coming up with new ideas and songs. However, I still need to keep writing and have a ways to go before another album. Right now, I am trying to perform as much as possible to continue to get my name out there as well as to hone my craft. For “Close My Eyes“, it is my second album and I love how it turned out. For my first album, I had never gone through the recording process before and really played it by ear. For the latest album, I made sure to plan ahead to make sure the final product would be something I would be proud of. I think I wanted to still convey that my music had meaning in a singer/songwriter sort of way while making sure that it had the full band sound. It was a fun process to integrate so many musicians into the mix. I’d say my favorite and most personal song is the title track “Close My Eyes.” It is really about coping with the passing of my father even though it was several years ago. It is about how every once in a while that sad feeling of loss will come around and I just feel like closing my eyes to escape.
Jenny: Any loves other than music? What do you enjoy doing when your not performing or practicing? Name five things you cannot live without.
Curt: I do love to be fit and outside. I’d say that I am really into exercise as it such a great way to feel better about myself when I am working or on stage. Some of the things I do are cross training, running or playing soccer. Another little known fact is that I am also a volunteer wrestling coach for the high school I went to. It is such a great way to be involved in young people’s lives. Wow, five things I can’t live without…1) Music, specifically my guitar, 2) the feeling I get when I help people, 3) my health and the health of those around me, 4) good food, especially pizza and 5) just the smell of clean, fresh air (I’m not a big fan of pollution).
Jenny: What do you like to play when your not playing your own music? If I was to turn on your mp3 player or iPad what would be the first five songs I would hear?
Curt: I do play shows where I will perform some covers and a few of my favorites are Old Apartment by Barenaked Ladies and All I Want by U2. You may find this funny, but I am working on a version of that Carly Rae Jespen song Call Me Maybe. I think people might get a kick out of that one. First five songs…1) For Once in My Life by Stevie Wonder, 2) I Saw Red by Sublime and Gwen Stefani, 3) Everyday Sunshine by Fishbone, 4) Everyday People by Arrested Development and 5) Over the Rainbow by Iz
Jenny: What is it like to tour? What was your most unforgettable touring experience? What is it like performing in your hometown?
Curt: I have only really done mini-tours because of my work schedule so it is pretty enjoyable of an experience. I like the idea of going somewhere where your friends aren’t and playing to a crowd of people who have never seen you, or even never have heard of you before. It is always such a great experience and good way to meet people. We did have a great tour in the Lake Tahoe area. Our favorite so far had to have been a place called Cottonwood in Truckee as everyone was so friendly and into our music. Nothing is better than performing a big show in San Francisco though. It is always great to perform in front of the home crowd.
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By Jennifer Stoker