December , 1982
By David Huff
America Overdosing on The Fixx
It's not every day you can pick up the telephone and the party on the other end is calling you from London. England. But alas, in the music business you expect the unexpected, and as long as the charges aren't being reversed to your telephone, why not run up the bill.
Believe me I did.
Tough luck MCA. It is a very good thing you're making mega bucks off of Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie E. T. and in particular, all the merchandising rights you have to go along with it. Believe me, 1 talked away the licensing profits for about two E. T. drinking glasses, five tee shirts, matching E.T. panties and bra, as well as the button sporting the slogan, “Kiss Me, I'm E.T. too!” Oh, the pains we journalists have to go through to get a story – here, there, everywhere!
E. T. Go Home!
Not many people will recognize the last name of Curnin. The will however recognize the name The Fixx. In the course of some six weeks, this five-piece band from London, England has captured the attention of music fans everywhere with the music from their debut album, Shuttered Room. FM disc jockeys across the country have been pushing the group’s hit, “Red Skies”, on the airwaves for weeks. Now it’s time to see if the band will ‘stand or fall’.
Singer Cy Curnin and drummer Adam Woods were college buddies when they formed a band in 1979. They initially called their endeavor The Portraits. They placed an ad looking for additional band members and found keyboardist Rupert Greenall, guitarist Tony McGrail and bassist Russell McKenzie, who later was replaced by Charlie Barret. Under The Portraits the group released two singles, “Little Women" and "Hazards In The Home."
McGrail left the band in late 1980 and was replaced by Jamie West-Oram. At this point, the band changed its name to The Fix. Under this moniker, the five-piece outfit released the song, “Lost Planes.” The song received considerable airplay on the BBC and soon enough, record companies started making inquiries. MCA Records offered the band a contract under one condition. They had to change their name. Company executives were worried about the potential drug-user implication of the band's name. Before they would sign the group, something had to change. A compromise was reached with the simple addition of another letter to the name.
The Fixx are currently in the U.S. doing a limited run on the East Coast. This little excursion over the pond is something Curnin says the band has really been looking forward to.
"My expectations on a personal level are high,’ he said, “like that of a little boy. This is a big country that you hear about on the radio, see images of on TV, and talk to people about in England. On the other hand, you don't ever look at anything as being just another market. To me, it is interesting that you can write something in London and 5,000 miles away someone else will like it."
And like it they have. The band’s debut has been steadily climbing the Billboard charts for weeks on the strength of ‘Red Skies.” Interestingly enough, Curnin says that bands in England are, in a way, dependent on radio airplay. In the U.S., airplay gets you in the door, but you have to prove yourself once you walk in.
“There really isn't any mainstream music in London.” Offered the singer. “When the audience listens to radio in this country, the music is a less deeper than if people were listening to a particular format in America. Radio in England isn't like the AM / FM stations you find in the U.S. Over there, you have rock stations, country stations, pop rock stations that you can tune into and hear particular styles of music. Over here it is like 'Like it or lump it.'
"When you release a single in England, the things you have to take into consideration aren’t the same as when you release a record in America or Europe. In the U.S., the music doesn’t necessarily stand on its merits alone. Sometimes you need gimmicks simply to make your music and band stand out more."
Cumin says the social and political issues that affect England most definitely have an impact on the music that is written in recorded in that country.
“There is so much going on,’ offered Curnin, “that it has almost become tradition for England to constantly be involved in political problems that goes over most people’s heads, though it affects the society as a whole. A lot of thoughts and fears enter your mind during those raucous times, and fortunately we have an outlet to express our viewpoints, which is our music. When you write lyrics, you get the chances to get a lot of things that bother you off your mind."
England has been the breeding ground for some of the greatest rock and roll bands ever to play or sing a note. Groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Who, Moody Blues, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd are in a league by themselves. Today, perhaps only Bruce Springsteen is the only American bred act that could rightfully be called a superstar.
"Well," pondered Curnin, “I think the reason there is a difference is that somewhere, the two languages spoken by both countries has changed. The English spoken in England has retained some of its wit, dryness and sarcasm. It's a good atmosphere for writing lyrics."
"In America, everything is real slick with a lot of the abbreviations and innuendos. I feel that it affects the way people play their music around lyrics. The emotional element musicians try to incorporate in the music gets lost in the production."
"One thing a musician or singer can do is perform music in his or hers own style. However, that style can become bland if it doesn’t constantly change and evolve. The American market has been use to the big pop sound for years. People’s ears in your country have grown accustomed to the sound. The market can't change as quickly there as it can in a smaller country because news travels faster."
Cumin speaks very positive about The Fixx and the plans they have for the future. Their debut has exceeded sales expectations in the U.S. That success, however, can also bring with it a false sense of security. Curnin is quick to point out that The Fixx aren’t so naïve to the ways of the world, especially when it comes to the fickle nature of the music business.
"We are ready for the realities we’re about to face," he said frankly. "When I speak, it's about a realistic world in an idealistic way. You can't knock anybody for that."
“We've been ripped off in the past. We've lost money through various mistakes. We've played together on a professional level five years. During that time, you get to know how the professional music industry works. That’s when you decide how interested you're going to get into it."
"For me, I don't see myself as one who can handle the business side so therefore, I don't really interest myself in it. We all work like that as individuals in the band, but collectively we have one approach. Luckily, it's the same."
About the only thing dominating the news these days is the woeful unemployment numbers, the poor economic situation, more layoffs, bankruptcy with the list going on and on. Curnin says The Fixx aren't immune to the economic crunch, and they try not to let it affect them as a band.
"We work hard on our technical standards” he said, “because we want everything to go right before we go Into the studio. That way we don't spend that much time recording and burn through money. We recorded, finished and mixed our album in just over two weeks. Most big bands don't even have the drum sound down in two weeks."
The 'big' band is something that bothers Curnin somewhat. He sees these groups as part of a vicious cycle with money at its core.
"I was surprised to see the members of Asia turn out the type of music they did,” he offered, “especially with their extensive backgrounds. But, when you look at where they stopped in their professional lives before they formed the super band, the members had already gotten into the mega sound. To me, this seemed more a business decision. They all invested their talents into a big venture and fortunately for them, it paid off. How long they can keep it up is anyone’s guess, but the investment is turning over for them."
Curnin wasn’t through.
"To me,” he lamented, “it does seem like a vicious cycle. At first, people start out liking a sound, but then money enters the picture and more and more of the same sound keeps getting put out there. Few original ideas ever start flowing. With clever arrangement and production, you can use the same idea a 100 times over.”
Hold it! Curnin's still not through with the subject.
"It's a bit sickening in a way’,” he added. “Musicians are getting addicted to the record business and the quick cash flow. The artistic nature has been lost in the rush to keep the money turning over. It's all so fortunate that records have to sell for so much."
"The role musicians are playing is changing. It's not the same in an art gallery. A painting can be appreciated for its own merits, but a record has to sell to be appreciated. There are only a few who can make that decision. In effect, those few are censoring art for the masses that in turn are being told what they like."
Oh, what a tangled web we weave.