The Beautiful Mystique of Red Hearts White Ribbons
If you’re out and about at live shows in Los Angeles you might see Curt Barlage. He’s been on stage and off, and is a huge music fan, having played in more bands than I’m aware, often with longtime friend and musical collaborator Arshak Alozian. I first became aware of the duo in the brash British Rock-influenced The Pacific with Alozian. Barlage has also sang and played guitar in The New Wavey The Bixby Knolls and the eclectic Strange Phases. Along with Alozian, Barlage played on and produced songs for Alozian’s band Horsha on the Moon.
They’ve recently released their latest four song EP 1 as Red Hearts White Ribbons, a collection of atmospheric, mid-tempo songs that feature Alozian and Barlage’s beautiful guitar tones and memorable riffs, both expanding their vocals to a sublime effect.
When did you realize you might actually be good at this rock’n’roll thing?
I don’t know if I ever contemplate I’m good at it or not anymore. Definitely questioned myself at some point. I mean, I’d like to think so but, it’s maybe more of an instinctual duty…a mission from god of sorts.
What is one of the best shows you’ve played? Worst show?
Well, this group has yet to play with a full line-up, but I can tell you that the worst show Arshak and I ever played was at Penn state for a fundraiser with our old band. It was a 48 hour rally, we flew there for this one show, played at 6am. Imagine 2000 people not paying attention to you…at all. Afterwards Arshak and I got into a fight, rolled around in the snow in 10 degree weather, about two bottles of scotch in. No good results. As for best show, I think that’s still yet to be obtained for that title, but personally I have enjoyed many.
Curt, you opened for Swervedriver at the Key Club with The Bixby Knolls. When did you first get into them and how nervous were you to play with your heroes? Did you get to talk with them?
I got into Swervie back when I worked at this record shop…a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away. I remember collecting pretty much everything they have available from that place. Record shops make you obsessive, I miss them. I keep in decent, surface level contact with them when they come around. They’re not the most sociable guys although very kind. Besides Mikey, he’s definitely a communicator. An animal. Great guy. That show was a very special moment for me. Those guys are musical heroes and I live for occasions as that one. Nervous? Nah, never (wink). But seriously, I think those kind of shows are absolutely legendary in my personal bible.
In fact, I see you Curt and Arshak at many shows. What bands draw you out to the live shows and what makes for a performance worthy of your time and money?
Ahhh, there’s a big handful now, thank the lord! There’s a bunch of great bands coming out now that mix so many eras and styles. I love it!! Now that were completely out of the wake of that Strokes thing, I can breathe easy. I dig a bunch of the Captured Tracks bands like Wild Nothing and DIIV. Cullen Omori’s solo record is brilliant! DMA’s, some locals like Cults, Drab Majesty, Le Ra from TJ. A bunch more. I just like spirited performances. Does not matter the genre. With technological advances and music becoming easier to ‘make’, there is a bit of a lack of quality control today, but I think the ones with it in their blood will always prevail in the end.
How long have you and Arshak known each other and how did you meet?
We’ve known each other longer than I can recall. Way down in the depths of youth. Actually, I believe we met in that record store I mentioned previously! I was clerk, Arshak was customer.
How has your friendship evolved?
Well, as I stated before at some points we’re hitting each other and rolling around in the snow and at others we’re embracing and toasting. I think as anyone’s life goes on and your experiences get heavier, you’re given a choice. A choice to grow in spirit, compassion and intelligence or to turn your back on those elements. I’d like to think we’ve chosen that path of growth and understand each other more nowadays along with many other aspects of our feeble human lives. Hence why Red Hearts White Ribbons exists.
How has your musical partnership changed over the years?
There’s definitely a lot less pressure on things we’d probably consider pretty silly and unimportant nowadays. Things we thought might get us closer to financial success. Illusions. I think that leaves us with so much more creative space. We are also definitely revisiting our musical roots with RHWR. This shoegaze thing was a very early venture for us growing up so coming back to it now is breathing new life into our current creative dimensions.
What is it about each other in personality and in musical ability that you most appreciate?
Hmmmm…I guess I would be like the lush, resourceful landscape that the wild beast, Arshak, hunts and lives upon.
Who plays what on the new EP?
It’s all kinda mixed about. We both took on the writing duties. We split lead vocals, two and two, on this EP I programmed and/or played most of the drums and did the mixing. Arshak and I both did the six string/12 string guitars and bass guitars. Yeah…as far as I can remember. They were really late nights/early mornings when these creations came about. I would wake up after a good rest post studio session and be like “we did this yesterday?”.
How are the new songs different or the same as your past efforts?
With RHWR there’s definitely no secret in what we were going for. It’s a very focused vision with a focused plan. It makes it a bit easier to let loose upon and write. It’s shoegaze, baby! I mean, there will always be traits of what we did in the past, somewhere inside the writing. We both have distinctive styles, as I believe most serious song writers probably do, and that will probably always show in our work no matter the type of music.
Being realistic and responsible has rarely been the strong point of musicians. There are so many factors that go into being a professional musician that doesn’t have to keep a day job. Do you both have responsibilities where you couldn’t be a full-time musician? You both certainly have the talent. Do you see a day you could be on the road or in the studio making music and getting paid enough to do it year-round?
First off, thank you for the praise. That is part of the reason we keep our chins up, words like that. There are so many responsibilities that hinder our time as musicians…so many. Some of those responsibilities probably suffer because of my dedication to being a musician and I’ve definitely received a bit of flack for that over the years haha! I do see a day that it may become my full time job that brings food to my table and to that of those I love. But most notable, it’s more of a calling, a civic duty. A beautiful curse.
What are some of the challenges you’ve both overcame through your various musical endeavors and how has what you’ve learned made you a better person and musician?
Patience and having the foresight of understanding. When your working with a bunch of people, spilling out your soul and bank account together…yeah. Ego, a challenge for most creative people. A fine line between tool and weapon. The passion is the fuel. Every event is a challenge in this industry.
Who are some musicians you look to for inspiration?
Oh god, too many. Most of them are dead haha! Tells you something. I really enjoy the unbridled spirit of musicians like John Lennon, Kate Bush, Joe Strummer, Bob Marley, Jehnny Beth, the Gallagher brothers, etc,. Also, the mystique and masked confidence, kinda hard-nosed attitudes of those such as David Bowie, Hope Sandoval, Ariel Pink, Morrissey, etc., That’s what I strive be. Unbridled with mystique and false confidence.
What are five bands that deserve more recognition?
I don’t know…so many, i guess. Especially in a place like the good ol’ U.S. of A where art and music are looked down upon like a hobby or a secondary skill set by the standards of our education system. It’s tough to get recognition unless you’re a capitalistic puppet, right!? But enough politics. Can I say maybe we deserve more recognition? Without coming across with too much self-indignation? But really, I would say most every artist that I enjoy deserves a bit more. If I had to pick five, I’m just gonna state the first names that comes to mind: Jawbreaker, Stevenson Ranch Davidians, Scott Walker (although known world wide, should be known through out the universe), AJ Davila and Barrie Rose.
Finally, what is in store for the future? Will you be taking the Arshak and Curt show on the road in some incarnation or other?
The future is unknown. If called for, yes! We’d take it on the road in a heartbeat. One thing is for certain, we will definitely be writing and releasing more material. Nothing but death can stop that luminous and violent storm.
EP 1 from Red Ribbons White Hearts is available now from Respectful Lust Records on ITunes, Spotify and Amazon digital music.
(by Bret Miller)