Catie Curtis Wants to Marry You
BY Michelle Garcia
August 30 2011 4:00 AM ET
The song "I Do" on the record I actually wrote from my own experience, wanting to marry my partner, but I wrote it before I was just going to be at someone's wedding; I wasn't officiating it. I was just inspired by the fact that someone I knew was getting married. It's such a leap that people take, and it's just amazing that people ever feel sure enough about anything that they're willing to make it public like that and make a commitment.
You've played some pretty remarkable venues throughout your career. As an artist, what is it like to play at places like the Lilith Fair and the Michigan Womyn's Festival?
I do think that it's kind of unusual to play both the White House and the Michigan Womyn's Festival in one year. When I'm playing at like, the White House, I'm feeling like, Wow, here I am, an out lesbian, playing at the president's house! And then I'm at Michigan, and I'm feeling like, Here's this place that's nurtured and given strength to all these lesbians over the years, and I get to perform! It's like homecoming for me to play there. Lilith is more like an adrenaline [rush]. You end up doing to finale onstage, 20,000 people, and everyone gets one line in the finale to sing by themselves. It's crazy to realize that you're reaching 20,000 people. As a singer-songwriter, you're usually playing 500-seat places.
In the same vein, I play really intimate places still, and I play big theaters. To me, it's all about connecting to the people. When I go to hear music, I want to feel like the person playing is present, so I feel like the experience isn't all that different from venue to venue. I'm always just doing my thing.
Do you ever get freaked out when you hear your music on TV or in a film?
I love that. My kids are really funny about it. There's a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie that I have a song in, and my kids have watched it. I didn't warn them, and they're irritated. They're like, "Ma, your song is in this movie! Why did you put it in there!" like it's some sort of bother to them. But then they go tell all their friends about it.
How were you inspired early on to express yourself musically?
I grew up near Portland, Maine, and there was kind of a hippie thing still going on. I was able to get the last of the hippie vibe and learn the singer-songwriter, Crosby, Stills, and Nash kinda thing. Like most people who take to guitar, you start to pick out the chords right away. So within months of picking up the guitar, I started offering to play guitar in restaurants. I was actually asked to sing backup for Foreigner — just one show at the Portland civic center. I kept getting to do more things here and there. Then I took my guitar to Brown University and I got more interested in the under-the-radar folk thing and started writing my own songs.
What inspired you to help young people become exposed to music?
I guess it was completely tied to the fact that I wouldn't have this life unless someone [helped with] my guitar. I wanted to buy it, and they got me over that hump. She said, "Take it, and promise me you'll learn to play it." And over the last few years, I put it out there to fans to help me raise money for instruments by donating to this endowment. We were able to raise about $11,0000 this summer, and we decided to toss it all out. This summer, we gave to the Portland, Boston, and L.A. Rock 'n' Roll Camps for Girls, the Fresh Air camps, and some smaller music organizations that focus on people of color and lower-income places that didn't have access to music education, specifically one in the Baltimore area.
Do you have any advice to any young singer-songwriters who are trying to break into the industry?
I think people can always try going to New York, L.A., or Nashville, but I never could stomach doing that, so I recommend finding your interest-based niche. Find out who is drawn to your music and what their interests are. These days you can create your own niche by playing to people that share similar interests, and I think there's lot of room for a wide variety of artists that way. You're not necessarily looking for commercial success, but if you just want to work as a musician, you can find an audience that way. Whether you're into outdoor education or gay parents, whatever it is, I think there's an audience for music, and you can break in from there. I've always felt a certain foundational support from the gay community, which has been so important to me.
Do you think it's less difficult for lesbian musicians to be out now compared to a decade ago?
I don't know individual to individual, but there seems to be a trend. I try to step back and look at how much progress is being made just by having gay marriage in so many states. I think that being out is so much easier when you have gay marriage, because there's some validation. I know even for my kids, it's important to them that we have the right to be married, because it makes them feel validated. So I think that feeling safe in your job and feeling safe as a performer, all of that is reinforced when people have the same civil rights.