Living with the Luck of Eden Hall – 25 Years of Chicago’s Finest

Greatest-Hits-vol-1-cover-FacebookRemember when ten years was a long time for a band to be around?  When the Stones hit that milestone in 1972-73, there was a serious flurry of “when you gonna quit?”s from writers and fans who simply couldn’t conceive that a simple rock’n’roll band could erode that deeply into adulthood. Even the music’s most dedicated acolytes had a dim bulb flickering at the back of their minds, saying “okay, now it’s time to grow up.”

But there was something lurking that was even more alien than the idea of grown-ups playing rock’n’roll for the kids.  It was the idea of them playing rock’n’roll for other grown-ups.  Followed by the even more sobering realization that, if you remember the Stones passing their tenth birthday… or even their twentieth… then the chances are that you are actually one of those grown-ups.

Or not.  The fact that even the surviving punk rockers are all now on a collision course with sixty proved that age has absolutely nothing to do with anything; and besides, it’s not like it feels forty years ago, is it?

Numbers-wise, we are further in time from the release of Goat’s Head Soup (1973) than it was from the death of Robert Johnson (1938); and that 80s fashion resurgence that is percolating around our college towns is akin to the mid-1970s enjoying a Glen Miller revival.

By the ticking of my clock, something utterly prehistoric this way comes.

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Luck of Eden Hall.  A band whose name will be familiar if you’ve heard of them, but may be a little less so if you haven’t.  Recent years have seen them make regular appearances on the Fruits de Mer label, and that’s probably raised their profile as high as anything else they’ve one… particularly in the UK and Europe.

In the US, on the other hand, a quarter century of gigging, of well-received indy releases, and some absolutely spellbinding music has rendered them among the best-kept secrets that you were probably aware of.  Lately, the Luck of Eden Hall have been working with Dreaming Tree Films, providing music for their new children’s television program Moochie Kalala Detectives Club.   This spring just past brought their first Greatest Hits album via the impossible-to-recommend-too-highly Active Listener net label, and which was indeed stuffed with their greatest hits, while this month sees them take on the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” for the latest Fruits de Mer extravagance.

Butterfly-Revolutions-Vol-2-Cover-Art-Final-copyElsewhere, the two part Butterfly Revolutions album was among the most shimmering highlights of 2011; and Victoria Moon was a jewel late last year.  Alligators Eat Gumdrops was definitely a contender for Most Prosaic Imagery in an LP Title for 2012, and prior to all that, the discography just piles up the treasures.

Albums When The Clock Starts to Wake Up We Go To Sleep (2009) and Subterrene (2006)… 1993’s CD debut Belladonna Marmalade, cassette-onlys Corner Of The Sky, Under The Sea and Cuckoo Flower.  Singles “Hook Line and Sinker,” “She Comes In Colors” and “Crystal Ship.”  A 1997 Curvey solo album, Par Crone.  A break up in the late 1990s, a reunion in 2003.

Victoria-Moon-Front-Cover-CDBaby“Playing music can be realized in many ways and visualized as many different things,” explains Curvey.  “I prefer to think of it as painting with sound. Crispy high end is sharp focus and muffled lows are distant. You can place sounds in the sonic spectrum by paying attention to things like that.

“It took a long time for me to discover, which I did while recording When The Clock Starts To Wake Up We Go To Sleep. That album was the point when we hit our current stride. Since Alligators Eat Gumdrops was released, I feel the music has become even more focused as we go along and now I’m really enjoying myself when I compose by limiting the instrumentation to what can be recreated by the four of us on stage. Some embellishments appear, but for the most part what you hear on record is what you will hear live. The Luck of Eden Hall has found its luck. Carlos Mendoza’s drumming is top notch and magical Jim Licka’s Mellotron playing is priceless.”

It’s been one helluva career, then, pocked throughout by highlights.  “I remember being in a shopping mall and hearing one of our songs playing over the sound system, just itching to grab someone and tell them ‘Hey, that’s my band’,” laughs Curvey.  “Or getting one of our videos placed in a New Line Cinema film, or being on the cover of CMJ….”

And it all began…

It was 1989-or-so.  What was big in 1989?  Love and Rockets were having a hit with “So Alive.”  The Cure were storming the chart with “Love Song.”  The Cult were big and bold and dressed in leather.  Yes, the American charts were undergoing a Gothic insurgence the size of Texas.  What better time could there possibly have been for the Michigan trio of Greg Curvey (vocals, guitar), Mark Lofgren (bass, vocals) and original drummer Bruce Zimmerman to cast nostalgic eyes back to the age of psychedelia?

Actually, that was not a facetious remark, as Curvey recalls.  “One night after finishing up a set on a tiny little back room stage at the Avalon nightclub in Chicago, a lad by the name of John Hachtel approached me and asked if he could use the Luck of Eden Hall for his recording class project, which meant free studio time. That was a big deal in the days before digital home studios were available. We immediately hit it off with Johnny, and those sessions along with a few tracks Lofgren and I had recorded at home on my four-track became our first album, Corner Of The Sky.”

A run of two hundred cassettes later, the Luck of Eden Hall had a sell out on their hands.

AEG-cover-CD-BabyThe band members were already veterans of the local scene, coming together via a meeting of Curvey’s Chicago band Midwest, and Lofgren’s Kalamazoo-based Murder of Crows in Kalamazoo.  The new band’s name, incidentally, was borrowed from a omeehat legendary, and Edgar Allen Poe-related glass-drinking cup in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  Not the most obvious source for a band to take its name from, but clearly one whose juju has persisted.  According to Curvey, symphonies and poems were written about the vessel in the 19th Century, and now the vessel’ writing songs in the 21st.  What goes around….

Musically, it was Curvey’s Aunt Sue’s record collection that set his own ears off on the journey they’ve taken, although his teens and early adulthood (there’s that concept again) allowed him to add Alice Cooper, King Crimson, Genesis, the Damned, Husker Du and the Psychedelic Furs to the bedrock Monkees and Stones.

The eighties’ own attempt at a sych revival, spearheaded by the likes of the Church, Dream Syndicate, Robyn Hitchcock et al, did not pass them by either, but neither did life in the Chicago clubs.  Another early Curvey project saw him working with Stephen George, one half of the original Ministry, while the early 1990s saw the Luck of Eden Hall play a number of shows with Material Issue… remember “Valerie Loves Me”?  Gosh, that was a great record.

Curvey continues.  “Growing up, listening to music on records was the best. And like every other musician out there we dreamed of having our music released on a record (cassettes just didn’t cut it!), so when the Luck of Eden Hall was approached by Mike Potential to release a single on his Limited Potential record label it was nothing less than a dream come true.

Clock-MySpace“We went back into the studio with Johnny Hachtel to record two tracks for the single.  Mike acquiesced to my request of being the seventh release. My Mom was a huge James Bond fan when I was growing up and being seventh made the catalog number LimP007, making Smashing Pumpkins’ first single LimP006.”  (It’s a great label to collect, too, home also to early waxings-and-otherwise by Rustbucket, Screeching Weasel, the Poster Children and the Lookouts.)

The single was launched at a special gig, with Material Issue again on the bill, and cellist Robin Crawford onstage as well, and Curvey recalls, “for our grand finale we did a psych rock version of ‘I Am The Walrus.’  Robin did a fabulous job covering all of the orchestral parts on cello, and I remember turning around and seeing Jim Ellison and Mike Zelenko’s heads poking through the back stage curtain. When they saw I was looking they smiled and gave me a big thumbs up. Made my heart swell. Some of the nicest fellows you could ever meet. RIP brother Jim.”

By the early 1990s, the band was regularly touring, crammed together into a van in the days before cellphones, Sat Nav and Google maps.  With all the joys and pleasures that that entails.  The day en route to St Louis, when a gust of wind ripping through the open windows of the van snatched away the single piece of paper on which the band’s directions, crucial phone numbers, hotel details, everything, were written.  Or the night they played the Booby Hatch, a bar in a little town called Bessemer, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The fact that they’d been booked to entertain the hordes attending the first day of deer-hunting season probably didn’t cross anyone’s mind.  Until…

“The house was completely packed with camouflage and bright orange. While we were performing some woman kept shoving little pieces of ripped napkin into Lofgren’s face with Bob Seger or Ted Nugent scribbled on them and about three quarters of the way through our set, a hair pulling fight broke out between two local women, who ripped at each other until they crashed into a mirrored wall. Top-notch entertainment. When the commotion subsided we broke into a long psychedelic blues jam to appease the hunters. I may have grunted a few times like Bob Seger too.”

The Luck of Eden Hall made their Fruits de Mer debut on the A Phase We’ve Been Through and Roqueting Through Space compilation albums, although it was their appearance on Fruits de Mer’s The White EP, that opened a lot of that label’s lovers’ eras to them.

whiteCurvey explains, “My first all time favorite album was The Beatles’ White album. I mean it covers the gamut doesn’t it? I was turned on to some of the songs in elementary school while at camp, where our guitar-playing counselor had all of the boys serenade the girl’s cabin with a rendition of ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.’ Well, when Keith Jones, the wonderful mastermind behind Fruits de Mer Records, asked us to try for a spot on the FdM White EP, I was thrilled! It was hard to choose which song to do, but we settled on ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey,’ and on the final pressing we were incredibly honored to share a side with the Pretty Things.”

Riding the impetus that exploded out of there, and the band’s other Fruits de Mer escapades, the Luck of Eden Hall moved into what truly should be described as their purple patch.  “In 2011 we recorded and released Butterfly Revolutions Vol. 1 & 2 on two separate CDs, with the hope that a label would pick it up and re-release it on vinyl. That dream came true in 2013 when Johan Visser at Clearspot International contacted me with his idea of creating a brand new label called Headspin Records.

Butterfly Revolutions was chosen to be the first release on the label. Two 180 gram colored vinyl LPs housed in a very high quality gate-fold sleeve. It was a glorious way to bare our very first published work. Truly one of the Luck of Eden Hall’s proudest moments! They’ve recently followed it up with a beautiful pressing of Victoria Moon, which is doing so well they’ve decided to release a seven-inch single including ‘The Happine$$ Vending Machine’ and another song from our next album.”

So, twenty-five years and it’s still a thrill.  There’s probably not many careers that can guarantee that, but maybe that’s another reason why bands go on so long these days, and why we the listeners keep up with them as well.  It’s not about rock’n’roll making you feel young, or stuff like that.  It’s about still being able to have fun, all these decades after we first were told that that was something that stopped at the end of your teens.

“We’ve been at this for twenty-five years,” Curvey concludes, “and the experience that has touched me the most was seeing fans sing along to our songs while we were in the UK. Up to this point, the Luck of Eden Hall has been a homegrown, hands on, do it yourself business, and I’ve realized just how important it is for an artist’s viability to keep the fire stoked.   My current wish is to keep releasing quality work and with a little luck, pick up a management organization to cover some of the business end, like booking shows. In any case, to know that people are really listening to the songs we’re composing ,and taking them to heart makes all of this work worthwhile. So a big THANK YOU to all of our fans! Sincerely.”

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