Red Star Belgrade – Midwestern Gothic
Red Star Belgrade’s bio, a random assortment of trivial fragments, collapses into a kind of loose-limbed rock ‘n’ roll riddle: What Chicago-based/roots-rock/husband-and-wife duo started its career as a Chapel Hill, North Carolina, outfit named after a legendary but tarnished First Division Yugoslavian football club?
This stream of seemingly loosely-connected data provides an interesting perspective when applied to Bill Curry and Graham Harris Curry’s musical endeavor. In 1995, Bill made one of those “fork in the road” kinds of choices: He “changed sides,” so to speak, from rock critic to practitioner.
“I got tired of expending creative energy slagging bands that weren’t worth the time or effort. Even now, every time I hear Matchbox Twenty I want to shoot someone,” Curry laughs. “Consequently, we make the kind of records that I want to listen to — musically broad and lyrically honest.”
Red Star Belgrade’s stock in trade has been the kind of deceptively simple, emotionally charged roots music over which fans who cut their teeth on Green On Red or Uncle Tupelo have long obsessed. After a series of promising singles and EPs, Red Star Belgrade released its first full-length, Where The Sun Doesn’t Shine, in 1996, followed by The Fractured Hymnal in 1999 and Telescope this past May.
The band’s decidedly Southern Gothic leanings didn’t resonate as strongly on their home turf as in the Windy City. “Chapel Hill has a good scene for indie bands, but we were really fish out of water — too rocking to play with the so-called alt-country bands, but too country to play with the indie bands,” Curry recalls. “In Chicago, the clubs are more open to diverse bills. From the first Bloodshot showcase we played in Chicago [in January 1997], the response was just so genuine — it seemed like people really loved music and weren’t afraid to show it. That night Graham and I fell in love with the whole city.”
The move has suited the duo well. Telescope firmly establishes Curry as a talented songwriter, his quavering, Neil Youngish vocals delivering rich details more commonly associated with a novelist than a cynically self-lacerating rocker. Meanwhile, the band’s radically reworked cover of AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell” hints at a previously underplayed sense of humor. “AC/DC are one of my favorites,” Curry confesses. “They’re simple, and really rock without taking themselves too seriously.”
Balancing a creative and romantic partnership is part of everyday life for Bill and his percussionist wife Graham, though they generally downplay the impact of their relationship on their art. “There are definitely a few ‘aha’ moments,” Graham says about recognizing the subjects of Bill’s compositions. “But most of Bill’s songs are ‘cubist’ in the sense that they’re about three different things at the same time. So even though they’re honest, they don’t compromise our private life.”