I’m not sure how to convey the appreciation I have for San Francisco native Curt Yagi’s musical mission – he describes his rhythms as a sort of magic under your feet, guiding listeners smoothly and calmly through the day – something to satisfy what your “mind, body and soul are craving.” Take one sample of Yagi’s collection and it should come as no surprise the San Francisco Guardian voted him the 2008 Best of the Bay Singer/Songwriter, backed by his band, The People Standing Behind Me, which includes a full backline, organ, horn section and backup singers.
XXQs: Curt Yagi
PensEyeView.com (PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you stand out over the others?
Curt Yagi (CY): I like to call it acoustic rock with a touch of funk for flavor. I think people will appreciate my ability to relate to them through the vibe and lyrics of my music. People tell me my music is soothing to the soul.
PEV: San Francisco, California home, what kind of music were you into growing up? Was anyone your main influence?
CY: I’ve been in San Francisco for quite a few years, but grew up in Fremont, California. If you looked at my past music collection, it is extremely quirky as I loved listening to everything from reggae/ska, pop, folk, you name it. Some of my influences are not very surprising such as Sublime, Barenaked Ladies and Big Head Todd & The Monsters, however, some are a bit unexpected such as John Denver, Oingo Boingo and the Indigo Girls.
PEV: What was it like for you when you first started out in the music business and trying to make a name for yourself? Any “war stories” from those early years?
CY: While I grew up surrounded by music, I was a late bloomer in writing and performing which I started doing maybe 6 years ago. I remember attending my first open mic to see if I could do this music thing. I was sweating, nervous and probably sounded horrible. It was terrifying, but I stuck with it and kept getting better and better.
PEV: Do you remember the first time you thought to yourself – “I am really onto something!”?
CY: When I went into the recording studio for my first album and started hearing all of the sounds that had been in my head come together, it was an amazing feeling. I remember thinking, this sounds great, I am having a ton of fun and I think people will like what I’m trying to do.
PEV: With that, what can fans expect from a live Curt Yagi performance?
CY: My performances are always such a different and unique experience as I play a lot of gigs as a solo artist, a full band and anything and everything in between. When my full band (known as The People Standing Behind Me) shows up, you’ve got the full backline, organ, horn section and backup singers and it is definitely a fun upbeat vibe. I have been playing lots of smaller, more intimate shows as a trio lately and the vibe is definitely more low key. Oftentimes I enjoy these shows better as I can form a closer connection with the audience.
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage to perform?
CY: It’s always a combination of conflicting feelings. While I am always very excited that I can share my music with people, I do get a little nervous wondering if people will like what comes out. My music conveys lots of feelings that I don’t often talk about and sharing with strangers can be an exciting yet nerve racking thing.
PEV: Any preshow rituals before you take the stage or do you just wing it?
CY: I’ve gotten to the point where I just get on stage and whatever happens, happens. I feel if I overthink things too much my performance may not come across as genuine as I’d like.
PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music? Where do get your best ideas for songs?
CY: Most of my best music comes from personal experiences, both positive and negative. I definitely draw a lot from when my Dad passed away several years back. He was such a great influence that music keeps flowing out of my even though it has been almost a decade.
PEV: Tell us about your latest work- “Close My Eyes” what can fans expect from this work?
CY: For the latest album, I definitely went with what I really love about music, the ability to draw emotion by combining good lyrics with catchy melodies and lots of subtle sounds that bring everything together. There is definitely a lot of reggae and ska inspiration to go with the full horns.
PEV: Do you ever find yourself getting writer’s block and if so, how do you get over that?
CY: All the time. I don’t often write music because it happens a lot. I do find that for some reason when I do something monotonous such as walking to the store, running on a treadmill or driving on a long, straight highway, my mind tends to get really creative.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Curt Yagi?
CY: I may actually be the only musician out there who actually likes his day job. I’m in a unique position in which I have a regular job I enjoy that is flexible enough where I can make the time for my music. If you are curious about what I do, check out www.rocksf.org.
PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew you wanted one day for music was going to be a career for you?
CY: I’m still wondering that right now. Like I said before, I am lucky enough to be able to do both of my life passions in music and the nonprofit world. I do have high hopes that my music continues to catch on.
PEV: What one word best describes Curt Yagi?
CY: Really, just one word? Okay, how about genuine.
PEV: How is life on the road for you in the music world? Best and worst parts?
CY: You might be surprised, but I haven’t yet traveled extensively for my music. Maybe I feel I am too old for it, but I am having quite a bit of success in the Bay Area at the moment. I would like to get on the road a bit if I people want me to come to their city (hint, hint).
PEV: Is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
CY: While I have been to Hawaii quite a few times, I have never (well maybe once) played music there. I think my style of music would be well received there. If not Hawaii, maybe somewhere in South America.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?
CY: Since I started a little bit later in life, I think my friends and family were shocked that I was doing this. After a while, people realized I was serious and have had my back ever since. I do love playing when the audience is filled with friends and family as I get an extra bump of adrenaline.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
CY: Definitely the nonprofit stuff for my day job. I do play on an adult soccer league as well as am a volunteer high school wrestling coach.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
CY: I’m a huge fan of a funk band in San Francisco called Stymie & The Pimp Jones Luv Orchestra. Yes, that is their name and they bring the full funk experience to every show. I wish they were more popular as they definitely have the chops.
PEV: If you weren’t playing music now what do you think you would be doing as your career?
CY: No question that I would continue to run the nonprofit I am currently with (Real Options for City Kids). I enjoy working with young people and even get to teach lots of my participants music.
PEV: So, what is next for Curt Yagi?
CY: I just want more and more people to experience my music and tell me how it affected them. It definitely means more shows and future travel as well as just continuing to try to get my name out there.