Interview with Ann Curless, November 2010
A few months back, Ann and I did an interview, something I've wanted to do for a long time. The time we had available was somewhat brief so I focused less on Expose' proper and the stuff she has done both pre and post group.
JRT: You wanted to get into music—How early in your life? Grade School, High School, when?
Ann: Oh, it was in Grade School, that's when I got the bug. And it was probably when I was at Girl Scout Camp. One of the things we used to do is sit around the campfire. We had a couple of counselors that played Guitar, and sang, and it just really appealed to me, the idea of just making music. I used to sing a little bit, in my choir in Grade School. However, after my experience at Girl Scout camp is when I learned to play guitar. This is when I got the bug, when I thought music would be my destination, my life-long goal.
So, it continued in Grade School—which was in Tucson, Arizona. I later moved to Miami and did more music in Junior High School. Then I got involved in something interesting. I got involved in something called the Miami Beach Senior High Rock Ensemble...
JRT: Yes, I remember reading about that when I was researching your past. That program got a little bit of national attention in a few newspaper articles. I remember reading about the teacher who organized the group...
Ann: Doug Burris, yes. I was sort of—I did a performance in my Junior High School for the Honor Society. I think I performed that song by Maureen McGovern, she did the song The Morning After, from The Poseidon Adventure. Anyway, somebody came up to me after that performance and said I should join the Rock Ensemble.
It was just that—an ensemble, it was almost like a Rock Band, we had electric guitars, a Roland keyboard, and I got into the group as one of their lead vocalists. We played in various festivals around town, we were very active. We performed cover songs—I got to sing my Heart songs, and I also got to sing a Paul McCartney song, and it was just...I had the bug previously, but this was the nail in the coffin for me.
JRT: So you ended up enrolling in college for a music degree?
Ann: I went to the University of Miami and started as a Jazz Vocal Major. My background was not in Jazz, but as a singer, my vocal was my instrument, and I wanted to get some form of performance major. But then something happened with that—about a year into that I felt really uncomfortable in the Jazz department. I felt that I was being analyzed, the way I sang. I used to love singing, but then I would be in classes, and sing, and people would have to critique the performances—I would hear comments like “well, she sings this way, and she has a very tight jaw”, etc. And I started to fall out of love with singing.
So I dropped the Jazz Major, and instead of becoming strictly a performance major, I went into something called Music and Music Merchandising major—that's what they called it back then, now it's called Music Industry. Essentially it was a major in the business side of it and a minor in the actual performance. But this allowed me to take classes and be in ensembles—and this allowed me to continue to sing without being a part of what I considered, well, destructive classes. And it also allowed me to start gigging at night, which allowed me to fall in love with it again, and of course turned out well.
JRT: Yeah, I think you were actually surprised by the success. Didn't you once say that you were surprised at Expose's success? You thought you'd only be part of the group for about six months or so?
Ann: Yeah, I mean I did not expect the career that we all had, certainly. I initially thought I was only going to part of this group for a year or so—I never dreamed that we would be still, ten years later, signed to a major label.
JRT: I wanted to switch gears a little bit, focusing on some other part areas. You've done commercials, but I wondered if you ever did anything else involving acting or theater? I know you haven't done that much.
Ann: I was actually into acting, and got involved in some classes—it must have been after college. I really did enjoy acting. I ended up auditioning for commercials in Miami and New York, and I did make one commercial—you probably remember this John, it's my Magic Mushroom commercial.
JRT: Didn't you also do one for a local supermarket?
Ann: I did but I wasn't the lead. It's probably on line somewhere.
JRT: I'm sure somebody will find it or I'll link to it. (Editor's Note: Here's the Commercial)
Ann: Oh yeah, it's quite funny, the Magic Mushroom one. But I did pursue some acting work—because we did have a lot of downtime between albums in the group. But I ended up discovering that it was another world I didn't know much about—since I didn't have experience in it, it would be starting from scratch. I also discovered that I didn't have much of a “commercial look”, that I thought I might have had.
I had a friend named Laura, who was an actress in commercials, and she referred me to her agent, and the agent told me that Laura had a look I didn't have—she had that certain appeal, not too pretty, but she's sort of the everywoman—and I didn't have that, so I dropped out of that and just stuck with music.
JRT: Let's talk a little bit about your side career, your endeavors outside of Expose'. There are a few solo projects fans know a little about. Probably the largest one is a project named Clueless, which you sang a few tracks on—it was a English production. Can you talk about that? (Editor's note—this has nothing to do with the 1996 movie of the same name.)
Ann: Yes, I was working with a producer, I think his name was Adam Morano, who needed a singer, and since I knew him, I ended up doing some work for a few of his songs, which we recorded in Philadelphia. But it wasn't until later on that I found out the tracks had been released on some sort of compilation album.
JRT: You didn't know they were going to be released, right?
Ann: I didn't know, no—I did it just for fun, and I sort of lost touch with him, but yes, later on I found out it was released.
JRT: I know how those types of projects happen—things get released without your knowledge, I think Gioia has been in similar situations. I just thought it was funny they misspelled your name...
Ann: How did they spell it?!
Ann: Oh did they, wow! (Laughter). I think somebody sent me the CD, but it wasn't those things that I made royalties or anything—but that's okay! I had fun in the studio, and that's it.
JRT: There are a few other projects you did—you recorded Heaven Knows, you also recorded Come to Me with producer “J.J”...
Ann: Yeah, in fact you're helping me remember. I did both those projects. I also think I did some background vocals for a remix of Point of No Return for some remixer but it was never released.
JRT: There was an article in Billboard—wasn't in true that at one time you had a bunch of songs that you had recorded and you were shopping around for a record deal?
Ann: Yeah—that was probably an article written by Larry Flick. I did have a bunch of songs I was trying to get produced. It was actually much different from dance, I was actually going for a singer-songwriter genre—sort of like Alannis Morrisette. Many of the songs were written with on guitar. This sort of tied into the break-up of my first marriage, so that's part of the reason why I didn't pursue it as much as I could have.
JRT: Wow—I thought these were dance songs because it was reported in the dance column of Billboard.
Ann: Yeah, I know—but they were not.
JRT: There was another article, probably written by Flick as well. Didn't you do some sort of seminar in New York at one point—some seminar or class about how not to get ripped off or taken advantage of in the music business.
Ann: I did, yes. This was actually a lot of fun. It was an artist development seminar. I got some singer-songwriters together. I had a different person come in each night. The first night I had an A&R person to listen to demo tapes, and he would sit and critique them. One night I had a lawyer come in and discuss contracts. I forgot who I had come in another night. But yes, that was my artist development seminar. A lot of work to organize, but it was a lot of fun. Come to think of it, it's probably a good thing to do all over again, isn't it?
JRT: Yeah, especially with what's recently happened.
Ann: You're actually jogging my memories about some of these projects. (Laughter) I've done a lot of writing...
JRT: That's another thing I want to touch upon. You've done several songs—the one I knew the most about, but I never got to hear. There was a European group called Degrees in Motion and they had a dance hit her in the US. But you wrote another hit that was big in the UK called Shine On.
Ann: That's right. And that was really wonderful. I wrote the lyrics with a girlfriend of mine, and with a few people who wrote the actual music track. I still have memories of writing this in my tiny apartment in Manhattan, and we wrote it as a demo—it wasn't even a dance song, it was kind of downbeat, and it had a gospel-like chorus. It almost immediately got picked up by Ric Wake, who was the producer of Degrees in Motion. It didn't get picked up in the US but it did really well overseas, particularly in the U.K. As I understand it, it became a popular dance anthem, which is kind of cool.
JRT: You've been writing for a rather long time—it wasn't just post-Expose', but you started commercially writing since 1986, I've heard a few songs from them. So you really started with the writing bug pretty early.
Ann: Yes, one song was picked up by Lewis Martinee, and was recorded for an artist he was producing, (Celi Bee), and he changed the chorus a little bit, but it was a pretty good dance song. I have written for other people, Angelina Bofil, I Still Believe in Love. I also wrong Never Leave You Lonely—so yeah, I have done a lot of writing before, during, and after the group. Although much less so after the group, but I'd love to change that.
The way it happens to me, John, is that a lot of times, I am in my car and I suddenly get an idea for a hook, but I look around and think “great, now what do I do, I'm not gonna remember this if I don't write it down right away”. This just happened to me the other day, I came up with a really good chorus, but I had no recorder, so I called my home phone and sang into the voice mail. I need to start walking around with a recorder.
JRT: You know, Blackberries, iPhones and other Smartphones do that now.
Ann: I'd use a Blackberry if my company would pay for it. (Laughter). And I don't want to carry around two phones, so that's my struggle and that's how I handle it.
JRT: Regarding your actually proficiencies, what are your talents. I know that you play guitar, and I've also seen you with a Keytar, that picture is up on my site...
Ann: Yeah, that was a bit of a joke. Oh, I did play it. But when we performed years ago I got one of those Keytars, and so I would play the riff for Let Me Be The One (she hums a few bars). I have experience with piano, I have one at home, and I know enough music theory to use it. But I used to play guitar quite a bit—I haven't done that in a while, but I'm getting the itch to play it again. Mostly Guitar—my principal instrument is of course my voice.
JRT: You had moved from Miami to New York City. What influenced you do to that. Did you have a long yearning to be cosmopolitan or anything like that?
Ann: It was a man, John. (Laughter). It was a man—and he left and I stayed, what can I tell you? I fell in love, he was in New York and I was not and I made the decision to be where he was, and that was it. I always loved the city and did want to live someday in NYC, I felt somewhat liberated, I enjoy the pulse of the city, it's so amazing, and I did live in Manhattan for many years. So, yeah, that was an added bonus, but the real reason was—"the man" (laughter).
JRT: I know you got to finally have singles released at the end of the second and the beginning of the third Expose' albums, but did it ever bother you that those singles weren't as big hits as the ones done by Jeanette and Gioia.
Ann: Yeah, I think I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me. It's a crapshoot when you record an album, you never know what the hits are going to be, but it's anybody's guess which songs people will latch onto. I've come to terms with it. There has been some disappointment, but I know and believe I'm an important part of the group, bring a lot to the table, and I appreciate the talent that Jeanette and Gioia have. And we are not done yet, so maybe there's a release in the future and I'll sing lead on it!
JRT: That's a good segway into this. I know you've been recording some tracks right now. Can you tell us anything about it or is it too early to discuss.
Ann: Well, it's a surprise, and I'm not going to tell all the details. But we decided it is time, our fans have said “when is the new music coming out”, and I think we would have done it sooner, but simply the logistics are hard to handle—we all needed the time to be together and in the studio together, to find the right environment, etc. We had a lot of fun sharing ideas and being in the studio. We hope to have something released next year.
JRT: Are you going to market it alone, find a label deal, or use another strategy?
Ann: I don't really know yet John. You know as much as I do. We still need to decide on stuff. I believe our fans would come as our first point of contact before any deal—we'd like to get out CDs to sell to fans at shows or via our web site. They are probably going to be the best barometer of what works and what doesn't, they can help us figure out how to take it to the next level.
JRT: As a former business major who took courses in this, how do you feel about all the changes in the music industry in the last decade or so?
Ann: Much like the publishing industry for books—which is part of my day job now—the medium has changed, everything's been turned upside down. I would need the help of others to figure out how to navigate this new world. When we were with Arista, there were still records, you know, actual vinyl.
JRT: You couldn't imagine the world with iPods and the Internet and the like.
Ann: It's gone so quickly—and we all know a lot of people who lost their jobs, because it's harder to compete and certain areas get eliminated. I don't think we are equipped to totally navigate the music industry without the help of people who are on the cutting edge of all these changes.
I did have school training—but there is nothing like on the job training. Whew! (Laughter). If I really knew what I was doing back then I probably wouldn't have signed the contract in the first place! (Laughter). But that's a whole other story John.
JRT: How do you like being back on tour—I know it's not as crazy as the old days, when you toured full time, etc.
Ann: John, I think I enjoy it more now than ever before. And I think for me is because back then I was a lot more egocentric. I was focused on more "How do I look?", "How do I sound?" But now, my attitude is "Wow, look at these fans", "Look at these people, coming and bringing their kids", and the people we meet behind the scenes. It just is something I believe comes with age and experience. Seeing the fans is the best part, and I love seeing them all and hearing their stories.
JRT: I'm glad things are going so well. I remember having to tell several fans the reason why you didn't tour after the album deal folded was in part because it wasn't economically viable to tour back then, and people can't live as full-time musicians for the rest of their lives.
Ann: Yes, like I said, I have a job, and I love my day job, and I love to work. All of us are also busy with our personal and family lives. But, yes, I think performing in Expose is an important part of my life as well.