After years of collaborating with the likes of Cee Lo Green and The Black Lips, Curtis Harding made his solo debut with the 2014 album Soul Power, the title of which made the Atlanta musician’s intentions clear. Now three albums into his solo career, Harding specialises in what he calls “slop n soul”, a voracious blend of dirty funk and heart-baring soul.
Harding’s latest album, If Words Were Flowers, came out in late 2021 via Anti-, a label known for releasing albums by Tom Waits, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Mavis Staples. The record was co-produced by Sam Cohen, a Brooklyn-based producer and solo artist who also worked on Harding’s previous effort, 2017’s Face Your Fear.
Ahead of his first ever Australian performance at the inaugural Wanderer Festival, Curtis Harding chats to Music Feeds about his hometown, his love of George Clinton and Sly Stone, and his creative principles.
Curtis Harding on His Influences and Career Goals
Music Feeds: You’re in Los Angeles at the moment. Are you still based in Atlanta?
Curtis Harding: I live in Atlanta, but I just go back and forth because most of my bandmates live [in LA]. So, I come out here for rehearsal and I’ve got a couple of auditions that I have to do because I’m doing some acting stuff. So I have to come out here for work purposes.
MF: You moved to Atlanta as a teenager and you’ve been based there ever since, is that right?
CH: Yeah, I was about 15 years old when I moved to Atlanta.
MF: Atlanta has a lot of significant music history and it remains a hotbed of musical innovation. Your journey to discovering the style of music you wanted to make, do you think that was influenced by the culture in Atlanta?
CH: Yeah, I do in part. I think any time you spend a lengthy amount of time somewhere, the community itself helps build your character and whatever artistic goals you’re trying to achieve. So, definitely, Atlanta has played a significant role in my artist development.
MF: Your third album, If Words Were Flowers, came out last year. In the past you’ve described your sound as “slop n soul”. How would you break that down for the uninitiated?
CH: I’m pretty sure people are familiar with Parliament-Funkadelic. Well, you know the album Cosmic Slop? It kind of just describes the funk: it’s sloppy, it’s runny. It’s just a mixture of different stuff, different genres thrown into one, and it sustains the farm when you give it to the pigs and whatnot.
And soul is just what it is. It’s your experience, it’s the feeling, it’s the mood. So, put those together, you got slop n soul.
Curtis Harding – ‘Hopeful’
MF: Has George Clinton been a big influence for you?
CH: Yeah, you know, he was fearless. They started out as almost like a Motown act, a soul group, and just the evolution, it just turned into this whole show of characters. And George Clinton was the ringleader of that.
You just go back and you listen to the stories and you see some of the footage, it’s just mind-blowing. From the costumes down to the musicianship, it’s all over the place. It’s great. So, definitely, they’ve been an inspiration. Still inspiring – George Clinton’s still going strong in his 80s.
MF: People like George Clinton and Sly Stone were really adventurous and boundary breaking for the time, but the work holds up.
CH: I love how inclusive the music was. Especially someone like Sly Stone, he included everybody. It was for the people. I feel like George Clinton and those guys, they had a heart, not just to reach one demographic of people, but everybody – anybody that wanted to get on board was welcome.
MF: Do you think of yourself as part of a musical lineage that stretches back to artists like George Clinton and Sly Stone?
CH: I don’t think of myself in those terms. For me it’s just a labour of love; I just love doing it. But I think, if music is progressive, I think that the foundation needs to be strong, and it’s already been set. As long as you have a strong foundation, then you can put your spin on it and take it as far as you can take it. Then it’s up to the next person to do the same thing.
So, it just needs to be pushed forward, and that’s all I strive to do – to get better and better and to add my stone on top of that cornerstone.
Curtis Harding – ‘Can’t Hide It’
MF: Do the people around you, like the musicians you play with and tour with, keep you inspired?
CH: Yeah, I have a lot of great friends who are into music and touring and playing consistently. We try to keep each other on each other’s toes. That’s how you get better.
I try to play with people that are better than me. In a lot of ways it’s very selfish because I’m learning from them as well, and that way your well never runs dry. You have to surround yourself with people that inspire you and keep you motivated to do what you do.
MF: Do you feel like If Words Were Flowers is evidence of you getting better? Is it your best album?
CH: It’s the last record I released, so it’s the best one thus far. But I feel like the next one is going to be better than that one. My whole point is, if you feel like you’re not getting better, then what’s the point? If that was the case then I would take a break.
Music is something I’m always going to do, whether it’s professionally or whether it’s just for fun, because it’s what I love to do. I can’t say that I will be doing it well into my 80s like George Clinton, but that would be the dream.
Find out more about Wanderer Festival here.