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Curve: Back on Straight and Narrow

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia, principal members of the English alterna-rock band, Curve, regard themselves not just as musical partners, but as brother and sister.

When Curve was last on tour in 1994, however, Halliday and Garcia were relating more like cats and dogs. For the sake of their friendship and their peace of mind, they took a timeout that stretched to three years.

Now Curve is back (the band plays Monday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre) in a touring version that finds bassist-composer Garcia and singer-lyricist Halliday supported by adjunct members on drums and guitar.

On the upside, Halliday and Garcia say the time away saved their working relationship and has allowed them to return with a healthier attitude about the commercial pressures that even art-comes-first strivers such as themselves must face.

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On the downside, a lot has happened in rock during those three years. In the early ‘90s, Curve earned respect as an innovative melder of techno-dance music with squalling guitar rock. Its new album, “Come Clean,” is a strong comeback, but with its sampler of now-well-established styles, including languid trip-hop shuffles a la Portishead, aural blast furnace effects akin to Prodigy, and a couple of songs in which the noise-goes-pop approach bears a strong whiff of Garbage, Curve no longer can claim to be ahead of the curve.

The comparison to Garbage, which has sold bundles of records compared with Curve’s relative trickle, drew a sidestepping verbal shrug from Halliday and mild annoyance from Garcia during separate telephone interviews recently from a tour stop in Portland, Ore.

“Every journalist we speak to always brings it up. It’s basically incredibly boring,” Garcia said. “I don’t want to get into some competitive war. There’s a lot of luck in this business, and [Garbage] was in the right place at the right time. All I know is we were doing this sort of thing five years before them.”

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History is something Garcia, 40, and Halliday, 33, have in abundance. They met in 1983, introduced by a mutual friend, Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Garcia, who came from a funk / R&B; background, was playing in the Eurythmics’ backing band, and Halliday was a punk-influenced teenager who had landed her first record deal at the age of 14.

Their first band, State of Play, bombed badly. While a record company bio of Curve dating from 1992 alludes to an acrimonious split in which Halliday and Garcia sued each other, the two say that’s fiction. Garcia said they had a long, healthy talk soon after the band’s 1985 breakup and remained on friendly terms.

Following their first long break, the two launched Curve in 1989. Their low-budget, homemade recording approach yielded songs blanketed in guitar noise and electronic caterwauling, with room in the mix for Halliday’s coolly disdainful singing. From the release of its first singles in 1991, Curve won raves in the English music press. By 1994, though, things were souring as the band slogged through a long tour supporting its second full-length album, “Cuckoo.”

“We felt we’d made a brilliant record, and it was just getting lost,” Garcia said. “Other people were getting the breaks, and it was just smashing us up. It bummed us both out. We started freaking out and being nasty toward each other, and that’s not what we’re about.”

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Setting Curve aside helped straighten out the friendship. Garcia, who had been feeling torn about leaving his family to go on tour, devoted himself to family life with his wife and two small children; Halliday, whose record-producer husband, Alan Moulder, has sound-mixing and guitar-playing credits on “Come Clean,” abandoned technological rock and her cool vocal approach to try screaming for a bit as front woman of Scylla, a ranting band named after a monster from Greek mythology.

Garcia and Halliday say Curve’s resumption in 1997 was not premeditated. “We saw a lot of each other during the break and were supportive. Toni came ‘round to have a cup of tea or something. I had this track going in the front room, and said, ‘Sing on this.’ ”

The two resolved to try a less dense and opaque sonic approach this time--one meaning of the title, “Come Clean.”

“We wanted it to be more open and expose the songs more, and not be so scared and camouflaged in 500 layers of guitars,” Garcia said.

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There are plenty of raucous parts on the record, but the melodies and vocals emerge clearly. Emotionally, Halliday’s lyrics trace a descending arc from the assertive, confident “Coming Up Roses” to a home-stretch full of relationship dysfunction and despair, including the howling title track and “Forgotten Sanity,” a song plumbing depths of depression. (The clinching line goes, “Decay, decay, decay, decay.”)

“I am a very up-and-down person,” said Halliday, who, at least for interview purposes, maintains a pleasant, even keel. “If I wake up in the morning laughing my head off, I’m bound to be crying by the evening.” She says she makes a special effort to bring herself out of funks at show time: “Sometimes I’m sitting there in a black mood before I go on. We call it ‘the dark, dark wood.’ I have to force myself not to go there. People don’t pay money to see you get up on stage and have a nervous breakdown.”

Both Halliday and Garcia grew up without fathers--he never knew his dad; hers abandoned the family when she was 7. That common background, they say, has been part of the glue in their partnership.

“It created a strong bond,” Halliday said. “We feel very much like brother and sister, and we look after each other.”

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Some of the marketplace woes that got to Halliday and Garcia four years ago are recurring this time around, but instead of talking about escaping, they both sound determined to keep touring and recording. Halliday cites radio’s “massive refusal” to play the catchy single, “Coming Up Roses,” as the band’s latest bad break.

“What we’ve learned is to [care about] the important things, accept [the rest] and move on,” she said. “So we don’t have any expectations any more. I’m just going to do what I do, what I know I do well, and attend to the stuff that [we] are totally in control over. We’re kind to ourselves and protect ourselves very well.”

“It’s never going to be easy for us. There’s a lot of luck involved,” Garcia concurred. “But we’re a lot more emotionally stable. It’s a lot easier to deal with this time around.”

* Curve, Dandy Warhols and DJ Acucrack play Monday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. $15-$17. (714) 957-0600.

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