Singer-songwriter Curtis Peoples opens up on writing for Pierce The Veil, Third Eye Blind
Singer-songwriter Curtis Peoples, 34, has known Pierce The Veil frontman Vic Fuentes since kindergarten, and the best friend songwriting duo are responsible for the band’s gold single, “King For A Day.” The track set off Peoples’ career in songwriting, which also includes credits on records by Third Eye Blind, a pre-OneRepublic Ryan Tedder and pop-rock solo artist Tyler Hilton of One Tree Hill fame.
Walk us through your musical endeavors and how you got started in the industry.
I was born in LA, but I grew up in San Diego, and then I moved back to LA [in 2004] when I was 21. I started singing when I was a kid—I did choir, and then when I was 12, I started my first band with my buddies in school called Chicken Jam. We wrote songs, and they were about flying monkeys and weird stuff. When we were 15, my guitar player decided he didn’t want to do the band anymore, but at that point, I was in. I wanted to do music, and I was like, “This is it. I’m going to be a musician.” I was 100 percent in. We [also] added a new guitar player. He was fine, but he didn’t really fit. But Vic Fuentes, I really wanted him in the band because he was my best friend and I just wanted to hang out with him. He didn’t really know how to play guitar. I was like, “Dude, just join the band and be our rhythm guitar player, and the other guy can play lead and it’ll be great.” As soon as Vic joined, I knew I didn’t want the other guy in anymore. I swear I blinked my eyes, and Vic became this great guitar player. He just got so good so fast. I played bass, Vic played guitar and our friend Carl played drums. Our first record, we raised money for it by doing a car wash so we could go into a real studio. We played shows around San Diego, and Vic had started his punk band on the side because we went to different high schools. He had that on the side and would play parties, and we would play venues. When college started, our drummer left to go to USC—he’s now a doctor. We had to find a new drummer, and the band never fully recovered. Vic and I ended up doing a lot of shows just the two of us, acoustic; we even made an acoustic record. We never stopped writing songs.
"If you hang around long enough and never give up, things just evolve in ways you don’t expect them to if you’re willing to say ‘yes’ to the universe."
Where did you go from there?
Vic’s band, which at the time was called Early Times, kept getting bigger in the San Diego punk scene and ended up getting a record deal with Equal Vision, and that was the end of our band in a lot of ways. Vic and I never stopped writing songs together, but it really worked out the way it was supposed to in a lot of ways. I met Tyler Hilton [in 2004] who was signed to Warner Brothers and on One Tree Hill. I didn’t know what to do next, and I was already playing acoustic shows with Vic with our band 3 Simple Words, but I hadn’t figured out what my next move was. I was like, “Am I going to do another band? That doesn’t feel right.” John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Gavin DeGraw and all that stuff was kind of hitting at the time, and I was like, “I guess I’ll do the solo thing.
When I had met Tyler, he had just signed his record deal, and he was pretty much doing what I wanted to do, but he was ahead of me. He had his stuff way more together already. He had his look down, and his songs had a sound to them. He took me on tour [in April 2004]. He said, “Hey, will you come out? The label said somebody can come out and help. You’d be tour managing and guitar teching.” I was like, “I don’t care. I’ve never been on tour, and I want to go.” That tour essentially created the nucleus for my LA life and honestly, my career came from that. I met a ton of musicians on that tour that all lived in LA, so as soon as I got back from the tour [in May], I moved up to LA with a buddy of mine. I had friends already up here like Tyler and this guy Dave Yaden who’s a piano player and songwriter.
It’s insane to look back and see how I got surrounded by not only talented people but very inspiring people, and there are countless songwriters that I have seen their careers explode. Even my wife, [Tara Perry], did a Nickelodeon kids show called The Fresh Beat Band, and it was a musical show that ended up being a huge tour, so she’s toured bigger than I ever have. [Laughs.] All these strange circumstances, and I’ve always just kept doing my thing. I’ve done lots of stuff, but as an artist, it’s been a wonderful and slow climb. In the last few years, the songwriting side has started to take off. If you hang around long enough and never give up, things just evolve in ways you don’t expect them to if you’re willing to say ‘yes’ to the universe. There are so many opportunities that may look different than you thought they were going to look. It’s funny because everyone around me is like, “This is where we always expected you to go, so this is great.” A lot of it is luck and timing. It’s predominantly that actually. I have just now realized I really love writing songs. I’m getting to do all this stuff, and I had to realize it was a good thing, not a bad thing. When I worked on this last Pierce The Veil record, I said to Vic, “Look where we are, dude. The dream was to be in a big rock band and to write songs people get to hear. If you go back to high school this is not the way we envisioned it, but look where we are. We’re still doing it. It’s just in a very unique way.” It’s very special to get to work with your best friend on a record and be a part of something that’s become this incredible thing. It’s still the same two guys writing songs like when they were 15. Just the picture changed, but it’s a great picture.
Was Pierce The Veil the first artist you wrote for, or did it start professionally with someone else?
I had written with other friends who were singer/songwriters—Tyler and other people in that scene—but I was 100 percent focusing on my stuff, so any songwriting I did with other people was on my record except with Vic. We would always write for his records. Before they were called Pierce The Veil and they were going by Before Today, I had a couple songs on that and A Flair For The Dramatic. We wrote on Selfish Machines, but my songs didn’t make the cut on that one, but where things changed drastically was with “King For A Day.” When Vic and I and our friend Steven Miller wrote that song, and then he took it to the band and Kellin (Quinn), and they finished it. That song was the game changer. Pierce was already blowing up in that scene, but “King For A Day” was when it was like, “Woah, what happened? How did they get so huge?” It was really special, and it’s fun for me because when people discover me through Pierce The Veil—not only Vic, but Mike, Jaime and Tony have been very supportive. They’ve tweeted about me and talked about me in interviews. Vic still writes on all my records too, which is really fun.
How did you approach writing for Misadventures?
After the success of “King For A Day” and Collide With The Sky and after watching Pierce become a big rock band on this last record, we went into this Misadventures stuff a lot differently. I had come into my own more as a songwriter the last couple of years because of the opportunities I got from “King For A Day.” I started to write a lot for other people, so it was easier for me to get in with Vic and help him get there a lot quicker. We also tried to finish songs differently than we had before. We tried to finish songs in a day and then go back and edit.
I kept telling him, because I honestly felt that way, “This is the dream, dude.” We just had more confidence, and we wanted to do something huge with this one, but it wasn’t a pressure thing. It was just a matter of having the confidence to go and really kill it. We wrote “Circles” in a day. Vic went in and finished the lyrics, but all the melodies were there. It was funny because it was one of the first songs written on the record, so I had to wait a couple years for it to come out. [Laughs.] “The Divine Zero” we got to write with the drummer of Third Eye Blind, [Brad Hargreaves], who had become a close friend of mine because he married a close friend of mine. That’s how I ended up working with Third Eye Blind on their record because he had seen where I had grown as a writer. We love Brad, and I was like, “Vic, even if we don’t write a song today for Pierce, we’ll get to jam with Brad all day, so let’s do that.”
The other one I did was just me and Vic, and again, we went up to Big Bear, and he rented another cabin, and we wrote a song called “Today I Saw The Whole World.” That one was really fun because that was one where we tried to make it sound like a Pierce The Veil 2.0. It had a big, big rock riff in the chorus, but we tried to put in some hip-hop elements and different stuff to make the song stand out.
The long story short is that’s the beauty of working on [these] records. The rules are so different than a lot of stuff I do, and it’s just about being creative. There’s something special about not only writing with one of your best friends, but working on a project. For me, it’s never about money, it’s about opportunity. If I was ever jealous of somebody, I was jealous of the opportunity that they were getting, not the car they were driving. I think that’s the greatest thing now. I’m still a long way from where I want to be, but I’m getting the opportunity, and that’s all I can really ask for.
How do you balance writing your own stuff with writing for other people? How do you keep your ideas fresh?
It’s tough because in the past, if I wrote a great idea, I’d wanna keep it. It was hard to go into sessions, which is why I didn’t do it a lot. It was hard to write for someone else and bring in my best stuff because why would I want to give up my best stuff? But honestly now, every day you try to write the best song you possibly can. I can’t have a fear that I’m giving away an idea and I’m never going to be able to top it. If you do that, you’re going to be completely frozen by the pressure of that. What really inspired me recently, was this great article where Sia was talking about her new record, [This Is Acting]. She was like, “Every song on my record was written for somebody else.” For whatever reason, the labels didn’t like it or it didn’t fit. They didn’t get cut by Beyonce or Rihanna or whoever, so she’s like, “I love them, and I knew they were great, so I’m just going to keep this for myself.” I was like, “That’s a brilliant way to look at it.” Sometimes, a song doesn’t make the record and it has nothing to do with your song.
What are some of the overall challenges you have to overcome in the profession of songwriting?
Some days you just don’t have it. Some days you’re not going to write a great song, and those days, hilariously, can really shake you. It can ruin your day in a lot of ways, but I try not to let it. It’s tough, especially with new people, you’re essentially going into a room with a stranger and willing to be vulnerable and emotional and have to be a little impolite at times. If you don’t like an idea, if you don’t say anything, the idea stays and then the song suffers, so there’s a lot of honesty that has to be said very quickly to move things along. When you do write a great song, then the rest of your day rules. It feels very fantastic. That’s just the way it goes.
What general advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career in songwriting?
I think the main thing is, and I said it earlier, you cannot give up. You have to realize that you might want this to happen in a year, but it might take 20 or it may take 6 months. You just don’t know, but if you truly love it, just keep working and keep writing. If you’re an artist, put out music as much as you can, play shows and hustle. As a songwriter, just keep going because you can’t predict the way things are going to work out. The joke in LA is, actors too, will come out here and be like, “I’m going to give it about a year. If I don’t become huge, I’m going to go home.” I’m always shocked. I’ve been living in LA for 12 years. I just turned 34, and I’ve been making music for over half my life now. I’ve done a lot of stuff, but I’m just now hitting a stride exclusively as a songwriter. If you had told me when I was 15 that it was going to take this long, I probably would have passed out and not wanted to do it. It didn’t feel like it took long.
Be willing to adapt because that is just how life is, but if you want to write rock songs and in your dream, you know you’re going to write a hit that’s going to be on the radio, then just keep going and it will figure itself out in some way. alt