Introducing: Curling – No Guitar (Deluxe Edition) + Interview

Royal Oakie Records is proud to release No Guitar (Deluxe Edition) which combines the original album with two instrumental bonus tracks from the “No Guitar” sessions, “Cavalry” and “C2”, both featuring transitional drummer Kevin Stewart. Mixed and mastered by David Glasebrook, the bonus tracks add further depth and stylistic reach to the album.

Curling’s third album No Guitar is their most fully realized work yet, a lush and intricate collection that covers a ton of ground, from the bittersweet jangle of power-pop, to indie-folk, Midwestern emo, and much more. The album marks the latest evolution for cross-continental duo Bernie Gelman and Joseph Brandel, who first met in high school and have been fusing their own unique musical sensibilities ever since, with Gelman operating out of the San Francisco Bay Area while Brandel currently resides in Japan.

Perusing an online message board, Gelman came across drummer Kynwyn Sterling from Portland, OR and reached out to see if she’d be interested in playing together. Pretty soon thereafter Brandel and Gelman decamped to Portland with Sterling and everything started coming together; the newly-formed trio felt their creativity flowing and four new songs emerged, the beginnings of many sessions to come with engineer Ian Pellici at Brothers Chinese Recording in Oakland, CA.

The album title reflects an initial notion to abandon the six-strings of their previous albums. “It lasted 30 minutes before we picked up some guitars,” Gelman laughs. “No Guitar was originally supposed to be the first Curling album where we diverged from writing songs with guitars. That definitely didn’t happen! Except for one song, which is called ‘No Guitar’.”

The name of the album has two further meanings for the band. For example, ’no’ in Japanese works like the possessive in English. “Those who know Japanese will notice that ‘Curling No Guitar’ literally translates to ‘Curling’s Guitar’ and ‘No Guitar’ also refers to my father’s command regarding my after-hours music-making in adolescence,” adds Gelman.

You can hear shades of shoegaze in “Hi-Elixir”, where a massive wall of fuzzy guitars recalls My Bloody Valentine; “Patience” has a sweet-and-sour bite that recalls acts like Archers of Loaf and Shudder to Think; while “URDoM” swings and sways with a tapestry of guitars reminiscent of American Football and Mineral.

During the pandemic, Curling effectively went on hiatus for three years. “Coming back together was strange,” Gelman remembers. “Jojo hadn’t picked up a guitar in months, and after a certain point we were like, ‘Do we want to be doing this?’” Brandel was going through a serious breakup, and Gelman’s father passed away, an absence addressed in the acoustic melodies of “Hotel”. “It’s a song about that feeling of grief, as well as the intangible loss of words that you never said,” Gelman explains. “We’ve gotten better at idea-sharing,” Brandel adds. “We’ve become more comfortable working with each other’s songs.”

Fittingly, “No Guitar” ends with a gorgeous and wordless tangle of electronics, gesturing towards the future’s perpetual uncertainties, while also pointing towards an exciting new future for the band. “

I wanted to share with you a recently re-released album that I believe deserves a wider audience. The original album was released in the summer of 2023, and while I enjoyed it, I was thrilled to learn that my favorite label, Royal Oakie, had decided to release a deluxe version. The press release accompanying the re-release does an excellent job of capturing the album’s story and essence, so I won’t go into too much detail about it myself. Suffice it to say that the album took me on an emotional journey from start to finish. I was especially impressed by the demos and extras included in this deluxe version.

The band, Curling, has demonstrated great craftsmanship on this album, and it speaks to the heart of any indie music fan. I am confident that this album will be revisited and cherished by many over time, like a fine red wine that only gets better with age. It’s no wonder that it’s already being hailed as one of the best albums of recent months.

I reached out to Bernie from Curling and asked a couple of questions.

Filip: Let’s start with a task. Describe your band in 3 sentences for someone who has not heard you before.

Bernie: Curling is Beatlesque, shoegaze-adjacent, power pop-y music that never fits cleanly into one genre. There are no two songs in our catalog that sound the same and every song takes turns that will surprise you. Our focus is on great songwriting and compelling melodies.

F: What inspired you to start making music?

B: Neither of my parents were musical at all, but both of them enjoyed listening to music. When I was about 13, I started listening to my own music. I discovered bands like Radiohead and just became obsessed with listening to music all day long, every day!

A couple of years later, I was working as a junior counselor at a summer camp and there was this 20-something year old guy who would play acoustic guitar and lead the campers through songs like Yellow Submarine. I thought he was so cool. I asked him to teach me guitar and, by the end of that summer, I could play a few chords and he loaned me a beater guitar to practice with. I started a band the first week of that school year and, ever since then, I’ve always been in bands. Playing music with my friends is probably my most cherished experience in life.

F: Do you have any memories of music from your childhood?

B: One of my first music memories was when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I was playing in the living room and my dad had put on Magical Mystery Tour. When Strawberry Fields Forever came on, I was completely transfixed from the first few notes. There was just something ethereal and otherworldly about the song, the melody, and John Lennon’s voice. Later on, I learned about varispeed and all of the other things that went into recording that song and it really took me back to that time that I first heard that music.

F: Do you have any special memories with cassettes or vinyl records?

B: I grew up listening to tapes and vinyl. I still remember taking road trips with only two tapes in the car: Abbey Road and ABBA’s Gold. I think that both formats really lend themselves to discovering new music and letting yourself imagine what the band must be like. I love having a tangible version of music: something I can look at and hold while I listen. I also love sequencing albums for A and B sides and knowing that I’ll have to get up to flip a record halfway through. It’s really a very different flow from a CD or digital listening experience!

F: You have re-released your album as a deluxe version. How did a collaboration with Royal Oakie Records happen?

B: It was pretty simple! David (the owner) liked our new record, did some research on our back catalog and our band, and then reached out to see if we wanted to work together. It was a bit unusual since we’d just self-released our new album, but we came up with a game plan to re-release the album on tape and cassette with some bonus tracks and it’s been going great!

F: You have toured Japan recently. How was it? Did you learn something new about your band?

B: It was a total blast. Jojo lives in Tokyo, so he set up all of the gigs. We ate so much ramen. We definitely grew a lot as a band and I think we really polished our live performance quite a bit. We sound really professional now! I loved how people show up early for shows in Japan and stay to see all of the bands. I wish that’s how it was in the US, too.

F: What are your plans for this year or next year regarding your music?

B: We just finished our Japan and US tours in support of No Guitar. We’re going to take a bit of time to work on some new music, but we would like to hit the road again later this year (maybe fall?) and play some bigger shows.

F: You are from Berkeley, CA. Does this city have an impact on the music you make?

B: Not particularly. Our band has spent more of its 12 years spread out across long distances than we have together in the same place, so I don’t think there’s any big locational importance for us being from Berkeley.

F: What has the DIY community meant to you and your music?

B: I was pretty fortunate to grow up in a scene with a decent selection of all-ages venues. I don’t really think the Bay Area is very good for that anymore. Between house shows and spots like 924 Gilman, there was a definite DIY ethos that was instilled in me from a young age. These venues and the bands that were playing at them definitely weren’t aspiring to climb a clout ladder or get signed to a major label, they were just interested in making music to entertain themselves (or their friends) or convey a message.

F: Which artists have influenced your music the most?

B: In terms of songwriting: probably The Beatles, XTC, Sonic Youth (especially the Jim O’Rourke period), and Big Star. We both like tons of different music, though, and we try to borrow the best bits and pieces from everything we can get our hands on. As a two-guitar band, Television was a big influence early on. I love Bill Frisell and Kevin Shields, both of them have a great and unique sense of melody. There’s definitely some jazz in there, too, although none of us really read or write music at all.

F: What does your creative process look like?

B: Jojo and I have pretty different songwriting processes. I’m very much a neurotic perfectionist: I’ll work on a new song until I think it’s basically done and then I’ll show it to the band. Usually, I already know exactly what the arrangement will be and I even already have most of the overdub layers planned out. Songs like ‘Hi-Elixir’ or ‘Home’ (from our 2018 release Definitely Band) are good examples of this. For me, strong melody and interesting harmony are the most important things when I’m writing a song. I once read that Lennon and McCartney had a rule that, if they couldn’t remember the melody of a song they’d been working on during a previous day, it probably wasn’t very good. That’s definitely a rule that I live by.

Jojo’s songs tend to be a lot more collaborative. He might come to me with just a simple riff and we’ll build the song together and play off each other. Usually these songs go in unexpected directions, like ‘Dysfunction’ off our new record. That song was just a short dirty that he’d written, but I started jamming on this guitar arpeggio at the end and we turned it into this winding section with layered guitars and some pocket piano loops. The drums for that song were recorded last, too, and we just had Kynwyn improvise for a while until they played a little snippet of what ended up being the main groove and I immediately hopped on the talkback mic and said “That! Play that part!!”

F: Do you search for the meaning through the music? Does the creative process help you to process your thoughts?

B: Writing and performing music is definitely therapeutic, but I don’t go about it explicitly looking to find any kind of meaning or absolution.

F: Where do you seek inspiration for your lyrics? How do you choose what to include in lyrics and what not?

B: I think we both struggle a bit with writing lyrics. Our rule is basically just that lyrics must not be so bad as to draw attention to themselves. That being said, I think a lot of our lyrics are actually pretty great and many of them have resonated with our fans. The lyrics tend to make more sense to us after we write them, somehow!

F: What is your daily job and how do you make music while working? How hard is it to find time?

B: Well, I’m currently unemployed, so finding time isn’t really an issue. My background is in academia, though. I worked in neuroscience research for a number of years. You can Google my name and read some of my papers!

F: Do you have any other hobbies besides music?

B: I have a lot of free time, so spending time at the gym has been a lot of fun recently. I’m also a big video gamer! I love Tekken 8 and I also do world-race progression in Final Fantasy 14. It’s a bit embarrassing, really.

F: Any favorite or inspirational books or movies?

B: I love Charlie Kaufman films. Synecdoche, New York is one of my all-time favorites. I also love all the classic New Wave stuff like Truffaut and Fellini. One thing that characterizes a film like La Dolce Vita is that almost every frame is just beautiful, like it almost looks like a painting. I think that’s something to strive for with making a record.

F: What keeps you motivated to continue making music?

B: There’s always new sounds to discover and new ideas to explore!

F: What was the most challenging thing in your music (artistic) path?

B: Until very recently, we really never performed live much. It was always a pain in the ass to get together and spending that time re-learning our songs never seemed as fun as writing and recording new ones. Now, I think we are really keen to expand our audience. We have a pretty decent catalog of music and all of it is pretty great! We’re really trying to figure out how we can maintain momentum as a band and we’d love to start playing some bigger shows.

F: Do you have any set goals with your music? Any milestones you would like to achieve?

B: We got to play some bigger venues last summer on tour with our friends Nation Of Language in front of 600+ people. I think our next big goal is to play shows like that where people are coming to see us!

F: What would you dream to do if anything was possible?

B: I’d love to end war and all that. On a musical level? I think being able to be a studio rat band like the late Beatles or XTC would be great, but I don’t think we’ll ever be in a position to sustainably do that, sadly.

F: Do you have any advice for artists just starting out or maybe coming back to prior passions?

B: The one lesson I’m grateful to have learned very early on is pretty simple: if you’re going to make music (or, for that matter, do anything), do it for yourself and no one else. You will never be happy trying to please someone else.

F: In the end, I have one challenge for you. Describe every song from your most recent album no guitar in a single sentence, one sentence for each song.


Shamble – the Curling theme song.
Pastoral – we have XTC at home.
Pop Song – the bounciest bassline I’ve ever played.
URDoM – this one almost didn’t make it on the album, but I’m so glad it did.
Reflector Mage – the first half was influenced by Naima, the latter part by Jimmy Eat World.
Dysfunction – everything on this track is dysfunctional: there’s only one tiny fragment of bass, the drums cut out randomly, and even the band gets cut off in a very jarring way.
Majesty – this is a lullaby I wrote for a friend’s newborn child.
Hi-Elixir – our fucked up version of Penny Lane, there are a lot of key changes and really tricky chords in this song, despite how simple it might sound!
Patience – Jojo’s Big Muff-meets-BDSM themed barn burner.
Husk – my favorite track, I love the sparse, odd-timed sections and Jojo’s lyrics.
Hotel – a sad song I wrote about my relationship with my dad, who passed away in 2019.
No Guitar – there’s guitar on this track.

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