Curtis Harding is asked when his love for music was born. “In Saginaw General Hospital,” he says, which is where he was born.
He grew up with a mother, Dorothy, who was and still is a gospel singer. He knew all along that music was something he could do well, and when he was paid for it for the first time around 18 or 19 years old, he knew he could do it professionally.
By the way, his first paying gig in music was for placement back-up vocals on Cee Lo Green’s first solo record, Cee-Lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections. Harding’s dream had always been to work behind the scenes and backing other artists. So, now here he was, just a teenager and achieving his childhood dream with Cee Lo Green. Reaching what he thought was the pinnacle so quickly gave him room to stretch and consider what his other musical dreams might be, which leads us to here: Curtis Harding, 38, solo artist with a brand new album titled Face Your Fear coming out on Oct. 27 via ANTI-Records.
“At 18 or 19, it’s still really young,” Harding says from London over the phone in early September. “You’re still trying to get comfortable with who you are and figure out what you’re doing, so that played a huge part in me being apprehensive about doing my own thing. I wanted to make sure I presented myself in such a way to where I wouldn’t have to change it up. It’s just a matter of totally being confident in who you are.
“Once I understood that, it was like there was no stopping me.”
During those early years in Atlanta, Harding and a friend were rap group Proseed. As Proseed, they shadowed Andre 3000, Cee Lo Green and other major hitters. What does he most carry with him from that time period? “It’s cool to be yourself, man,” he says. “That, mainly. But I also learned a lot musically. I learned a lot about the business and what it takes to be a touring musician. I learned a lot of a lot.”
In present day, Face Your Fear is a collection of tracks with a “healthy mix” of literally and metaphorical meanings. For example, the song ‘Wednesday Morning Atonement’ is named that because he literally wrote it on a Wednesday morning, but of course, it’s deeper than that, too. “To me, my songs are like my children,” Harding explains, “but the song itself in a literal meaning is about an estranged father who for whatever reason is not able to be present in his kid’s life. I thought that was an important topic to touch on, but also I felt I’d been away and trying to figure out what to do. So, in a way, I felt I was neglecting my music.
“And, like, the whole business side: trying to figure out who to go with, I didn’t have a manager at the time, all of that was keeping me from doing what I love to do. I thought it was a cool concept, and it was my way of making amends to not tending to my kids, which is my music.”
Face Your Fear is a straightforward title, and Harding did that on purpose. There is also a literal meaning that is personal to him and more vague to you, based on a recurring nightmare of his that he does not want to elaborate on. He wants anyone who listens to this album to know they are not alone.
“We all have fears,” he says. “I also feel like that’s what’s going on in America right now. Actually, all across the world. People are just fear-based. I think that has a lot to do with anger, racism and all that stuff. You fear what you don’t understand, so if you took time to face those fears and understand exactly what it is, I believe that it would totally make a difference and change outlook. Or, at least, it would create a start and a dialogue.”
As far as tour, Harding is most looking forward to “blowing people’s minds.”
He adds: “It’s a live show. Touring, within itself, can be gruelling. It’s not what it’s made out to be in the movies. But it’s worthwhile when you play a set and then you talk to somebody, and they tell you, like, ‘this song helped me through a hard time.’ Or you see someone just losing their shit in the crowd. That’s how they get through their day, their week, whatever. That’s what makes it worth it.”
You can find Harding’s tour dates here.
Words by Megan Armstrong