Curtis Peoples works to balance harder rock interests with coffeehouse style 

The thing people often forget about musicians is that they don't always choose their audience; sometimes, it picks them.


Attention isn't always the easiest thing to come by, so why would a performer chase away those with an interest, particularly when they're attractive? Is solo artist Curtis Peoples complaining when he estimates that his concert attendees are 90 percent female?

"It's funny because how do you complain?" Peoples said. "Last night we played in New Jersey, and literally there were probably three guys besides us in there. Like, what kind of a problem is that?"

Peoples isn't exactly looking to be John Mayer. He describes himself as inherently more of a rocker, into Pearl Jam, Nirvana and U2. In fact, he played with his high school band Three Simple Words well into college, before the group disbanded after guitar player Vic Fuentes' side project Pierce the Veil signed a label deal. Undeterred, Peoples booked a few solo shows at local coffee shops and cafes.

One night two weeks later, he shared a bill with actor/singer Tyler Hilton (who played Elvis Presley in "Walk the Line") who was playing a few gigs while he awaited release of his 2001 self-titled solo debut. They struck up a friendship, and starting hanging out in Los Angeles. Peoples soon moved there to take advantage of all the contacts he was making.

"I ended up meeting almost anyone who's had any impact on my career through him, including him, over the next year," he said. "That's where it all sort of kicked off for me as far as the solo thing."

In 2005, he released "Whisper to a Scream" " a title taken from an Elvis Costello song " a seven-song EP showcasing laid-back folk pop in the vein of Dave Matthews and Josh Kelley, highlighted by Peoples' cashmere croon. Although he was doing a lot of solo acoustic shows, Peoples hadn't left the band concept behind. He spent the next few years assembling a solid backing band, and developing a sound that blends the strummy stuff with his older rock predilections.

"I created the term 'coffee shop arena rock' to describe my music because that's what it is: big-chorus rock 'n' roll, but singer/songwriter music at the same time," he said. "I'm trying to find that balance."

Peoples recognizes that the ballads on last year's self-titled debut are its most popular downloads. Songs likes "All I Want," which he's performed at four weddings already this year, and Counting Crows-ish album-closer "Exit Scene," are obvious fan favorites, and he indulges them nightly, even when he might rather rock out. It's difficult to juggle, which is one reason he likes collaborating on songs. He doesn't have the kind of ego that requires sole authorship, and is open to the idea that "someone could help me make it a little better or send me in a new direction."

His main problem with the singer/songwriter style, apart from missing the camaraderie and collaboration of bandmates, comes down to sincerity: Too many people just aren't trustworthy.

"There's an over-emotive put-on that people do. It's not genuine. It's forced heart-on-your-sleeve, weepy girl music. The great singer/songwriters can just bleed on stage and you believe it," he said. "If you're trying to write with the right spirit and the right emotions, it's believable. I've been in so many songwriting sessions with professional writers, and it just feels so soulless what we're trying to do. I'm very particular about it and I won't settle."

But that doesn't mean he doesn't listen to good common sense. While he prefers the nervy rocker "Holding Me Down," Peoples was advised to make the strutting, Eddie Money-esque breakup tune, "Back Where I Started," the lead single. He also listens to the audience when it comes to new songs, preferring to give the material some road-testing before putting it down.

"I trust myself to write the songs," he said, "but I trust the audience to pick the songs that really work."

As for the gender disparity at his shows, Peoples hopes a breakout track with radio airplay will prove key to bringing in more male fans.

"I'm always going to be a more girl-friendly artist for whatever reason, but I think at some point I can at least get the percentage up a little," he said. "Guys go where there are girls, so if a guy wants to meet a girl he should come to a Curtis Peoples show."

Curtis Peoples and Keaton Simons perform at 9 p.m. Friday at the Blue Door, 2805 N. McKinley. "Chris Parker

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