Take A Deep Dive With Curtis Waters
CONTENT WARNING: Strong Language
Ambi of people shuffling about in a room
SHRESTHA: At a small music venue in Brooklyn, there is a backstage room. And in this backstage room, there’s about five to ten guys shuffling about. They’re getting ready for tonight’s show. One dude’s laid-out merch outside the room, the other is inside the room getting his camera ready, and another is grabbing food for the main act, Curtis Waters. Waters is also part of this commotion. One minute, he’s practicing his vocal cords
Sound of a cell phone and voice harmonizing together in ascension
Ambi of people shuffling about in a room
SHRESTHA: Then another, he’s talking about his setlist with his tour manager.
AUGUSTO: You’ve never done more than 40 minutes
WATERS: Even with the encore and everything?
AUGUSTO: You’re normal sets like, you fly through it. It’s really all dependent on how much you end up talking,
Ambi of people shuffling about in a room
SHRESTHA: Let’s just say, he’s invested. He’s got his head in the game. He’s prepping for his show. In fact, he’s so invested that it’s kinda hard to believe that he wanted to leave music behind once. Waters’ music journey makes me think of this thing that Georgia O’Keefe once wrote to her friend. “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant—there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.” But, that’s kinda hard to do in music when there’s all this fuss about topping charts, gaining streams, and going viral. Also, what happens if those metrics that define success don’t make you feel successful? This is a story about a musician and his journey towards making his unknown known. This is a story about Curtis Waters and his first headline tour.
Stunnin’ by Curtis Waters begins playing
SHRESTHA: Waters first landed in the mainstream spotlight in 2020. He released a song, “Stunnin” which went Tiktok viral. To this day, the song has over two-hundred-eighty million plays on Spotify. He was everywhere. Rolling Stones, Genius, Nylon, Complex. And it also got him a record deal. But,
(Stunnin stops playing)
SHRESHTHA: after a while, Waters didn’t really like the direction he was headed.
WATERS: “It felt like people want stunnin, you know, people want hits and people want these pop songs ’cause that’s what I was known for, even though that was an accident. So I think I was making these songs like Doodoodoo and all these like other things that I didn’t feel like reflected what I was trying to do.”
SHRESTHA: And this is reflected in Waters too. Here’s his current manager, Amit Dodani, talking about meeting Waters for the first time.
DODANI: And Curtis came into town and I remember the first day we met, he was a fucking mess. Haha, I was like what is going on? Who hurt this guy? It was just like, you could tell like, it was a lot. He was just down on himself, he was just super anxious, super scared. Everything felt like the end of the world.
SHRESTHA: A couple of months after their first meeting, Waters asked Dodani to manage him. Dodani knew exactly what to do.
DODANI: I remember when we started working together, the first thing that I told him was number 1, we’re going to bring you back to a place where you can share the art that you want to share, on the terms that you want to share it. And number 2, I’m gonna show you, and we’re going to show ourselves together, how much of a real community you have built around you.
SHRESTHA: And so, they went on tour! Well, not right away. You see, Waters got famous during the pandemic. He’d never really experienced the thrill of performing live. Sure, he was producing and releasing music. And he was pretty active online, but he hadn’t really seen his listeners face to face. This is where Dodani wanted to start. After he was brought in, he found venues and shows in LA for Waters to perform in. Being on stage really started shaping the way Waters made music.
WATERS: “I didn’t go to shows. I had never been to shows before, so I didn’t know how music would communicate live, you know? So my first album, pity Party, it’s not that fun live cause like the tempo’s more slow, you know? And you can’t like yell it. It’s very like freckles, you know what I mean? But then Star Killer was like, oh.
Sound of the Waters performing the intro of Starkiller
WATERS: Like I made these like bridges and transitions and drops so that when I do it live, I know like this is where the mosh pit happens. This is where this happens. So it’s a great song to perform live. The chorus is dumb enough that anybody could listen to it and get it stuck in their head and just know it immediately. So it’s great when you know you don’t know the song and you just have fun with it.”
SHRESTHA: And even tho Waters was really afraid of touring, Dodani was trying to show him how much fun he could have!
DODANI: We like, we, I needed to show rather than tell. And so I told him, I’m like, Abhi, just trust me. Trust me. I wouldn’t put you in a position where you know, you don’t have the opportunity to be your best self. That being said, I don’t know how this tour’s gonna go in terms of the numbers, but I don’t care about that. Even if it’s 50 people per city, that would be a blessing for us. Literally.
Ambi of a show. The guitar riff plays as Waters talks to the crowd.
SHRESTHA: Waters doesn’t really come off as someone who’s nervous about performing live. On stage, he’s relaxed and funny. Like in this performance, where all of a sudden his mic breaks.
The guitar stops playing. Someone in the crowd goes oh.
SHRESTHA: But he doesn’t. He’s calm and collected. He tests his mic and his crowd tests him.
Ambi of Waters talking to the crowd.
WATERS: This is not a bit, it’s really not working.
SHRESTHA: After a while, Waters gets a new mic and he begins his setlist. In earnest, throughout the show, he’s confident and knows how to work his crowd.
Waters: Something’s going on. Where the jumpers at man? Where the humpers at man, what’s going on? We got some real stoic motherfuckers in here? That’s crazy man.
Waters: Ay, I’mma turn around. If you’re in the mood to jump, if you’re in the mood to get sweaty, just shuffle about, I’mma give you 5 secs. Hold up let me count, please.
Waters: 5! Relocate man, I better hear some shuffling
Waters: 4! Shuffle a little more
*crowd laughs sparsely*
Waters: Cause you know, I’m not that talented. So we have to jump to make up for it.
SHRESTHA: Performing music is one thing, writing music is another. This, for Waters, is where it can get meticulous and draining.
WATERS: My process is super meticulous and weird and I’m honestly not that good of a songwriter or like efficient of one cuz my friends will like, make a song and just be done with it immediately. For me, it takes months like, You know, like I’ll get on a beat and I might say one thing like, you ain’t a man, you a fucking politician. And then I don’t continue it, you know? And then like six months later, my friend will play a guitar and I’ll be like, I’ll fit it there and it’ll make sense there, and I’ll bring an idea back from 2016 and all this stuff. So it’s very rare that something just comes out. And even when it comes out, I spend months hating myself and being like, this is corny, this sucks, this is stupid. You know? Or like, I’ll make a song and I’ll like take the vocals and I’ll make like 20 different beats around it, you know? So I’m really hard on myself. So I don’t really feel that often. I don’t really often feel like I make something and it’s like, we did it, you know?
SHRESTHA: O’Keefe said to not care about success. When she wrote that letter to her friend, she essentially told him to dig deep and bring his perspective into the light. Now, I don’t really know if Waters ever knew of O’keefe’s work or this letter, but it does seem like he knew exactly what to do with her advice. He turned away from the industry-iness of it all. Even if that meant guaranteed success, it wasn’t him. He made choices, for himself. Choices to make songs on his own term. Songs like Starkiller.
WATERS: Star Killer is cool cuz it was the first song in years where was happy. Which is interesting cuz the lyrics are whatever, like, kind of aggressive. But it was the first time in a very long time where I felt like free to do what I was doing, you know? And I felt like I, I came back to a place where I was able to express myself freely.Yeah.
SHRESTHA: And chose to go on tour. Even if it was intimidating and daunting. His manager definitely felt that change in him.
DODANI4: The Calgary show, the first tour on the road. I remember right before the show, he was so nervous. He was like, Amit, Nobody’s gonna come. Like, what are we doing here? Like, I haven’t been to Calgary in seven years. Like no one knows me here. And by the time he got on stage, he absolutely killed it. And afterwards he was like Amit, there’s nothing I would rather, rather do, and I’ll never forget it. At the end of the tour, right after North Carolina, he came to me and he said Amit, I’ve never felt more hopeful, for my career as an artist, and that alone was everything.
Ambi of people talking in the background
SHRESTHA: After the show in New York, the crowd moves to the bar in the venue. And Waters comes out to greet them. They’ve brought him gifts and cards. And in almost each one of them, there’s little personalized messages or inside jokes about something he’s posted online. Seeing people who took the time to come to the show, being in this space with them, and enjoying the works he’s made, it’s definitely given Waters a new look at his career.
WATERS: Cause, like, bro, if like you get a hundred people liking a post on Instagram, you’re like, oh man, that shit did not do good. But if a hundred people show up to your show, you know, I know obviously it takes a different level of effort, but, I don’t know. I, since doing shows, I just realized there’s such a different way to look at it that is way beyond just like TikTok algorithms and social media and people really do give a fuck, you know? Yeah. It’s cool.
SHRESTHA: I think it’s safe to say, Waters has found the beauty in making his unknown known. He’s going to be here a while.