Meet Pansy Boys, the queer twin brothers making summertime music for an anxious era
Joel and Kyle Curry's alt-pop project is dreamy melancholy for troubled times
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.
Queer twin brothers Joel and Kyle Curry knew from very early on in their lives that they "were meant to be showgirls." They started singing lessons when they were just nine years old (way, way back in the year 2005), practicing both musical theatre and classical music.
"Although we loved all of that, we knew deep down that we wanted to create our own body of work together," Kyle says. "We spent many, many hours of our teenage years in suburban Ottawa dreaming about who we could become through the music we listened to and the films we watched, which I believe shaped our cinematic sound and insatiable expectations about life."
Joel and Kyle migrated to Montreal to study music at Concordia University in their late teens and were met with "a sort of creative lull" during those first few years as they tried to figure out who they were — and what they could offer as said showgirls. And that's when Pansy Boys began to bloom.
An alt-pop project made up of the brothers, its genesis — at least in terms of its name — came from two different thoughts.
"Because we wanted to keep the music dreamy and lush, the name Pansy Boys sort of made sense as it lends to a floral and gentle image," Joel says. "In contrast to that thought, the social perception of the term 'pansy' is used to make effeminate men feel small or lesser than that of the masculine. We wanted to reclaim this term, as it has cast a grey cloud over our heads in the past, and use it to empower ourselves and hopefully others. The contrast between the more depressing and the beautiful parts of the word 'pansy' are sort of reflected in our music, both lyrically and with the chords and melody."
That contrast helped find Pansy Boys plenty of fans last year when their debut EP, In Days of Yore, was released. Now they're back with a new single, "Under The Weather." It's an aptly titled candidate for the song of this summer, at least if we're being honest about what year this summer exists in.
"It was an extremely warm and gorgeous summer day, [but] we couldn't shake this feeling of heaviness around us," they both recall about writing the song, which sounds a lot like how most of us feel pretty much every day right about now. "The news was playing in the background, discussing something happening politically in the United States, and at that time it seemed as though there was bad news every day — and there still is. As well, we could not shake off a feeling of anxiety within ourselves, which was sad in a way because it was such a nice day and there were so many reasons to feel at peace, yet we remained feeling unsettled with the world around us."
Sonically, the song feels like a natural progression from In Days of Yore, taking the dreamy melancholy to a new level.
"After the positive energy surrounding the reactions to [that album], we felt encouraged and excited to create even more limitlessly, and felt it necessary to expand on our sound," they say. "We feel like we have added more depth and texture to the sound, such as recording a grand piano in a concert hall."
Pansy Boys' rise comes during a pretty extraordinary moment queer music (see Perfume Genius, Janelle Monae, SOPHIE, Troye Sivan, Kelela, King Princess, et.) and that's something that s definitely not lost on them.
"I think this is a super exciting time for underground — as well as mainstream — queer musicians, as we are honestly and unapologetically exploring and sharing our stories," Joel says. "I don't ever go into writing a song or planning a visual with hopes of being controversial or necessarily polarizing, but rather from a place of sincerity."
It also comes from a place of considerable self-awareness (certainly for two 22-year-olds) with respect to how their own identities fit into Pansy Boys.
"I'd say for the most part, our imagery has not been as challenging as it has been pretty and digestible, which is something I am constantly trying to work on and move forward with," Kyle says. "Gender expression and sexuality and how we use that within our lyrics is something that I am constantly aware of while I am writing songs, and aim to have the most genuine of intentions when reflecting on my queer experience."
As twins, we have always had each other and are kind of walking hand in hand into this dream of ours, which we have been chipping away at since we were young.- Kyle Curry, Pansy Boys
"As a queer man, I have had the ability to explore many facets of both my masculinity and my femininity," adds Joel. "However, I acknowledge that as a cisgender male there is still a certain level of privilege involved. Everyone's experiences with gender and sexuality are individual, [though] there is a beautiful sense of community amongst queer people which deserves to be explored and deserves to be celebrated."
There's also something quite beautiful about the brothers' collaboration, which Kyle calls "natural and necessary, as it has always what we imagined ourselves doing in this life together."
"It really is a blessing having someone else to follow a musical journey with, as it can be a stressful and tumultuous path at times," says Joel. "It has never really been a question whether we wanted to work together — it just always was that way."
They also admit there are a few downsides to working with your twin, though even those have silver linings.
"Our goals and dreams have always been joint goals and dreams — which can have its disadvantages, as it does not make room for truly independent creation," Kyle says. "When we write songs, one of us may feel strongly about a piece, but the other isn't down for it and it can cause a little bit of tension. That being said, we are constantly challenging the other to make the art we know we are capable of making. I think the competitive nature of the songwriting aspect of our music is a healthy recipe for quality work. It is exciting because, as twins, we have always had each other and are kind of walking hand in hand into this dream of ours, which we have been chipping away at since we were young."
As for who is inspiring them through their own summer soundtracks?
"This is a tough question, because there are so many musicians that inspire us in different ways," Joel says. "I would say some artists that have really stuck with us are artists like Rufus Wainwright, Lana Del Rey, Simon & Garfunkel. Some other artists that really excite and inspire me lately are SOPHIE, Kali Uchis, Porches, Kelela and Blood Orange. I am always inspired by any artist who creates a world surrounding their music."
Kyle, meanwhile, notes the likes of David Bowie, Madonna and Lady Gaga, as well "as artists like The Replacements, Father John Misty and The Smiths, all of whose lyrical content is something I am constantly looking up to and in awe of."
"I'm also low-key waiting for Shawn Mendes to ask me to collab and for his hand in marriage," he adds.
Aren't we all?