“I wanted that confident trans-ness to rub off on me,” says 4th Curtis founder Lex Noens.
In describing the first meeting between Noens and bandmate Ty Gale, the singer and guitarist has captured the essence of 4th Curtis, a band that has unconditionally embraced trans identity and channelled it into heartfelt indie-pop.
4th Curtis began as a solo project while Noens was attending McNally Smith College of Music, with the band name inspired by a love for the coming-of-age novel The Outsiders. “I looked up to the main character, Ponyboy Curtis, and wished I could be that kind of unintentionally pretty boy with a leather jacket,” Noens says.
In late 2015, after releasing an EP, Noens wanted to bring in other musicians, and connected with two classmates who already counted themselves as 4th Curtis fans: Ty Gale, who sings and plays keyboards, and drummer Maddie Morley. (Noens calls the fact that all three bandmates are trans a “happy accident.”) The guitarist still handles the band’s songwriting, devising wry lyrics like “I know I’m not depressed / Depression is what you get when you’re trying” and dreaming up melodies. Once a song is written, though, Gale and Morley pitch in as equals, shaping the final product through collaborative effort.
On their debut full-length, I Won the Pageant, released in February, the band consciously address issues of disability and mental health, adding new urgency to old-fashioned matters of the heart. Across its 10 tracks, the album sidesteps melodrama as it describes numb tongues and crippled limbs. But this sometimes intense subject matter is channelled into sweetly cynical pop choruses, Noens’ voice crackling with emotion while intoning lines like “Uh oh, everything’s going wrong / But I haven’t felt this good in so long.” The video for “Anjali,” equal parts strobe lights and muppet sex, perfectly encapsulates 4th Curtis’ playful sense of humor, and even their piano ballads kick into high gear, gradually building toward a cacophonous release.
Over the past year, 4th Curtis’ calendar was chock-full of gigs in support of the new record, but in the month ahead, the members are taking a breather to weather what they describe as “existential crises and personal epiphanies,” and Noens goes to the hospital “to complete a 50-surgery punch card.” As Gale puts it, “We want an introspective and sufficiently melodramatic story about self-actualization to share at Hanukkah, at least.”