Over the past two years, Cincinnati’s Curt Kiser, formerly of Indie Pop faves Pomegranates and Enlou, has leaked so many singles and stray tracks from his current band project, Carriers, it seemed as though the first album would be released like Johnny Cash’s mythical Cadillac — one piece at a time.
But, finally, Kiser has experienced the planetary alignment necessary to release his debut album as Carriers, the extensively titled Now is the Time for Loving Me, Yourself and Everyone Else.
“I was on tour with Pomegranates somewhere in the middle of the country, and Isaac (Karns) put on this song by the Free Design called ‘Now is the Time for Love,’ ” Kiser says of the otherworldly inspiration for the title. “We were talking about how that would be a cool name for something, and I sat with it. I wasn’t praying, I was just talking to God about life and those words went through my head and I felt like He said, ‘Now is the time to love Me, yourself and everyone else.’ I wrote it down, and I was like, ‘If I ever make a record, I’m going to call it that.’
“That’s what this record is. It’s about knowing God’s love for us, and loving ourselves with that love, and then loving other people so they can know that they’re loved and can love other people with it. It’s a cycle and I think it’s everything that Jesus was about.”
Kiser had a specific vision for the album from the start, which he’s manifested into reality seven years after conceiving the title and its philosophy and five years after adopting the Carriers name for his foray into solo songwriting and performing. In many ways, the album, which is being released on Aug. 23, exceeds Kiser’s imagined version of his debut full-length release.
One of the prominent features on Now is the Time is its renowned rhythm section of Afghan Whigs bassist John Curley, who also produced, and The National drummer Bryan Devendorf. Kiser’s first band, Enlou, recorded songs with Curley at his Ultrasuede studio, and he’d met Curley’s wife Michelle when they both worked at the Cincinnati Zoo. He later ran into Curley while working at Whole Foods, which led to a conversation about jamming together.
“I texted him a little bit later and said, ‘What if I wanted to make a record?’ and he was like, ‘Let’s do it. Come by the studio,’ ” Kiser recalls. “It was literally that same week. John was like, ‘I’m going on tour pretty soon, but we’ll track it, acoustic guitar and vocal, and I’ll ride my bike around on tour and listen to it and get used to it.’ We recorded 13 songs in a night.”
Kiser also met Devendorf at Whole Foods around the same time and, after establishing his fervent fandom, mentioned that he was making an album with Curley and asked if he’d be interested in drumming on a song. Devendorf wound up playing on the entire record.
“We’ve become really good friends,” Kiser says. “I got together with John first and got him feeling good about the bass parts, then I got together with Bryan at his place. Then we started working through the songs, wherever they were at that point. They had never worked together on anything, but they really appreciated each other’s music. It was special to see two Cincinnati legends come together to play my songs.”
Most of Now is the Time was done at Ultrasuede in Camp Washington, just before its forced closure, with Kiser, Curley and Devendorf, as well as keyboardist/bassist Trent Becknell, Aaron Collins on B3 organ and Kiser’s longtime guitarist Cory Pavlinac. The album was ultimately finished at Marble Gardens, the downtown studio owned and operated by Kiser’s former Pomegranates bandmate Karns.
“There were synths and weird sounds that I knew Isaac would bring because I worked with him for years and I knew he would have the touch I wanted these songs to have,” Kiser says.
Kiser has been sitting on the release of Now is the Time for two years. He’s played out consistently in that time with a rotating collective that includes his current live band (Becknell on guitar while Pavlinac is on paternity leave with his new baby, keyboardist Ashley McGrath, drummer Alex McGrath and new bassist Sanjay Nelson), as well as his former Enlou bandmates Ben Rush and Drew Jacoby. Kiser even got together with Curley and Devendorf for a stunning set at the 2017 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony, when Carriers was nominated in the New Artist category.
Kiser has been waiting for the right circumstances and participants to reveal themselves to unveil his recorded debut as a frontman; perhaps it’s no coincidence that the album’s lead track is “Patience.”
In May of 2018, locally-based Old Flame Records released a “cassingle” of “Peace of Mine” and “Daily Battle,” but because Kiser wanted a vinyl release, Old Flame’s Rob Mason passed on a full-length release. After sending the album to dozens of labels, publicists and artists (including Sharon Van Etten, who liked the album so much, she included Carriers as “recommended listening” in the liner notes of her 2019 album, Remind Me Tomorrow, and contacted Kiser to have him resend her the album so she could listen to it on a return flight from Europe), he finally secured a release for the album through Michael Mehalick’s Good Eye Records, who had been contacted by Kiser’s booking agent.
“Michael hit me up one day and said, ‘I would be remiss if I passed on this,’ ” Kiser says. “The biggest thing was I wanted to trust the people I’m working with. John (Curley) gave me some really good advice. He was like, ‘You can have the biggest labels and PR people but if they’re not excited, you’re going to be miserable. Find people that are excited.’ So Michael at Good Eye is excited.”
Kiser is ecstatic about the overwhelmingly positive response he’s received for Now is the Time, but Van Etten’s review might be considered his mission statement for the project and his career going forward. It began when he contacted her to thank her for the recommendation in her liner notes.
“I wrote to her and I was like, ‘Thanks so much, that was so cool,’ and she was like, ‘I’m a fan. I hope my fans find comfort in your music, too,’ ” Kiser says. “That’s what matters. I want people to find comfort and peace and know that they’re not alone. The songs deal with brokenness and some stuff is direct but it might be more like, ‘What’s he talking about?’ That’s for the listener to decide, but it’s all very therapeutic for me. Some songs are just to get me through that day, and some are like, ‘This one is going to be heard.’
“These songs help me and I hope they can help other people and carry them into a place of healing and safety.”
Carriers celebrate the release of Now is the Time for Loving Me, Yourself and Everyone Else on Aug. 23 at the Woodward Theater. Tickets/more info: woodwardtheater.com.