Written By Sarah Hawkins in collaboration with Chequelle Brown
For Charlotte-based pianist and singer-songwriter Curtis Hayes, aka Curt Keyz, his music is an outlet for him to be who he wants to be. Maybe that’s why all of his albums feel so vulnerable and raw. Curt Keyz fell in love with music at a young age and began playing the drums at 5 and the piano at 16. He found his passion for music even in a place he described as a ‘culture desert.’ He grew up in Great Falls, South Carolina— which he describes as, “A really small, one-stoplight town. “It’s like a culture desert with not really a lot of cultural outlets—specifically music” he told us. “I had a graduating class of 75.”
Even in that environment, Curt Keyz gravitated towards music and found a passion for the piano at a young age. “I fell in love with the piano, it’s my favorite instrument,” he told us. “Piano is my baby.” While he played piano throughout his adolescence, it wasn’t until he went through a tough breakup that Curt Keyz decided to start writing his own songs, which catalyzed his debut album, Love or Lack Thereof (released in 2018). He produced that album to show people who he was and what he could do. “The album didn’t have any features on it because I really wanted to show that I could do it by myself.” Even more impressive, producing the album in a storage unit while homeless. “[Because] I made that album in a storage unit when I was homeless…it holds a special place in my heart,” he told us.
Today, three years since his debut album, Curt Keyz can reflect on how far he has come both personally and professionally. Now, he goes into the studio with zero expectations. Instead, he focuses on the moment and the experience. This process, he believes, makes his music more potent and vulnerable. His latest project, entitled CURT(IS), is Curt Keyz’s attempt to really tap into who he is. “This project came from me actually just wanting to reintroduce myself. I felt as though I had been kind of diluted. I wasn’t giving my full self to my fans and to me.” The album feels particularly raw and personal and even features his grandmother’s voice in an interlude— a candid recording in which she describes the racism and white supremacy she experienced at an all-black school. “I like those candid moments,” Curt Keyz told us. “It’s super important for me to immortalize the people who I love the most.”
But Curt Keyz’s music is more than just self-reflective. Last December he released an EP entitled Black Heart, which was inspired by police brutality and so many other things. He says that the EP started in a place of anger and disappointment, but that changed. He said, “These days I’m not really angry, I just want to bring awareness. I always have hope and that’s how it feels. I hope that it won’t always be this way.”
With his latest album, CURT(IS) Curt Keyz has decided to step away from the piano and focus more on his vocals and engaging with the audience. “I think my artistry especially on this album, I started to explore what it meant for me to be an arranger, a composer, a producer, a songwriter, and even a performer,” he told us. “ I like not playing but really singing and engaging with the audience.” Thus, this album symbolizes a shift for Curt Keyz both personally and professionally, as he explores new sides of his artistry and personality. Indeed, in this latest album, CURT(IS), Curt Keyz really is “being instead of doing.” When we asked how you “be” instead of “do” he said, “Get out of everyone else’s lives and get into your own. Tap into who you really are and how you’re really feeling.” And how is Curt Keyz feeling right now? “Courageous, honest, and heartfelt,” he told us. Curt’s latest album, CURT(IS), is now streaming on all music platforms including Spotify, Youtube Music, Pandora, and Apple Music.