Cursive | Tim Kasher Wants to Rock

“Tim Kasher is good enough that he can just sit down and create an environment in which to inspire himself.”



The words “concept album” are typically reserved for the palettes of the refined progressive rock listener; however, Omaha’s Cursive has been out to smash the assumption that concept albums only apply to late-1970s prog-rock bands. Kasher and Co. have been churning out pure, brutally honest, and unadulterated rock records for over 15 years now. Much of their discography can be put to the “concept album” test, yet each album offers a different story, a different theme. But one thing can be said of every album: Each one contains compelling lyrics written by a man teeming with inspiration and full of conviction, and a band that knows how to happily marry angst-riddled discord, angular rhythms, and fresh, unconventional guitar lines and textures.

Rather than focus on menacing relationships or the perils of a sex-crazed circus performer, their latest release, I Am Gemini, tells the fictional tale of Cassius and Pollack, two estranged twins—a surreal story including lyrics, a script, and complete stage directions, all conceptualized by Tim Kasher. I caught up with guitarist Ted Stevens to ask about the heaviness of the album and the intricacies of recording I Am Gemini.

Cursive seems to work in a pattern, putting out a new release every three years. Obviously a lot of touring goes on in between the time you release albums, but what is it like going in to record a new album? What is that whole process like?

Each time we do it—take a break—it gets a little easier to pick up the pieces after a little pause. To me, though, it isn’t an ideal situation; not ideal at all. It’s not new, and I’m speaking very generally, that you build up momentum. I also know that you have to have your own personal life and do your own stuff, but you also need to grow as a band. I guess what I’m trying to say, though, is that in the past ten or so years, we’ve put in a lot of work but also had a lot of luck.

At the end of that period, the end of recording an album, we do about two years of touring in support of that album. At the end of that period, we’re so tight and focused that we can communicate really well with each other, and we’re all on the same page; it gets really tough to take a break at that point. That time and momentum is just so valuable. I feel like we’re getting better at it because we’re just so into it, but it’s not a situation I’m happy about.

I’d rather keep the band working all the time, but I also know that you need a bit of a break. You’ve got to get everyone’s morale back to where it needs to be to record that new album. It’s typically good, though, to take a year or so break and take some time off, and that’s kind of just how we deal with the pressures of all that time on the road.

With all that in mind, what was it like going in to record I Am Gemini? It’s got the classic Cursive elements but it’s different in some key ways. What changes were there from your last album, Mama, I’m Swollen, to Gemini?

The changes were very intentional. We knew that we wanted to create a rock record. We knew that we had a new drummer and that we had a new producer for this album. And we also knew that both of those guys were both highly capable of producing a rock record, and the three of us that were core members were prepared to adapt to the vision. We all knew that we were capable of conforming to that kind of sound, so I would put a lot of that credit to our producer Matt Bayles and our drummer. I think that team, along with the core membership, sought out to produce an aggressive rock album and we’re satisfied. We are really happy.

In a previous interview, Matt Maginn [bassist] mentioned that this was the first concept album Cursive has recorded in a cohesive, beginning-to-end manner. How did the beginning-to-end storytelling technique work for the band as a whole?

Well, we thought it out just like any other record. We had a batch of songs that began as jams, just the musical part of the songs. Then, as we would progress with that group of songs, Tim would begin the arrangements for the basic vocal melodies and he would toy with lyrical ideas. We got to a point, then, of setting that down, and then we had 16, maybe 17 songs—we had about 20 total. But we get to that point and we face a hard decision; at that point, it’s time to go to the studio. Tim felt stronger about a bunch of songs and we all kind of had to compromise, figure out which ones to drop. Everyone has their favorites, but you get rid of a few songs and then you’re left with the meat of the album.

You put all your effort in to the album tracks, and that’s when Tim started writing the conceptual storyline. At that point, he had to put them in a sequence, start writing lyrics to the song, and come up with the narrative in a linear fashion, into a flow. It may seem a little jagged or confusing here and there on the album, but there is a storyline, and song by song the story is progressing. After that, we just had to have a lot of faith that we made the right decisions, we picked the right songs, the sequence fits. Then the next challenge is starting at song one and carry on to the next steps of engineering and overdubbing.

We spent a shorter amount of time on this record writing, and a shorter amount of time recording, also. It was a way to kind of pick up the pace a little bit because we knew time was of the essence and that, as you mentioned earlier, we kind of wanted to stay on schedule. So, to stay on that type of loose schedule, we needed to stay on pace with recording and everything. I hate that we had to do that, but we had to do it that way.

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You mentioned you had to have a lot of faith when it came to cutting songs in the recording process. How heavy does that weigh on you, if at all? How hard is it to cut songs?

You know, it’s not a big thing. We all have our favorites in the end, sure, and each member puts their own thought and talent in to that process, but you just have to compromise. As a band, you have to sit down together and say, “All right, what do you really like?”—stuff like that—but it works out. What makes it hard is that a lot of times you have to look at something that’s not even recorded yet and decide to keep one song and keep this one out. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to Tim. We have to trust that if he’s got better lyrics for it, or if something has a better hook, then we just have to trust that. I mean, sure, we can debate it and tear it apart, but we have to have a lot of faith to create a clearer, better vision of a song that we want. It doesn’t weigh on us heavily, though. It’s just a part of the process, and it’s an ugly one for some bands because they may not have enough material and can’t really afford to drop a few songs, or even one.

I can’t imagine Cursive has ever been in that position.

Luckily, no, we haven’t. We are the type of band—and Tim is the type of songwriter—who is prolific enough that he creates a surplus of material.

The well doesn’t seem to run dry with Kasher, does it?

It certainly doesn’t; he can really do it all. If he doesn’t have an inspirational feeling, he’s good enough that he can just sit down and create an environment in which to inspire himself.

Before we wrap it up, do you have any favorite memories of playing in St. Louis?

Oh man, what’s that place with the gigantic Amoco sign right next to it?

The Hi-Pointe! They, unfortunately, don’t book shows there anymore.

What? Wow, we definitely had some really good times there. I remember having to take everything up by ladder and just really fantastic crowds. A lot of fun was had at that place; we loved playing there. | Jenn Metzler


Cursive is now on the road supporting I Am Gemini. The band plays Off Broadway in St. Louis on Friday, April 20.

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