The group CURSIVE switches up their sound more often than teenagers change ringtones. With a catalogue that includes songs varying from the fury of “A Gentlemen Caller” to the more reserved, introspective “From The Hips”, their language of music has harnessed several tongues, presenting listeners less heard quadrants of alternative and folk. Frontman TIM KASHER met up with Blare at the London Music Hall before their trek to Montreal’s Osheaga Music Festival. The 37-year-old touched on growing up in Omaha, the inspiration behind his writing and the group’s latest disc I Am Gemini, demonstrating he has no plans to slow down, let alone stop, simply because “art is hard”.
What’s your sign?
It’s Leo (laughs). I’m not a Gemini.
So what is it that appeals to you about “the Twins”?
It started as a pretty basic idea of the argument in your head that I think we all kind of have – those conflicting opinions that we struggle with. That evolved into dualism and Gemini as mythological characters became a good way to express those conflicting voices.
You’re from Omaha originally. What was it like growing up there?
It was great. As far as the city itself, it’s fairly idyllic. Maybe we don’t all look back fondly on our childhoods, but I like that I was born in the ’70s and grew up in the ’80s. That’s mine, you know? 2012 has really been about reminiscing about those times because we’re getting older basically. But Omaha’s great. The music scene there is really awesome and it totally influenced who we were as young musicians.
It seems like you still have strong ties there with Saddle Creek Records and the Oberst brothers.
Yeah, we all grew up together and went to grade school together.
Did you influence each other in terms of the music you listened to back then?
Yeah, as a group we definitely cherished the same stuff. I remember our bassist Matt Maginn and I going over to the Oberst house on Christmas and putting on Archers of Loaf’s Icky Mettle because they had just gotten it at the record store. We had a great record store that would suggest great music. I remember listening to Spoon’s Telephono for the first time with those guys. And that’s just the ’90s. In the ’80s, I remember Matt and I doing that Columbia House club where you’d pick them and get 12 cassettes. We picked stuff like The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs.
Did you ever write poetry as a child?
No, no, poetry was not really a thing I ever did. I wrote short stories, and I kind of still do, and I’ve been writing lyrics since I was 14. It’s essentially the same thing I suppose.
Where do you think the confidence or the inclination to want to put your lyrics to music came from?
For me it was really just a need – well, “need” may not be accurate, but it felt like it at the time. Being 14, I just needed that creative outlet so badly. It’s almost a scientific fact now it seems that some of us work in different ways. I just always had these creative impulses and I needed to get them out at a pretty young age. There used to be a guitar laying around the house and I found that as the most immediate way to be able to get stories and ideas out as quickly as possible. I also grew up on music, and music was always a really cool thing and I still think it is.
Do you challenge yourself when you’re writing lyrics to let go of a structure and see where a narrative can take you, rather than stick to a verse/chorus/verse format?
Yeah I do. I think there are different approaches to doing that. It can be really healthy to leave the composition off the table before, so that when you write the lyrics you can let the lyrics dictate the composition a little bit. I don’t always do that, but I think it’s a great idea. I write a few different ways. Generally with Cursive I write really structured. Everything has to fit into the musical composition. For me, Cursive is the type of music that I write that is really disciplined and structured and to me it kind of sounds like that too. And so, the other stuff I’ve done over the years, with The Good Life and the solo stuff now, that’s where I let the lyrics and music and melody build together, so it becomes a different approach in writing.
For some reason we had this attitude when we were very young that lyrics were just so important. That’s part of how we grew up in the music community. They were very important. The reason why I don’t tend to repeat lyrics too often is because, I think, as a group of songwriters we all kind of felt like it was a cop out. Why waste a chorus?
There’s still so much to say.
Exactly. You need to use all the lines. But over the years you fall in love with different artists. I really love David Bowie, and I love his repetition. He does it right. The idea of repetition in pop music is really great, so I try to take it on when I feel like it’s appropriate. I’ve also gotten some flak for that over the years as well because people think I’ve presented myself as the type of person who doesn’t do verses and choruses. But, it’s like, I get to be part of this pop music community too, you know? Essentially what I’m doing is pop music.
You spent some time living in Los Angeles before eventually coming back east; did you find the city at all to be a tough area to sit and write songs?
Not really. I don’t think I’ve ever had a tough time writing in any given town. Omaha might be the toughest town for me just because I know so many people, so I’m busy. Just socially busy. I like moving around a lot because I think it informs what I do and what I’m writing about. I’m not sure how it does, but I like it. Mostly I just like taking in as many experiences as I can. I recognize that if you’re going to do that, then it’s probably going to come out in your writing.
How did recording your debut solo album The Game of Monogamy affect making Cursive’s latest release?
I see a line that goes through all the albums I do, across all monikers, but it might be fairly vague to other people. I’ll just say that Help Wanted Nights, which is an album by The Good Life, and then Mama, I’m Swollen, which was the Cursive album after that, were sort of high points for me in trying to let go of structure in the music as much as possible. And I hear that when I listen to those records. I think it peaked in Mama, I’m Swollen when we really just tried to fully let go of the idea of the discipline of music and, essentially, build the most “jammed-out” record we’ve ever done. It’s more ’70s rock in that sense.
For I Am Gemini, did you intentionally set out to write lyrics that were more abstract/open to interpretation?
With Cursive, our catalogue is really important to us and we really don’t want to repeat anything. That makes it difficult and so each album becomes more difficult to write. It’s also something that kind of frustrates people because they want that certain sound. That makes it a little confusing because now that we’ve done so many records, we have different fans that come from different generations and want a different style from us
With I Am Gemini, as far as the lyrics, I felt like I couldn’t go back with Cursive and do something really self-reflective or it would be too much like Ugly Organ, and I couldn’t do something really personal or it would be too much like Domestica. So, I decided I would write an entire musical, so to speak, and it would be all allegory using these two brothers that are essentially the two sides of my brain.
Following this tour, will The Good Life hiatus be lifted or will you do another solo project?
I have a ton of songs for a solo record so I’m definitely doing that next. That’s next on the docket. With The Good Life, we’ve just kind of kept it suspended. None of us have really said that we wanted to stop or anything like that… I don’t really know. It could happen again or it couldn’t. More than anything it’s probably just timing.
Tonight is the first date of your Canadian tour with Brand New and I was surprised to learn you’d never met.
It’s just one of those funny coincidences with how small this music industry can seem sometimes though it’s also really vast. Both bands have just never have played a show together before tonight. Obviously we’ve known of them for years and we’ve had mutual friends. Jesse (Lacey of Brand New) and I were just talking about Kevin Devine; he’s a mutual friend of ours as I just finished a tour with Kevin and they grew up with him.
Next you’ll be going out on the road with Minus The Bear.
I’ve been close friends with the guys in Minus The Bear since about 2003 or 2004. On my solo tour we opened for them throughout the United States just about two years ago. And Cursive took Minus The Bear out back when they were just starting out so we got to be really good friends with them. They’ve always wanted to do that again and, I can’t speak for them, but I think in some ways they liked the idea of returning the favour.
[Cursive’s seventh studio album I Am Gemini is available now via Saddle Creek]