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Listening in angles - An Interview with Cursive's Tim Kasher

Where to begin…

Tim Kasher is most likely best known for his now 20 year-old heady, angular avant-punk project, Cursive. Over the course of his career, he’s also released several solo albums, as well as a few with his other project, The Good Life. While just as heady, his non-Cursive output tends to be quieter but no less incisive, ruminative but no less biting. As a lyricist, he creates complex narratives that somehow become more impenetrable andmore accessible after each subsequent listen. 

The late early 2000’s were a formative time in my music-listening evolution. Cursive and other Saddle Creek bands like Rilo Kiley, The Faint, and others created music that worked on several levels and challenged me in ways I hadn’t quite considered until hearing them. And really, they continue to do so well into my 30’s. Cursive continues to evolve, presenting albums that lean just as much on what’s come before as they pave the way for what they want to do now, and next. 

When I was presented with the opportunity to talk with Tim, I of course jumped at it. How could I not? But I fully admit that I had no idea where to even start with someone who I respected so much and has been part of one of the “bands on the scene” for the better part of 20 years, as he discusses daydreaming about just a few short paragraphs from here. 

Less than 30 minutes, this interview goes a few different directions - really, I wish I had twice as long to get into the weeds, and ask a few more questions. But he was more than gracious with his time, and considering the wandering nature of my questions (how do you compact a 20 year long career into questions that wouldn’t come off as trite or unimportant?), he was genuinely thoughtful in his responses. Below, we talk about where it all began, the band 311, how he stays inspired, the concept of authenticity, and his appreciation of the Crazy Horse Monument in the Black Hills. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

I don't want to go all the way back to the beginning, but with a career as long and varied as yours, it's hard not to want to start there. So I'll go broad - did you think that when the first Cursive album released that you'd still be doing this over 20 years later?

I seriously doubt it… No. It might take me a minute to think of the most accurate, honest answer. But, no. I tend to say, coming from Nebraska, I do think there is a certain conservatism ingrained in us, kind of almost like a debilitating humility that comes from being Nebraskan. *laughs* You can only… even in your daydreams, you can only shoot so high, aim so high. 

But yeah, I used to definitely have daydreams of just being… a ‘band on the scene.” That was kind of the big thing I wanted. It’s hard for anybody to comprehend making a career out of music. It’s truly difficult to be lucky enough - it’s very right time, right place, you know?

Is there a moment, or several moments, that have crystalized for you as important or formative for you as a musician or for the projects you're involved with? 

I think there’s a lot of small ones. Here’s a totally funny, totally weird one to say, but it’s on my mind since we were starting rehearsals today. For some reason, P-Nut from 311 was brought up, because they’re from Omaha. But I was remembering… It got me thinking about the day that I was at my parent’s house, and I was probably 16, and it was like, “Tim, phone for you.” And I went to answer the phone and it was P-Nut from 311. *laughs* He said, “Hey, I got your number and I saw an article in the paper about your band, and I was wondering if you guys wanted to open for us at the Ranch Bowl this week?” And I was like, “Uhhhh, yeaaahhhhh!” *laughs* I mean, back then 311 was also a local band, but they were the successful local band, you know? So there’s moments like that throughout.

But probably more accurately I do remember there was a point when we were touring for Domesticaand we were playing very small rooms, but the very small rooms were selling out. And kids were kind of wiggin’ out for the Domesticasongs, and we were really struck by that. It was a cool tour. We were out with Small Brown Bike, who are still friends with us today. We had a to scratch our heads, and we were just like, “What’s going on here? Wait a second, we’re not a popular band.”

I’m proud of a lot of stuff. I mean, for high water moments, we did a string of dates on one of Robert Smith’s Cure festivals. Curiosa, it’s called. And that was reallysurreal, and really cool. To have somebody who’s still iconic to me, you know, Robert Smith - we were playing a set in Sacramento, I think it was, and there was this kind of black mass of a person off to the side of the stage while we were playing. I was like, “Oh my God. Fuck! I have a hunch who that might be.” *laughs* While we were playing, I took a quick glance, and was like, “Oh, shit. Yep.” Robert Smith’s standing on the side of the stage watching us play. It was like, alright, this is very strange, but also very flattering.

Can you talk about what's kept you inspired - maybe not motivated- but inspired enough to continue creating? 

I consider myself, especially in my older age now, I’ve come to recognize that I’m just really… a fan. I relate to any given audience quite a bit because I’m very much a fan of music, and film, and literature, and I just consume it. And I get to kind of do it, maybe be a little more guilt free, because I can consider any consumption of all these cultures as part of my personal growth, as part of learning and being influenced and taking in ideas. I’m just a person who’s still very excited about stuff, and so tons of stuff inspires me, and I love it. And that’s why I seek it out. 

It’s not just something like Thom Yorke’s doing his classical stuff, which seems very cool. I’ll see friends of mine play, just people that even they probably think that they’re not inspiring or influencing, but if I hear something that really affects me, then that gets me really excited and then I want to go, in turn, and continue to create things.

But there’s also the other side of it. Most recently, after finishing Vitriola, I found myself in an unusual rut, which doesn’t happen to me often. But every now and then it comes around, and was like, “Well. What do I do? Do I start another record? But, do you, though? But what do you do? Who are you?” *laughs* Some of these weirdquestions. I went through a bout of not really liking melody, and not really liking music very much. I didn’t like what I was doing. Things like that are probably important, and I got through it, and then got terribly excited. I’m in the same cycle that I’ve been in for 30 years probably now, of just getting into a new batch of songs. Now that consumes me, and it’s great. I feel super lucky to have something in my life that I get so excited about, because I know that’s a big question mark for a lot of people.

Is there a method to how you decide which project sees which material?

No… I mean, almost never. I mean, a little bit I’ve done that. But for the most part, if I’m working on something that’s supposed to be a somber, kind of folk thing for a solo album, and if a kind of angular, kind of aggressive piece comes into play, or comes out as far as what I’m working on so that would maybe feel right for Cursive… I just don’t feel that interested in it. And even if it’s pretty cool, I’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, I like that. That’s great. That would be good for Cursive.” What am I going to do, record it, and then come back to it a year later? I doubt it. If it’s not what I’m currently focusing on, then I’m just not interested. And obviously, it works vice/versa, too. If I’m working on a Cursive record, I just don’t have a lot of interest in quieter, more traditional folk kind of stuff.

I think this actually just cuts right to a couple of the big misconstrued pieces of making art that I'd love to get your perspective on. Is it always about tapping into the emotion or feeling in that moment? Or do you apply any kind of filter on them, like time or a different perspective?

I think that’s almost too broad of a thought, but I suppose my reaction to that is that it’s probably authenticity that you’re looking for, that’s the end result that you need to achieve. And sometimes over the years, that authenticity was a piece of cake. There are songs that literally just seem to fall out of you because you’re thinking about, specifically, something that you just went through. So there’s not much you have to worry about, or not much you have to tweak. So something like Album of the Year, I mean, that was a long time ago. And I remember, and I know that it’s not about a specific person, but it’s an amalgam of a handful of experiences that I was going through at that time. So there was a lot to work from, and a lot I wanted to get out at that point. 

But for something way more recent, No Resolution that goes through a relationship, and it was a lot different because it’s based on a movie that I had written. So then, it’s like, well, what’s that about? And that fictional relationship is an amalgam of things that you’ve gone through, and that you’ve witnessed, and all the bits and pieces that you’ve picked up, that helped you to try to understand how relationships work. The reactions that occur in closer, more intimate relationships. But then you still have to find, and you’re still seeking out authenticity for it. So that does become kind of a different thing because it’s not like spilling out from a direct place, but instead, you’re trying to figure out what it is that you’re wanting to say. But you’re also wanting to make sure that it’s coming from something that you believe in, if that makes sense. 

I don’t know. Like I said, it’s kind of a bigger thing to talk about. But maybe that’s the best way to put it: it needs to be an authentic feeling, and that authentic feeling doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s like a literal thing that you experience. 

One thing a lot of bands who came up in the late 90's/early '00's seem to be doing is, not necessarily cashing in on nostalgia, but taking things back out on the road that played a big part in their existence and in the lives of their fans. And in some cases, absolutely cashing in. I know there was a 10-year tour for The Ugly Organ, but even then, the band did things in their own unique way. How have you managed to stay away from, or not really go the route of looking back for the sake of staying relevant in the present?

Well, that’s what so unique about the music industry. Part of music as our shared culture is that so much if it isnostalgia based. You know, like, Billie Eilish now has a huge hit album on her hands that, assuming that she stays in the business, she’s going to be playing songs off of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?She’s going to be playing songs off of this now for the rest of her life. And it’s like, is she going to accept that or not? 

Some artists have made huge statements - I can’t think of who right now. There have been artists who are like, “This is the last time that I’m going to be playing songs from the 70’s or whatever,” *laughs* and they’ll do a final tour of like, “If you want to hear these older songs… I’m not going to do them anymore.”

So, I think the crux of this type of question is, “Are you willing to accept that nostalgia plays a big role in being a long-term band?” And we’re just totally comfortable with it. You just have to accept that and recognize that - and I’m sure that other bands have different feelings about this - but I guess that the way that we would see is we accept that part of us coming through town is people wanting to hear, and relive, and celebrate a certain point of their lives. And our songs kind of help encapsulate that memory or that moment, you know? But then with that, we are also asking that they continue to follow the new musical ideas that we’re chasing down with new albums that we do, because that’s the part that’s important to us. I mean, the nostalgia part, I’ll at least offer that it’s important to us because that’s the way that we connect to with a majority of the audience, you know? That’s part of the relationship… it’s like, any record you do, you hope people like it. 

Along with mewithoutYou and The Appleseed Cast, this isn’t a tour package I would have ever considered, but now that it's happening, it seems like a no-brainer. How did this one come together?

Well, you know, without being too dull, going into the business side of things, you do want to package things like this. Like, we went and did the country headlining, so kind of going out and trying to play in front of all these people who have been supportive of us over the years. Now, going out again, we’re trying to package with other bands to try to hit other people, too. That’s kind of the dull way to look at it.

But, also, you know, you want to go out with cool bands. I think with mewithoutYou, it feels like a good pairing because it seems like we’re in different scenes. But I’m sure the Venn diagram would find a lot of people who celebrate both bands, for sure. And Appleseed Cast are just old friends, too. We toured with them 20 years ago and we’ve been buds with them ever since. 

Have you been to Cincinnati often? Because I don’t feel like I’ve seen you in this market at all, which is kind of weird.

No, it’s definitely not been one of our steady stops, so I’m stoked that we’re playing it again. But we’ve hit it a little bit over the years, here and there. 

What’s next for you and for the band after this tour is through?

We have some more tours that are coming together that just aren’t ready to be announced yet. We’ll keep going into early next year, I think is the plan.

I'm asking all of the bands and musicians I talk to this year about charitable, non-profit, or other sort of philanthropic endeavors you might recommend. Are there any that come to mind - local or otherwise - that you'd like to mention or talk about? 

My wife and I were just talking about finding a monthly charity to donate on the regular and help do your part, or feel like you’re doing your part. So we like the LA Women’s shelter group, which is nice because it’s local, so you know where your money is actually going. I like the idea of the smaller nonprofits. And what you can do locally to literally help your neighbors.

Also, I’m such a big proponent of the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota - there’s something cool about the Crazy Horse Monument. It’s sort of fascinating and it’s really kind of beautiful. 

Basically Mt. Rushmore was built in the Lakota tribe’s Black Hills, which is considered their spiritual home, so they decided to build the Crazy Horse Monument. Crazy Horse was this great warrior that was shot in the back by this anonymous soldier, they don’t even really know how it happened. So they decided to build their own monument, and they’ve refused government money this entire time. I guess it’s probably been a century now, it’s getting close to a century. Because they feel that the American people should pay for it, and I think that’s a really cool statement and I’ve always really respected it. 

It’s really fascinating, and it’s also very unique, too. It’s so huge that all of Mt. Rushmore fits just into the face of Crazy Horse, and Crazy Horse is actually a face and is sitting on a horse on the side of the mountain. It’s humongous. 

My sincere thanks to Tim for being so gracious with his time and for somehow making sense of my often-rambling questions. 

If you’re in the area, Cursive will be co-headlining with mewithoutYou at The Woodward Theater this Wednesday, May 22. The Appleseed Cast will be providing direct support. Cursive’s latest release, Vitriola, is available now, as is Tim Kasher’s most recent solo effort, No Resolution. Cheers!