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Tim Kasher talks about the band, the break-up, the new album, being part of the Saddle Creek stable, being elitist and being from Omaha.

by tim mcmahan


 

In case you haven't heard, Omaha punk rock band Cursive is back, and better than ever.

With work under way on a new CD at Lincoln's Dead Space studio, the band hopes to start up where it left off after its late-1998 breakup -- headed to the top of the indie rock heap. The 4-member power pop band found itself on the outs seemingly moments before making their next step to indie stardom.

 

"I blame myself," said singer/songwriter Tim Kasher from the back stockroom of USA Baby, where he works his day job in receiving. Despite guitarist Steve Pedersen's plans to leave Omaha to attend law school in North Carolina, Kasher said the breakup was mostly his fault.

"There was an end in sight as far as Steve was concerned," Kasher said. "I decided to move to Oregon to work on a different (band) project. After it fell through, I found myself back to Omaha."

The decision to break up couldn't have come at a worst time. The band had just released its first full-length CD on Saddle Creek, "The Storms of Early Summer: Semantics of Song." The 11-song opus was a culmination of the driving, heavy indie-rock style the band had cultivated on their critically acclaimed debut, "Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes," released on the national indie label, Crank! Records. But without tour support, the new CD languished on the vine like an unpicked grape. Fans didn't even knowing it existed.

Kasher was away from Omaha only from August to November 1998, but Pedersen, it seemed, was gone for good. The band, which also includes bassist/vocalist Matt Maginn and drummer Clint Schnase, didn't play together again until April 1999, later performing a reunion show with Pedersen in July. Finally, Ted Stevens of Lullaby for the Working Class picked up Pedersen's guitar chores. "Ted was right there all the time," Kasher said. "He was overlooked because of his involvement with Lullaby. With our bands, there's an on and off season, and right now Ted has plenty of time to work with Cursive."


"I decided to move to Oregon to work on a different (band) project. After it fell through, I found myself back to Omaha."



"There's more life in the music than there has been in the past. We've become more melodic."


 

Back at full strength, Cursive immediately began writing songs during weekly practices. As a result, Kasher said the nine songs chosen for their new CD are the freshest they've ever had going into the studio. Titled "Domestica," the CD will have a tighter focus than Kasher's usual cosmic viewpoint. "Storms of Early Summer…" took on the world's problems on a universal scale. The CD's booklet even hinted at a conceptual framework, breaking the recording into two parts: Act 1: Man vs. Nature and Act II: Man Vs. Self, with song titles such as "A Career in Transcendence" and "When Summer's Over Will We Dream of Spring."

"This time I wanted to write something smaller and more tangible than universal," Kasher said. "I switched to writing about relationships and the day-to-day world."

Musically, the songs are even more high energy than the bomb-blasts on "Storms…", but not necessarily hard rock, Kasher said. "There's more life in the music than there has been in the past. We've become more melodic."

Cursive, Bright Eyes, Lullaby for the Working Class and The Faint make up the current line-up of critics' darlings grazing comfortably in the Saddle Creek Records stable. Dead Space studio, where the Saddle Creek bands record, is pretty crowded these days, as Bright Eyes puts the finishing touches on his new CD to be released some time this spring. Cursive's "Domestica" has a March 27 release date, but could be delayed.

"Though it won't have been released nationally, we'll have the record in hand when go on tour in March," Kasher said. The band will be headed southwest before veering to southern California, ending the tour March 18 at the prestigious South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, perhaps the largest indie music showcase in the country. Later that summer, Cursive hits the road again, touring between the east and west coasts.

Because the band broke up before "Storms of Early Summer…" was released, they hope to get twice the bang for their buck, supporting both it and "Domestica" on the tour. "I'm really looking forward to being in the situation of having a new album and getting a chance to go out and play for people again," Kasher said.

 

Part of their summer of shows will include Omaha, and maybe even some gigs outside the Cog Factory confines, where the Saddle Creek bands play almost exclusively. Kasher said the bands all respect the Cog and its organizers, who work so hard for little. "When we play a Sokol Hall show, it's with a little bit of guilt," he said.

Regardless, Kasher said the band feels they could do a better job playing around Omaha, and are considering a first-time gig at The '49'r. "We always took the philosophy that we shouldn't overplay any given city," he said. "I can't see why anyone would want to see us that often. We play so seldom here that when we do play, the shows are very special."

The lack of local stage time and the national spotlight have resulted in some calling the Saddle Creek bands 'elitist.'

"I don’t know how the elitist concept came about," Kasher said. "Conor Oberst (then in Commander Venus, now in Bright Eyes), Lullaby and Cursive all started on national labels and returned to Saddle Creek. For Cursive, it's not that we ever looked at ourselves as 'larger than Omaha' or anything like that. Our promotion vehicle started nationally. If you start there, why would you digress from there?"


"... it's not that we ever looked at ourselves as 'larger than Omaha' or anything like that. Our promotion vehicle started nationally. If you start there, why would you digress from there?"



"The amount of comparison is funny, really. Comparisons have been made by people who didn't know we knew each other."


 

Things might have been different if they had first focused on growing an Omaha following, he said. "Then we would have been viewed as a local band doing well nationally. It just didn't work out that way.

"We love being from Omaha. Nationally, Nebraska gets a lot of respect, and that's fun. On one hand, we love being labeled as an Omaha band, on the other hand, it's kind of fun that we're underdogs in our own city."

It's ironic, considering that the Saddle Creek bands have helped develop Nebraska's image as sort of a hotbed in the indie music world. As you read this, Bright Eyes and The Faint have CDs on the College Music Journal (CMJ) charts, and both bands recently have been featured in national music magazines.

Is there a thread that weaves the four Saddle Creek Records bands together?

"We define ourselves by consistency in our song writing," Kasher said. "We've taken strides to find our own sound."

Cursive distinguished itself from The Faint's New Wave synth-driven sound and Bright Eyes' and Lullaby's mellow acoustic folk ramblings by being a full blown rock band, with heavy guitar and breakneck melodies. They're is as close as Saddle Creek gets to punk rock. Despite that, a familiar sonic thread echoes in Kasher's and Oberst's yearning, howling vocals and Lullaby's hollow, faraway melodies.

"We all just grew up together and then strove toward a similar feeling in song writing," Kasher said "The amount of comparison is funny, really. Comparisons have been made by people who didn't know we knew each other. One time Conor was doing an interview while I was in the room playing accordion and the reporter asked if he was influenced by Tim Kasher. She had no idea who I was."


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Copyright 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Published in The Reader Jan. 20, 2000.