Out with The Good Life
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: March 12, 2002
Good Life's just-released CD, Black Out, takes the Omaha
band's name to ironic levels. The concept album is a picture of
a life lost in a fog of alcohol, self-pity and yearning.
Good Life primary songwriter
and frontman Tim Kasher was hardly elusive about that rather bleak
"The CD is no less
conceptual than any other record I like to do," he said from
the living room of what has become the pseudo-official hangout for
Saddle Creek Records' bands -- the house of Todd Baechle (The Faint),
located near The California Bar in Omaha's lower mid-town area,
where drummer Roger Lewis lives and where the band now practices.
Kasher had arrived to
the interview late and, as if in character, sporting a large unopened
bottle of liquor that he unwrapped from a paper bag and set on the
floor where it remained untouched. Fellow Good Lifers, Lewis, keyboardist
Jiha Lee and jack-of-all-trades (sax, synth, piano, organ, bass,
guitar, vibes) Ryan Fox, were busy huddled over a coffee table littered
with boxes of button parts, meticulously making The Good Life rock
buttons (three versions!) using a device that resembled a
bottle-capping machine. A greasy Styrofoam box of California Taco
fried flour "chips" lay half-eaten nearby, occasionally
noshed by a passerby.
"The CD is based
on a troubled drinking period," Kasher said quietly about the
hang-over lyrics. "A lot of it is about a specific time, but
I'm not sure what the year was. I had just gone obnoxiously overboard
as far as drinking -- drinking all night trying to find somebody
who would fall in love with me. I think you just stop feeling sorry
for yourself after awhile."
follow-up to the band's dreamy, almost other-worldly debut, Novena
on a Nocturn, Black Out continues in the same melody-driven
vein that made that release such an obvious departure from the sort
of music that Kasher produces with his other band, the abrasive,
punky, angular Cursive.
the songs on Black Out seem gloomier in spite of their mostly
upbeat sound, thanks to lyrics drenched in the futility of the "bar
life." After a brief intro, the CD opens with the back-beat
rocker, "The Beaten Path," with the lyric: "Yesterday
came and went / And I wasn't present / The weeks were laid out like
pavement / Work and drink and sleep, repeat." This is the
fun, poppy (yes, poppy!) version of The Good Life, the version that
you can dance to without a care as to what Kasher is actually singing
about. The music is drenched in hooks, electric guitar, hand-claps
and click-bleep-snaps of electronic drums.
a.m." (along with most of the tracks here) takes advantage
of a complex drum-machine-style programming that propels the song
forward until Lewis can do the job himself. Kasher spits out the
lyric: "It's different when you're desperate / Begging mercy
on the sidewalk / To a sea of last callers / (Keep the conversation
quick / And keep them interested!)" only to plead later,
in lullaby mode, "Hold on - please don't leave yet / I can't
go home alone" before the electric guitars open wide in
In the past, Kasher's
voice has been compared to Robert Smith's (of The Cure), and I suppose
you could do worse if looking for a point of reference, especially
on his earlier recordings. But on Black Out, Kasher genuinely
owns the songs, embodying the love-lost loser in a way that could
only speak, sadly, to the honesty of his own experience.
Though the 50-plus minute
CD, produced by Mike Mogis, rocks more than the band's debut, there
are still a number of quieter moments, like the acoustic "Early
Out of The Gate," that sounds like it belongs on a Roger Waters
album, and whiskey-stained slider "After O'Rourke's 2:10 a.m.,"
where Kasher slurs like a drunkard, "I hate when you say
you need me / You don't need me / I hate even worse that I need
you / It kills me." Are you picking up on the theme yet?
Unlike some artists who
use the stage as a couch and their audience as a psychiatrist, Kasher
said performing isn't self-therapy. "You write about what you're
familiar with," he said. "If it's a good night, you feel
good, and maybe that reflects on how you feel yourself."
had just gone obnoxiously overboard as far as drinking --
drinking all night trying to find somebody who would fall
in love with me."
just managed to get something down soundwise, and then Landon
isn't here to do it. He was upset and frustrated about it.
As far as people being in different bands, it all depends
on what you can pull off."
that's the case, Kasher has a lot to feel good about. The Good Life
fills a musical void left gaping in the midst of Cursive's almost
ballistic all-out attack. So distinctly different are the two bands'
styles that few could confuse the two.
"It's easy for me
to discern between them," Kasher said. "A lot of subtle
things make them different. Cursive's songs are based on instrumentation.
When I write a Cursive song, I keep fucking around on guitar until
I find something that's interesting musically, then if I can find
an interesting melody to go with that, it's a song. Whereas with
The Good Life I strum chords and sing and find the melody, shaping
the chords to whatever direction I want to go."
Another exceptional difference
is how Kasher uses electronic effects in The Good Life, a tiresome
process that he said he may not do in the future. "I feel like
I write the songs and afterward decide to put drum machine here
and here," Kasher said, "then see if it plugs in all right.
It's a slow process, and I wish I had a good computer to work on."
At that point, Cursive's
Ted Stevens arrived, stopping for a moment to examine the large
unopened bottle of spirits next to Kasher. I should point out that
the interview for this piece took place Feb. 4, just before The
Good Life left on a tour with Azure Ray that concludes with the
band's CD release party Saturday, March 16, at The Sokol Underground.
Absent that evening was guitarist/bassist Landon Hedges, who performed
on Black Out but was out on the road with Desaparecidos,
his other band that includes Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst. Stevens
would fill in for Hedges on the tour, a situation that Kasher said
was frustrating, both for him and Hedges, but has become a way of
life for Saddle Creek Records' performers, who often split their
time between different projects.
"We don't get a
lot of time to practice," Kasher said, "and we just managed
to get something down soundwise, and then Landon isn't here to do
it. He was upset and frustrated about it. As far as people being
in different bands, it all depends on what you can pull off."
To some extent, Stevens's
addition is a preview for when Bright Eyes, The Good Life and Steven's
other project, May Day, go on tour together this May.
"Doing it this way
for me keeps me from breaking up the band," Kasher said about
the multiple projects. "I like to do a variety of stuff. Ted
and I just finished doing a Cursive EP. The only struggle is scheduling.
I was boo-hooing Roger about when we're going to be able to write
more songs so we can release something in 2003. It's going to be
But it could take two
years for fans to digest the rather ambitious Black Out.
"A full-length is so much music and takes a lot of time and
effort," Kasher said. "It's kind of neat to have a finished
product. Hopefully people will come out to get the new record and
hear the new songs."
Published in The Omaha Weekly March 13, 2002. Copyright © 2002
Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
Top portrait of The Good Life by Bill