lazyhome         reviews         hype         new.gif (913 bytes) webboard                interviews


Portrait of The Good Life

Blacking Out with The Good Life

 
story by tim mcmahan


 

 

Lazy-i: March 12, 2002

March 16
The Good Life w/ Neva Dinova, Rilo Kiley, Egon
Sokol Underground,
13th & Martha
Omaha

 

Hey! Check out a more recent Lazy-i interview with the Good Life, conducted in October 2004.

 

 

The 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 interpretation.

"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."

 

 

 

The 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.

Thematically, however, 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.

"O'Rourke's, 1:20 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 anthemic glory.

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."

 

 

The Good Life -- Black Out


"I had just gone obnoxiously overboard as far as drinking -- drinking all night trying to find somebody who would fall in love with me."


 

The Good Life's Tim Kasher, November 2000, Sokol Underground


"...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."


 

If 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 really hard."

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."


Back to  huge.gif (2200 bytes)

Published in The Omaha Weekly March 13, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Top portrait of The Good Life by Bill Sitzmann.