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Cursive: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Rocker

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: March 12, 2003

w/ Desaparecidos, Sorry About Dresden, Small Brown Bike
Saturday, March 15
Sokol Auditorium

13th and Martha

More Cursive:
Lazy-i -- June 8, 2000 -- Kasher talks about the meaning of Domestica.

Lazy-i -- Jan. 20, 1999 -- Kasher talks about the band's break-up and reformation in 1999.

Life on the road is taking its toll on Cursive singer/guitarist Tim Kasher.

The night-after-night tour schedule has resulted in a nasty case of vocal strain, which Kasher doctors with hot tea and honey. "I'm kind of doing quieter sets," he says, "waiting for a chance to take a break. I can sing, so I can perform. I just can't project very well."

Kasher's other band, The Good Life, has been on the road since early February. The day of our interview, they were driving through a snow storm to Minneapolis, the last stop before the band heads back to Omaha and Kasher takes off his Good Life costume and dons his Cursive garb for another couple months' worth of touring.

While the physical wear is obvious, there are other tolls for living a transient's life. Kasher calls his personal relationships "a hodge-podge of restlessness."

"I had a long talk last night with my sister," he said via a crackling cell phone. "I just complained to her about my lot in life, and she broke it down that this is something that I need to be doing right now. It's what I want to do more than anything -- write and perform music. But it's the type of life that's completely isolating me from passion or extended love, which is something I really need."



Whether as part of The Good Life or Cursive, Kasher's music is draped in solemn despair. He sings about break-ups, betrayals, longing and regret, in the voice of a solitary, lonely man who, deep down, knows what he wants and never seems to find it in others or himself.

Cursive's fourth full-length CD, The Ugly Organ, underscores these trials. Again Kasher delves into his personal nightmares, this time from a voice that screams from deep inside. Unlike their last full-length, Domestica, which was written like a one-act play documenting the lies, hate and deceit associated with a divorce, The Ugly Organ is a series of internal monologues that reflects insecurities and self-doubt amidst the turmoil of life on an ever-turning emotional carousel.

Musically, the material is as brutal as ever. The CD opens with wonky carnival organ and the ravings of a ragged circus barker before kicking into the usual Cursive bombast. The band's distinctive sound centers on a rhythm section honed like a jeweler's-quality precision timepiece, consisting of bassist Matt Maginn and drummer Clint Schnase. If there is a core sound beyond Kasher's lamenting vocals and Ted Stevens' guitar thunder, it is the rhythm section's muscular, staccato power, the almost mathematical conciseness created by these two time-smiths gorging on the explosiveness of their instruments.

Within the past couple years, Gretta Cohn's cello has been added as a counter-punch to Maginn and Schnase's sharp shotgun blasts. Never before has she played a more prominent role in Cursive's heavyweight shadowboxing.

"The whole band is such a strong unit," Kasher said. "There's virtually no arguing about where everyone's place is in the songs. We all work around each other, and are overly expressive where it's appropriate.

"With Gretta, we recognize the importance of making space for her, to emphasize that instrument. For a band that's so jerky and staccato, it's nice to have a strong, sweeping instrument to flow through everything."

Critics seem to agree. According to Cursive's label, Saddle Creek Records, Rolling Stone has given The Ugly Organ a 4-star rating, while Alternative Press rated the CD a perfect 5 out of 5.

Lyrically, the CD is a quasi concept album, though Kasher says that was never the intention when the band wrote the songs. "This one is more conceptualized, which is funny because that was something we tried not to do," he said. "The songs have a strong relationship to each other, like on our other records. It has a self-analyzing aspect that we're not strangers to."

Sometimes the lyrics are so personal, it's hard not to assume they're rooted in reality. Others have made similar assumptions, which Kasher acknowledges on "Some Red Handed Slight of Hand":

It's no use to keep a secret
Everything I hide ends up in lyrics
So read it all and accuse me when you're done
If it sounds like I did you wrong.

"It's a problem with songwriting in general and the lyrics I write," Kasher said. "There are a lot of people who are reading themselves into it and getting pissed and confused. You try to maintain your writing without having to make apologies to anyone or having to explain everything. I'm big on not bashing people through music -- that's a real shallow way to seek revenge. At the same time, when you're dealing with aggressive content and frustration between lovers, people can feel that they are getting attacked. I insist that I'm only attacking myself."

"When you're dealing with aggressive content and frustration between lovers, people can feel that they are getting attacked. I insist that I'm only attacking myself."



"It might have to do with living this lifestyle, always being dragged in this direction or that. It does get kind of lonely."


Through the years, Kasher has always managed to divorce himself from his material, but now he acknowledges the songs are taking an emotional toll. "I used to tell interviewers that I was detached from the process," he said. "As I get older, the songs are having much more of an impact. It's become more debilitating now. I'm just more sensitive to everything. It might have to do with living this lifestyle, always being dragged in this direction or that. It does get kind of lonely."

It might help to have more friends along for the ride. This past winter, Kasher and company invited Omaha bands Race for Titles and Neva Dinova to tour with them; while on the upcoming tour, Putrescine and The Carsinogents will share the bill on some dates. Kasher welcomes the familiar company.

"A tour can fall into unfortunate doldrums at times," he said. "It's nice to have fresh attitudes on the road. It makes it kind of a new experience again.

"We always wanted to take bands out with us, but we were concerned about who we were opening for and always making room for the local band in any given city. This is the first time that we've really gotten to the point where we could introduce bands that we care for and are friends with. It's rewarding for us to get a chance to share the stage with them. These are bands that we've been friends with over the years, and you and I know that there's a lot more to Omaha music than Saddle Creek."

Kasher said Cursive will take a break after this tour before heading to Europe. "I need to take two weeks off before that," he said. "That'll be long enough for me to persevere on the next go 'round."

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Portions published in The Omaha Weekly-Reader March 12, 2003. Copyright 2003 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.