Tim Kasher — singer/songwriter/guitarist for Saddle Creek groups Slowdown Virginia, The Good Life, and Cursive — has been with Saddle Creek since the beginning. During a midsummer tour stop in Norfolk, Virginia, I met with Kasher to discuss the past, present, and the future of the band — a hectic but exciting time, considering the short tour concluded with a set at Lollapalooza and the release of their highly-anticipated fifth full-length, Happy Hollow.
Arriving three years after Cursive’s first commercial success, The Ugly Organ, and following the departure of cellist Gretta Cohn, Happy Hollow is a complex album that tackles new concepts and struggles with old ideologies, all the while reflecting the evolution of a band in flux. Upon hearing Happy Hollow, listeners will first be comforted by the familiar, ever-present intensity and sincerity that has defined Cursive since the start. After a good once-through, an omnipresent theme will become obvious: Tim Kasher possesses an abundance of pent up angst towards religion, and he’s letting it all loose.
“It’s actually nothing new — it’s kind of old material,” Kasher admits, referring to the overt religious references. “I sang about it like crazy when I was a teenager — but back then it was immature, more accusatory,” he explains. His 13 years of Catholic School (spent alongside Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes) and childhood in the conservative hollow of the Midwest fuel Kasher’s personal crusade against organized religion.
His frame of mind is best represented in the track “Rise Up! Rise Up!” where he writes, “Please forgive me, for questioning divinity/it’s an ugly job, but I think I’m up for it/I’m not saying who’s right, I’m just saying there’s more than one way to skin a religion/There’s more than one way to explain our existence.”
From intelligent design, to a priest’s repressions of homosexual urges, to the non-existent American Dream, nothing is sacred on Happy Hollow. The first single from the album, “Dorothy at Forty,” takes a look at a post-Wizard of Oz Dorothy who has to come to grips with reality and the fact that “dreamers never live, they just dream of it.” Throughout his career, Kasher has been forced to take a look at his own dreams, and often, they seem to only clash with his reality — he finds himself asking, “am I a writer or just an entertainer?” and while he admits that “we’re really not rock stars at all — I’d rather be behind a typewriter,” Kasher is always at work on his music.
“Even when we’re not on tour, I’m always working. I’ll be on vacation and be like, ‘oh, it’s really pretty,’ then grab my computer and start working on something.”
Cursive worked on the new album collectively, as a four-piece, and the band made a concentrated effort to build a “bigger” sound orchestrally while creating Happy Hollow. There are many instances of big band horn sections, piano and even a little flamenco. Kasher simply sees it to be just “another new fusion of music.”
Saddle Creek’s profile has reached an all-time high since the release of the last two Bright Eyes albums. Despite the recent growth spurt, Kasher still feels right at home.
“It’s a comfort. You’re your own boss, and it’s cool getting to be a role-model for younger capitalists,” he says with a chuckle. The recent success for the label and Bright Eyes “was a big deal,” Kasher realizes, but he urges the fact that Saddle Creek needs a new band to keep things going. Saddle Creek is well aware of this as well, and Kulbel adds, “We are slowly branching out more than we have in the past — we have added Two Gallants, Eric Bachmann, and Ladyfinger to the roster in the past year, [but we] don’t approach any new band as the ‘next Bright Eyes’ or anything like that.”
A year before the release of Happy Hollow, Cursive satisfied many of their hardcore fans and collectors with a compilation of B-sides, The Difference Between Houses and Homes.
“It was something that we got a lot of requests for,” explains Kulbel. “It’s frustrating to have someone ask about an old 7-inch and have to tell them their best option is eBay.” Kasher says the album “wasn’t very important,” to him; however, being able to write the included mini-storybook was — as is the importance of the old tracks to everyone back home in Omaha.
Cursive always makes it a point to release all of their material on vinyl alongside the more mainstream media, and they plan to hold onto that tradition in the future — though Kasher realizes vinyl may one day not be a very viable market, and simply states, “I guess we would have to stop. It wouldn’t be smart if we print 1,000 vinyl copies, sell only three, and the rest only sit around as decoration.”
When asked if the band would ever release an album that could only be downloaded, Kasher says, “I don’t think that’ll happen.” So while there may never be an exclusive Cursive album on iTunes, it’s a safe bet that like most other artists, their music is out there somewhere, available for download illegally. Kasher isn’t too worried about people pirating their music, but he states, understandably, that “it would be a bummer if we only Soundscan 3,000 copies and there are 1,500 people at a single show who all know all the lyrics.”
Though Cursive have been all across the country and on two other continents to tour, Kasher is not ashamed to say that touring “is not really my thing. There are so many hours in the day, [and] there’s more to be done than just entertaining.” In fact, when asked what the hardest part about touring is, Kasher replies, “Finding myself questioning what I’m doing. [There are plenty of times] that we don’t wanna do this anymore.”
Despite a genuinely enjoyable experience opening for The Cure on a stint of the 2004 Curiosa Tour, Kasher’s indifferent and oftentimes disdainful attitude toward touring and the recording industry cast a light of doubt over how much longer the band will remain in existence. It is only when one reflects on his extreme, almost obsessive work ethic and artistic devotion to his craft that it becomes obvious why Cursive has endured for such a long period of time. Kasher is an energetic man who, like the music of his band, is still growing, and still evolving.