Interview: Cursive

Cursive - Photo by Daniel Muller

Cursive – Photo by Daniel Muller

Anyone who knows anything about Cursive understands that the members of the band are no strangers to concept albums.

This is largely due to the fact that lead singer and guitarist Tim Kasher, who is also the band’s lyricist, is the kind of guy who has the tendency to see beyond face value of a set of lyrics, instead visualizing an entire story that simply needs more space than the confines of a song to say its piece.

And although he is known for his elaborate, fictionalized lyrical content, on “I Am Gemini,” the band’s seventh full-length, he went above and beyond even his own track record, something which all the members had complete trust in, even before seeing the album idea unfold completely.

“We’ve done it long enough that everybody kind of has their role. And we have a really good symbiotic relationship and trust with each other. And I think what that basically means is there’s almost never any concerns or any disagreement,” bassist and founding member Matt Maginn said. “[Kasher has] always been very very good, at sort of, anything that he’s not sure we would jump on board with, or something like that, he usually will, you know, give a little head’s up about what he’s thinking, you know, and see what we think. And so that really makes it pretty smooth. There’s not a whole lot of back and forth. Especially with this record, I think this was the one there was the least discussion on, really, just because I think he just kinda ran with it, and did a really really good job.”

As he spoke, Maginn communicated a certain amount of surprise – surprise that the writing and recording process of this album was both enjoyable and rewarding. This stands in contrast to the idea that incorporating more challenging ideas should be more stressful than not. But for a band like Cursive, which has been around for 17 years, “I Am Gemini” came about incredibly naturally.

“[Kasher would] bring in these song ideas that, they’re usually just music first and so we did all the music together and then he came, you know, and slowly was evolving with ideas on what to do with the lyrics, and finally came to the idea that he wanted to, you know, write something from beginning to end,” Maginn said, explaining how the album’s creative process unfolded. “So we had to sequence the record musically without having the lyrics yet, which is something we’ve never done and very few bands ever do…and it was like a really new and different experience for us.”

However, it wasn’t just in the lyrical realm that the members of Cursive found themselves stretched creatively, but also musically, in that they found themselves playing with an intensity that was reminiscent of the group’s sound from a decade ago.

“It kind of took us back to [the] ‘Burst and Bloom’ era type of playing, where it was very angular, and as musicians a little more challenging, which makes it fun,” Maginn said, adding the aside that: “I say angular instead of math-y because I think we usually say math-y, but whatever.”

Where many bands find that extending themselves in new directions or returning to an older kind of sound can take away from the focus of establishing themselves, that is exactly what Cursive aims to do: whatever it wants, with no regard for how this might cause outsiders to perceive the music.

Beginning with 2003’s “The Ugly Organ,” the band members made a decision that they shouldn’t feel constrained or defined by genre, instead giving themselves permission to experiment musically while still producing music under the Cursive name.

“And so we wouldn’t worry about whether we were, you know, staying in our niche or not,” Maginn explained.

He said this decision has produced two results. The first is that the band has had the freedom to pursue new ways of writing and playing with sound, while remaining the same at its core. The second is that none of the members feel compelled or contractually obliged to do what they do, instead playing for the sheer love of it.

“I don’t think we would even have had two records ago if we hadn’t approached it this way; I think we would’ve just not done it,” Maginn said. “I think our hearts wouldn’t have been in it, if we just felt that we had to go just to go, you know, just to keep putting out another record and trying to, you know, appease people or trying, to you know, get bigger and bigger and bigger, or something like that.”

As a result, Cursive also treats every record and tour like it could be the last. When a new album is on the table, everyone puts in his all, but after the cycle of writing, recording, promoting and touring completes, the group is able to take a step back and focus on other projects, jobs, and personal lives, until the time comes to do it again.

“We’ve kind of had this approach of not wanting to feel really tied to, you know, having to do this for any other reason than wanting to,” Maginn said. “[As a result], it’s very seasonal labor; we just kind of do it project by project.”

Currently, the band – which also consists of guitarist Ted Stevens, drummer Cully Symington, and touring member Patrick Newberry – is on a European tour, in support of the album, which came out on Saddle Creek Records in February. Yet instead of playing the entire album straight through at live shows, Cursive is picking and choosing songs, nestling new tracks alongside older ones. And contrary to what “I Am Gemini” might suggest to its listener, the songs were meant to be interpreted and performed in various other constellations aside from the one they were packaged in.

“We went through a phase where we only knew the songs as individuals, and then, for a long time, spent a great amount of time with it as a whole piece,” Maginn said, sharing the band’s relationship with the 13 tracks on the new album. “And so now, with playing it live, you really, you get to see them as individuals again and, like, how they work on their own, which…they were designed to do anyway. And it’s been nice to see how well they stand amongst the other songs.”

Not only that, but he admitted the band is surprised at how much audiences are participating in singing the new songs, something he said normally tends to happen around the six-month mark after an album’s release.

“It’s fun to see people singing along as early as they are with these songs,” he said.

More than anything, Maginn’s overuse of the word “fun” to describe everything about Cursive is particularly indicative of the overall positive feeling the band has about itself, and its process.

“The act of being part of the creation of something is [the absolute best],” he said. “Like, I think the writing process is always the most fun. But there’s all other aspects, you know, like, now that we’re on the road, you kind of like, you enjoy the interaction with people you haven’t met, and you enjoy the reaction to the music, and you enjoy the camaraderie of you know, traveling with people that you’re friends with and you know, in some ways, share a very intimiate space with.”

Cursive plays tonight at Magnet Club in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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