The Weekly interview: Tim Kasher, Cursive frontman touring solo

Tim Kasher plays Saturday, October 19 at Backstage Bar & Billiards.
Photo: John Sturdy
Chris Bitonti

Your new record, Adult Film, comes out next week. How would you say your solo work differs from the stuff you’ve done with Cursive or The Good Life?

I never really set out to make any differentiation, so I guess it’s different in more basic ways, like it’s newer, it’s more recent. [And] both of those bands have specific players who aren’t represented on these albums.

If a song starts getting harder and louder and more visual or [with] different time signatures, I don’t think to myself, Well, I guess I’ll have to wait and use this for the next cursive record. Nor, if something feels more folky or more like a bar band do I feel like I need to reserve that for The Good Life.

I will say that I do feel that I am able to exercise a little more freedom as far as, now that this is kind of an expansion from both of those bands, there is a little bit more an acceptance of, Oh, it sounds kind of like Cursive, that makes sense. or, It kinda sounds like Good Life, that makes sense. And, its a little bit easier to do that. Whereas in the past, there used to be a lot of conversation about, Well, this Cursive song sounds too much like The Good Life, and vice versa. It’s almost like, by going under my own name, it’s a little bit more acceptable to bring those different ideas together.

How is the creative process different?

That tends to be a lot different, a lot more on my own, so it’s a lot lonelier. I do work with other musicians on this record, but it’s definitely very much after the fact. I worked on these songs for a long time on my own and then got together for a good, hardworking, long weekend with Nate Kinsella and we worked on some of the stuff. We worked on four songs. And then, another good, hardworking weekend where I got together with my touring band, Patrick [Newbery] and Dylan [Ryan] and Sarah [Bertuldo], and we worked on four songs.

But then I go back into my home recording setup and then it’s back working on my own again. So it’s a bit different in that sense.

And Cursive’s more of a group writing style?

You could say that. The differences aren’t crazy. I’ll say that maybe, the difference with Cursive or The Good Life would be that the band [members] are clued in, they’re brought in on the process very early on. So I’m still just writing songs or writing compositions, and I’ve always just kind of written songs by myself at home for any of these albums. But for The Good Life, I would bring these songs really fresh to practice so that everyone is introduced to the song very early on, and then we all work with the song together for the next year. So it becomes their songs as well.

At first glance Adult Film sounds like a porn reference, but after listening I think it’s more about adult life or the normal aspects of life.

Absolutely. And really, if I felt like there was any actual sexiness to the record I don’t think I would have called it that. I kind of like the concept of what that term has come to mean in society versus semantically breaking it down. And that’s what I tried pushing with the cover—covering myself with a filminess. It’s kind of a gross picture; I’m covered in a film. But we couldn’t resist—since its called Adult Film—putting the black bar across my face.

One recurring theme throughout the album is getting older or aging. Why does that interest you creatively?

I’m just reacting. I certainly don’t push myself to write about that, because to be frank, I think I’ve found that sometimes that topic can be fairly dull. If you hear somebody writing an album about getting through cancer, or about getting far older, it just sounds kinda dull. And back to the question of sexiness, it sounds very unsexy.

So I was just kind of writing what has been on my mind now in my late 30s, and as long as I feel like it’s a good observation and I can get behind it, I’ll write about how everything is going. I saw Bob Odenkirk do stand up the other night, [and] I think Bob Odenkirk is great—for Mr. Show and for Breaking Bad—and he went into a bit about raising his kids. And from the onset it’s like, oh man, I would expect something more interesting from Bob Odenkirk, because he’s so funny and the old stand-up routine of raising kids is so done. The thing is, I was laughing my ass off, [so] what I’m saying is he’s a smart guy and he had a new way of presenting it—he had new jokes, he had new things to say about it and he had a new perspective. And so, by the end of it I was like, I love hearing Bob Odenkirk’s perspective on raising kids, he has a great voice for it.

Adult Film seems less bleak in terms of outlook than 2010’s The Game of Monogamy. Is that a product of where you are right now?

I think so. I’m pretty happy now. This is kind of the period in songwriting where I get a chance to have these conversations and get a feel for people’s reactions to it. Specifically, in these interviews. So it’s nice to hear, if I’m able to offer something that’s less bleak. I think that’s a little more interesting for me as a writer, because I know I can get pigeonholed as pretty grim. And yeah, I think I’m trying to be versatile about what I’m writing about.

Obviously, Cursive is no stranger to noise, but I enjoyed the choice of instruments used to make the noise on Adult Film. It’s not your typical electronic instruments or distortion; it’s almost orchestral.

Can you cite an example?

On “Life and Limbo,” you use an organ, brass and woodwind instruments to create a sound for what would typically be created by a synth or with distortion.

I think what you’re hearing is an ongoing approach that I’ve been interested in for a long time, which is developing new sounds or trying to conceal new sounds by doubling and tripling different instruments that you normally wouldn’t consider pairing. And then with the song outcome you can kind of hear it, and if you can you’re not sure what it is. I love stuff like that. Working with John Congleton, who mixed the album, I think he’s a big fan of that. He does the St. Vincent albums, and I was really citing St. Vincent for reference, because I think it’s great, a lot of the lead melodies and a lot of the tones they create on those records. It’s like a guitar, but it’s not (laughs)—it’s an organ, but you’re not really sure what it is entirely. I think playing around with those types of things sonically makes it more interesting sounding.

At this point in your career, what keeps you so creatively active?

I feel lucky that I can keep picking up the guitar and thinking of stuff. And that’s not always the case—every writer knows that; sometimes you just can’t figure out how to start your piece, and other times you can just write pages and pages in a day. I think it’s probably a good idea not to think about it.

I can imagine there might be certain pratfalls if you really start to delve in and figure out what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it and why it keeps going this way or that. You could spoil it. Maybe not; maybe you would just learn something more about your writing. It’s kind of like with music theory, there’s a lot of conversation about whether it’s good to learn music theory or not. If you learn music theory inside and out, it takes away some of the magic of why A-sharp sounds good after G, but that’s all up for debate, because I work with a lot of music school alums and they’re geniuses, and they’re amazing with music.

Tim Kasher with Laura Stevenson October 19, 8 p.m., $12-$14. Backstage Bar & Billiards, 382-2227.

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