We all know art is hard. That’s one of the lasting messages imparted on fans of Cursive, Omaha’s favorite post-hardcore pioneers, as they shattered the glass of indie anonymity way back in 2003 on fourth album The Ugly Organ. And six years and three albums later, it still ain’t easy.
Yet while the scramble to attain new creative plateaus and undiscovered territory with every album might be enough to preoccupy a younger crop of artsy indie bands, Tim Kasher and gang use 2009’s uncomfortably-titled album Mama I’m Swollen to make an escape to their earlier days. As another round of tours, interviews and sweaty live shows ensue, they are more than happy to explain the album’s lean towards yesteryear; from their employment of longtime friend/ producer A.J. Mogis, to bittersweet lyrical tales of reveling and writhing in arrested development. So long as it means journalists will stop putting the phrase “Peter Pan syndrome” in quotations when describing their songs.
“We’re at this age where every peer and family member around us is settling down, buying houses and having children,” says guitarist Ted Stevens, adding that the band has reached a juncture in their mid-thirties between the wiles of life on a bus or the security of dropping anchor and living like “grown-ups” on the long trek to middle age. So far, the band has in fact chosen to escape in the adventure of the “Pleasure Island” Kasher croons about on “Donkeys,” Mama’s fourth track, in an attempt to avoid his own uncomfortable questions (“Isn’t it time to act your age? Got a mortgage on your shoulder, got a babe on the way”).
As with most Cursive albums, Kasher’s writing starts with a loose idea or theme, eventually morphing into something increasingly more specific. In an attempt to diary his experiences in song, Kasher is quick to admit his kinship with the album’s vulnerable, yet self-centered character at the heart of almost every verse.
“I think the central character is a bit bratty at times, which is funny to me, as I feel a bit like a brat refusing to grow up at times,” he says.
But looking back to the early years for inspiration can show a stunning glimpse of maturity. Currently touring as a five piece (including bassist Matt Maginn and touring members drummer Cully Symington and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Newberry), the band used Mogis to aid them in resurrecting the kind of stripped-down sound that punctuates their first two albums. Instead of the cinematic chaos generated by Mogis’ younger brother Mike, who produced 2006’s Happy Hollow, the band opted for the aural aesthetic of five guys in a room with a tape machine with the mistakes and raw soul intact.
“We wanted someone who was really hands-on, and he’s a little more of a listener than a performer as a producer,” said Stevens.
And though touring night after night on the new record has offered supportive response from fans, they are no strangers to the fleeting sting of criticism from some mixed album reviews.
“It’s not altogether pleasant, getting panned,” says Kasher. “But the rejection/humiliation is quick to pass; I am wholly aware that what we write isn’t for everyone.”
As the band continues to leave grown-up life in the dust once again, the main emphasis is to share their passion for life on tour in a new city every night with their devout following. With an increasingly more exciting, crowd-provoking
performance, even through deep songs of uncertainty, egoism and escape, there is no question that the band remains in its element on stage.
So it’s a bit confusing listening to Kasher breathlessly spiral into beautifully tortured regret on songs like “What Have I Done?” In regard to Cursive’s musical legacy the answer should be simple: plenty.
Cursive at the Glass House w/ Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band and Box Elders. Monday, June 29, 7PM, 200 W. 2nd St Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.glasshouse.us. $15. All ages.