Reviews

Happy Hollow

Author: Eric Mitts
07/03/2006 | Recoilmag.com | www.recoilmag.com | Feature
Cursive's songwriting has always had a unique and winding style to it. Having woven cello, other strings and piano into an indie rock sound already rich with loud dynamics, Cursive would have been thought by few to be able to add many more flourishes. Then come the horns of their upcoming new album Happy Hollow (due out Aug. 22 on their hometown Omaha label Saddle Creek). Cursive's career crossed the 10-year mark last year as the longtime core quartet vocalist/guitarist Tim Kasher, bassist Matt Maginn, drummer Clint Schnase and guitarist/vocalist Ted Stevens (who replaced original guitarist Steve Pederson) saw the release of their first rarities collection (The Difference Between Houses and Homes: Lost Songs and Loose Ends 1995-2001) and started work on new songs for their fifth full-length release after having taken a year off from the band. The break brought about new ideas, as Happy Hollow not only adds horns but also brings back a thematic lyrical style similar to Cursive's 2000 album Domestica, an element they had moved away from with their last set, 2003's The Ugly Organ. Recoil asked Maginn about what went into Happy Hollow, what Cursive expects of playing this year's Lollapalooza and what the real story was behind a band some saw last fall called Jazz Hessian.

Recoil: What was it like coming back to Cursive after having taken more than a year off from the band?
Matt Maginn: It was good, actually. I think everybody felt a little reinvigorated. It was a healthy cleansing of ideas and concerns.

R: Was that break something you had planned out, given Tim's commitment to his other band The Good Life and your work with Bright Eyes?
MM: No, not really. We were just tired and decided we wanted to take a break and re-evaluate everything just see what we were doing and just leave it at that. See what happens because there was no pressure to do anything sooner or later or anything like that.

R: Did the band end up parting ways with cellist Gretta Cohn during that time? Why did she decide to leave the lineup?
MM: Yeah, within that timeframe. She wanted to do something different. It provided a good opportunity for the band to do something different.

R: Had the band written or worked on much new material with string parts before taking time off? Did anything have to get scrapped?
MM: Yeah, there were some songs that we scrapped. But there [are] a couple songs on the new record that we've had for a while. It was just that [the strings] weren't an integral part of the songs.

R: Just how different was it working on songs as a four-piece again? What sort of energy did that bring back?
MM: It was different. It was nostalgic, I guess. We've had a lot of fun coming full circle. [Laughs]

R: The first thing people will notice on Happy Hollow is the horns, and how they're there right from the start on "Opening the Hymnal/Babies." Why did you feel it was important to open the record with such a clear statement about how your sound had changed?
MM: That song was put there more from content rather than if it had horns or not. It's put there as an introduction and the completed song was decided that it should have horns on it, so they just kind of came with the territory. They didn't have any bearing on our decision to put the song first. The horns, actually, all the songs were written without them and then they were brought in and orchestrated while we recorded.

R: What was it like for you as a bass player incorporating that extra punch that the horns bring into what you're doing rhythmically?
MM: Everything was done by the time the horns came in. So I think they accented where it was appropriate and we used the horns extremely tastefully. It gave it punch where it needed punch and it gave it melody where it would benefit from a horn or brass melody.

R: On the small run of shows you're doing this summer do you plan to have live horns with you?
MM: Yes, we're going to be traveling with horns, strings and keyboard so there will be four extra players.

R: In what ways are you excited about playing at this year's Lollapalooza festival?
MM: It's going to be fun. We used to go to the traveling version when we were younger and there are some great bands playing so it's definitely an honor.

R: Do you think over time there will be more single-day or weekend festivals like Lollapalooza or Coachella across the U.S. like there are in Europe or do you think larger ensemble tours like the Curiosa tour you were on with The Cure will still work well?
MM: I've never really worked on the inside of one of those tours that run all summer, but my assumption is that those are very hard to pull off financially and I think that these stand-alone multiple festivals work. Obviously, in Europe they've proven that they can do it and they can have about a million of these things. They've got one or two like every weekend in multiple countries. So I guess I wouldn't be surprised if we started going in that direction.

R: What has been more enjoyable for you to play as a band?
MM: That's a good question. I don't really know. Curiosa was just a blast. So at this point we had more fun playing that than we did Coachella.

R: Is that from the different vibe that you only get from actually touring together?
MM: Yeah, for sure, because you're with the same people all the time and you form all these bonds. I think it's just got to be more expensive, I would think.

R: Do you think there might ever be a stand alone festival in Omaha?
MM: I think everybody would like to have that someday. It would be really cool if we could pull it off it just would be tricky.

R: How do you feel about how the Omaha music scene has progressed over the years?
MM: I think there's always been good bands here, whether people were paying attention or not. But I do think we've seen an increase in support from the city and the people who live and work here. The shows, not just Saddle Creek shows, have more people at them. People just seem to care; there's a little more support for music in Omaha now.

R: How do you view Cursive's place in that history? Does it feel weird to look at what you've done as pioneering or laying the groundwork for other bands to build from?
MM: That's just always our goal. To, one, be able to play music [laughs] and two, to be able to stay here. And once we were doing decently we wanted to bring out other bands from Omaha that weren't necessarily on Saddle Creek sort of help spread the exposure and show that Omaha has more than just what we do.

R: Happy Hollow directly addresses a lot of American ideals, particularly small town Midwest religiosity. How much of that is a reflection of being from the Midwest?
MM: [Omaha] is an exception to that. But I think that we're aware of the different cultures existing between small populations and large populations in the Midwest versus on the coasts. I don't think that we see as much fundamentalism in our area as much as you do in other states. So it's not necessarily totally based on personal experience as it is on education and knowledge of others places.

R: So is it more of a reflection of the current times and where things might be heading in America?
MM: I think it's a reaction to that, yeah.

R: Would you say Happy Hollow is a concept album?
MM: I think originally we set out to have it not be [laughs] but I think it is probably. People think The Ugly Organ was, but...

R: Cursive seems to walk the line on that definition each time.
MM: Yeah, exactly, and we don't want to force it or anything. But this one, by the time it was done, I think it's come out far more clearly as a concept record than anything we've ever done. Just based on the lyrics that Tim and Ted have written and how they tie across every song and how [closing track] 'Hymns for Heathen' wraps it up and reveals the record at the end. So after reflecting on it, I think it ended up being significantly more of a concept record than we've ever done, even though we tried not to [laughs].

R: When you take that live, do you try to preserve that framework?
MM: Not really because we've dealt with that in the past with the different records that were one form of a concept or another. And we used to play the record in order and in the whole, but I think the live environment allows for more interpretations. People can already hear it as we meant it as a whole composition on the CD so we try to provide some variety live. But it is still tempting, to think about making a production out of it. But it's nicer to just mix it up.

R: Given the break that you took, it has to be nice to re-examine some of your older songs as well.
MM: Yeah, and you don't want to alienate people. Like, if I go see a band I like to hear old stuff and new stuff, so you have to try to balance in that regard, too.

R: Cursive last played in Lansing last fall under the pseudonym Jazz Hessian. Not to give anything away, but will you possibly be playing any unannounced secret shows between now and your Lollapalooza appearance?
MM: No, we do not, actually [laughs], to be honest. We'll do that sort of thing, though, in the future. But right now we're busy enough that we can't have fun [laughs].
Happy Hollow

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