Reviews

Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Miles Britton
03/10/2009 | Magnet | www.magnetmagazine.com | Feature
Cursive frontman Tim Kasher continues his graphic storytelling on sixth album Mama, I'm Swollen, releasing this week on Saddle Creek. It's the Omaha-based group's follow-up to 2006's Happy Hollow, an album that challenged Christianity and talked smack about The Wizard Of Oz's Dorothy for chasing unattainable dreams. Instead of singling out Dorothy (as if she hasn't been through enough), Mama calls out the entire human race in the catchy, snare-driven shakedown "From The Hips." Kasher keeps it blunt and lyrically entertaining on Cursive's moodiest album yet, with song themes ranging from masturbation ("Mama I'm Satan") to tales starring Pinocchio ("Donkeys"). Kasher spoke to MAGNET from Omaha and will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week.

MAGNET: I came across a post about Mama, I'm Swollen on the Entertainment Weekly website, and I noticed that you—or someone pretending to be you—left a comment. Do you seriously comment on those things?
Tim Kasher: Uh, I don't. But you just reminded me that I need to address that. It kind of bothers me, just the whole misrepresentation aspect. The same thing happens on Facebook, where different people will come up as Tim Kasher, and then I get a little bit miffed because I have a group of friends who I'll run into and they're under the impression that we've had this ongoing discussion on Facebook, and I have to be like, "Actually, that wasn't me." Somehow it makes me feel like I'm a bad person. [Laughs]

If it makes you feel any better, the Tim Kasher on EW.com was really nice. Just saying thanks to all the fans for the kind words.
Which is polite, I suppose. But it's not like I want to make some official statement saying, "All the people impersonating me, just be nice and it's fine!"

Do you check up on what's being written about you?
Ted (Stevens, Cursive guitarist) and I were discussing that the other day; we try to keep it to a minimum. There's definitely a morbid curiosity to look for bad reviews—it's weird, you don't really have a lot of interest in good reviews. [Laughs] But no, we keep it to a minimum. And I definitely don't delve into the comments section.

What do you think they're going to say about Mama, I'm Swollen? It's definitely … quieter is not the right word, but it's much less heavy than previous albums.
That's something we've been striving for for years. We're always just trying to achieve that album that has the widest range of ideas but also keeping it unified in tone. I don't see it as quieter, but I do recognize it as a lot moodier. It's definitely short on the chaos of [2003's] The Ugly Organ, that kind of manic paranoia.

Speaking of The Ugly Organ, every Cursive album tends to get labeled with the "concept album" tag. Though they all explore their own consistent themes, they're not concept albums like Ziggy Stardust or Tommy or something. How do you feel about the whole "concept album" label?
It's not a term we've ever shied away from. Even if we were to do a collection of independent singles or something like that, I don't see anything wrong if somebody comes back saying, "Hey, I heard a unified theme to all these songs. It seems like a real concept album." It doesn't seem insulting at all. Maybe it gives off the impression that we've put some thought into the arrangement of these songs.

Cursive albums seem more like a reflection of whatever existential question you were tossing around a year before the recording.
That's true. I would confess that out of the both bands that I've been writing for, the only album I can think of that was truly, truly conceptualized was The Good Life's (2004 LP) Album Of The Year, where I was actually writing specifically to complete a story. Mama is pretty much the same as (2000's) Happy Hollow was, where we just moved forward with a lot of ideas we had in our minds, and the ideas started shaping and unifying what the album was actually about. The way we ultimately decided on the sequence was that instead of thinking how the songs should go together musically, we set up a sequence that made the most sense as far as developing this loose thread of a storyline, this loose thread of a journey that this character is going through.

So I've got to ask, what's up with the title Mama, I'm Swollen?
It's intended mostly to be an umbrella to cover a lot of the different ideas in the songs. "Mama, I'm Satan" is about swollen ego. "From The Hips" is about sexuality.

Explain Mama's theme in five words or less.
[Laughs] Without using five words, I would say I'm still sort of grasping it myself. But mostly I would see it as a person trying to break away from his surroundings, only to realize that he is unable to, and comes to no real answer. It's an idea that's always captivated me. One of my favorite books is Rabbit, Run by John Updike. I actually just recently reread it after I had finished writing the lyrics for Mama, because I had kind of recognized similarities in the theme. For people who haven't read it, basically, the hero is this guy Rabbit Angstrom, and the way he solves his problems is that he runs away from them.

So how autobiographical are your lyrics? I'm curious about the last song on Mama, "What Have I Done?" The character, a writer, holes himself up in a motel room to write his great American novel but ends up pissing his time away watching TV and eating junk food.
It's not memoir. But it's true in the sense that it's honest. I never specifically did go to that motel, but it's been a long standing daydream. It's similar to the way that I used to have to respond about the song "Sierra" on Ugly Organ, which is about a daughter that I could have had, how I could have made that decision, how I could have gone in that direction. "What Have I Done?" is a direction I didn't take, but one I still contemplate a lot.

How's has the screenplay writing been going?
I slowed down a bit to write and record this album, but I'm jumping into writing a new one. The main one that I've really been trying to get shot [Help Wanted Nights] was incredibly close to being realized last fall, but it sadly fell through. So we're putting the pieces back together with a different production company right now, and we're trying to do something for this fall.

Last year you moved from Omaha to L.A. Did you move to be closer to Hollywood?
No, I didn't. Similar to music, I'd like to believe that that's not a necessity. And now that I live here, I'm certainly not going out to the right parties and trying to rub elbows or anything. [Laughs] That's something I just can't bring myself to do. Really, I moved as a response to turning 30 a few years back. It's an age at which I kind of had to wake myself up. I mean, I was completely happy with everything I've been doing with music, but as far as other things that I'd been wanting to do in my life, if I didn't start doing them I was never going to. Not to say that I had a dream to live in L.A., but I did have a dream to not live in Omaha my whole life.

Has L.A. had any influence on your writing?
I'm not really sure yet. The only specific time that it came up on this album was on "Let Me Up," and that wasn't necessarily positive. But that seems to be the way L.A. is. I don't think people write positively about it. Wasn't it Randy Newman who wrote "I Love L.A."? [Laughs]

It's so true. New York has all these odes and love songs written about it, and L.A. gets Randy Newman and "Hotel California."
New York is a much more inspiring place. I like L.A. quite a bit, but I want to live in New York next. But inspiration wasn't something I was looking for when I moved down here. I was either going to move to L.A. or a really small town, and I feel like that's what I'm getting out of it. I have a lot of alone time to write. Versus Omaha, where there's such a bedrock of friends and community that you're always getting dragged out of the house.

Let's end with a pop quiz: Top three favorite concept albums. Go.
Oh, jeez. [Laughs] I don't know. I actually like that you reminded me of Tommy earlier. Because I really do like Tommy a lot. And I saw The Wall. God, what other albums are concept albums? I know that Pedro The Lion's (2002) album Control is a concept album. Although I never really followed the concept, I did like the songs. Does that count?
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

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