Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Ryan
03/23/2009 | | | Feature
Two weeks ago, Cursive released their 6th album Mama, I'm Swollen. We had a chance to sit down with them backstage at The Bowery Ballroom before their release show that night and chat about the album, SXSW, and what they think about genre.

For a review of the show that night with photos and setlist click here

Street Date: The idea of a concept album seems to be popular with Cursive, what are some of the themes that inspired Mama, I'm Swollen?

Cursive: We intentionally, well maybe it wasn't intentional. It has a handful of different themes. We personally have discovered a loose narrative that works its way through the album. In short, it's a character that tries to maybe break away from society and break away from morals that are set upon him and ultimately fails.

Street Date: So, do you come up with the lyrics or the songs first or do you have a general theme you want to work with in the first place?

Cursive: Well, we start with the music and melody and kind of let the lyrics develop a little bit after. Only because I don't like to waste too much time working on edits of lyrics for a song that's not going to make the record. You kind of spend a little time with the music and make sure a song's working. I did start with a theme and I do think it's applicable; it's completely broad. I'm in my 30's now; I'm 34 and I kind of just wanted to write from that perspective.

In some ways, felt like not sure if I ever really touched on it but in other ways I think I completely did. You're so far from being a child anymore, but not quite hitting midlife crisis yet. You can make these decisions, these bigger decisions of which type of person you're going to be or what direction you're going to go in life. You know it might be something that 25 year-olds do more than 35 year-olds, but we've been kind of stunted because we've been playing Rock & Roll for so long.

Street Date: You touched upon crises. I was reading a write-up earlier where you had made reference to a quarter-life crisis in What have I Done? the last song on the album. So I guess, is this retrospective?

Cursive: No, actually, I think I borrowed what you're talking about…one of the stories from the last song, it's kind of silly, not to laugh at my young self, but turning 20 hit me pretty hard. So that's why I took…I called it a quarter-life crisis back then; which made me really worried about the mid-life one because I felt like I was going to be in a lot of trouble. I kind of borrowed that too because I was recognizing what it meant for me to be in my thirties and one of the times I had that sensation was when I had turned 20. I was obviously in a much different space, but I guess it would still apply.

Street Date: Another item I picked up was your favorite song off the album being Let Me Up. Does that still hold true?

Cursive: I don't know; I think its right at the top. I'm into a couple of other ones. Let Me Up was easily the one we were most excited about off the bat after hashing it out for a short writing session and taking it on the road for a day or two.

Street Date: Does that hold true as you're touring on it? How far in are you? Is this the first show for it?

Cursive: Uh, It's not the first, but we're still pretty…it's the second. No, I'm just joking. We did a pre-tour. We haven't done a lot for sure, but we did play shows over the last year while we were writing the record. We'd always get together in a different city and we played a handful of shows after the writing session.

Street Date: So what sort of stood as your favorite to play off of the new album?

Cursive: I think I could say hands down, Mama, I'm Swollen. It's either that or Mama, I'm Satan …or Let Me Up's pretty fun.

Street Date: So, we have two Mamas as the favorites live. That brings me to the naming for the album. How'd you come upon Mama, I'm Swollen?

Cursive: We came upon just the word swollen, because again there wasn't just one specific theme. So we spent a lot of time working, trying to find a word that could um that every song and all the different themes could kind of work under; and swollen was the word that kind of seemed to work for all of them. That name alone wasn't very attractive; it seemed like it dated us. Our joke was that it sounded like a 90's rock band. But when we came up with Mama, I'm Swollen; then you kind of get imagery with that and it directs it. I think it also brings sexuality into it.

Street Date: I read when you started to write this album you didn't know if it was going to be a Cursive album or not. Is that true?

Cursive: We came to that decision because we wanted to be sure that we could free ourselves. With every record we always try to get further out of a genre. We always try to avoid genre I guess, I think that was just the latest mental manipulation we provided ourselves was just to write together and see what we come up with and don't feel confined by moniker.

Street Date: Would you attempt to classify yourself in any sort of genre?

Cursive: We always try to get away with just saying Hard Rock; and I thought it was so cool that Mars Volta got a Grammy this year under that category. That was kind of our dream come true, that they were pigeon-holed into that wide category.

- You mean they sort of changed the stereotype of hard rock?

That, and also to kind of appropriately label the music by its volume; I don't know, I thought it was great. (laughs) …. I think we try to get away with saying Hard Rock but it's just too vague and the 'E' word yeah, which is something I think we've always dealt with.

Street Date: Do you feel that's due more to the types of fans that have adopted your music, more so than what you play?

Cursive: There could be some truth to that I suppose. I really feel like it's period-based in a lot of ways. Like if you were playing Rock in '92, well maybe '89, '90, '91 you were Grunge or Alternative. That was what it meant to exist in that time and play Rock'n'Roll. I think what happened in the later 90's is that anyone who was active at that time and fit between two posts, some of it is obviously lyrical content; personal lyrics stuff like that, but I think its more a time period much more than I think describes an actual sound. I think it's changing too; like it's gotten interesting. It's like a style turn. Whatever emo is, it's really funny because it started off in one area and now it looks like this glam thing which is really f-ing confusing. You know it's getting towards f-ing hair metal. So I don't know; I guess I always thought it really isn't about music or fans or anything; it's about time period and you're playing rock & roll it's kind of where you land and the venues you play there's a lot that factors in.

I'm really thankful to major labels for doing their job. It's been really easy to prophetize the turn of the century that major labels were going to take this genre and put it through their ringer: and it's great because they did, and emo became this totally different and obnoxious labeling. In many ways, I feel like we're at the other end now and it's kind of dead. I don't really see it that often anymore; people see it as dated and just through the ringer.

Street Date: So what's the difference when you play a show in New York or somewhere else across the country? Are the fans the same, or do you enjoy it more or less?

Cursive: I don't know. We seem to attract a wide variety of people. I don't know if I notice the difference other than how much they move. Every area has its own socially acceptable amount of movement during a show.

Street Date: Some not at all really.

Cursive: Yeah, that's the real judgmental areas. Did you hit him? Did you? (laughs)…Then there's Florida, you have to hose them down.

Street Date: So, where are you hitting after New York?

Cursive: We actually play in California on Thursday and Friday; and then we make our way across the southwest to Austin for SXSW.

Street Date: Are you guys looking forward to SXSW?

Cursive: Yeah, it should be fun. It always sort of wears you out and is kind of stressful; but it'll be fun I think. It's funny actually. It'd be really easy to have fun down there if you could move from one place to another without taking half an hour to go six blocks with your gear. I think we waited for five hours after our show last time. One aspect that's kind of relaxing about SXSW is that most of the shows you play are called parties. It just kind of changes your whole perception of it.

Street Date: The last thing I wanted to ask you was about the release of the album. The way you marketed it on Saddle Creek was that 9 days before the release it was one dollar and it rose in price by a dollar a day until it was released. Did that come out of the label or was that your idea?

Cursive: They presented that to us. We just thought it sounded like fun and it was a cool way to really; I hope and the plan was we really were trying to help out the people who really cared about the band and were interested in hearing the new record; like reward them for giving a sh*t really. We like that idea. I think as a fan of bands I would like it if I had a chance to get something early and really affordable before I decided if I wanted it.

Street Date: I suppose that kicks back to what folks always point out in Radiohead offering their album for free. Is that something you guys looked to, or was it more for loyal fans?

Cursive: It was really just for fans. There's just been so many ways to do it. I liked the way this one worked though. It was fair and fun for fans; made sense. I work at Team Love and ever since they existed they would put the records up online the same day it came out. So, we've seen all kinds of different way to try it. Really the whole point is to make it fun and available whichever way you choose to do it.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

LP / CD / MP3