Reviews

Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Keith Frederick
05/04/2009 | Altoona Mirror | www.altoonamirror.com | Live Show Preview
The independent rock band Cursive has never really sought the kind of mainstream success that comes with big labels - despite critical love from industry magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin.

But if that kind of success comes, they'll welcome it.

"I think our goal is always to reach as many people as possible without having to bend or conform to do that," says one of the band's founders, bassist Matt Maginn. "We haven't chased it down, wide acceptance, but we try to reach as many people as possible."

Cursive will headline a show at 8 p.m. Monday at the State Theatre in State College. The opening act for the concert is Philadelphia "experimental" rock band Man Man.

The band took a giant step toward the mainstream with a March 13 appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman," performing music from their latest album, "Mama, I'm Swollen."

It was the band's first network television appearance, the 34-year-old Maginn said during a phone interview from his home in Columbia, Mo.

"That was exciting. I remember growing up, going to (frontman Tim Kasher's) house to watch 'David Letterman,'" he said. "Performance-wise, it's always weird to sit around for eight hours backstage and then go out and play and then get off stage as quick as possible. (But) it was an all-around good experience."

Cursive formed in the mid-'90s in Omaha, Neb., one of several local groups that would define alternative rock's "Omaha Sound." Made up of bands primarily signed to the Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, Cursive, along with Bright Eyes and The Faint, is one of the leaders of this movement.

The band, made up of Maginn, guitarist/lead singer Kasher and guitarist/vocalist Ted Stevens (founding drummer Clint Schnase left the group in 2007, and Cursive is still searching for a full-time replacement), has a strong relationship with one of Omaha's biggest musical acts, Conor Oberst, the lead singer of Bright Eyes. Oberst and his brother, Justin, founded Saddle Creek records in 1993.

"That goes back to high school," Maginn said. "We sort of grew up with his family."

Both Maginn, Stevens and Kasher have all played backup on Bright Eyes albums. Their musical experiments with Oberst's group - as well as their own side groups - have added to the band's musical evolution, Maginn said.

"When we started, everything was really very up-tempo, fast music. We were sort of in this indie rock (niche)," he said. "By the time we had reached our fourth record, we had decided that we could sort of branch out (into new styles). We just want to (keep) ... branching out and trying to avoid fitting into a template, even if it's our own template."

It's a concept that has mixed results to fans, he explained.

"Over the last three records, we've tried to include songs that would sort of surprise people," Maginn said, then added with a laugh, "It sort of tends to make people happy or tick them off."

"Mama, I'm Swollen" was the band's first record with new drummer Cornbread Compton (who has since left the band). Maginn says the new feel of the rhythm section gave the record "a new style."

"In general, though, our goal with this record was we wanted it to be a little more stripped down - which didn't really happen - and have it be more raw, more of a live feeling - which did (happen)," he said. "I think we ended up with another shade of Cursive. There's a lot more of a slow, melancholy, brooding feel to it."

Independent rock has a reputation as "college radio" music, so the State Theatre tries to schedule bands like Cursive when Penn State students are on campus, according to Kristy Cyone, marketing director at the State Theatre.

But Cyone said the dwindling school year could keep ticket sales down.

"Since it's the end of the semester, we were kind of anticipating slower ticket sales and more walk-up sales," she said. "With shows like this, there are a lot of walk-up sales. So far, we've had a good response for it -- something to unwind, I guess."
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

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