Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Adam Pfleider
12/01/2009 | | | Feature
Cursive have certainly made a name for themselves in the past decade, and with the release of their sixth full length, and fourth in the past ten years, Mama, I'm Swollen is no exception to the creativity, evolve and passion we all know to expect from this band. Guitarist Ted Stevens sat down to talk a little about the final album for the decade and what it's been like in the studio and on the road.

How has the touring been on Mama, I'm Swollen, seeing this as sort of the second leg out?

It's hard to tell what leg it is. We've been touring since March. It's been a pretty full year of touring. It feels really good. I like playing the new material still. I think we're playing it pretty well. The band's coming together and sounding good.

Do you feel you reached that pinnacle with your appearance on David Letterman?

I can't say that from performance standards. Maybe from some other...yeah. Maybe that's the most exposure we'll ever see. [Laughs]

You feel you didn't do a job well done on that performance?

Naw, I had a rough day. It's a hard part to sing. It's a lower octave. We were still learning the song live, and I felt like my voice wasn't really there. I felt Tim [Kasher] sang well. The band played well. I was caught up in my own little Tyra Banks I guess. [Laughs]

It could have been worse, it could have been the Tyra Banks Show. Your writing process for this albums seemed a bit more accessible - songs, opposed to the tangents we've come to see. Do you think it was a bit more straightforward for the band as a whole? Was this the next step with each album sort of holding its own sound?

Yeah. We talked about it - we didn't talk about it. [In the end,] we're all on the same page. We wanted to make a record that was less songs, for one, and perhaps you could say, more straightforward.

There's still tangents going on with "Mama, I'm Satan," and a bit towards the end of the album, but for the most part, do you feel like it's the most straightforward record you've made since Cursive's first record?

I guess so. Definitely, there's instruments that we used that you hear more in pop music, I don't know, country music - acoustic guitar, semi-hollow-body guitars, a variety of instruments, new arrangers - I think there's a variety of reasons why it's different...and also, to make a record that's more stripped down. Instrumentation-wise. Production-wise.

So that was the idea, to strip everything away as opposed to everything that was happening on Happy Hollow?

Happy Hollow was more building and building, and then we got to mixing it was adding and adding. I think Mike [Mogis] did a great job. With A.J. [Mogis] and the band this time, we just threw everything up on the mix and then subtracted and pulled things out.

So this would be the minimalist record?

Well, I think the first two, because they were just guitar, bass and drums and one vocal over dubbed or second singer, those are really the bare bones recordings, as far as the band goes...Domestica was a little bit more - we got track happy. [Laughs] I think it's more than Domestica, but less than The Ugly Organ as far as instrumentation.

What do you think of the instrumental themes of each record? Holding their own opera or grandeur circus.

Since the records I've been involved in, the EP's and things, there's been a really conscious move towards unifying every song, developing some kind of bigger picture where each song is a part of that story. I don't think it's a novel idea, but it's just something we really like. I think it was kind of our intention to downplay that this time around too. You're right with the simplicity. I think Tim, when he went in and did his final edit of all the lyrics, I think he definitely brought it back around and wove the story into it. Something I wasn't as aware of as in past records because I wanted to see what he would end up doing. I think it's real interesting, the story, trying to follow it.

I just feel like every album is interesting. I felt bad for all the backlash that Happy Hollow had for not being The Ugly Organ Part Two. Is that something important to you, to not create the same album twice?


Does it matter that all these reviews and critics at this point? You guys are certainly a household name amongst the music community at this point.

Yes. No. I guess it matters in a small sense, but not a big sense to me. In the long run, it doesn't matter to me. I'm different. I don't really know how to answer that question for our band really.

Does it matter when you come out to a show and 300-400 people are rocking out in a crowd?

I'd say 300 to 400 is a good crowd. We had that last night...we were really happy with the reaction. I think it just matters that we are satisfied with what we are doing with our albums and don't sigh and regret. We like playing the music. Maybe time will tell. Maybe Happy Hollow will make more sense. I don't know, probably not. I like it.

Before sound check, frontman and writer Tim Kasher sat down to discuss the past decade and the elements of Cursive that have changed and stayed the same over the past ten years, and told us he isn't as "self-deprecating" a guy as we all think he is on record.

How has the touring for Mama, I'm Swollen been going?

It's been's been really positive. With every record, we're not sure if we're going to do another one. The interest that people have with Mama, I'm Swollen, it's our sixth one, that's a lot under one moniker, and you are not sure if you are really bothering people. [Laughs] Then you begin to realize that you don't have to worry about those people, and I think when we put out a record like [that], it kind of gave us this reaffirm that there are people who are still excited about what we are doing. I think that's the thing about this industry, there are those 30 year old's who love Domestica...[Now we have a real younger crowd] that their album is Happy Hollow or Mama, I'm Swollen. That's pretty positive as far as trying to stay afloat. Mama, I'm Swollen has been really reaffirming for us. It's been a stronger reaction than Happy Hollow was, where with Happy Hollow, we went off on such a wilder tangent.

There's something I noticed about the first listen of Mama, I'm Swollen dealing with your lyrical content. It seems like it's repetitive and chorus-y, yet at the same time, it's a side of Cursive that we haven't seen. This album seemed a lot more accessible. For you, where you have written these very wordy albums, did you sit down and say, "This is what I want to say," and then go with that?

We're always trying to expand what Cursive is conceptually. So with each record, we continue to break these parameters that we set upon ourselves. We need to do that as writers. Such a common thing we'll say is, "Well, this doesn't sound like Cursive here," and that can be kind of detrimental. Sometimes we'll stop ourselves and say, "Well, what does that mean? What does Cursive sound like? Why are we self-imposing these boundaries, these borders, upon ourselves?" That was kind of the latest version, to try and continue to stretch what we do as a band is doing stuff that is more traditional. It was as difficult as far back as when we opened up The Ugly Organ with "Some Red Handed Slight of Hand" and it was one of the most straightforward things we'd ever done. And I was like, "Well, we'll do it," but I thought there wasn't going to be enough twist or innovation to it. Then I was like, well, again, you're setting these parameters on yourself and that's ridiculous. I think that answers the question.

No, it does. It's just upon my first listen, it seemed like a more straightforward album than all the things that were going on with Happy Hollow. I was just wondering if it was a new mode of writing that you took with this record, or a more natural thing?

It's probably more of a natural thing than the previous two records anyway. The writing process is just natural for me. That's probably what you are catching.

Also, lyrically, it seems Mama, I'm Swollen is more self-deprecating than anything Cursive has put out thus far? Did you feel that in anyway? There seems like there is no hope in that record.

Yeah. I think in the past I've given off a feeling...a sense of fighting more to Cursive, and Good Life, I recognize I tend to be a bit more self-deprecating, more belief. There's another part of writing this album, the way you put it, that's more the natural way I write, we allowed the record to be the style to blend with what I do with The Good Life, and I think it comes out in the lyrics as a result too. In the past I would have saved such deprecation for The Good Life. Back then, in my life, it has been this feeling of loss behind it, and the fight is out of it, with Cursive it's different.

I feel that way with an album like Blackout, comparative to the self-deprecation of like Pedro the Lion's Control.

I really like that album. I like the way [David] Bazan writes.

I know everyone talks about Album of the Year, but Blackout flows so well...

It honestly startles me when I go back and listen to those records and how bleak [Laughs] and I'm always surprised because I'm not that type of person, but with Mama, I'm Swollen, it's the same thing. It's like nothing really changed? But I guess your writing persona is different...

From when you step back and critique...


It's been quite a decade for Cursive, coming out with four records. Within that decade, Happy Hollow saw one of the first big leaks three months in advance. Then you came out with the $1 deal. What are some of your thoughts as to where Cursive is headed into this decade.

Maybe, what I said earlier, being older now and recognizing that we don't need to worry about people who are tired of us. We're all the same. It's the music industry as far as listeners. There are certain bands, I won't say any names, where it's like, "Why won't they quit?" [Laughs] As a band, you don't have to worry about that anymore. You shouldn't have to worry about it at all. Certainly know you are not out there to please everybody. It's something we've never wanted to do. With the success that the Ugly Organ had, it made me reevaluate what I was doing. That was the closest we ever got to stopping the band, because I got, for a long time, really making sure I wasn't turning into some bullshit artist that was writing...basically it was like, "Why did this do so well? Why did people respond to this so well?" So I was pretty hard on myself at that time. Maybe with that time off, I found some maturity and I recognize that, you know, you're actually writing what you want to write, people appreciate that and you're pretty goddamn lucky that you get to do what you want to do.

As I look at every album. Each one kind of has their own musical style and flow. Each one creates their own scene and story. Is that natural or something set out for each album?

One of the things I'm failing at is I am becoming predictable by having theme records. It's something that I'm trying not to do, but with each record we do, it's just the way [it goes]. Sometimes I do intently. Album of the Year and Happy Hollow were intentional. [The others] all just kind of ended up that way. I like that. By the end of it, I always just concede. I guess I just like it to be held together as one piece. I guess my point is, I don't want to be held - like David Bazan is held to doing concept records - I don't want to hold him to that, and I hope he doesn't hold me to that. [Laughs]

What do you say about critics coming out and saying, "Well, it's good, but it's not Domestica, or The Ugly Organ." Is it frustrating? Do you ever want to scream, "Look, I'm not going to write the same record. That was a time in my life that won't be recreated."

I feel like I respond to it in a pretty healthy way. There's a challenge there that I like. Sure, I'm curious about what it was about The Ugly Organ. I'm curious to see every record I do after this, how it sits with people. I'm curious how [that album] strikes a nerve with people. I'm still surviving the business and that's great. I'll never compromise my writing style for the business. The fact that there's a challenge there, that there's something you've done in the past that people can't let go, and you feel you can't reproduce. I'm not let down. I'm like any human, where there might be a rude review here and there that will be a blow, like somebody telling you to fuck off to your face. You get over it. [Laughs] You sleep on it. You wake up the next day, and realize people have the right to their own opinions.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

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