Reviews

Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Shauna C. Keddy
02/25/2010 | The Varsity | www.thevarsity.ca | Live Show Preview
Bright Eyes fans may be familiar with homegrown Omaha record label Saddle Creek. Formed in the mid-nineties, the label has shown fierce ties with its hometown and the University of Nebraska. It was there that Bright Eyes' sometime member Mike Mogis became better friends with future Cursive member Ted Stevens.

"He lived in the dorm a couple floors below me," recalled Stevens in an interview last week. Mogis and Stevens went on to form the band Lullaby for the Working Class.

It was also around this time that Omaha music scene mainstay Tim Kasher started punk rock band Cursive with his childhood friend Matt McGinn. Two albums later, the original Cursive split up, and Kasher moved to Oregon with his new wife. But when Kasher's marriage fell apart and he realized it wouldn't be so easy for him to form a new band in Oregon, he moved back to Omaha and restarted Cursive. It was then that Stevens was invited to join the group.

"I felt honoured. I always wanted to take a shot at it," Stevens says. "I was helping with these melodic guitar leads and riffs for the band."

"We wanted to bring back heavily conceptual albums that work together instead of tune-by-tune singles…Not like the way it is now with iTunes and file sharing. We're fighting hard to keep albums important. We create our own little worlds."

The first Cursive project in which Stevens took part was Domestica, a concept album chronicling the breakdown of a young couple's marriage.

"It blew my mind with Domestica—we became a band that was actually selling tickets—so to follow up with one that surpassed all that was crazy." Their next album was the gothic, fairy-tale inspired The Ugly Organ, which included accompaniment from New York cellist Gretta Cohn and featured hit song "Art is Hard."

These days, Cursive is known for their decidedly antagonistic sound: "We were all brought up Catholic in a small town in the middle of the country," Stevens explains. "So we did share a cynicism towards religion."

The band is often slapped with the "punk" label. But how well does Stevens think this fits? "It is naive to think you can dismantle anything. It is tempting, that passion and energy in music. We were born 10 years too late to be a punk band."

In terms of an overriding group, Cursive is linked just as closely to the Saddle Creek community. Stevens has strong opinions about this particular connection.

"Originally, [Saddle Creek] was designed to be a communal thing that we all shared a part of. Those were naive dreams. Bright Eyes was the first band to sell lots of records, and that was when it became obvious that each musician had to work on their own thing. We needed a CEO to run major operations. It then broke off from the community aspect."

"The sense of community is still there, but the label, family, and bands are not the same as they once were. We have had to set up a new business model, instead of this utopian all-for-one mentality.

"The cynic in me believes that it's not possible, once debt and revenue enter the picture. I started off as an enthusiastic spokesperson of what I wanted it to become, but now I am leveling off into a realistic position, mellowing."

But Cursive's decision to stick with Saddle Creek has not been out of blind loyalty. Stevens explains that they have been tempted to feel out other labels, but any transition wouldn't be simple for the band. So their latest album, 2009's Mama I'm Swollen, was released on their traditional label.

Many Canadian bands, including Land of Talk and Tokyo Police Club, have recently signed on to Saddle Creek and Stevens is interested in this development.

"There seems to be a lot of great music coming out of Toronto and Montreal," he says. "A highlight of our last tour was an outdoor show we played in Montreal. I definitely want to go back there, and spend more time in Toronto."

Wait, they'll be spending time here next week! Cursive plays the Phoenix on March 6.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

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