Reviews

Mama, I'm Swollen

Author: Ashbrw
03/05/2010 | Familiarizeyourself.com | www.familiarizeyourself.com | Album Review
On the eve of Cursive's 1-year anniversary for their latest release, Mama, I'm Swollen, Cursive swung through Chicago to play one of my favorite venues in the city, the Metro. Playing two sold-out shows with Alkaline Trio and the Dear and Departed, this is the first time we have seen Cursive in the windy city in over 6 months, and the first time we have seen them not in the headlining position of a tour. Before the show on Sunday I had a chance to catch up with bassist Matt Maginn, a man who majored in environmental science but was quickly whisked away into the life of a touring musician.

FYW: Two years ago I caught your performance at Subterranean where you guys previewed your newest album to the crowd before it was even entirely recorded. Is this something you try to do with every release?

MM: Anytime we can we try and do that- we did it with Mama quite a bit. We did it with Ugly Organ, but with Happy Hollow not as much. Ideally yes, but with every record we don't have to. Mama was the most thorough we've ever [road-tested the album]. We were playing songs live that we'd never even recorded. That's good and bad, because then there's a few fans out there that heard it, or have a YouTube clip of it and they're like "you guys are jerks, why didn't you put that song on the record?"

FYW: Will we get a taste of any new material tonight?

MM: Uh, no (laughs), we haven't had any time to write anything. We're hoping to do that this summer. I would bet it could be a year and a half or longer before a new release. Just knowing that Tim's schedule is getting real busy and I have some stuff that I'll be doing.

FYW: What is your day job when you're not involved with Cursive?

MM: I work with Team Love Records out of New York, and there's only three of us so I do a little bit of everything. We've got The Felice Brothers, Tilly and the Wall, we did the first Jenny Lewis solo record, we did a Shudder to Think live record, and then lots of new up-and-coming bands.

FYW: You've been with Cursive for more than a decade, what advice do you have for new artists just emerging out of college that are trying to make a living by doing something they love? Does it make more sense to seek out the labels or to produce the product on your own these days?

MM: I don't know since it is so different now. I would say first of all don't try to make a living off of it. And then second, I would try to encourage doing everything yourself until you realize that you've limited your knowledge, or your knowledge has limited you, and then therefore you need outside help or influence.

FYW: Did the record label make sense back when you first started? You teamed up with Saddle Creek pretty early in your career.

MM: Saddle Creek was a label that we founded together with the guys in Bright Eyes and the Faint. So it wasn't like we went to a label, it was still us doing it. I don't feel like we've quite ever gone to a record label. [Saddle Creek] has changed now, there's a single owner and they're a full functioning label, but at that time, that developmental time, until 2002, they weren't doing anything more than producing and releasing. You didn't have that extra influence, they did a good job, but now it's just different.

FYW: Now that you're actually involved with a label do you find that it's helpful to tell some of these new bands what to do, since a lot of these bands are entering the scene with absolutely no idea how the real world works?

MM: We try to always give the best advice we can. Usually it's shit they don't want to hear, like you can't wait for your friend's band to take you out on tour to book your own tour, or you can't wait until you find a booking agent to book your own tour. I try to encourage none of the waiting that people are very comfortable doing. Managing expectations is another big one. Just speaking from experience, we obviously wanted things to go great, but we were realistic in setting really small goals and then we would increase them overtime. Just trying to allow bands to know that it's not going to happen quickly and easily, or even profitably, it's just not possible. Not going on tour because you're not going to make any money is a reason that you shouldn't even be in a band I think. You're not going to make any money [touring]. I sound like a salty old dog.

FYW: Your albums are filled with emotion and intensity. Each album seems to be a different chapter in your lives. My first exposure to Cursive was your 2000 release, Domestica, how do you think your sound has evolved over the decade?

MM: At that time that album was a very DC/North Carolina area influenced place that we were coming from. That's still inherent to what we do naturally, but I think we just tried to get a little more challenging and experimental, as much as we can.

FYW: If you could go back is there some stuff you wouldn't do again?

MM: Not really, I think we've just followed our heart and done what we found interesting at the time. There are definitely songs that I don't find interesting anymore, but at the time they were. And we were working towards whatever full composition we were trying to create, whether it was Burst and Bloom or Ugly Organ, or Happy Hollow, or Mama. Now I feel like I really want to take more risks, just to keep it interesting and exciting for us. Looking back it's the riskier things that turned out to be what we still enjoy and what we get into. There are times that you think you're being extremely risky and no one notices, from the layers of instrumentation to lyrical content.

FYW: How did this tour with Alkaline Trio come about? Were you guys pretty close before?

MM: We've had friends in common for years and we've followed the band since the late 90s. They released their first record a year after we released our first record. We existed in the same generation and we never really had the opportunity [to tour]. They are a larger band, and they were kind enough to ask us this time. We rarely get the opportunity to support somebody that we liked, and we were happy to join.

FYW: Your current tour with Alkaline Trio is pretty intense, you go almost 15 days straight without a day off, is this because you are seasoned professionals and aren't afraid to wear yourselves out? Any concerns on straining your voices or exhausting yourselves sick?

MM: It was a concern since we usually travel by van. I think we did 19 shows in a row last time and that almost wore us out. This tour I think we do 20 [shows] in a row, but we're on a bus so you get a lot more sleep. With the van we were realizing we were getting 3-6 hours of sleep max. I think we'll be OK. We drink a lot of Emergen-C and it works! If you feel a cold coming and take a bunch of vitamins it will knock it back, then a week later it will try and get back in.

FYW: Who is the coolest act you have opened for, played with? The Cure tour in 2004 must have been amazing, any good stories from the road with Robert Smith?

MM: I always have to default to that, they were an extremely nice, super hospitable band. We had the opportunity to just hang out and talk with them. The only story I guess would be when our drummer, Clint, was getting his photo taken with Robert, they put their arms around each other and he leans over to Clint and whispers, "Look Depressed" and then immediately puts on this super depressed face for the camera.

FYW: What are you listening to these days that our readers should be familiar with?

MM: I'm listening to a lot of this guy, AA Bondy, he's pretty dark and sort of folky. He's a pretty awesome lyricist and great melodies.
Mama, I'm Swollen

Mama, I'm Swollen

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