Burst and Bloom
Tell me a little bit about how you got into making music.
Me, Matt Maginn and Matt Oberst, who's in Sorry About Dresden, all started playing together when we were like 14 and played in our first band together.
What was that band called?
It was called March Hares.
How did you meet those guys?
We had gone to grade school together, kind of knew each other our whole lives.
What bands were influential to you during Cursive's formative years?
Prior to Cursive there was a lot of local music we looked up to. Mousetrap used to be on Grass Records—they're an awfully good band. All those standards like U2, REM and Elvis Costello kind of influenced everybody. As far as Cursive specifically, when we started playing that we were obviously into Fugazi and Quicksand.
Was Saddle Creek around back then?
Yeah, it used to be called Lumberjack Records. This was before we had any concept of what distribution was. So you just save up money to release things locally. We changed it to Saddle Creek once we actually had a chance to distribute things.
So you're actually a part of running Saddle Creek?
No, not so much. I've just always been around.
What led you to sign with them?
Well, initially we were with Crank! Records. We broke up after one album, but we still wanted to release the second album. Crank! was just fed up with all their bands breaking up, and they were just like, "Sorry, we're not going to keep doing this. If you're going to break up, we're not going to release another album;" and we were like, "That makes no sense;" and so Saddle Creek was kind of our home base, and they were just like, "Hell yeah, we'll do it." I remember back in those days it was really cool that Saddle Creek was around, but everyone was always looking for bigger labels. Now we're all glad that we stuck around. Now it's great, we love our Saddle Creek.
I really admire Saddle Creek as a label—it seems like they're really selective about putting out a few really good artists instead of pumping out tons and tons of mediocre ones.
Yeah, I would like them to be able to put more out. Actually Robb Nansel [Saddle Creek owner] could put more out, he just doesn't. He is really selective. Maybe too selective.
I think that's a good thing though, because you know you can rely on Saddle Creek, so when a new release comes out from them, you can be pretty sure it's going to be good.
And that's what he really wants, and that is important. I think that's the way we all grew up. You know, for a while everything on Matador was so good, and obviously back in the Sub Pop days—it is nice to be able to trust a label. I still feel that way about Merge, a lot of their stuff is good.
Yeah, another thing I really admire about Saddle Creek is that it seems from the records that get put out that there's a really strong community—people playing on each other's records, lots of mixing—which we do have a bit of in Chapel Hill, but it seems to be stronger in Omaha. It really comes through on Bright Eyes' records and on your Good Life records. Is that true at all or is that just a delusion on my part?
The illusion would be that everyone is really close friends here, and then I would assume that from there people probably step back and go, "Oh, they probably aren't though," but really, everybody is. I feel the same way about bands in North Carolina. I'm really excited about touring with Sorry About Dresden and getting a chance to hang out with them for a while.
Stephen [Pedersen, now of The White Octave] left the band to go to law school at Duke. What was the atmosphere surrounding that move? Were there any hard feelings, any thoughts of breaking up?
No. At the time, I was really wanting to move. I don't know how it's presented to Steve when he's asked that question. People got the impression that Steve quit or something like that, which he really didn't. If anything, he had gotten accepted, and he was really excited about law school. It was something he really wanted to do. I was like, "Just go," because I wanted to leave anyway. From what I recall, he was more than willing to stay for another year and to keep trying.
But you urged him to go?
Yeah, the way I look at the break up is that I wanted to leave, and I didn't want to do it anymore.
You were tired of doing Cursive period, or doing music?
Well, the other thing, personally, is that I was married at the time, and I was getting a lot of pressure from that angle.
I was going to ask if Steve leaving was an inspiration for Domestica, but perhaps it was the marriage?
This isn't meant as a slight to Steve in any way, but it seems to me that since he left, you really stepped up your sound with Domestica and with Burst and Bloom. I certainly wouldn't imply that Steve was holding you back or anything like that, but what do you attribute that to, or do you even agree with that at all?
I attribute it to the fact that we just keep getting older and trying harder. For every album you kind of set a higher standard for what you sound like. Steve is an incredible guitar player, and if he had stayed with us we would have done the same records, I'm sure--And that's not to discredit Ted [Stevens, Pedersen's replacement] because he's great.
Have any theories as to why White Octave isn't on Saddle Creek yet? I figured it was just a matter of time after Sorry About Dresden went.
Yeah, I agree that it would make sense. It's kind of out of my hands.
Has there been any talk of Steve rejoining Cursive when he finishes school, or do you think he's more likely to stick with White Octave?
It would be fun to play with him again, but I always encourage songwriters to be songwriters. Even having Ted play with us—I was really hesitant. He was about the last person we asked, just because he's a songwriter, and you don't put a songwriter behind a songwriter, but he's really happy with it, and he does write for us.
Let's talk about Burst and Bloom a bit. The first song ["Sink to the Beat"], of course, is probably the one that gets talked about a lot. I won't ask for any direct interpretations of the lyrics, but I am curious if you really feel as disillusioned as it seems about making music in general right now. [Sample lyric: I'll try to make this perfectly clear/ I'm so transparent I am a mirror/ These words I lyrically defecate/ Upon songs I boldly claim to create.] And if so, why do you keep going?
Yeah, that's a good question. It would almost seem like it would be self-defeating, to even utter a song like that—I struggled with that as well. It's like, "Well why even release it then, you dumb shit?"
But it's interesting, because a lot of the things people would say about it anyway, it's kind of beating them to the punch.
Yeah, it's funny. I haven't read many reviews yet, but the impression I'm getting is almost like an emperor's new clothes feeling. You know, kind of like Radiohead and Kid A, nobody knew what to think so everyone was just like, "It's good." It almost seems like everyone's like, "Well shit, if he's already panned himself in his own review, then I guess that's cool."
But it's a really good, dynamic sounding song.
Thanks. You know, that really is the way I feel, but at this point, what else am I going to do? Wait tables?
You say a lot of things in it that are true of pretty much any band who's making rock music at this late stage. It has to be derivative at this point.
Past being derogatory about it, I obviously appreciate that I get a chance to do it. Just on a side note, I just got completely ripped apart the other night. I was at this party--you know, I've been in Lincoln recording with these people who I don't know really well. It was funny, I just got cornered.
Yeah, the guy just fucking hates that song.
Was he a critic, or just a random guy?
Just this guy, this really big Cursive fan. And he was just really let down, he didn't see it as intelligent, he saw it as a really big cop out.
A lot of people are going to use words like "pomo" and "cute" and "ironic," when in fact I'd say it's just more honest, but I think to some people it's going to smack of this self-aware postmodernism that's currently so popular and reviled. What were his complaints about it?
I don't think he even liked the song, so that kind of hurt. But I would criticize him and be like, "God, you just wanted me to regurgitate Domestica?" That sucks.
Did he not like any of the songs on the EP?
No, he thought it was all great except for the first song, and he was like, "You guys write such great songs, and you're trying to shy away from it."
How do you deal with that, when people corner you that way?
I didn't know what to do.
I'm sure you don't argue with them and try to convince them that it's a valid song.
Well, I was really drunk, and I tried that a little bit. I can't really remember. There's some big argument about whether it's sarcastic or not.
At least people are talking about it—it's provoking discussion. It's better than being ignored.
Why did you decide to add a cello player?
For me it was great way to try and reinvent the band. And now I'm super-ecstatic about it again, you know? With Burst and Bloom, we wrote songs, and she added cello parts.
So they were kind of tacked on after the fact?
Yeah, unfortunately. It worked well enough.
Do you expect on the next album that it'll be more integrated?
Yeah, we're already writing it, and she's all over it.
Will she be with you at the show at the Cat's Cradle?
Uh huh. It just makes me want to keep playing music. It's kind of why I do The Good Life too.
How is The Good Life going?
It's going well. I'm mixing it right now.
How did Cursive fans respond to Novena on a Nocturn [Good Life's debut]?
I thought overall really well, but at the same time what are they going to say to me, you know? I definitely could tell here and there that people at Cursive shows were just trying to be nice. Like, "Oh, I love Cursive, I love Cursive. Oh yeah, The Good Life was neat too."
That's one of those really ambiguous words that may or may not be a compliment. "Oh, neat."
And then I always run into an area hardcore kid who's like, "Don't do that. Don't be a little pansy." I was kind of hoping I could change their minds about music, you know?
That's a hell of a task to undertake, to change a young person's mind about anything, especially music.
I think it's a lot easier to show a hard-rock kid how to listen to soft rock than [the opposite]. I don't envy Conor [Oberst, of Bright Eyes] right now.
Because he's in Desaparecidos [Oberst's new rock band]?
It's a lot harder to get a little folk kid to listen to a Quicksand album than to get a Neurosis fan to listen to an Ida album.
I'll go with that. But I was always surprised that Conor's music drew the folksy kids. Fevers and Mirrors is such a dark, harrowing record. It's so intense that it seems like rock to me, like loud, abrasive rock but rendered quietly.
That's good though. Hopefully it'll help.
Though probably not.
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