Saddle Creek | Cursive | Reviews


The Ugly Organ

Author: Chris Connelly
10/07/2003 | | | Feature
Cursive, the brainchild of songwriter Tim Kasher, bassist Matt Maginn, and drummer Clint Schnase was formed in Omaha, Nebraska in early 1995, and since then, has become one of the most innovative and exploratory musical groups in existence today. With critical comparisons made to lyricists such as John Lennon, Kasher and Cursive have recorded five full length albums since their inception, adding new members with guitarist Ted Stevens for 2000's Domestica and cellist Greta Cohn for 2003's The Ugly Organ. I had the chance to talk with Ted Stevens over the phone on September 10th to hear his take on Cursive's new album, their tour, and the band's future.

With The Ugly Organ, it was a departure for you guys with the use of the cello - how difficult is it to replicate that kind of sound on stage?

Ted Stevens: Well, we wrote the songs, you know, like as a quintet, almost – just jamming them out live. Then Tim went back and filled in the spaces with lyrics. But I think there are a lot of tricks on that record that we're trying to consolidate –drum triggers, samples, loops, and organs. You know, on samplers and triggers and whatnot – we're bringing those live and kind of going through the record after the fact and trying to replicate some of the production tricks. But I don't think we're trying to replicate the album perfectly, we're just trying to fill some of the space and some of the body the record has and the texture.

You said mostly you guys just sit down and jam things out - do people come in with a specific idea of where they want to go to with a song?

T: Yeah – I'd say most often times Tim brings in guitar riffs and vocals and he organizes them as a first chorus, first chorus, interlude whatever. But then we take that and we all jam on top of it, you know, with repetition. We all kind of write our parts and then form the song. And a lot of times he does have vocals or sounds and melodies worked out, but the lyrics come, it seems, months later – after the band has a firm grasp of the song.

On Saddle Creek's website, they talked about how The Ugly Organ was a combination between satire and concept album. Was that what you had in mind when you started working on it, or was that sort of a result of what came out of the recording process?

T: Yeah, I'd say that there was a theme, or some themes and some imagery that we understood was going to be in the record, you know, and kind of this character development. And these particular songs, you know, with the odd topics. Kind of a look back at the group or the writing process – kind of a story within a story format. And in the end, yeah, I think it is satire of the modern songwriter and the modern artist.

I was hoping you could tell me something about the decision that was made after Domestica to add Greta to the band and to add the cello into the mix – what prompted that? How did you guys make that decision as a group?

T: After touring Domestica, we were touring in a mini van. And it was evident after that that we were going to get a new vehicle and we'd have more capacity to actually tour with a bigger band. Tim's idea was to add a string player and perhaps an auxiliary percussionist. We started planning for that full move, and at the end of the process, we decided that the timpani were a little too bulky to carry around. So we decided to stick just with cello. And then Greta came out to Nebraska, and I guess kind of tried out for the band, but we also tried out for her. She was trying to decide if the band was something she wanted to work on, and we recorded Burst and Bloom more as cello overdubs. And then, a year later, when she decided that she wanted to write with the band and tour, we all began working on the record as a five piece. It's been pretty slow, but steady development.

How difficult has it been to work Greta into the older songs off of Domestica, and off of the things prior to that?

T: Well, I think that the band really has a relaxed idea on the old songs and the old material and how to present that. And we also have a selfish interest in keeping the material fairly fresh to us tour after tour, so I think everybody is given a fair amount of freedom to reinterpret the songs. And she's a good player, so she just kind of writes her new parts over these old songs, and occasionally I'll do the same. We're still trying to consolidate some of those production tricks like I was talking about earlier and apply those to the old material too, to improve the live show. But you know, its not too hard – like with anything, with the group, anything benefits from a lot of rehearsal and repetition. So that's the major work. Maybe we haven't put that much effort into rehearsing for this tour, but we're all pretty comfortable with the material.

So going into this tour – how do you want the public and your fan base to view Cursive?

T: I want them to believe we're going to continue to write, and tour, and play good music.

On that note, what music do you guys listen to? Where are you drawing your inspiration from?

T: We listen to the genre we're in – the hard rock or hard indie or whatever. And we're pretty familiar with all the bands that we tour in the same circuit with. We listen to those acts. But as a group, we're five individuals – we all play across the board as far as roots go. Anything from traditional or alternative music to prog-metal or hardcore. I mean, I'd say that I think the only thing where we're lacking some knowledge is maybe in new-country, and besides Greta, maybe classical.

What advice can you give to students and musicians who are trying to invent and be unique?

T: It would be to find like minded people in a group – seek out those people that have the same mentality or work ethic or whatever it is that keeps a band together. And just keep doing it, and keep writing - consider it all developmental. And not to sell out to somebody else's ideals or somebody else's standards or requirements for their music.

The Ugly Organ

The Ugly Organ

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