Saddle Creek | The Good Life | Reviews


Album of the Year

Author: Laura Sylvester
09/23/2004 | | | Feature
Tim Kasher could knock James Brown off the Hardest Working Man in Showbiz throne. Fronting one group is more than enough for most people, but Kasher heads both Cursive and The Good Life, which has evolved from side project to full fledged band. Cursive is currently on hiatus as Kasher travels to promote The Good Life's new Album of the Year. The band has just completed the European leg of its tour and is about to begin the American one. Kasher spoke with Junkmedia from his apartment in Omaha, where, by his own admission, he doesn't spend much time.

You're having some time off now?

My real time off tends to get pretty condensed. I think it just expired. It was nice. I spent a few days staying in my apartment for the most part and cleaning. (laughs) Just spending time by myself. One thing that wears on me a little bit is that I'm always around people and I don't need to always be around people. But things are starting up again and I leave a week from tomorrow.

You're touring with the Good Life? What do you expect from that? What's your fan base like?

It's actually a pretty great fan base. I'm really excited about it. We're playing a lot of clubs that I like and I'm nervous because I don't know if we can fill them up or not, but I'm glad to be playing them.

Do you get crossover fans from Cursive?

Yeah. I mean, I don't really know. Especially because people ask that a lot, I wish I could give better answers. It'd be an interesting statistic.

You could pass out survey cards to people.

Yeah. Why are you here? (laughs)

How do you know about us?

There's one thing that I do know and that is people show up just because they only like The Good Life. The reason that I know that is because as the underdog band, people feel safe saying it. In other words, at Cursive shows, people would probably feel like it was insensitive or rude to say, "hey I really like Cursive and I don't like The Good Life." But since the Good Life is the underdog, people feel like it's their special band. So they'll say, "Hey no offense Tim, but the Good Life is really what I'm into. I don't really get into Cursive." And it seems ok, because everyone else likes Cursive.

What was it like growing up in Omaha?

It was nice. I don't necessarily know what's it's like growing up in other places. I think sometimes there's a misconception that people in Omaha say, "Oh it's very safe. I feel very safe growing up here." I think that people always get comfortable with their environment and feel safe and territorial in their own areas. Even if you have this tough gangster thug, despite what that person might say, they'd probably feel pretty safe once they get into their own neighborhood. I could say if you want to look at numbers, that it probably is safer in Omaha, than in other places.

What about in terms of stuff to do as a teenager?

I think that a teenager in Omaha can get pretty disgruntled. Maybe more than in other cities, bigger cities. It's very Midwestern in the sense that - and this is something that's more commonly linked to the north, where it gets colder - all anyone does is drink. They stay inside and drink. That's consistent throughout the Midwest, including Chicago, which is culturally diverse. There's a lot of bars and people tend to do a lot of drinking. Growing up, that could come off as a little bit dismal.

Yet you're still living there.

I can reminisce about it like it's my hometown and I don't live here anymore. This is where my apartment is, but I'm not here very often. When I come back it's more romanticized, "Oh I want to go to this bar, I want to eat at this restaurant." Just like a college kid coming back for Christmas.

Do you have plans to move away at some point? Down the road if you get out of the music business and settle down and do something else, do you see yourself staying there?

I used to see the image of my life as definitely getting way out of Omaha. But being older now, I recognize that you can find happiness anywhere you live. So I guess it's kind of undetermined for me. I probably will do that one of these days because I think it's healthy to have lifestyle changes.

As you travel around the world do you think, "I could live here."

Yeah I do, but also the novelty of everyplace wears off. Like when you said that the first thing I thought was "Oh! Tokyo!" but if I spend some more time in Tokyo, I'll probably start realizing it's a city just like everywhere else. If anything, I'll start realizing all the disadvantages. With northern California, the novelty has yet to wear off. I think it's a really beautiful area and it's quiet.

What are the pros and cons of being on a label with friends and neighbors?

I think the pros are pretty self-evident. It's great because I don't really have bosses, but if you wanted to say I technically have people I bring music to, they're friends and that's nice. These are people who will never demand me to release another record. They'd probably suggest it just as friends - "Come on, why don't you keep writing?"

I think some disadvantages are the kind of paving of the way. Saddle Creek Europe is still young and it's doing well, but it was exactly like starting over, having the label fresh, but in a different continent. We don't all get ecstatic about going over and touring in Europe - I hope no one from Europe reads this! - because the novelty does wear off. I feel like it's something that I do out of duty and obligation for my friends. They have this dream of building this label up in Europe. It's something I feel I don't necessarily have to strive for myself, but it's part of the loose agreement that we have, spoken between friends, like, "Well Tim, when you put a record out, you will go promote it in Europe, right?" "OK, I will."

That didn't happen before?

No. I think the first time I went to Europe was 2001, 2002.

Do you find any differences between the audiences there and the audiences here?

The size of the crowds is much smaller, but they're still very good crowds. There is a difference between American crowds and European crowds. What I love about it is, it's not like in America, where being a music listener is considered to be more juvenile. The Good Life, two of our favorite fans, I'm not sure how old they are, but they're this 55-year old couple. They came to three of our shows in the UK last time we were there. It feels nice to have... not to discriminate against young kids who are so excited to get music and it's so important for them. But it's great to feel like your music is not genre, class, or age specific, that it can be enjoyed across the board.

Do you ever feel any competition with the other Omaha bands?

Not in a vindictive way. More like, "what's this song and what's that song relative to what I'm selling?" Maybe just kind of making sure you're keeping up with the Joneses. I'll check SoundScan because I want to make sure these albums are doing well. I want to root for Now it's Overhead, so I look at SoundScan to make sure it's still selling well.

I was looking through Rolling Stone recently and there was an ad for Miller, with all the ticket stubs, and Cursive was in there. Is that something that you OK'd? How did that come about?

We did. It was kind of a joke. It's funny that you bring it up. It was brought up to us and Cursive decided to see how much they were willing to pay. And they couldn't pay anything, so I countered with this joke of well, why don't you just tell them to buy us a few kegs and we'll call it even. They can't do kegs, because that's a local distribution. But I guess this has already happened - I guess a Miller Lite truck pulled up outside a gig and unloaded a ton of cases of Miller Lite. I just thought it was funny. We drink beer so I didn't see it as a problem. Although I heard that for some reason that that ad ended up on CNN, that it had some kind of complications. I don't know if you heard about that or not?

No. Do you know what it was?

I'm assuming that they didn't get an OK from all the bands. I didn't ever see the ad.

It wasn't bad. It was a two-page spread and had maybe 25 ticket stubs per page, all laid out in rows and I think it just said Miller at the bottom. They were good bands. You were in good company.

That's good. I would draw the line if they wanted us to write a jingle. I tend to look at things like that and just take the nice guy approach. If this company wants to use something as simple as a ticket stub for an ad, then go ahead.

What about using one of your songs to endorse a product?

I'm not saying I wouldn't do it, but I would have to put some thought into these cool companies, like Volkswagen, where they always pick really great bands. I would probably have to sleep on that at least. I get wary about anything that I'm affiliated with becoming too much commercial pollution. One ticket stub in an ad doesn't seem like I'm harming much. It's also something that we've never been adamantly opposed to.

What about politics? Your songs tend to be much more personal than political, but Bright Eyes is doing the Vote for Change tour and we're coming up on a presidential election. Do you ever feel like you want to use your position to speak out?

Yeah. Both bands (Cursive and The Good Life) always work with Music for America on tour.

What is that?

It's a nonprofit that encourages people to register to vote, encourages voter awareness. Cursive did a Plea for Peace tour a couple of tours ago that was for voter registration and awareness. That was where there were political statements made all night and we ended up as a result having to do a lot of interviews that were politically charged. Oftentimes it would be like, "Well you're not a political band," and the way I always expressed it was, I'm going to continue writing personally, but it's easy enough for us to separate ourselves from the craft that we do. In other words, songwriting can be such a small facet of who a person is. I don't see why a band should have to have politically charged lyrics to have an interest in change.

You write a lot about personally painful experiences. Do you find that the writing of the songs transforms the pain into something that's better or bearable or worthwhile? What are your thoughts on turning pain into art?

I could be off on this because it's hard for me to make ideas like that concrete in my head, but I feel like in the past I was just documenting things and then after the fact noticing it was cathartic. Now I'm dabbling with the idea of immediate catharsis, of trying to write about stuff that I'm uncomfortable with, trying to figure out more of what it is I'm not saying, or what I'm not figuring out about myself. In other words, writing lyrics to try and figure out why it is that I'm writing these lyrics. So I'm now admitting to myself that it is cathartic. In the past I often dismissed it because I thought it was clichéd and pretentious, which I still think it is, (laughs) but after doing it all these years I recognize that there's benefits to it. Personal benefits.

Do you still have the lung-collapsing problem? (spontaneous pneumothorax)

I do, but I don't really feel like it shapes who I am very much. Maybe it's possible that I feel more mortal than other people.

Is it something that can happen at any time? Or do you feel relatively safe that it's not going to happen again?

I have the pessimism that I think it will happen again, but probably not for another eight to ten years.

Do they have any idea what causes it?

It's all really vague. They told me it's something you're born with. You're born with a defective lung that probably never actualized completely. So it's weak and in layman's terms it grows blisters on itself and then become so weak that it pops.

Is there anything that you can do?

No. There's nothing preventative except trying to take care of your lungs. They really discourage smoking and I don't smoke. They really discourage second-hand smoking which is something where my hands are tied.

You must be happy that so many more clubs are making no smoking policies.

I do love it. And I get into a lot of discussions about whether that's right or wrong and I never get on a milk box but I do say, well, technically if you want a good example, I'm a good example. People will say, "Well don't hang out there." And I say, "Yeah, you're right, I could just get a job as a clerk somewhere, but I don't want to. I think I have the right to go around and sing songs for people, if I'm being asked to do that." But I try to stay clear of it because I don't want to martyr myself that way.

Who or what inspires you?

Mostly I try to look for great movies that make me feel. I want to do that for people too. I want to write things that can move people the way a great movie will move and inspire me. And music as well, but it's much harder to find. I'm listening to the new Bright Eyes right now and that always inspires me. I love the way that Conor writes. The new Rilo Kiley really charged me up too. I think it's a great record.

Your songs are a lot like stories. Do you ever think of writing books or plays or movies?

Yeah. I'm hoping to be able to make that transition at some point. Before I started music, movies were what I loved but music is more tangible, especially to a 14-year old boy. You can pick up a cheap acoustic guitar and teach yourself. You can't really pick up a 35mm film camera and start documenting your life.

Do you ever Google yourself?

I have (laughs). I do it when I'm drunk and vulnerable. It's really my family that hounds me because they always do it.

They say to you, "Tim, look what I found!"

(Laughs) I think they do it mostly to see how many hits there are. That's like their scale.

That's how you know how you're doing in the world?

Yeah, that's your worth in the world, how many sites you have in Google.
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