Reviews

Help Wanted Nights

Author: Rob van Alstyne
09/25/2007 | Reveillemag.com | www.reveillemag.com/ | Feature
Tim Kasher's seeming inability to avoid traumatic romantic entanglements has been nothing but gravy for Ryan Fox. Had Kasher only endured the average amount of songwriting-inducing-heartache perhaps his muse could be confined to just one band, but as it stands Kasher's apparently a glutton for punishment, with such a surfeit of tales of emotional hardship to share that he's spawned not only the knotty hard-rock outfit Cursive, but also the more pastoral leaning folk-pop of the Good Life (a band for whom Fox has served as Kasher's primary creative foil and guitarist/keyboardist since 2001).

Generally considered the second most prominent musician on the Omaha circuit behind his protégé Conor Oberst, Kasher's caustic take on crumbling relations has been in the indie spotlight in some form or another since Cursive's scathingly intense divorce chronicle Domestica hit the scene back in 2000. With song titles like "The Game of Who Needs Who the Worst" and "The Night I Lost the Will to Fight" it only took a glance at the liner notes to let the listener know the recently divorced Kasher wasn't pulling any punches. Seven years on, he still isn't, whether opting to crank the volume knob up with Cursive or seeking a subtler route to emotional catharsis via the Good Life.


Help Wanted Nights
Help Wanted Nights, the Good Life's just released fourth album, is a beautiful and austere listen, ideally suited for autumn's arrival. Recorded primarily live as a four piece, the arrangements revolve around Kasher's gently strummed acoustic, Fox's loose electric guitar leads and the harmony vocals of bassist Stefanie Drootin. Most of the album is composed of top shelf loping balladry ("You Don't Feel Like Home to Me," "Some Tragedy"), while the occasional shifts into faster tempo result in delightfully direct pop pleasures ("Heartbroke," "Keely Aimee"). The Good Life may have started as Kasher's solo outlet back in 2000, but as Help Wanted Nights makes clear, they are now very much a band. Inevitably in a setting this spare Kasher's Robert-Smith-by-way-of-Nebraska's-corn-fields yowl seizes the spotlight on occasion with typically cutting lyricism ("You thought I must have pulled this kind of shit with any willing fool, I shrugged and asked if that's a problem."), but tellingly there are just as many other moments when it's Fox's graceful fretwork or keyboard vamping that steal the show.

Ryan Fox was kind enough to take time out before the launch of the Good Life's massive international tour to chat with Reveille about the band's evolution and European hospitality amongst other topics.

Reveille: One of the thing's that struck me right off the bat with this record is how spare and live a sound it had. That's definitely a big departure from a record like [2002's] Black Out. Was the decision to basically make a live document of the band in action just a result of the lineup being stable long enough?

Fox: The direction Help Wanted Nights went in was definitely a product of us playing live together and feeling comfortable. We all wanted to make a record that represented the songs in a simpler and more direct manner rather than relying on the studio to make extra embellishments. We tried to record live as much as possible with minimal overdubbing and computer usage.

Reveille: I imagine that put a lot of pressure on you as the guitarist to come up with some interesting lead lines - it's not like there was a really lot of other sound to hide behind. The guitar parts are front and center on a lot of the record but still have a kind of relaxed and off the cuff feel to them which I really like.

Fox: Everyone knew going in that we had to be up to snuff because there wasn't room for less than good parts the way we were recording. We wrote in a few different bursts, we would write for a week straight, take a week off, then come back and revisit it with a fresh approach. For me particularly out of all of us there was a decent amount of winging it in the studio, having the general idea of what I wanted do but not having it all smoothed over. Some of that off the cuff feel you mention comes from it actually being like that. It wasn't a really measured or studied thing. It was just what was happening.

Reveille: Obviously one of the things that makes the Good Life different than a lot of other bands is that Tim is also quite busy touring and recording with Cursive. This is the first album by the band in three years and will be the first significant run of touring in two and a half years. Do you find that the time away from the group allows everyone to stay fresh when they do get the chance to work on the project?

Fox: I think that having the time away definitely makes a difference. It sort of makes us appreciate the chances when we do get to play that much more. We don't take it for granted and it never feels routine or like a job. Tim is real busy and goes through phases where he doesn't want to do this or that band and feels burned out. Because we don't hit it for 365 days a year it's a more laidback thing a lot of the time. We sort of try to take a different approach mentally and do things more on our terms. We don't really worry about what is expected of us or what's out of our control. Being in a band is always a lot of compromise but we just try and do what makes us happy. That means not touring all that much but doing it in a way that we all can live with.

Reveille: Speaking of the tour, I was looking at your schedule and it seems pretty crazy, you guys are playing pretty much constantly from now until the end of the year. How do you prepare yourself for running that kind of gauntlet after so much time away from the road?

Fox: Yeah, the first stretch is grueling we have 21 shows in 20 days plus a couple of in-stores. It's going to be kind of insane. We're definitely trying to squeeze all the business of touring into as little time as we can. We haven't done any extensive touring for like 2.5 years. I've been amped all year just to go out on tour, and now that it's coming it's exciting. There are all kinds of little things to do in terms of getting prepared and that's all quite stressful but then it's a nice kind of relief once you finally get in the van and the focus becomes on the music. I do a lot of the business side of the band and that kind of wears me down, but the payoff is getting to travel and do music every night.

Reveille: You're also doing a pretty extensive European run of shows. Do you find there to be a pretty big difference between American and European audiences when it comes to independent pop music? From my experience it seems like there's a very different cultural context for that sort of music over there than exists here in the United States.

Fox: I feel like there's a different attitude about going to see a performance in Europe. Here going to a show is as much about going to hang out with my friends as it is about seeing the bands. We played in Tokyo a few years ago and I was amazed at how totally attentive and quiet the crowd was. I could hear myself clicking my tuning pedals. To have that focus on the band was great. I still remember a show we did in Germany a couple of years ago in a little town called Geislingen. It's a city of like less than 100,000 people and they were really excited to have a band from America there, the crowd encompassed everything from teenagers to 50-year-old married couples, it was like the whole town came out. The crowds in the U.S. still tend to always be really young people.

Reveille: Yeah, it seems like in America pop music is viewed as a disposable youth culture sort of thing most of the time where as some of these other countries really afford it more respect. I mean the Canadian government has awarded numerous monetary grants to subsidize the recording of indie-rock albums in their country. It's hard to imagine that happening in America.

Fox: It's definitely a different cultural priority. I've noticed just from looking at our booking contracts in a lot of the Western European countries we play that part of our guaranteed pay is often covered by some sort of state arts subsidy. It's really nice to be afforded that level of respect. The hospitality is also really exceptional. I remember rolling up to a show in Cologne in Germany and they had a whole food spread out for us and they had made sandwiches and everything and then we sound checked and they were like "now we're going to make you dinner." That's not even really an anomaly over there.

Help Wanted Nights

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