Reviews

Help Wanted Nights

Author: Tristan Stadoon
10/11/2007 | Death + Taxes | deathandtaxesmagazine.com/ | Feature
Several years ago, Cursive front man Tim Kasher started scripting a screenplay while his main gig, and his Good Life side project, were on pause. The result was a small town saloon story called Help Wanted Nights that sets Kasher's punch-drunk story-telling charm against Tennessee Williams-style themes. With Cursive plotting their next move after 2006's acclaimed Happy Hollow, Kasher opted against writing a traditional Good Life record, instead using the bandóalso guitarist/keyboardist Ryan Fox, bassist Siefanie Drootin and drummer Roger Lewisóas a vehicle to soundtrack his fictional opus. Which isn't to say that the resulting Help Wanted Nights album is a profound sonic departure from the intensely personal music Good Life records have housed previously. But while Kasher admits that the screenplay and corresponding album are rooted in autobiographical detail ("Those are the basics you learn in creative writing class in school," he laughs. "Base your story on some kind of reality"), he's also leaving plenty of room for ihe characters in Help Wanted Nights to develop, arrest and stagnate as he sees fit.
And while screenwriting may seem like Kasher's most ambitious undertaking to date, the truth is that he's been preparing for something like Help Wanted Nights all his musical life by writing albums that stand more as cohesive narrative tales than mere song collections. "In a completely basic way, having to manage a whole album as opposed to just a few songs helped me at least consider starting to tackle larger things like a script," he explains. "If anything, I feel guilty because It's a very similar record coming from me. It's very 'set-in-a-bar, guys and girls not getting alongóbut getting along sometimes." That was something I had to excuse myself for because I wanted to write songs for the screenplay. It's not specific to where the town is and, though it's a small town, it's someone's world.

Death & Taxes caught up with Kasher at his Eagle Rock, California home to talk about how both sides of Help Wanted Nights came together. And how, with the script currently still in producers' hands, the soundtrack stands on its own.

You started writing Help Wanted Nights at a time when you weren't writing much music. What do you remember about that period?

That summer was spent in New York, in an apartment out in Long Island. It was so relaxed. lt was the first time in my life I'd been able to wake up every morning and work on something like a screenplay instead of having some job I had to go to, or being on tour or writing a record or being ... uptight [Laughs].

How far back can you remember wanting to write a screenplay?

Before musicóbefore I knew how to play an instrumentóI wanted to direct movies. But then I started playing guitar, because it was feasible and available. And it's a process I'd like to continue my whole life, whether it's profitable or not. I've been trying to work on storytelling through one facet or another so, if anything, I'm a little frustrated with a format like a screenplay because it takes financing and a crew of people to do, On one hand, I'm glad to exercise the facet as a form of writing. But on the other hand, it's more tempting to do things with music solely on my own. lt takes financing, too, but it doesn't take much to get a little start-up, with Garage Band on a computer or a four-track from a pawnshop, in even cruder terms.

When you compare the financial demands of moviemaking, it's big compared to what even lavish recordings cost.

Oh yeah. What we consider an incredibly low budget is twenty times the amount I spent on the most expensive record I've done.

What less obvious challenges came up during the writing?

It's an overused word, but: cohesion. That's why I think things need to be edited over and over again, because certain characters can change personalities, That's something I struggle with. When you're writing characters, they're supposed to evolve in certain ways, or they're not supposed to, and there has to be cohesiveness to who they are. That's where there's a huge difference from song writing.

The songs themselves are more reflective of the emotions the characters go through than the narrative. Was that easier, given that their story has already been written?

It was intentional that I dispelled narrative writing for the record and focused more on emotional content It was difficult to switch over. Over the last five years, I've been practicing how to use narrative in songs and learning how to use that. And I prefer it. So it was hard at first to settle back on vague ideas and emotions and concepts of disparity or whatever and not go into detail [Laughs]. But I got used it and really enjoyed it, and now I look at it as another way to write songs. It's a pretty normal way to write songs, actually.
Help Wanted Nights

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