Reviews

Album of the Year

Author: TK
09/01/2004 | Alternative Press | www.altpress.com | Feature
Betting on the Muse

Last year Cursive released the most critically acclaimed album of their career. Putting everything onhold, lead songwriter Tim Kasher has receded into living The Good Life, a mature indie-pop side project that has suddenly gone full-time. So why exactly has one of the underground's most beloved songwriters begun rolling the dice and stacking up empties away from everyone's expectations?

Tim Kasher is hungover the first time AP phones him—that, and he's having a minor anxiety attack. "Is this something we can do later/" he asks in a bit of a panic. Kasher got a little fucked up last night, it's true; but there's also a good amount of pre-tour jitters running through his veings as the Good Life—a former side project rounded out by bassist Stefanie Drootin, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Fox and drummer Roger Lewis—are preparing for a send-off gig in Omaha this evening. "The Good Life hasn't even gone ontour in a year," he groans.

But what a year it's been: released last March to relatively little fanfare, the gourth album from Kasher's band of punk underdogs, The Ugly Organ topped critics' best-of lists and sold better than the band's entire back catalog, leaving Kasher—and this is as harsh as anyone around him at the time would have put it—confused to the point of excess. There was lots of booze, and lots of time spent on the road, but somewhere in the midst of this Kasher stillmanagaed to write a third Good Life disc, which he rather coyly decided to call Album Of The Year.

If not the album of the year, it's at least the album of this band's career: a beautiful and stark indie-pop song cycle about the messy hook-ups and doomed commitments Kasher could be found scribbling about in the back of the Cursive van, all while reassessing his future. "I'm really happy to take time off from Cursive," he insists. "It's been a very joyful occasion."

Were you surprised by what The Ugly Organ became?

"That wouldn't even by the right way to pu tit. When you do a record that ends up being that successful—which for the music industry may be a drop in the bucket, but for us it was really weird—people try and take your humility. When other people ask me this question I've been like, 'I can't believe that many people would have been interested.' They're usually like, 'Come on, you must have known it was good.' But we never knew it would become successful! 'Look at Tim with the Midas touch, putting out all these hit records.' That has led to this anticipation that I really don't appreciate about the new Good Life record."

What do you think people are expecting?

"I know there are going to be naysayers. 'This isn't Cursive; I thought this was supposed to be be a side project?' But I'm just a writer, and this is the next thing I wrote. I don't want it to be anything. When I started reading Bukowski at a very young age, my idea of romanticism shifted. Where other 15-year-olds would romanticize the Eiffel Tower, I had the horse track and being down on your luck, just being drawn in by these drunken romantics. I've become a contributor to the same problem now. There are 15-year-olds reading what I write. [Laughs]. I've become part of the cycle."

Someone told me that you haven't written a song for Cursive in over two years.

"Yeah, I stopped writing for them. I'm actually writing another Good Life record."

How come?

"I feel really positive about the Good Life right now. [Pauses]. I guess I had the reins pulled in on me. I think there were alot of people that were concerned about me because I was doing too much. It was affecting me mentally and emotionally. Right now, Cursive is set to do those dates with the Cure, but after that, we're going on an indefinite hiatus. If we decide to get rolling with something in the future, we will."

That's actually the first I've heard about this—so you're going to do the Good Life full time?

"I haven't really felt like making any statements about it. We don't think it's that important. The only reason I even bring it up in this interview is because you were asking earlier if I felt trapped. I did feel trapped, but now I don't. If you were to talk to any of my family members, they would probably say that's the Kasher way. [Laughs]. Once you feel like you've mastered something, you want to move on."

In a lot of ways, Album Of The Year seems to be about running in circles—it's defined by these romances that start just so that they can end. Over the years, do you feel like you've lost your faith in love?

"I fear that I should have gotten married young if I was going to believe in those types of things—or at least I should have stayed married. At this point, I'm going to have to throw myself headfirst into the fantasy of a relationship. I do worry that I'm never going to believe in something like that ever again. I want to reach some kind of maturity where you realize these people that you know and love and have relationships with are all wonderful people. But you're not going to find the serendipitous love that Hollywood keeps trying to convince you of."

Do you understand why people worry about you?

"That's a question for them, and I'm just going to leave it at that. Whatever they are worrying about, that's very sweet. But I don't know about the rest of it."

I barely know you, and I worry about you.

"Really, why?"

Just listening to the new record and knowing that iw as written at the tail end of two years of touring...you do mention alcohol in nearly every song.

"But when you're a drinker, all your friends are enablers. When you're also a writer who is a drinker and who writes about drinking, then the world becomes your enabler. That's kind of weird. You become that sad, drunk clown that people want you to be. You don't know how many shows I've been at and I'm walking through the crowd and someone is like, "Hey, let me get you a shot! Are you going to get wasted tonight?" It shouldn't be about that."

That's exactly what worries me—I don't want to see this person who I think is very talented and very intelligent be reduced to a walking cliche.

"Please don't worry about me in that sense or include me in that. It's hard for me not to write about those things because of what I'm involved with. The next record I'm writing, I want to call Binge And Purge. [Laughs]. I really love that title. I want to move on, but I know I'm not ready. The examination of the song and the songwriter, I feel like I covered all the bases. On the next record,I'll still be writing about alcohol. Hopefully, as a result, I will figure out what the major problems are in my life—and actually fix them."

I read somewhere that you swore off cutting your hair until you change your life.
"Yeah, that's true." [Laughs]

I have to admit that part of me was hoping that when this article finally runs, you'll have short hair in the photos.
"Well, that hasn't happened yet."

Concept Rock
Yeah, about that title: Tim Kasher explains what's in a name.

In the same way The Ugly Organ wasn't about playing a less than desirable set of keys—and Cursive's third disc, Domestica, wasn't about polishing your hardwood floors with that kickass new Swifter—Album Of The Year isn't Tim Kasher's guarantee that he'll once again top a whole heap of critics' lists. "One of the reasons I wanted to write this version of a love story is because I have had this relationship before," Kasher asys of the dozen songs on Album, each of which documents one month of a relationship that was barely fortunate enough to watch the seasons change. As Kasher can both proudly and sadly tell you, he's been down this road before. Several years back, he left Omaha to settle down with his wife in Portland; they separated in 1999, and he began the Good Life shortly thereafter. "I've had this relationship maybe five times over the last five years," he admits with a laugh. "I'm not saying that's a bad thing. This is what single life is like. If this is what I'm going through, then it's probably what alot of other people are going through, too."
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