Album of the Year
"I'm not an artist, I'm an asshole without a job"—from the song "Entertainer"
Before you write off the title of The Good life's new album, Album of the Year (Saddle Creek) as a cocky, obnoxious album title, Tim Kasher would like you to know that it's an album about a year. The third full-length from the Cursive frontman's quieter pop outfit finds him quite comfortable in the roles of both singer-songwriter and storyteller. While the backdrop of Album of the Year remains familiar territory—the bar, the bedroom, the empty apartment—the slumped-on-a-barstool feel of the band's last record, Black Out, has been subdued in favor of a more focused and reflective approach. A good listen will confirm that it's also an album that documents not just the life and death of a relationship (which is, after all, standard pop song fare), but also the minutiae that reflect what is brilliant, and what is crushing, about relationships.
The songs on Album of the Year are tied together not only lyrically, but stylistically; each one unfolds as a chapter in a story that we were given a preview of on the Lovers Need Lawyers EP released earlier this year. Musically, it ranges from folky ("Night and Day", "Under a Honeymoon") to full-on sing-along pop ("Lovers Need lawyers"), with even a bit of lounge mixed in to capture a lovelorn feel ("A New Friend"). At home in Omaha on a rare break from touring, Kasher took the time to talk with me about the evolution of the album, the band, and his own self-awareness.
I wanted to start by asking you about the evolution of the Good Life. Because~ it seemed to start out as sort of a Tim Kasher side project, but it has obviously evolved into something that is very much its own entity. Was this a conscious decision? What is the Good Life for you that sets it apart from your work with Cursive? It means the same thing to me now as it did when I started out. I've always taken different approaches to songwriting from the beginning. I always wrote the kind of music that was intended to be for a band, loud and more upbeat, and I also always wrote folkier songs that I played in coffeehouses, and that was something I always knew I'd come around to eventually. After Cursive's Domestica, I was trying to do as much with music as possible, and at that time Cursive's touring schedule was nothing like it is now, and I felt like I was sitting on my hands a lot. So I thought it was time to start doing something with the other kinds of songs I'd been writing. And in evolving into a band, I really wanted to stress that it wasn't a side project and I thought that by including people to have that kind of "band" community, it would help strengthen the project and it did—and it has.
All three Good Life albums are thematic in nature. Did you mean to shape them as such, or did you find that they became that way simply because it was just what you were thinking about at the time? Do you see yourself moving in a certain direction on purpose?
I guess around the time we made the second Cursive record, I would write a batch of songs over a given year and when I looked over them I would recognize that they were all chasing after certain ideas. So what I'd do is recognize those ideas and then try to tie them all together to give them unity. Now, for every record I write, I've been working more and more at really conceptualizing an album from the start, and the new Good life record is the farthest I've taken it. I started writing songs and quickly figured out what it was that I needed, and I was aware that I still needed to attack this or that idea to make it a full story.
Your songs are really like very intimate stories, do you ever feel like you've gotten too personal or are you really sort of detached from them as a storyteller?
I don't feel like they've gotten too personal, other people might argue that. But the people in my life who are involved with the storytelling, we're all on good terms, and we're all friends, and it was all taken pretty well as far as the personal side of it and how certain lines are specific to very specific people. It's difficult and it can be scary, and I did hurt some feelings initially, but I reserve that right as a writer and I don't want to censor it. It's not all nonfiction, nor do I think it has to be, and I also reserve that right. Someone shouldn't be like "if it's nonfiction, then he's lying" because people have gotten used to the idea that if Tim writes it in a song then it really happened. I don't want to be pigeonholed into that. This is all kind of weird, complex stuff, you know? I always say that I write with honesty, but whether it's fiction or non, it's all coming from the same honest perspective.
As a part of Cursive and the Good Life and Saddle Creek, you've really become a kind of indie rock celebrity. How do you deal with that, are you really aware of it? When I can recognize my ego becoming aware of that, I really try to stuff it back down. It really bothers me, and I don't want to embrace any kind of attitude like that and I don't want to embrace the kind of awareness that you're talking about. And I'll notice that by doing what I do in Cursive that I get special treatment and it bothers me when I'm drunk and I take advantage of it. I'm disgusted with a lot of things about myself, but I hope that I'm always trying to become aware of that and better myself. This is a difficult decision that I've had to make. I never wanted to be unreachable, but it is at this weird point now where there are people who do take it so far. And its great that they appreciate what you're doing but it makes ... it's this paradox and it has to do with ego again. It's this paradox of "Hey, I'm no different from anybody else and after a show is over, I can freely walk around a crowd and say hi to whoever and sign whatever and it doesn't matter." Then the argument against that is "Oh, so you want to go out to this mob of people and exploit your ego and be this rock star and get patted on the back." What is an answer to that, you know? I used to sign anyone's shit with just a T and a K and my family gave me a lot of grief about it, like I was being cocky because I can't actually just sign something. And the whole time I thought I was trying to be as humble as possible.
Do you ever see yourself switching gears and doing something that isn't music?
I'm actually switching gears next year and I don't really want to publicly set myself up for any humiliation, so I will just say that I want to write other things than just music. Cursive is on hiatus right now, so next year I'm gonna have a lot of time open, and it's intentional. I'm going to be thirty in August, and I really want to do other things besides music. I just feel like on my recent albums, especially with this new Good life record, it's like storytelling is just trying to bust out of them, it's like I'm trying really hard to write a story but I'm still stuck within the constraints of verses and measures.
What's your favorite cover song, or song you secretly wish you'd cover? .
Actually, one of the things I've been talking about, and have been talking about for years is that I really love female vocalists and so I've always wanted to do an album of all my favorite songs. Things like [Cyndi Lauper's] ''Time after Time" and a lot of pop songs are actually truly sad and truly beautiful, and I wanna do an album and really bring out the darker weepier side of these songs. Even songs like Lisa Loeb's "Stay," it's a really good song, it's just that I think the way it's produced is off. And I think Natalie Imbruglia's ''Torn'' is great, if you were to strip that song down and redo it, l think it'd be really good. I'm definitely going to do this at some point ... it's just a matter of when.
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
LP / CD / MP3