Interview: Cursive

Words by Maddy Howell

Up until 2012, Nebraska post-hardcore sextet Cursive had been releasing a fairly steady flow of records since their 1995 formation. With each album adopting it's own innovative and unique concept and style, the six-piece forged a path within their DIY-indie scene, with vocalist Tim Kasher's personal and often resplendent lyrical style edging them to the forefront of a flourishing domain. 

Whilst the musicians involved with the project have certainly not remained dormant since the release of 2012's 'I Am Gemini', the Cursive moniker has spent six years hidden in the dark. Re-emerging as they gear up to release their exceptional eighth studio album, 'Vitriola', the band seem set to prove that often time spawns the simplest form of reinvention.

With the release of 'Vitriola' now just a week away, we caught up with frontman Tim Kasher to talk about the writing process, the DIY scenes of the Midwest and the complexities of projecting emotions on a public platform.

Burn After Writing: The new album, ‘Vitriola’, is set for release on October 5th. How was the writing process of this record, and how did it differ from that of previous efforts?

Tim Kasher: First off, the writing process was awesome, really great. I say that with optimism, as I truly enjoyed the process. I imagine the writing process was also unique for Clint Schnase, as we haven't done a record with him since 'Happy Hollow', and back then I was still living in Omaha.

Either Ted [Stevens] or I would bring a song in every week for practice, and we would casually write an album over the course of half a year or so. I've been living out of Omaha for some time now, so the writing process has changed a bit - I write songs in bulk, send the best ones over to the band, then we spend a week at a time, rehearsing every day, working on four or so songs each session. It's certainly not ideal, but we've grown accustomed to it. I should just move back to Omaha, for chrissakes.

BAW: Though you as an individual have been consistently active within the music scene for over twenty years now, it’s been just over six years since the release of Cursive’s last full-length record. Why has there been such a large interval between releases this time around?

TK: As with any Cursive record, we are never sure whether or not there will be a follow-up. We focus on one record at a time. We didn't know if we would do another record after 'I Am Gemini' - if anything, we were loosely planning on not doing a record [laughs], though we kept the possibility afloat. I'm certainly glad we did, as I feel we all got a lot from the experience. It took us a while to get to it because we were busy with other projects, I suppose.

BAW: This album will be the first Cursive record to be initially released on the band’s label, 15 Passenger. What sparked the establishment of the label and why did you decide to move from your home at Saddle Creek?

TK: We wanted to do the label as a means of owning our catalog, thus the need to leave Saddle Creek. Starting the label played an essential role in setting off the spark to want to do another record, as it only seemed appropriate to do a record after starting a record label!

BAW: As you touched on earlier, this record also sees the return of founding drummer Clint Schnase, alongside the addition of a cellist for the first time since 2003 in the form of Megan Siebe. With these shifts, has the overall approach to ‘Vitriola’ bared any resemblance to the sounds heard on albums from the early 2000’s such as ‘Domestica’ and ‘The Ugly Organ’?

TK: We've gotten enough feedback to recognise that, indeed, this record has a sound not unlike those earlier records, though we've also heard comparisons to 'Mama, I'm Swollen' as well as 'I Am Gemini'. We concur that it must sound like a Cursive record, which seems like a good thing! I do think that working with Clint again has brought about a familiarity, not just for listeners, but for us as well.

BAW: Like much of your previous work, there are several concepts running through ‘Vitriola’, many projecting splintered echoes of political rage and frustration. Is it important for you to use your musical platform to voice your socio-political views?

TK: You know, it's really not that important for me to voice socio-political concerns in music. I feel that music - as with any art form - should have as much freedom to express itself in any way it deems fit. I disagree with those that feel it's a songwriters responsibility to wax political; and though we recognise the political bent of this record, we still maintain that it isn't so much 'political' as it is an emotional reaction to the current socio-political landscape.

Somewhere in there lies a subtle difference, I think. I wrote these songs because I felt compelled to, but I didn't feel it was the responsibility of these songs. I hope that makes sense, as I am absolutely a proponent of songwriter activists, it's just that I'm also a proponent of those who prefer to write love songs.

BAW: Though there are some concepts littered throughout the record, ‘Vitriola’ appears a little less clear-cut than your previous works in terms of a tightly woven concept. Was this something that was purposely left a little vaguer this time around?

TK: Yes, I did want to keep it vaguer. Though 'I Am Gemini' is already six years old, it's still the latest record we did as Cursive, so I was aware of the very high concept that record embodied and wanted to go in a different direction.

BAW: Also prevalent in ‘Vitriola’ and Cursive’s back-catalog as a whole is an often-unsettling sense of self-doubt and nihilism. Have you ever encountered difficulty in sharing these delicate emotions with such a wide audience, and is it something that has become easier with time?

TK: I think it may actually be getting harder? As we get older, we get even more grossly self-aware - or at least I do - so it can be more difficult to lay everything out as we did when we were younger. I certainly hate to feel crippled by those thoughts, so I guess I just do my best to lay it all out there anyway, but it certainly feels scarier these days to do so. I'm not sure how I'll feel on these upcoming shows, but I already get a sense that it will make for a heavier experience. For me, anyway. [laughs]

BAW: With over twenty years having passed since your formation, a lot has changed within the DIY and indie scenes of the Midwest that you operate within. How have these changes impacted on your sound and the way you now operate as an outfit?

TK: Hmm... you know, I'm not really sure, though I'm certain these changes would have an impact. Unfortunately, we have less and less contact with DIY scenes, primarily because it's a younger scene and we somehow became old farts? But we have our label now and want to be a part of the community as much as possible. We love the local Omaha music scene as we always have, and hope to release music from there in the future.

BAW: With such a wealth of experience in the area, what advice would you give to musicians aiming to establish themselves within a do-it-yourself setting?

TK: They should take the term seriously and truly "Do It Themselves". Bands are noticed so much more when they self-release and book their own tours versus the other approach of staying at home, recording and sending out submissions with the hope someone will give a shit. There's a decent chance someone out there WILL give a shit, but if you aren't displaying an attitude that you're going to do this with or without help, the label/promoter/booking agent may think you aren't worth their time because you aren't dedicated. Anyway, going on tour is fun, especially when you're young and can still handle losing lots of money.

BAW: Marking somewhat of a comeback for the band, ‘Vitriola’ is a pivotal moment within your careers. What comes next following on from its release?

TK: [Laughs] WHO KNOWS? We certainly don't. We’re happy to just be playing shows for now and we'll go from there - thanks!