Cursive's music teeters between literary exercises and rock 'n' roll epics.
Omaha indie-rock outfit Cursive avoids categorization, creating music that teeters between literary exercises and rock 'n' roll epics. On their latest full-length, I Am Gemini, a haunted house filled with devils, angels and feuding twins is the setting for one of the band's darkest works to date, a surreal concept album structured as a two-act musical.
The liner notes present the lyrics as dialogue, complete with stage directions, as the music follows the characters Cassius and Pollock into a nightmarish world of apparitions, elixirs and violence, accentuated by pulsing guitars and the ghostly croon of lead singer Tim Kasher.
I talked to Kasher about the difficulties of concept albums, literary influences, and why a future Cursive hip-hop album may be in the works.
The Daily Page: Too many bands use the "concept album" label to produce incoherent, self-indulgent records. But this isn't the case with I Am Gemini. Are you conscious, while writing a record of this type, not to delve too far off the deep end?
Kasher: Absolutely. It's more difficult when you do a whole story like we did with this record, but I try to do my best to make sure [the album] works both as a whole, and have each song make sense separately and independently.
What is the difficulty in writing a concept album with a linear structure as opposed to an album whose songs don't necessarily need to be listened to in any particular order?
There are pluses and minuses to each. In some ways, the songs are a little easier to write [with a concept album] because everything is already outlined, so each song had to be about a specific occurrence. So that kind of alleviated the heaving and hoeing of "What am I going to write about?" But, conversely, some of the songs just didn't want to adhere to what they were supposed to be about at all. So that takes some extra time.
I read that the concept germinated for quite a while. Was there any difficulty in explaining the story to your bandmates?
I've had the benefit of working with these guys for so long that they're really trusting of the direction I go in, so they were really open and considerate about it. We generally work on the music together first before the lyrics, so we weren't really discussing the story at all. Basically we just wrote all the music, then I wrote the story, and that's when I told them that I wanted to write one complete story through a lot of separate songs.
The album echoes a lot of references from classical literature. The main characters' names, Cassius and Pollock, are derivatives of characters from Greek mythology, and scenes from the song "Drunken Birds" reference a transformation by drinking varying "teaspoons of an old elixir" à la Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Were there any literary influences in particular that you tapped into while writing the album?
One iconic literary figure I was definitely keeping in mind was Dorian Gray. I'm a big Oscar Wilde fan. So that's kind of the transformation the characters undergo in Gemini. I have a tendency to reference things, because in a song you only have a handful of stanzas to get across what you're trying to say. So for instance, say you want to write about "duality." You can do it so much quicker by just referencing "Gemini." I very obviously reference Castor and Pollux, but I also wanted to give them their own names, because I wanted them to be their own characters.
If you could re-record the soundtrack to any movie, which would you choose?
I don't know. Are we talking just for fun or because I think the original could be improved upon?
Let's say both.
I would maybe do The Graduate. I think the soundtrack is great, so I would only do that out of reverence, because it'd be fun to do all the Simon and Garfunkel songs. I wouldn't say it's badly executed, but for the other I'd maybe say Grease II could use an update. [Laughs]
Something I've been wanting to ask for a while now is whether or not there's a Tim Kasher or Cursive hip-hop album on the horizon?
[Big laugh] That is certainly possible. I've been living in Atlanta, so I've been thinking about tapping into the vibrant rap scene there. Doesn't that seem like it'd be so much fun?
I'd definitely buy it. Who is a hip-hop artist who you think you could vibe with?
Well, actually, I was just turned on to Donald Glover, or the Childish Gambino, as he calls himself. I'd be down to work with him. He's pretty good. Also, there's certainly Andre 3000. I wish I could run into him. I've been wanting to run into him at the grocery store or something, but I have yet to see him.
Do you think the day will ever come when you consider hanging up the guitar and maybe pursuing a different passion, like opening up a flower shop or coming up with your own line of vintage shampoos?
[Laughs] No, I guess I don't. I just hope I can keep writing and telling stories in some format.
Cursive performs at the High Noon Saloon on Saturday, March 24.