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Tim Kasher On Cursive’s New Vitriola, Coping With Political Dysfunction, And His Love-Hate Relationship With The Ugly Organ

Tim Kasher is really, really glad to be back in a band. Though the longtime artist put out a solo record, No Resolution, just last year, he hasn’t released anything with his best-known project, post-hardcore stalwarts Cursive, since 2012’s I Am Gemini. But that’s all about to change: Come October 5, Cursive will drop an operatic eighth studio album, titled Vitriola, via the band’s own label, 15 Passenger.

“I love doing things on my own, but I also love having others’ voices,” he confirms. “It’s hard to be your own editor.”

Sitting at a karaoke bar on Santa Monica Boulevard — a divey, hole-in-the-wall joint where patrons select songs from a jukebox and lens flare-filled music videos flash from screens along the walls — Kasher recounts the anticlimactic way Cursive got back together, something they began to discuss two years ago. He describes it as an organic process that seemed to coincide with three Cursive bandmates — Kasher along with bassist Matt Maginn and guitarist Ted Stevens — starting their own label, the aforementioned 15 Passenger.

Slowly but amicably, they parted ways from their Omaha mothership, Saddle Creek Records, where Cursive and so many other Midwestern hometown heroes first found their footing in the ’90s.

“To understand Matt… He’s a musician, and he loves that,” explains Kasher. “But he’s a business person. I’ve made a lot of parallels between my passion for writing and his passion for business. It may sound a little bit boring, but to him it’s not. He likes to work [businesses] and watch them grow. And also that pride of ownership — like, ‘These are my records, I should own these records.'”

Shifting business relationships aside, Cursive’s compact, 10-song Vitriola should sound plenty familiar to die-hards. Every Cursive record is steeped in a certain lyrical wrist-wringing (2000’s Domestica dealt with divorce; 2006’s Happy Hollow grappled with religion), and their eighth effort is no different, as it attempts to cope with the numbing, increasingly apocalyptic news cycle.

With nihilistic titles like “Free To Be Or Not To Be You And Me” and “Pick Up The Pieces” it’d be easy to assume that a self-admitted cynic like Kasher doesn’t have a lot of faith in society. But just the opposite is true. Through everything, he’s managed to maintain a love for humanity — an affection that has certainly been challenged lately, with Trump in office, but nevertheless, it’s there.

“When negativity and darkness is being pounded at you in song, it also feels so good to be given a way out — to be given some glimmer of hope,” he says. “I think I had to keep it in mind on this record because I was going darker and I was being more cruel than I usually am because of the current administration. So it became more important to me to be multi-faceted with the emotional range [on Vitriola].”

Below, Kasher goes deeper on Cursive’s reunion, the emotional pendulum of Vitriola, making sense of the country’s political mayhem, and finding inspiration in 2003’s The Ugly Organ — a record he used to hate. While you’re reading, listen to Vitriola’s “Under The Rainbow,” which we’re premiering today on Stereogum.

STEREOGUM: Why did this feel like the right time to come back to Cursive?

KASHER: Well, there certainly wasn’t the decision made to do a Cursive record because I wanted to touch on these topics. We’d already decided that we were going to do a Cursive record, and then Trump went into office, and we were inundated with all of this insanity.

STEREOGUM: At what point had you decided you were definitely going to do another Cursive record?

KASHER: I started in July of 2016. It really was all just kind of coincidence. There wasn’t anything that I felt like I needed to express lyrically that I felt like I needed to do a Cursive [record].

Two years before that, [guitarist] Ted [Stevens] and I were talking a lot about how we were going to be doing a [record label] 15 Passenger, which was a really long time passion project of [bassist] Matt [Maginn’s]. So Matt’s worked at Saddle Creek, he started Team Love Records. It was Conor [Oberst]’s label, but they kind of poached Matt from Saddle Creek and asked if he’d get Team Love going for them.

[Matt] wanted to own all of his catalog. That’s essentially what he wanted out of it. But the more we talked about it, the more we said, “We could release anything if we wanted to,” and that kind of got us excited about doing a Cursive record. So… it became a “maybe” at that point. I don’t know why we can’t make those decisions faster. I think maybe it’s just me.

STEREOGUM: You never had a contract or anything with Saddle Creek, right?

KASHER: We never signed anything with them. I’d been on Saddle Creek until I put out my solo record, No Resolution.

STEREOGUM: Sounds like the separation process was amiable.

KASHER: Yeah, probably between Matt and [Saddle Creek founder] Robb [Nansel] it was probably amiable in the sense that they… just didn’t talk about it? [Laughs.] But I know me, as a liason, I’m really good friends with Robb and friends with Matt, and it was just kind of… We went through steps. It was the slow but pleasant breakup. Robb at Saddle Creek was like, “Hate to see you go… Maybe before we decide that you’re doing that we can set up an umbrella and you’ll run your own label under Saddle Creek.” And I’d go to Matt, who would be like, “No, I’m doing my own label.” And I’d say, “I think Matt just wants to do it on his own.” You know. That kind of a thing.

But it’s nice to say that Saddle Creek wanted to keep working… they wanted to figure something [out].

STEREOGUM: So much of Vitriola deals with a feeling of existential despair — and search for catharsis — as society hurtles towards a certain dystopia. On a personal note, how do you manage to retain hope when every day brings more unsettling news?

KASHER: I do attempt to maintain a respect and admiration of humanity.

Particularly, my wife — she definitely has an influence on this record, which shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose. You’re influenced by the people you live with, you know? This is going to sound like I’m blaming her, but I’m not blaming her for anything. We were having a playful discussion-fight for a little while about humanity. I’m a cynic, I’m a pessimist, but I love humanity. I really believe in humanity, I’m a human being, I know what the experience is like, and so I love all human beings. And she has a tendency to be like, “I think humanity is a virus. I think it’s a plague and that human beings are terrible.” She doesn’t really mean it, obviously she loves people and loves her family and friends. But she opened my eyes; my glasses are a little too tinted, you know, as far as like, “Humans are great! They mean well!”

These last couple of years have been a real eye-opener as well, as far as her point of view [goes]. There’s just an awful mean streak in humanity in the way that you can see it being bred in groupthink and group mentality. Like, with racism, there’s a very easy example with that. It’s like, this country just needed somebody to be like, “You know what?”

STEREOGUM: Yeah, like “Hey, it’s OK to be racist!”

KASHER: Yeah, yeah. And then so many people are just like, “Damn straight! Yeah! Absolutely.” It’s just like, holy shit. It’s really ugly.

I had an interview the other day ask about the dystopian elements of the record. Very nice guy, but he was like, “Do you actually think that’s reality?” And I was like, “Well to start, it’s fantasy. I’m writing fictions and doing what-ifs. But all those what-ifs are stemming from becoming almost daily conversations of “Where are we headed?”

Just yesterday morning I was reading a Times editorial on how we’re so much closer to the Fascism of Poland and Hungary. And I read through it, and the examples they’re offering, it’s like maybe you hear one of those on a Tuesday, then you hear another one the next Thursday. If you put them all together, you’re like, “Oh, oh shit.” There’s actually a conservative party that’s trying to dismantle our democratic elections.

Look at the conservative base that still tries to uphold the integrity of the process and of the constitution. They’re the ones people were leaning on to be vocal. Almost all of them — except for maybe McCain, who just passed away — have changed their tune. And that stuff makes me start to think nefarious, fantastic thoughts of like, “What are they talking about behind closed doors?”

STEREOGUM: In terms of songwriting, I’m hearing a lot of theatrical, early-Cursive orchestration going on. Like, “Pick Up The Pieces” could have appeared on The Ugly Organ.

KASHER: If there’s any album we wouldn’t want to rehash it would be that one, because that would be the most sellout move on our part. [Laughs.]

I can tell the short story of how I hated [The Ugly Organ] for a while. I think it’s what so many writers go through, just like, “I write so much stuff. That’s ONE of my records. That’s A record. I don’t know what the big deal is.” I’ve since come around to really respecting and appreciating it. I respect it for affording me such a long career. It’s like The Ugly Organ has buoyed me to a place where I can be a good writer, and that’s great. I really respect and appreciate that record. And I do like that record. I just needed to get away from it.

[But] there’s something that the last few years I feel like I did glean from The Ugly Organ, which I think is important. The Ugly Organ DID influence this record in this instance: I think it’s so important to look back at what you write. I’m not very good at it because I don’t really want to very badly. But I try to do it. I think I’ve done it more in the last few years because of what we’re talking about.

I started thinking, what is it about the overall message of that record? I thought about “Staying Alive” as the last song on that record and what a positive message that was. It’s actually a song written by Ted Stevens, which is telling as well because I’m not a positive guy. I don’t know that Ted necessarily is either, but he’s probably a little more spiritual in an earthly sense, I suppose. But that did have a profound effect on me and an influence on this record. Talking to myself, “You are so dark, and you had times and maybe more and more lately where you aren’t allowing you’re only writing the pessimistic side and cynical side of yourself and you are not offering any way out.”

And I believe in the message of The Ugly Organ. That’s a really long-winded way of saying that that record did influence [Vitriola’s hopeful points].

STEREOGUM: That sounds very self-aware to me. I also especially loved the piano interlude on Vitriola, “Remorse.”

KASHER: I’m always happy when people bring it up, because it gives me an opportunity to mention Patrick Newbery wrote that. Unlike the other projects that I do, I want Cursive to be more of a community effort. Patrick came on as a hired player for Happy Hollow, and this is the first record that we asked him to be a writing member with us. So he sent in some really cool stuff. And that’s the one that made the cut.

We wrote a lot of extra songs for this record. I think we recorded 21 songs, and probably like really like 18 of them. We just had a lot of material to work with. I’m just kind of glad that “Remorse” always stayed on the record. It was basically taking the place of myriad other hard-rock, pop, catchy… actual songs.

STEREOGUM: What was the editing process like with 21 songs to choose from?

KASHER: We wrote a lot of stuff that would usually make a record, but this record started being [thematically] shaped by songs like “Free To Be” and “It’s Gonna Hurt” and “Remorse”… We had other songs that were very catchy, but would be more punk-rock, heavy, upbeat, aggressive, angry songs, we just couldn’t figure out how to place them into what we were doing.

“Ouroboros” was going to be the album opener for so long. It ended up just being a kind of a polarizing to so many people. When we were sending it out to people, and not everybody liked that song, basically. So it got pushed to the middle of the record and that was a compromise I made. [Laughs.] And I think that’s fine.

There are a lot of songs that I confidently thought, “This song will be one of our first singles.” And nobody liked it. I think I know, looking back, why some of the stuff that I was convinced that was gonna be strong stuff really wasn’t. It was like “Gentleman Caller” or “Butcher The Song” on The Ugly Organ… I think if “Gentleman Caller” didn’t have its long denouement. That would not be a very popular song. Just the very jarring, aggressive, discordant first part of that song. That’s just another side of me that I really like a lot. So I think I had a couple of songs that were like that that I was like, “Everyone’s gonna love these!” And it was just like, nobody did. [Laughs.]

And that’s OK. We ended up recognizing that there was something much moodier and heavier. And songs like “It’s Gonna Hurt” ended up setting the pace for what this dark, moody vibe was going to be.

STEREOGUM: I do like that Vitriola is such a tight, quick listen.

Yeah, I’m glad that it feels like a tight listen, too. For the longest time I was comfortable with a 12-song record, or more. And I really appreciate the editing that the whole band and Mike Mogis as a producer wanted to do. It really is a 10-song record. Any extra anything was like, “Ahhh, I don’t know. That might be the one song too many.” And also again, we could have put other single-esque, proper rock songs on there, but chose to do something like “Remorse” instead.

Another great experience I had on this record was, more than any other record I’ve done, people were much more vocal about the lyrics. And again, it’s great because it’s coming from a place of love and mutual interest in what we were making. I hadn’t worked with Mike Mogis since Happy Hollow, and he’s been developing as a producer ever since. So I think he’d kind of forgotten how we used to work, and he’s done so many records since then. So we kind of had to readjust to how I work and how he works. But he was vocal about stuff he didn’t like, stuff he felt like wasn’t working.

STEREOGUM: Do you feel like there’s a lot at stake with this new record?

KASHER: I feel like that could be a dangerous and loaded thought. No, I don’t. I don’t think there is. [Laughs.] I have been thinking about that, though. ‘Cause the response has been strong. You can get confused into thinking that there’s a groundswell.

But I’ve just been doing a lot of records for a long time. I don’t want to be the pessimist bummer in the group, because I really love the positive camaraderie [of bands]. But I’m also gonna be the last person to get ahead of myself. It’s just another record. And I don’t want it to be any other way.

///

Vitriola is out 10/5 via 15 Passenger. Pre-order it here. Cursive will be touring behind the new album, too. Dates below:

10/18 Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar*

10/19 St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway*

10/20 Louisville, KY @ Headliners*

10/21 Nashville, TN @ Basement East*

10/23 Tallahassee, FL @ The Wilbury*

10/24 Tampa, FL @ PRE FEST 6

10/25 Fort Lauderdale, FL @ Culture Room^

10/26 Gainesville, FL @ THE FEST 17

10/27 Orlando, FL @ The Social^

10/28 Jacksonville, FL @ Jack Rabbits*

10/30 Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade*

10/31 Charlotte, NC @ The Underground*

11/01 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle*

11/02 Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club*

11/03 Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer*

11/04 Asbury Park, NJ @ Stone Pony*

11/06 Long Island, NY @ Amityville Music Hall*

11/07 New York, NY @ Irving Plaza *

11/08 Boston, MA @ Paradise*

11/09 Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom*

11/10 Buffalo, NY @ Tralf Music Hall*

11/11 Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theater*

11/12 Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups*

11/13 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop*

11/14 Detroit, MI @ El Club*

11/15 Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall*

11/16 Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon*

11/17 St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club*

11/18 Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room*

01/18 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater^

01/19 Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre^

01/21 Salt Lake City, UT @ Metro Bar^

01/22 Boise, ID @ Neurolux^

01/23 Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett^

01/24 Bellingham, WA @ The Wild Buffalo^

01/25 Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile^

01/26 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge^

01/28 Redding, CA @ The Dip^

01/29 San Francisco, CA @ August Hall^

01/30 Fresno, CA @ Strummer’s^

01/31 Los Angeles, CA @ Regent Theater^

02/02 Pomona, CA @ The Glass House^

02/04 Las Vegas, NV @ The Bunkhouse Saloon^

02/05 Tempe, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom^

02/06 El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace^

02/07 Lubbock, TX @ Jake’s^

02/08 San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger^

02/09 Austin, TX @ Mohawk^

02/10 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall^

02/11 Dallas, TX @ Trees^

* Meat Wave, Campdogzz support

^ Campdogzz supports

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