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I Hope That People Can Find Catharsis In It: Tim Kasher Discusses Cursive's Powerful 'Vitriola'

Wednesday, 03 October 2018 Written by Jennifer Geddes

Photo: Tony Bonacci

“The United States President is currently buddying up with every dictator and shooing away anyone who looks remotely democratic and globalist. That’s weird. That’s weird and it’s upsetting,” Tim Kasher says, discussing the inspiration behind Cursive’s first album in six years, ‘Vitriola’.

“Weirder things have happened,” he muses. “We look back on history and things could get a lot worse before they get better. It might not ever get better. We don’t really know. I don’t think anyone is going to look back at ‘Vitriola’ and be like [it was] ‘a harbinger of the truth’, but maybe 10 years ago it would be crazy and now it feels like, well, maybe it’s not that crazy.”

Cursive have always sounded like a band stood on the brink of the apocalypse, with their penchant for unusual compositions and discordant sounds, but on ‘Vitriola’, they lean into this idea. Kasher turns his sharp tongue on societal ills, leading us to a despairing conclusion through vignettes that veer into the nihilistic. It’s not an accident that the LP’s final passage is an instrumental howl called Dystopian Lament.

“I definitely played around with fantasy, especially that last song,” Kasher says. “It is very much the closer of the record. Imagine, if you will, that this is where we are going to end up. The record kind of does go in that direction and lands there, at least in my head. It seems ridiculous to use the word fun but as far as writing it that’s the kind of fun stuff to play around with even though it is scary. I am being sincere about it.”

Kasher’s work has always been concerned with the big things that characterise human experience - love, sex, death, morality, religion - but here he found his focus drawn simply to what was going on outside his front door post-2016 electrion. “I certainly didn’t intend to come out doing something that felt political,” he explains. “It’s really just that it's been so all consuming that it's a reaction to what is happening in our lives right now.”

It’s a balancing act, though, for as much as our problems should be highlighted, we also need that escape route that music so often provides. “I do hope that the antagonism that I have been feeling, and that I have tried to release, I hope that provides catharsis,” Kasher says. “I hope that it helps and doesn’t simply hinder. We didn’t want this record to be just another barrage of negativity.

“We got into some pretty heated discussions about it while I was working on the lyrics. We don’t want to be tiresome to people, but since this is what the record is about we all agree that we stand by it and that we believe in it. Thus we came to the conclusion that it helps. I hope its a positive not a negative. As if we need more negativity in our lives! I really hope it does, because if it doesn’t then I would feel kind of bad for spitting so much bile out into the world.”

One of the angriest tracks is the opener, Free To Be or Not to Be You and Me, which finds Kasher struggling with his own mortality. “So I dug deep down, deep inside myself, to the pitted heart of this scabrous shell,” he sings. “Oddly all I found was a nest of cells, on the hunt for some significance.” “Existentialism is something that I probably just wear on my sleeve,” he says. “It’s something that I carry with me through all of my writing. I don’t really think about it. I certainly don’t think, ‘I am writing an existentialist song right now.'

“I am very much a cynic but I also consider myself to be an optimist. I try not to be so burdensome as a pessimist. For Free To Be…, something that I recognised after the fact that makes me feel sensitive to the song is that it crosses the line into nihilism. That is also a part of my life but I try to curb that because my preference is not to promote nihilism.

“I don’t want to fuel the fires of nihilism in anybody in any overtly negative way because, despite human beings being a fucking shitty animal, I still believe in us. I love humanity. So I don’t want to promote nihilism but I am also a nihilistic person and I allowed that to rear its head in that song. I didn’t change it. I decided to go with it. I hope that people can find catharsis in it versus sinking deeper into one's own nihilism.”

The idea of growing older is something he returns to on Everending. As it does for all of us, it’s become a preoccupation for Kasher. And he can look back at his band’s catalogue and see snapshots of who he was back then. “I try to find significance in each line that I commit,” he sings. “An exercise in senselessness. Time will scrub our past from us. Memory is everending.”

“I remember those ages, especially with the really early Cursive records,” he says. “I was writing a lot of metaphysical stuff. What I find interesting and kind of funny is that I was writing stuff with a philosophical bent but I was still living a life where, whether I realised it or not, I felt so young that I thought that I was invincible. The concept of dying was so far away that it wasn’t even something worth writing about because it wouldn’t even be on my mind. Now it's constantly on my mind and I feel so mortal.”

The numbers do tend to stack up after a while. Cursive have been a band for over 20 years now, while it’s been more than half a decade since the release of ‘I Am Gemini’. ‘Vitriola’, meanwhile, reunites Kasher, guitarist Ted Stevens and bassist Matt Maginn with founding drummer Clint Schnase for the first time since 2006’s ‘Happy Hollow’ LP. They have also called upon long-time co-producer Mike Mogis, who provides a link to their formative Saddle Creek days.  

“After six years it felt really liberating and exciting and pretty effervescent doing new Cursive songs,” Kasher says. “Maybe effervescent is a weird word to use but it was easy going. I think that there is always going to be the case when you are looking back...you don’t want to feel like you are rehashing any ideas. That can always be tricky. Although I will suggest that having six years between ‘...Gemini’ and this one, I think that was easier.”

‘Vitriola’ is also the first Cursive album to feature cello since the exit of Gretta Cohn in 2005. It’s a sound many view as synonymous with the band and here Megan Siebe steps in, having previously contributed to Kasher’s solo work and toured with Cursive during the anniversary run for ‘The Ugly Organ’.

“After that we kind of realised audience members really appreciate us bringing cello along on tour to play those older songs,” Kasher says. “We’re recognising that we should respect that. Considering that we are already going to be having cello with us I ended up suggesting that we could try strings for this new Cursive record and people were open minded to it.

“I think everyone is really glad that it worked out. It’s a nice complement to the songs. The only reason why I’m making it a more complicated answer than it needs to be is that we stopped playing the cello a long time ago because we didn’t want to be pigeonholed as as a band with a cello. We have it back and I guess we are older and more comfortable with that.”

With each Cursive album Kasher’s creative mind is opened up to us as a fascinating world to delve into and get lost among its layers. ‘Vitriola’ juggles ideas of social responsibility, corruption, death, ego and power, alongside rich musical textures and his explosive delivery. The band paint a picture of a dystopian world that’s really frightening because it doesn’t look too dissimilar from our own.

'Vitriola' is out on October 5 through Big Scary Monsters.

Cursive Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu October 18 2018 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - Record Bar (USA)
Fri October 19 2018 - ST LOUIS Missouri - Off Broadway (USA)
Sat October 20 2018 - LOUISVILLE Kentucky - Headliners Music Hall - KY (USA)
Sun October 21 2018 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Basement East - Nashville (USA)
Tue October 23 2018 - TALLAHASSEE Florida - Wilbury (USA)
Thu October 25 2018 - FORT LAUDERDALE Florida - Culture Room (USA)
Sat October 27 2018 - ORLANDO Florida - Social - FL (USA)
Sun October 28 2018 - JACKSONVILLE Florida - Jack Rabbits (USA)
Tue October 30 2018 - ATLANTA Georgia - Masquerade at Kenny's Alley (USA)
Wed October 31 2018 - CHARLOTTE North Carolina - Underground - Charlotte (USA)
Thu November 01 2018 - CARRBORO North Carolina - Cat's Cradle (USA)
Fri November 02 2018 - WASHINGTON District of Columbia - 930 Club (USA)
Sat November 03 2018 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Union Transfer (USA)
Sun November 04 2018 - ASBURY PARK New Jersey - Stone Pony (USA)
Tue November 06 2018 - AMITYVILLE New York - Amityville Music Hall (USA)
Wed November 07 2018 - NEW YORK New York - Irving Plaza (USA)
Thu November 08 2018 - BOSTON Massachusetts - Paradise Rock Club (USA)
Fri November 09 2018 - HAMDEN Connecticut - Space Hamden (USA)
Sat November 10 2018 - BUFFALO New York - Tralf (USA)
Sun November 11 2018 - PITTSBURGH Pennsylvania - Rex Theatre (USA)
Mon November 12 2018 - COLUMBUS Ohio - Ace Of Cups (USA)
Tue November 13 2018 - CLEVELAND Ohio - Grog Shop (USA)
Wed November 14 2018 - DETROIT Michigan - El Club (USA)
Thu November 15 2018 - CHICAGO Illinois - Thalia Hall (USA)
Fri November 16 2018 - MADISON Wisconsin - High Noon Saloon (USA)
Sat November 17 2018 - SAINT PAUL Minnesota - Turf Club (USA)
Sun November 18 2018 - OMAHA Nebraska - Waiting Room Lounge - Nebraska (USA)
Fri January 18 2019 - DENVER Colorado - Bluebird Theater (USA)
Sat January 19 2019 - BOULDER Colorado - Fox Theatre Boulder (USA)
Mon January 21 2019 - SALT LAKE CITY Utah - Metro Music Hall (USA)
Tue January 22 2019 - BOISE Idaho - Neurolux Lounge (USA)
Wed January 23 2019 - SPOKANE Washington - Bartlett (USA)
Thu January 24 2019 - BELLINGHAM Washington - Wild Buffalo (USA)
Fri January 25 2019 - SEATTLE Washington - Crocodile Seattle (USA)
Sat January 26 2019 - PORTLAND Oregon - Doug Fir Lounge (USA)
Mon January 28 2019 - REDDING California - Dip (USA)
Tue January 29 2019 - SAN FRANCISCO California - August Hall (USA)
Wed January 30 2019 - FRESNO California - Strummer's (USA)
Thu January 31 2019 - LOS ANGELES California - Regent Theatre - CA (USA)
Sat February 02 2019 - POMONA California - Glass House (USA)
Mon February 04 2019 - LAS VEGAS Nevada - Bunkhouse (USA)
Tue February 05 2019 - PHOENIX Arizona - Crescent Ballroom (USA)
Wed February 06 2019 - EL PASO Texas - Lowbrow Palace (USA)
Thu February 07 2019 - LUBBOCK Texas - Jakes Sports Cafe (USA)
Fri February 08 2019 - SAN ANTONIO Texas - Paper Tiger (USA)
Sat February 09 2019 - AUSTIN Texas - Mohawk - Austin Outdoors (USA)
Sun February 10 2019 - HOUSTON Texas - White Oak Music Hall (USA)
Mon February 11 2019 - DALLAS Texas - Trees (USA)

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