Solving a Million and One Philosophical Dilemmas with Tim Kasher of Cursive

From the years 2000 to 2002 I ran an online zine, Actionattackhelicopter, along with my friends, Brian and Josh. I was fortunate to interview many musicians whose work I enjoyed. I’m posting some of those interviews here for anyone who may have missed them the first time. They have been edited for length, relevance, and to correct for my poor editing skills at the time of original publication. Keep in mind that these were done over ten years ago, thus individuals’ opinions, thoughts, and ideas may no longer be relevant, but they are still interesting as a snapshot of a particular time and place.

Perhaps one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten in regards to my writing was from someone who had known Tim Kasher, the singer and guitarist of Cursive, for a long time, read this article, and said I had totally gotten it right. I don’t know how much this article applies to Kasher’s current philosophy, but I’m still proud of it.

This article was originally published in early 2000.

“Solving a million and one philosophical dilemmas with Cursive”

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Enter: 1999. Also known as: last year. I go to school at a small, private university in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest. Summer comes along and I decide to torture myself (read: I take summer school classes). Actually, summer school is one of the smarter decisions a person can make. For one thing, it gets you out of college earlier, which, if you hate your school is a good thing. Secondly, at least at my school, summer classes are easier. A LOT easier. So I am a twenty-something male in the middle of nowhere amongst hicks and people that have more pride in the Confederate flag than your average South Carolinian. I am alone. Well, I live with a kid named Dinty Musk Jr. (yes, that is his real name), but besides that, I am alone.

Enter one of the most amazing bands to ever comfort and torment my soul at the same time. Of course you realize I am speaking of Cursive. I own both Cursive CDs as well as the split with Silver Scooter and am intrigued by the lyrics. I thereby try to find Tim Kasher’s email so that I might be able to do an interview with him.

The interview was sporadic and random and delved into philosophical issues as much as the actual band. Although what follows is over six months old now, it is still important. Not necessarily because it describes Tim Kasher or Cursive (I don’t know if it still does or not), but more so because part of me relates to the struggles and doubts. I see it in Cursive’s lyrics and music. What follows is my interpretation of the interview I did with Tim.

For the person who has never heard Cursive, someone could tell them it sounds like indie rock or emo and that might suffice for an answer. But for the individual willing to delve deeper into a band, willing to read the lyrics, willing to analyze the relationship between vocals and music, that person will find a philosophical band that is “indie rock,” yet is also searching and isn’t just talking about the last girl they kissed like so many emo bands out there today. Cursive is thinking man’s rock. Granted, Cursive may be the smoker and drinker’s rock band, but it’s also a thinking man’s band. Cursive has the uncanny ability to take jarring guitar tones, and make it almost sexy. Songs such as “Proposals” on Storms of Early Summer showcase this. On the other hand songs such as “Target Group” off of Cursive’s first full-length CD, Such Blinding Stars For Starving Eyes, create a dichotomy of an almost frantic, yet peaceful mood. Both of these albums were met with critical acclaim yet the final result is that the band broke up. However, things ended up coming around for Cursive.

Cursive is now Matt on bass/vocals, Tim on guitar/vocals, Clint on drums and last I heard, Ted from Lullaby for the Working Class would be on guitar as well. As to that matter, we’ll go to Tim for more information.

“Well, I am definitely to blame [for the break up], though Steve (the old guitarist) was also planning on leaving the band eventually,” Tim says. “He had been accepted into law school [in North Carolina] and was eager to get started.”

So from this point of departure, Tim also made his exit. Therefore Cursive ceased to exist as an entity. From here Tim went to Oregon with his wife. However, not much later Tim (having gotten a divorce from his wife) returned to Nebraska.

“Personally, I was cocky in breaking up Cursive: my life seemed to be going really well at the time…I assumed that I didn’t need Cursive anymore.”

But we all know what happens when we assume things, don’t we? So Tim sought and found reconciliation with his former members and life continued on perfectly, right? Well, pretty much yeah.

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“I suppose we would always like to go in new directions, whether it be Cursive or any other project we’re working on. I guess we’re trying to stay in the same vein of music—we’re just trying to reinvent the way we used to play.”

Tim doesn’t hide the fact that he just wants to get on with the band’s career and get over the initial awkwardness of re-uniting. “I’m sure we’ll tour as much as we deem necessary. We would like to just pick up and resume the same band we were last summer.”

And speaking of touring, Cursive is set to hit the road in March of 2000 with the eventual goal being to hit SXSW. As for the recording procedure, Cursive is set to release a full-length sometime in the spring of this year. But their last album, The Storms of Early Summer, was the album that caught my attention and made me fall in love with the band. As much as I would like to, I doubt there is ever a way that I will be able to not associate that album with my own lonely intellectual summer of 1999. Songs like “The Road to Financial Stability” hint at the stormy weather of a summer. I asked Tim about the theme to the album as it relates to the title.

The Storms of Early Summer works as a chunk of timeline for me. Being 24 years old, I (as well as most Cursive listeners) am dwelling in the early summer of life presently, and as far as the ‘storms’ go… besides being precious imagery for people like myself (growing up beneath a huge Midwest sky), well, I guess ‘storms’ are just part of this age.”

And for Kasher, this album has also been an emotionally rewarding experience for him. “I am not an outwardly aggressive person by any stretch of the imagination, yet I’ve managed to release so much aggression into these songs I’ve written…it only made sense to theme an album with the pent up frustration of which they seemed to occur.”

Finally, though, Kasher gets to the root of what Storms of Early Summer is truly about. “The two halves of the album are presented as two short stories, both of which pattern an eager young man and how he becomes stripped of self-worth, decays mentally and spiritually, and resolves himself in rage.” He adds, “Of course, this is a very loose and generalizing interpretation.”

Kasher lists many influences, musically, including “Paul Simon, the members of Fugazi, and the members of Bettie Serveert. Past that I would probably throw in people like David Bowie and Elvis Costello.”

He goes on to state, “There are a lot of people out there who can write a good song.” But as far as his own songwriting, that seems to be influenced to a varying extent by just being a human being. “I wouldn’t say a specific experience has affected me so much…instead I think just getting older has affected me.”

To Kasher, life is what influences him as a songwriter. Maturing as an individual can be a fuel for so much as is indicated in many of his songs. This is clearly seen in Storms of Early Summer since it is a story of the maturing young man. Perhaps it is even the biography of Tim Kasher. He shares how he started writing as a young teenager and how that in turn affected him. And through it all he has retained his sense of asking questions and the importance of relationships.

“I often propose lyrics as questions because I think some things should be asked—not simply stated. I feel it helps for the listener to hear certain ideas as questions—hopefully it stirs more thought, as well as introspection. Maybe the end result can be a song that feels more personalized,” Kasher says. He then adds as an afterthought, “I don’t know, really.” But with many of the cases, it’s just that Kasher wants an answer himself. “If you ever feel you can answer any of these questions I throw out in lyrics, it might not hurt to let me know what they are.”

Regarding relationships in songs, while Kasher tries to avoid writing about anything too specific he does write about experiences in his life. He admits that putting in anything too specific would make him, as well as his friends uncomfortable.

“I most certainly encode it to a degree…try to keep a little distance between personal experience and what is actually written on paper. Besides,” he adds wryly, “there’s a certain fruition to plugging in personal experiences for songs; the writer may be the only person who can relate to it.”

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Yet the point of most interest within Cursive comes with Kasher’s allusions to religion and philosophy in his lyrics. Kasher was raised as a Catholic who studied in Catholic schools and even an all male Jesuit high school.

“I was a staunch believer as a child, but became quite disillusioned as I grew older. As a result, I no longer practice any religion,” Kasher states. “This has left me fascinated with many aspects of how religion works and how it affects people. I often write about it because of it’s inherent romantic appeal—it’s similar to a person’s allure to myth or folklore.”

In association with a rejection of one’s upbringing, bitter and resentful feelings tend to follow. Feelings that Kasher freely admits. In fact, Kasher admits feeling lied to and brainwashed. Yet he adds, “I don’t do any of this to discredit religion or religious practice, I only feel it’s important that voices similar to mine are heard—and respected—instead of the rejection often expressed toward atheistic/agnostic belief.”

The philosophical side is the most intriguing aspect of Cursive. Cursive is appreciated most fully when one understands that Tim Kasher is an existentialist. Suddenly, with this angle, Cursive’s lyrics and music take on a whole new meaning that become understood on a much deeper level than your average rock band. Suddenly, listening to Cursive is equivalent to sitting in that boring class on aesthetics or logic, but actually enjoying it instead. Cursive is a band whose lyrics are to be debated.

Kasher says, “I feel like that in theory, you almost have to be an existentialist.” He goes on to state, “How can you really, purely find reason to do anything? I don’t mean that in a mope-ish “slacker” context, but as a philosophical dilemma. Without a god, or prospects of an afterlife, or divinity or whatever, it’s hard to not admit to existentialism.”

Yet Kasher’s dialectic problem arises in that while he is an existentialist, he also finds it hard to live it out, which has been the problem with existentialists since Camus and Sartre and even back to Kierkegaard. His answer? “I fake it. I decided a long time ago that as long as I’m breathing and walking and talking the least I can do is try and make something of it.”

Yet the pendulum swings both ways with Kasher and sometimes he feels he becomes too existential. “It’s just too absurd to live like that all the time, you need to find reasons to want things. And once you find that you just fake it through. I fake it so well that I truly believe in everything I do.”

And with all existentialists, they suddenly become very rational in some areas of their life, such as when Sartre signed the Algerian Manifesto. As an example, Kasher says, “I am very non-existential when it comes to how seriously I take art and other pursuits.”

Kasher is a man caught in the confusion of everyone who has ever lived through the ages of sixteen to twenty-five. He is always learning and accepting his position in a screwed up world. By the end of the conversation he says, “It seems more intelligent to simply plead agnosticism,” and then takes a line from Cursive’s “Proposals”: “None of us really have any answers.”

Yet through this all, Kasher retains his sense of humor. When asked what the funniest thing is that he’s seen lately, he responds, “The warehouse I work at got a long banner shipped in this morning with ‘Do Not Flod’ misprinted on the label.” Although it’s an email interview, I can almost picture him adding with a smile, “It’s the little things that really get me.”

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