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Cursive’s Long Adolescence

May. 5, 2009
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It seemed like the perfect set list at the time. Since they were booked at a South by Southwest day party dominated by their peers from the turn of the century, including Frodus, a D.C. post-hardcore group that reunited this year after a decade hiatus, for old time's sake Cursive dedicated most of the set to their 2000 album Domestica, a crushing song cycle far removed from the band's current, less turbulent rock.

"The dream was, with so many old fans, it would be the right time to revisit that album," frontman Tim Kasher recalls. "But after Frodus finished playing, there was this huge crowd shift, and in came the 20-year-old set, so we ended up playing for an audience that wasn't at all familiar with Domestica. Of all the shows we played at South by Southwest, that was the one that hit with a thud."

Though he laughs about it, the incident touched on one of Kasher's very real frustrations: While he gets older, his audience stays the same age.

"Much as I'd like to be writing music for my 30-something peers, they're not listening anymore," Kasher laments. "I can't make 30-year-olds start going to shows again-nobody in the industry can-so the truth is, I'm writing for 20-year-olds now."

That's Kasher's curse: With each year that he continues to play music for a living, he feels more like an outsider.

"There's something natural about touring around the country when you're 20; it fits who you are and what you're allowed to be," he explains. "But continuing to be rock 'n' roll in your thirties means you're stunted, that you haven't developed the same way everyone else around you has. Look at me: I need to start thinking about whether I'm going to have kids or not. I'm 34, so when am I going to? When I'm 44? Thirty-nine? I can't imagine that I'm going to be much different in five years than I am now-it's not like I'm 14 anymore, where I could still shed an entire skin."

These insecurities are at the core of Cursive's latest album, Mama, I'm Swollen, an examination of adults who refuse to live like adults. The record revives many of Kasher's pet motifs-chief among them self-doubting artists, phlegmatic sex and original sin-but Kasher cuts his usual cynicism with genuine sympathy for these apron-clinging perpetual adolescents. Derelicts though they may be, they're also idealists who never abandoned their childhood dreams.

While Cursive reinvents its sound with each album, Mama, I'm Swollen may be the band's most comfortable sounding yet, an even mix of tender and loud, colored by churchy organs and soulful horns and bound neither by the fierce angst of their early work nor the lofty intellectual ambitions of their last record, 2006's Happy Hollow, the most radical left-turn in Cursive's discography.

A reaction to the relative success of 2003's The Ugly Organ, Happy Hollow unceremoniously stripped away most of The Ugly Organ's hallmarks-most noticeably, the cellist that helped the band flag such attention, but also Kasher's vitriolic, semi-autobiographical lyrics, the common thread that ties together Cursive's other albums.

"I was afraid that everything I was writing would become an affectation," Kasher recalls. "Like, by writing something so successful, I must somehow be writing outside of myself. I think that's bullshit now, but I guess the response to TheUgly Organ was just too much for me to digest in one year. I can probably trace that to the Midwestern, conservative Christian guilt that I've always faced. My mother's a workaholic, and she instilled in me that belief that nothing in life should come easily. Or maybe it comes from the Bruce Springsteen, prove-it-all-night-long ethic, but either way I've always thought that everything should come from hard work, so as a band we've had a tendency to intentionally make things difficult for ourselves."

Cursive headlines an 8 p.m. concert at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Thursday, May 7, with P.O.S. and John the Savage.


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