It’s not uncommon for there to be gaps between Cursive albums. The band has even broken up on several occasions, including after the release of the critically acclaimed fan favorite The Ugly Organ
in 2003. But the Omaha, Nebraska-based post-hardcore band always seems to find its way back together.
Singer-guitarist Tim Kasher says the band usually reunites with something to say. The decision to make a new album is never self-indulgent; the band wouldn’t want to blemish its catalog with a forced effort.
This time, however, their reunion was largely coincidental.
“We had been considering doing another album, but we were pretty lax about it; we didn’t really have any timeframe in mind,” says Kasher in a phone interview. Cursive performs with Meat Wave and Campdogzz at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Grog Shop
. “And then, fairly out of the blue and fairly coincidentally, [original drummer] Clint [Schnase] reached out to us. I think he kinda just missed, you know, working on the music. He missed the ‘hang,’ the camaraderie, so he said he’d like to do another record if we’d be up for it. We were like, ‘That’s great.’ We’d been considering it too, but we didn’t know that working with him would be an option, so that sort of cemented the idea for us and put everything in motion.”
Kasher and the band’s original bassist, Matt Maginn, had been in the process of starting their own label with the intent of reissuing old Cursive albums when it occurred to them that the label could also be an opportunity to release new material. Little did they know, they would soon have plenty to talk about. Donald Trump was elected in 2016, right around the time Kasher began writing for the album that would be called Vitriola
, a play on the word vitriol.
“The fact that the record is so mired in these current events does make me feel like it’s bullshit to say that it was just coincidence, but it really was,” Kasher explains. “We made the decision to start this record well before we were even into the height of the election season. We decided to do a record, and we didn’t even talk about what it would be about, or what kind of record it would be, a discussion I actually generally like to have. I absolutely forgot to have that discussion; I think mostly because I was more excited about the fact that it had been six years, and Clint was back with us; that all seemed like enough.”
When Kasher started writing, he wasn’t entirely sure what he was writing about, but lyrics flowed. Guitarist Ted Stevens contributed a few tracks as is customary, and keyboardist Patrick Newbery, who played more of a musician-for-hire role on previous albums, wrote material that would become “Remorse,” the album’s unique piano ballad. The rest of the album is a haunting breed of rock complete with chomping keyboard and bass lines and a hint of cello. The band would ultimately end up with more than 20 tracks worth of material, requiring it to drastically whittle the list down for the album.
“I don’t remember making many conscious decisions about I want to write about this or I want to write about that, but ‘Pick Up the Pieces,’ that was just an expression that I kept mumbling while we were working on that song,” says Kasher. “And there was yet another mass shooting, we had plenty of them while I was working on the record, and then somehow it clicked that that was what ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ could be about.”
Though it was not the band’s intent to be overtly political, Kasher couldn’t help but write about the horrors that now have a regular place in our daily news, from Trump’s escapades to acts of racism and violence. Teasing out exactly how the political environment affects our inmost beings is work for a detective. Decoding the underlying feelings and messages in Vitriola is an ongoing process for Kasher, one that’s still happening nearly a month after the release. He almost feels like the album was ghost written by his subconscious, a subject he explores in the track “Ghost Writer.”
“If anything, ‘Ghost Writer’ kinda comes off as we were grappling a lot with being too overtly political on this record; we didn’t really want to write a ‘political record.’ We recognized that whole thing, absolutely it’s reflective of what’s going on today, but we wanted to have it be based more on our own reaction to it, our own personal experiences in hopes that that is something that might be somewhat universal and relevant or resonant to people.”
Relevance is something that Kasher values highly in his work. A career songwriter, he also releases music with another band, the Good Life, as well as solo work, and he’s been at it since before Cursive, which formed in 1995.
Kasher has always been a harsh self-critic; that’s the reasoning behind several of Cursive’s disbandments. Now secure in his career, Kasher still looks back on his work and hopes he continues to resonate with people. He eventually found peace in the belief that if it is resonating with him, and it’s likely resonating with fans too. And hopefully, this album doesn’t just resonate with fans now but in years to come.
“When it’s content that you want to be talking about, that you want to write about, as far as the timeliness of it, I am hoping that in 20 years, sure it will have a certain dated feel to people remembering, like, 'Oh yeah, people were going through a lot in 2018.' But hopefully, it will be more like a positive timestamp of an era, kind of in the same way that we don’t listen to music from the late ’60s and go, 'Well they sure were…that doesn’t really make sense anymore.' Instead you hear it like there was a revolution going on, and it still feels pertinent, and you can still apply it in ways to what’s going on today.”
Kasher and Maginn are also beginning to realize the potential of their new label, 15 Passenger Records, to do far more than simply release their own work. The label is a way that can help the band can go forward after more than 20 years in the business.
“To branch out and do something like [indie rockers] Campdogzz, that was just a unique situation because we really believe in this band, and it’s kind of unusual, but it’s not financial for us," says Kasher. "We certainly want to break even on everything, we’re not foolish, but the time that we put into it is kind of philanthropic. We’ve been really fortunate in this business for a long time, so it feels good to give back to the community in certain ways if we can.”
Cursive, Meat Wave, Campdogzz, 8:30 p.m., Tues., Nov 13, Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $15, grog shop.gs