At the top of the dingy green-carpeted stairs on a late afternoon in the sun-soaked Bowery Ballroom, CMJ sat down with Cursive frontman Tim Kasher. Later that evening, Cursive would play to a sold-out crowd at Bowery for the second night in a row. The band’s current tour is in support of Cursive’s February LP release, I Am Gemini, a concept album detailing the story of good and evil twin brothers.
Kasher told us just why he approached the new album as he did and warned of the dangers of dorkdom.
You’ve mentioned that you “had the feeling” you wanted to write about schizophrenia in I Am Gemini. Were you writing about anyone’s experience with schizophrenia or just the idea of it?
Um, I guess my own. I mean, I’m certainly not schizophrenic, but I think that we all have some level of multiple personality disorder. That’s certainly something that I always get pretty frustrated with and have dealt with. I remember dealing with it since I was young, since I was a little boy. But I think that’s just us grappling with like—without sounding kind of crazy—those voices in your head that are always kind of battling each other.
You seem to have a thing for horror and the macabre: creepy sideshow carnivals, Frankenstein monsters, haunted houses. What attracts you to these?
I think stuff like that is kind of fun. It’s tricky because it’s such a slippery slope, you know? I think a great example is like Nightmare Before Christmas. Like it’s a really great movie, but it also fits so snugly into Hot Topic. And I think somebody like Dresden Dolls too, I really love Dresden Dolls, but I can certainly recognize how—I mean, I’m being rude—I realize how nerdy their crowd can likely be. But they probably see that too. I just have an attraction to the gothic, and therein lies kind of like the sideshow mentality as well. So I dunno, I feel like you just kind of grow up with stuff like that. I am a big horror fan. I think it’s all kind of dorky, but I also find it kind of romantic to write about, so I try to kind of toe that line and make sure that it doesn’t become too…dorky. [Laughs]
The I Am Gemini liner notes are so visual, complete with stage direction. Think these will guide any music videos that you might have for tracks on this album?
I had a lot of daydreams while I was writing it to initially really like set production in motion and try to get something made. I made a point to kind of like put a halt on all of those daydreams because I wanted to make sure that the record was done correctly. Now that I’m on the other side of it all, it goes back to the dorkiness of gothic material, and I would be slightly horrified I think to see how stuff like that would turn out.
Some of the criticism surrounding I Am Gemini says your intent isn’t clear, it’s not relatable. Do you have a response to that?
No, I think that that’s all there. It’s all concerns that I’ve had. So counter to that, it’s been nice that people also have been following it really well, so that’s good. In researching to write it, I read librettos, operatic librettos, and I couldn’t follow them at all, you know, I didn’t know what the story was, I didn’t know what was going on. So, I tried pretty hard to make it cohesive, but I also reedited it. I didn’t want to like spell it out for dumbshits. I think it could have been spelled out better, but it also would have been less tasteful. Point being is, yeah, that was a major concern I’ve had, and it doesn’t really bother me that people feel that way. And also, frankly, if you’re going to read through it once and then say, “That’s not going to work,” it’s not that it doesn’t work. I think maybe I might offer a little bit of defense and say, “You have to read it more than once.” [Laughs] But you know, absolutely fair enough. I’m always open for criticism.
I mean, anything’s going to get criticism.
Yeah, especially when you do something like this. It’s not going to be right for everybody, and that’s really OK. I’m just kind of hoping it will for others.
You guys play “The Martyr” every night on tour. Are there songs you enjoy playing live more than others? Does anything from I Am Gemini make it onto that list?
I really get a kick of playing “Birthday Bash.” I think it’s a fairly traditional song in the way it works, and it’s traditional for a reason; it’s kind of like a driving story. So I find that kind of fun. I think that I certainly have much more interest in songs that kind of tell a story versus thoughts and ideas, though those are all absolutely fine too.
A while back it occurred to me that there are songs that you kind of have to play every night. In a way you’re kind of—well, I’m sure this is not the case for all artists—I kind of agree with the listeners, like “OK, I can see, I guess this is one of the better songs.” So I don’t mind playing it every night, and also there’s the whole concept of playing off the audience. So even though we play “Art Is Hard” and “The Martyr” every single night, it’s like still, they get real excited about it. It’s kind of fun.