The Good Life
Gabe’s — Sunday, Sept. 6 at 9 p.m.
Suffice to say, Tim Kasher, lead vocalist and frontman for Saddle Creek mainstays Cursive and The Good Life, has long since made his mark on the indie music scene.
After the meteoric rise of Cursive in the early ’00s following the success of The Ugly Organ (2003) and The Good Life’s breakthrough release the following year, Album of the Year (2004), Kasher has spent most of the last decade writing and releasing intensely emotional, personal tracks under a number of successful monikers — not to mention a few solo albums here and there.
The musical zeitgeist that enveloped Omaha’s Saddle Creek Records, and indie music in general, throughout the late ’90s and ’00s has waned in recent years, however. As time has passed, so too have the dime-a-dozen headlines proclaiming the arrival of Omaha’s indie wunderkinds, filled with juicy comparisons to iconic figures like Bob Dylan. But even as trends, tastes and musical influences have shifted, Saddle Creek has remained steadfast in doing what it does best: releasing excellent music by incredibly talented artists. And given the absurd body of talent contained within this small Midwest label — Bright Eyes, The Faint, Neva Dinova and Azure Ray, for instance — to say that we’ve seen the apex of Saddle Creek would seem terribly premature.
Coming off the release of The Good Life’s latest album, Everybody Comes Down (2015), Tim Kasher spoke with Little Village about Saddle Creek, his passion for filmmaking and what the future has in store. You can catch Kasher and the rest of The Good Life crew at Gabe’s this Sunday at 9 p.m.
Little Village: In talking about this new album, Everybody’s Coming Down, some critics have complained about the lack of distinction between Cursive and The Good Life. Some people have sort of lamented that, and I’m wondering, what’s your reaction to that? Is that even a goal of yours, for these two things to be distinct musically, or does that even matter to you?
Tim Kasher: Yeah, it really doesn’t matter to me … For me, the benefit of using different monikers is just the benefit of playing with different people. But also, it gives me a chance to step away from one catalog and pick up another. If I get kind of tired of it, I can set that one down and switch to a different catalogue.
Is that something that’s borne out of the Saddle Creek culture? I’ve noticed this with bands like Bright Eyes and a number of other Saddle Creek groups — this flow of various artists between different bands.
I think that people like Conor and myself, for example, we just kind of find that more musically interesting — to change things up and do different things. I don’t have any concern about hazier distinctions between Good Life or … Cursive. I’m unabashedly the same songwriter.
If that’s a thing that specifically frustrates people, I can’t assuage that, and nor am I going to change my outlook because people feel like things are supposed to be placed into specific genres or whatever.
Looking back on all these bands, do you find yourself to be a nostalgic person? Does that affect your music?
I guess I’m not nostalgic in those ways … I’ve never had an interest in touching upon something I’ve already done. I’d suggest that artists shouldn’t make a point of attempting that, because they’re going to anyway. I mean, I’m inevitably going to write stuff that’s going to sound familiar and similar to things I’ve done in the past.
I’m calling from Iowa City, a big lit town. Do you find much time to read when you’re on the road? It seems like you’re touring constantly.
Yeah, and I’ve always loved Iowa City. The Writers’ Workshop is amazing and it’s great to be branded as a lit town — that’s awesome.
You reference a lot of writers in some of your older Good Life records — Bukowski and that sort of thing — is there anyone you’re reading currently, and does that affect your music at all?
Sometimes it has. There was a period when I was reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy, and it was tangible to me — tangible would be the wrong way to put it — but it was so obvious, the way that it was seeping into the album that I was writing at the time. It just seemed like such a reaction to that.
I’ve also [read] a lot of Philip Roth … It was just evident that all of that was working its way into The Game of Monogamy, as an example.
I just went back to Joan Didion again — I really like her a lot. I just read J.D. Salinger [as well], just because I never really read him much, other than Cather in the Rye.
You’ve mentioned, at times, that you’ve thought about getting back into academia. Is that something you think about often? We’d love to have you at Iowa.
That’s nice of you to say (laughs). I still never know, in this type of career, you never know how much longer it will be viable. I’ve gone a long time doing music — way longer than I’d ever assumed. I actually assumed I’d go nowhere with it. It was always just this helpful day dream, you know?
So my plan all along was to go to grad school. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it to people before in your neck of the woods, but the Writers’ Workshop was the goal of where I was hoping to go for grad work. At least, that’s what I would have shot for. I’m not sure whether I’d get in or not.
You’ve got quite the resume at this point.
I mean, at this point … I’m still ‘young’ in an older sense (laughs). I still don’t know what my future holds, so maybe grad school could still be in my future.
Like you point out, you’ve been making music for a long time, and that alone was sort of unexpected. So what are you trying to express at this point with your music? Are you trying to be a storyteller? Are you looking inward and talking about your own issues, or are your songs mostly fiction at this point?
I don’t really have any parameters set. I think it really just … it goes album by album, whether I feel the need to explore more personal concepts or issues, or if I want to extend myself out into some stuff that’s more fictional. Some albums are more so and less so I suppose.
Happy Hollow in particular is one album that people often reference as a sort of concept album. Is that something you’d like to pursue further? I know you’ve done some screenplay work and that sort of thing. Is writing something you’d be interested in, even as a novelist?
I do consider myself a storyteller, and I’m glad that people have the impression that I tell stories in songs, because … I just think there are other, far greater, more intricate musical storytellers than myself.
Over the years, some songs and some albums have been more specifically laid down as stories. I guess I just recognize that a lot of stuff I write ends up being more [visual], or just concepts, and would probably come off more as poetry than actual storytelling, if that makes sense. Just in that general sense that music, pop music, is like the “new poetry.” That kind of idea.
Do you consider your material to be pop music? How do you see yourself at this point?
It all depends on how you’re defining it, but my definition is that pop music is a vastly huge umbrella. Practically all of rock and roll, indie rock and folk rock — it’s all pop music. It’s all written under that same similar, familiar structure that’s ‘popular.’
I’m curious, going back into your extensive musical history, what’s your perception of your audience? Do you feel your audience has changed with you? Does it seem to be a different group now than it was ten years ago?
I don’t think about that much (pauses). I’m not really sure that it’s a thing for me to think about, if that makes sense. I could bring up that, during more of the hay-day of Cursive having greater success with The Ugly Organ and whatnot, the audience became kind of large — became just [large] enough that I wouldn’t really know how to define them at all …
I do feel a closer connection to people who come out to the shows these days, just because over the years, a lot of that ‘bigger thing’ that was going on for a little while there has kind of moved and now it’s just like, maybe more of a familiar fanbase I suppose, of people that I can recognize even, you know?
Beyond Saddle Creek, what does Omaha mean to you these days?
Well, it has a huge significance in my life because it’s my hometown. It’s my hometown, it’s where my friends are, it’s where my parents and my grandmother still currently live. [It’s] so significant (laughs). I spent, I don’t know, at least 28 years of my life there — probably more like 25 years of my life there.
I wasn’t sure if it was a place you guys still considered to be ‘home.’
Oh yeah, no, I absolutely do. I co-own a bar, it’s like my favorite bar in that town. I co-own it with some of the other guys in Cursive.
Which bar is that?
It’s called O’Leaver’s.
To me, I haven’t been living [in Omaha] for a long time, but I still think the music community there is amazing. The bands coming out of it, I always think are awesome, and my opinion on that hasn’t changed ever … I think all the music’s good, and I don’t hold Bright Eyes and The Faint in some higher regard as like the ‘greater’ members of the pantheon or something like that.
I kind of just see the whole thing still as ‘local music,’ and all these great songwriters. But that’s just like all of us Omaha [artists] being excited and supportive of our music community.
What do you attribute — I’m thinking of Bright Eyes, The Faint, Cursive, The Good Life, Tilly and the Wall — what do you attribute that to? How could that come to be in Omaha? Why Omaha?
We were all just really supportive of each other — like crazy supportive of each other.
Believe it or not, we really didn’t have jealousy amongst each other. Instead, we were writing all of each others’ favorite records, and it just would excite us. So each record that was written, we all felt the need to write something as good and as strong as that. As far as it picking up so well nationally, I mean, I think it was just a really fun time and place thing.
You know, It was a talking point, like, “What? Omaha? Are you kidding me? What’s going on there? I thought nothing was going on there.” Omaha was the type of town — an underdog kind of town — that people were excited to hold up.
You’ve been touring for so long. It seems like every six months to a year, you’re coming through Iowa City. Does that wear on you? Part of me feels guilty even doing these interviews because I know you’re doing this day-in, day-out. It has to be boring for you at a certain point, right?
(laughs) It does. It definitely gets boring for me. It can definitely become rote, but I always stay really busy. I always have projects that I’m juggling, so that kind of keeps my personal passion thrusting forward.
This year, I went out with Cursive in March and was actually home all the way until August. That was a long break for me, and it was nice to see that I was excited to go on tour again. I will never not be excited to go on tour — at some point. It’s just, when they start stacking up and it’s like four tours in a row, I’m like ugh, I guess I’m kind of over it at that point (laughs), but whenever I have a long enough break, I want to do it again. So I think it’s a good sign that I still like what I do.
You’re touring right now in promotion of Everybody Comes Down, but after this tour, is there anything on the horizon you’re looking forward to in particular? Something you’re looking to get to?
The next thing that I’m finishing is, I shot a movie last December. it’s a feature length, and I wrote the score to that, so I’m going to put out a solo record next year that’s going to accompany this movie. Hopefully, the plan is to tour it around, so hopefully I’ll be back through Iowa City again this time next year, but with a movie.
That sounds like huge news for you.
Yeah! I’m really excited.
You shot the movie and did the score, correct?
Anything else you can say about that? When will it be out, and can you give me maybe a one or two line synopsis?
We’re just finishing it now and have been sending it to festivals, and so it’s all kind of a little bit early to discuss it much, but that’s what the rounds have been anyway.
It’s about an engaged couple and the breakdown of their relationship over a New Year’s Eve night. People who have seen it say it doesn’t fall far from the tree [regarding] things that I write about (laughs).
We’ll see you Sunday at Gabe’s.
Yeah! Iowa City’s going to be fun. It’s our last show on this leg [of the tour], so we’ll be in good spirits, for sure.
Photo by Mighty Mighty Matze