The shuffler: Tim Kasher, indie-rock singer-songwriter and frontman for Cursive, a frequently noisy, generally melodic, always emotionally revealing guitar-pop outfit. Kasher also heads up The Good Life, which sounds similar to Cursive, but softer. The Good Life's latest album, Help Wanted Nights, comes out Sept. 11.
Iron & Wine, "Upward Over The Mountain"
Tim Kasher: This is one of those songs someone else put on here. I've always liked Iron & Wine… slightly. I've always been more captivated by the story of who this guy [Sam Beam] is and how he came to make music. Just this guy from Florida who recorded stuff out of his house and turned out to be quite a sensation. I like the appeal of where it came from more than I like the music.
The A.V. Club: The album this song comes from is more on the lo-fi end, while Iron & Wine's recent records are more polished. Do you have a preference, generally speaking?
TK: No, I don't think I have a preference. It's specific to the artist and the song. With Iron & Wine, it seems to me, the lo-fi stuff was a bit more charming. More unique, too.
The Cure, "Let's Go To Bed"
TK: It's pretty obvious that this would be on here. [Laughs.]
AVC: Cursive has some songs with a definite Cure influence, like "The Recluse."
TK: We even accidentally made a video that looks just like The Cure, like the video for "Lullaby."
AVC: Was that an unconscious influence, or did you directly attempt to be Cure-ish on that song?
TK: I first started The Good Life because I couldn't get away from the Robert Smith comparisons all the time, but anything I've done that people consider blatantly Cure-ish hasn't been that blatant at all from my end. I'm not very excited about artists who say, "I wanted to do a Strokes kind of song," and openly recognize where their influences are coming from while they're doing it. I'm pretty opposed to that. I always thought that if I was going to be guilty of something, I was going to be guilty of sounding like Morrissey, but that wouldn't have been blatant either. I just figured I couldn't escape it. Robert Smith never occurred to me, but it turned out that's what I was doing all along. [Laughs.] I like him a lot, so it's not all that offensive to me.
Actually, the Robert Smith comparisons have caused me to evaluate how I sing. This is something every singer should do, to try to get to a place where you're singing in a style most representative of how you feel, how you talk. It's hard for singers not to be affected by what they listen to a lot. I'm sure in the mid-'90s, I was doing that obnoxious, low Eddie Vedder thing. It sucks. I can't listen to that stuff now. But to be considerate to my younger self, I'm sure I was singing that way because I was embarrassed about being a teenager, and I was trying to sound older. But it was also very much in keeping with a trend.
John Lennon, "Oh My Love"
TK: I'm not sure I know what song it is, but I probably would if I was actually listening to it. I don't think there are too many John Lennon songs that people don't just… know.
AVC: Were The Beatles a major part of your musical upbringing?
TK: No, they really weren't. And they still aren't. I'm more of a fair-weather fan. I think they're a good band that made great songs. Actually, I have more faith in John Lennon apart from The Beatles. He's a really fascinating, compelling, great songwriter.
AVC: Are you one of those people who've been told how great The Beatles are so much that you can't even really hear them any more?
TK: No, not at all. I like them. But I totally react against people who are so weird about The Beatles or Beach Boys and Pet Sounds or Revolver. Or that book that came out about the recording techniques of The Beatles. I can't get that worked up for any band. [Laughs.]
The Nation Of Ulysses, "S.S. Exploder"
AVC: Not to bring up a sore subject, but Nation Of Ulysses is sometimes cited as an emo progenitor, coming out of that same D.C. Dischord scene as Rites Of Spring.
TK: [Laughs.] Oh, I don't know. Nation Of Ulysses were just doing great stuff. People can call them emo, but what later came to be called emo or emo-core was just great music at the time. It's all subjective. I'm a big fan of Nation Of Ulysses. It sounds nothing like the absolute drivel that is being pushed in this new decade as emo. But I guess it's pretty hard to draw that line. I stand by Nation Of Ulysses. We listen to a lot of them. I'm sure they've affected me in one way or another.
La Cerca, "Kangaroo"
TK: This is a good example of one of the regional bands we find when we're touring. They're from Tucson. The album is Goodbye Phantom Engineer, which was, like, two albums ago for them. We've been touring through Tucson for years, meeting people and bands, and La Cerca was one I always liked.
AVC: How would you describe them?
TK: They're fun, troubled pop. They've got odd arrangements which kind of sound ironic. They have a wild saxophone player.
Elvis Costello, "Senior Service"
TK: I put Elvis Costello on that short list of artists I hold in high regard. Elvis Costello. Tom Waits. Paul Simon, to a point. Bruce Springsteen, to a point. These are artists who give you a lot of hope and inspiration that you'll be able to maintain musical credibility for a lifetime.
AVC: "Senior Service" is from that stretch when Elvis Costello put out three amazing albums in two and a half years. Even fronting two bands, can you imagine yourself being that productive?
TK: I know that I can do it, but I can't do it like he did it. There's a quote I've always loved of Elvis Costello's, where he claims that he can write an entire album over a weekend. I always thought that was cool. I believe him. I don't know how good that album would be, but I bet it wouldn't be bad.
AVC: Do you think that immediacy has a value, as opposed to writing something and then working on it over time?
TK: I think that immediacy can have a lot of value, but it isn't always worth it. I believe in strong editing for music, and I think that some artists are better at it than others. That's why you have writers who are more consistent than other writers. As far as immediacy is concerned, that's really just good editing too, if you can recognize something right away, in its initial state.
TK: This came out at a good age for me. I think I was 18 when Undertow came out, and I went and saw them at Lollapalooza. I think I stopped listening to them after that, but I always appreciated them.
AVC: Did you have a wide range of tastes when you were a teenager? Were you into a lot of harder rock?
TK: Hardly. Tool was as heavy as I got. They're really not representative; they just happened to be the one thrashy band I liked. Besides Tool, I listened to a lot of Britpop.
Erase Errata, "Billy Mummy"
TK: I always thought this band was compelling in a really wild way, similar to The Slits. I really don't listen to them very often, but when I do hear one of their songs, I appreciate the irreverence in the songwriting.
AVC: Cursive had a similarly disjointed feel to its music in the early going, which smoothed over time. Was that just a matter of maturing?
TK: I don't really see it as maturing—not that I see a problem with maturing. I try to be careful not to overplay any given trick. It felt like we had gotten to the point where our music was disjointed as a rule, so I felt we should break that rule. I started writing things more fluidly, because it was something we'd always avoided in the past. I thought it would be better to go in that direction because it was different. But we've been working on a record now, and while I don't know if I am jumping back into the disjointed, I'm definitely using different time signatures. Always trying to move in a different direction.