Singer and songwriter Tim Kasher has slipped effortlessly between his bands Cursive and The Good Life, both of which are still active entities, but his most recent project is a solo album, The Game of Monogamy, out now on Saddle Creek.
A beautiful, but brutally stark examination of relationships and regret, Kasher's lushly orchestrated album includes members of the Glacier National Symphony as well as Cursive compadres Patrick Newberry and Matt Maginn and Minus The Bear's Erin Tate.
Fans of the The Good Life will be pleased to note that while Kasher mentions in the band's blog that things are a bit slow for the group, on May 1 they will be playing a benefit at Slowdown in Omaha for Omaha Girls Rock, a girls' rock and roll camp, founded by TGL's Stefanie Drootin-Senseney.
In the meantime, Kasher, who has moved back and forth between Los Angeles, Montana and now back to Omaha, toured Europe earlier this year.
Not too long ago he came to The Alternate Side's Studio A, joined by keyboardist/trumpeter Newbery, bassist Geoff Dolce and drummer Dylan Ryan, to play several songs from The Game of Monogamy and he spoke frankly with Alisa Ali about his music, romantic disappointments and bad, bad dreams:
Alisa Ali: Your previous bands are Cursive and The Good Life. Are those completely over? Might you get them back together? Would you rule that out?
Tim Kasher: No, they’re something that’s ongoing. I keep changing up the moniker but I keep writing records under different names.
Alisa: I understand that The Good Life started off as a solo project for you to experiment with different types of lyrics and melodies that you didn’t think would fit in with Cursive. What would you say was the difference between Cursive and The Good Life? Is one more acoustic?
Tim: Yes, ever since I was writing songs I was writing a set for a rock and roll band and another set that was my own stuff that was primarily just playing acoustically but has evolved more into bigger song arrangements. That’s what The Good Life became back in 1998 or 1999. So this time around it seems very familiar. It’s just starting that again. Over the last decade The Good Life became a band in their own right, so this is back to page one.
Alisa: And the players on this record?
Tim: On this record? Well Patrick [Newberry] helped me with the whole project and Matt Maginn from Cursive played some bass and Erin Tate from Minus the Bear pitched in on drums and then we had a lot of session players.
Alisa: Did you have any goals for this record? Ways that you wanted it to be different from your previous releases?
Tim: Not necessarily. I don’t really get hung up on different monikers and that everything has to be vastly different, like I have to come out with a Caribbean album now. I don’t worry too much about that. If other people want to be bothered by similarities. We always struck it off as, well, I’m just one songwriter. I see it as I’m writing and arranging with different people, thus the different names. And there are different approaches. I’ve gotten positive feedback that this does actually sound like it constitutes a name change. Whether it does or not, again, it’s not a huge issue to me.
Alisa: I’m not so concerned about the name change, but I was wondering because a lot of time when artists put out different albums, they’re like, “This one - completely different.”
Tim: The differences are there. I know now that after doing four Good Life records, or at least specifically two with the proper band that is The Good Life now, I’d write a certain way for them and it would probably be more of a loose, bar band, rock and roll kind of thing. Cursive has always been Cursive in whatever way they have been. So there have been differences in my mind.
Alisa: Can you tell me a little about “Bad Bad Dreams?”
Tim: I think it’s one of the later songs that I wrote for the record. It’s a pretty unforgiving pop song, I think. It’s got fairly unforgivable lyrical content too.
Alisa: I know you went to Catholic school when you were younger.
Tim: I did. Twelve years.
Alisa: Any of that lingering with you? Clearly you got to see a priest.
Tim: Yeah, for me specifically, those rearing years really stayed with me and had quite an impact. I know that’s not the case for some people. I got pretty affected by what I felt was being misled as a child somewhere well past Santa Claus. I’m incredibly passionate about religion. I’m not religious, but passion about the concept of truth in religion. It plays such a huge role in what is truth and faith-based thought.
Alisa: So are you a believer?
Tim: No, just very passionate about my disbelief (laughs)
Alisa: Any lingering Catholic school guilt? A lot people when they talk about being raised Catholic, they talk about the guilt. Do you feel guilty about things?
Tim: About practically everything (laughs). There’s a lot of analysis. Self-analysis.
Alisa: Who needs a psychiatrist?
Tim: I’m actually a firm believer in not needing one.
Alisa: Do you have nightmares?
Tim: Yeah. Not terrible. Nothing that beats me down.
Alisa: I know that song wasn’t literally about a bad dream, but I was just thinking about it.
Tim: I know some people can’t sleep. My [dreams] are fairly run-of-the-mill. Helicopters chasing me. I think it makes a lot of sense, to me. It’s nighttime, it’s stalking you with huge lights and usually I’ll tend to run into a house and then I’m in a house, hiding behind a chair. That Roy Scheider film, what was that? “Blue Lightning?” “Blue Steel?” Roy Scheider had this movie [in which a helicopter] would hover and shine its lights in his house and that really stayed with me.
Alisa: Okay, I’ve gone a little astray here. What about the instrumentation on the record? You’ve got a bunch of harps and horns. Less of a focus on guitars?
Tim: I wanted to have much less focus on guitars. It seems like a guitar still makes its way in there. A thread of acoustic guitar throughout everything. That was a fundamental difference between this and the bands that I do, choosing other instruments to take leads versus a guitar lead. The freedom to be a kid in a candy store and choose what timbre would be appropriate for any given melody that we write.
Alisa: There’s some lovely acoustic melodies on your “Strays” song which is your “love song.”
Tim: That’s what it’s been called.
Alisa: But there’s a line in it that says, “Writers are selfish, writers are egotists and I’m afraid I’m as bad as it gets.” Is that true?
Tim: I had a revelatory, funny moment last night. I was doing an interview and was kind of talking about lines like that and I tend to have a self-absorption issue. I talk about ego a lot. Then I went to the restroom and the restroom was tagged with every graffiti artist in the city and I realized that is total ego. That’s actual ego. That’s intense confidence.
Alisa: I’m a huge dog lover and you mentioned in the song "Strays" that the analogy is that we’re all strays. You picked up a couple of stay dogs in the song. Did that actually happen?
Tim: Yeah, I do have a pound dog. She was born in the pound. Guacamola. It was Guacamole until I was told that she is a she. So I changed it to respect her.
Alisa: She doesn’t care, though.
Tim: She does. Because she’s a tomboy dog. I gave her a pink collar. She’s one of those dogs where people go, “What’s his name?” And she looks up at me, saying, “You could have called me Tiffany.”
Alisa: How do you deal with her on tour?
Tim: It’s been difficult. My current situation is great; one of my best buddies, Roger from The Good Life, he equally loves Guacy as he loves me and when I leave he takes over with her.
Alisa: What a romantic you are. You’re not. You’re so cynical! This is not a happy love record at all, it’s quite the opposite.
Tim: I’ll be completely sincere and honest. Every record I do surprises me. I’m surely not that cynical. Well, I’m probably awfully single, but I’m also awfully pleasant. The songs tend to surprise me, but it gets worse as these records age. I look back at them and think they’re just dismal.
Alisa: You don’t feel dismal in real life? It just turns out when you’re writing music?
Tim: I think that’s what surprises me. It’s taking an interest in the more extreme, dark corners in any of our lives. Just one facet of anyone’s existence, but that’s what tends to surprise me is that I continue to embark down those roads.
Alisa: Have you ever had a relationship that actually worked?
Tim: Well, yeah. I’m not really sure what “worked” means. I’ve had lots of great relationships with a lot of great people that worked really well for a time.
Alisa: Are you still a hopeful romantic maybe?
Tim: It totally bothers me that I am.
Alisa: That you are?
Tim: Yes, everything I’m trying to say is that I’m not. I feel like I’m trying to expose love for being a construct, but I refuse to let go of it myself. It truly enrages me. I put it down constantly and simultaneously seek it out.