Tim Kasher of Cursive explains the concept behind 'I Am Gemini'
Cursive fans are used to hearing frontman Tim Kasher scream tales of torture and crushing self-doubt, all while attempting to offer sobering life lessons. But when his band decided to go the concept album route for its latest release, the destructive love affairs and carnival metaphors of earlier albums such as "Domestica" and "The Ugly Organ" were replaced with a look at the darker side of a sibling rivalry.
The core of new album "I Am Gemini," released today via Saddle Creek, tells a surreal and psychoanalytic tale of twin brothers separated at birth, Cassius and Pollock. One is good and the other is evil, and their unexpected reunion in a creepy house ignites nothing short of a struggle for the soul, played out with a cast of supporting characters that includes a chorus of angels and devils, as well as twin sisters conjoined at the head.
Even for a band that has reveled in a mix of post-punk rage and esoteric prose, "I Am Gemini" elevated the group's songwriting to dramatic extremes, Kasher joked in a recent phone coversation.
"We’ve always recognized ourselves as a very pretentious band, as far as our presentation, and this is probably the most excessive it’s gotten," Kasher said. "So I was approaching it much more as a musical than a rock opera."
Those who missed out on tickets to the band's sold-out Troubadour show Friday can catch Cursive at an Amoeba in-store Thursday at 7 p.m. Below, Kasher discusses the album's concept and how he embraced his inner playwright.
Despite having released several thematic records, did the idea of Cursive tackling a concept album seem daunting at first?
"It happens where early in the songwriting process I get really ambitious and I want to be able to tell the stories on a more complete level. But in the past, it was something I was never really able to see through and it just never really came together.
"We’ve had a tendency to fight against this kind of conceptualization as a band in the past, but I just always gravitate towards it. For all these albums, I’ve kind of hit a point where I just lost the urge to follow through with these kinds of ideas. But this time, it worked out."
Were the characters Cassius and Pollock something you developed from real life, Greek mythology or your own fiction?
"At its root, it’s an idea I’ve had for years about wanting to write from a journal of frustration that I have where I tend to write about whether or not I’m getting along with myself. It’s an argument that I think most of us tend to have. So I’m using those conflicting voices in my head and from there it set in motion this fictionalized story."
Since you wrote the music for the album first, did the sequence of the songs start our with a clear thematic direction?
"We worked on all the music first, which is what we normally do. I’ll write melodies, but I don’t write lyrics first. The difference this time around is that I developed this complete story and sequenced songs for the album before I started writing the lyrics. I asked them if they’d be all right with me taking a stab at trying to write this story linearly from Track 1 to the end of the album. We did write the songs out of order, initially. But before starting the lyrics, I put the songs in order for the album, so each song represented a specific occurrence within the story."
Was there a feeling of trying to capture some sounds from previous albums to craft this one?
"For this album, what we did was return to a more meticulous idea of creating songs. It’s sort of the most comfortable approach that we’ve done as Cursive is to really examine the verse and bridge and really chopping them up and putting lots of 'tricks' in all the songs, which is just our way of saying making the songs more intricate. But the last couple albums, we had gotten tired of always taking the same approach so we started to streamline the songs a little bit more and let them flow on their own, more like a jam band."
Any plans on performing this concept album live from beginning to end?
"We’ve been talking about that and there’s been a lot of interest, and it’s something that we’d consider doing down the road. Hopefully, people who respond to the album would get a kick out of that. But for now, I think we’ll do what any proper rock and roll band would do on tour."
Is there a part of the album’s story that was the most intense for you to write?
"I might suggest the song 'Cat and Mouse' for a couple reasons. For one, those words took the longest to write because it’s a literally aggressive song about Cassius wanting to kill his brother. That’s when things kind of got so grand and so epic, because I don’t write about murder, because I’m totally unfamiliar with the topic, so it took a long time to write because it always seemed so cheesy to me. So to my ears anyway, it seemed like I finally sorted it out. That’s been a better one for me, I’d say."
Is there a different sense of accomplishment with "I Am Gemini"? Would you want to do a project like this again? Do you think you've broken any boundaries as a songwriter?
"Yeah, for myself, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to take that thematic element in our albums a little further. So it was a good sense of completion. I would definitely like to do more stuff like this. I just think it doesn’t usually come together. This one just kind of miraculously made its way to completion and now we get to live with that."
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: Cursive is, from left, Ted Stevens, Cully Symington, Tim Kasher, Patrick Newbery, Matt Maginn. Credit: Daniel Muller