It isn’t until the 27-minute mark of our interview that I realize I’ve gotten nowhere with Tim Kasher. Actually, I’ve gotten somewhere, passed it, and come back to nowhere. Maybe he’s gotten somewhere and I haven’t. Maybe we never even left. But poring over the past 27 minutes of questioning, there’s the suggestion that nowhere might actually be somewhere. Or at least that it might not matter.
Typically, if I wanted to wait for a groundhog to leave its hole, I’d do so on Groundhog Day. Today, however, is different. In this case, the Cursive frontman is a charmingly mercurial groundhog whose hole in the dirt spans the influence of the indie rock empire that is Saddle Creek Records, his home for roughly 13 years now. As Kasher touches on religion (guilt), love (guilt again), and his identity (category unavailable), he simultaneously crosses the barriers of self and awareness, skirting any identifiable combination of the two. If Kasher doesn’t know quite who he is today, neither will the rest of us.
Still, there are signs.
The first sign is the title and central theme of his first solo effort, The Game of Monogamy (Saddle Creek, 2010). Released in October, uppercase Monogamy deals with a midlife crisis of sorts, full of lyrics dealing with past loves, unavoidable flaws, and the minutiae of a life he occasionally requests to separate himself from. Lowercase monogamy is still part of a new life for a man who’s gone through more than the cliché-nine in different musical forms since the mid-1990s. The only thing missing is something really new.
The idea looming over this album is one of examination, of a new threshold he might or might not be crossing. Kasher, though, is wary of drawing direct connections between himself and the album’s central character, a man who obsesses over his old yearbook and wants to “have sex with all my old girlfriends again” (“There Must Be Something I’ve Lost”). The lyrics of the album’s second song, “A Grown Man,” begin, “I’m a grown man / I don’t know what I want.” But it would be too easy to let him get away with a statement of that magnitude. The 36-year-old’s visceral themes leave room for no shortage of future growth, and he negates the second part himself.
“I’d like to separate myself from that a little bit,” Kasher says. “I consider myself really fortunate because I do know what I want and am really passionate about what I do. So many of the people in my life have to have that conversation about, ‘Hey, we have good jobs, but is it what we really wanted?’ They never know if they made the right decision.” Kasher does know what he wants, even if he won’t say what it is.
And this is an area that we’ve covered with him before. The Good Life, one of Kasher’s various projects, saw the songwriter challenging himself and confronting his personal life through a sour divorce, finding sonic translation on Black Out (Saddle Creek, 2002). This was also a theme explored on Cursive’s Domestica (Saddle Creek, 2000), and indeed Cursive has always been the main and most significant stage for Kasher’s aggressively intimate lyrical agenda. Together in different guises since 1995 (and even before that with the formation of Slowdown Virginia), the band has tackled issues spanning modern religion, desperate love, youth and age — the last of which plays a central role in Kasher’s current modus operandi. This, even as he veers in and out of it, is sign two.
“I don’t recognize much difference between myself now and when I wrote Happy Hollow,” Kasher says, referring to Cursive’s 2006 album (Saddle Creek). Here he pauses. “I was singing similar content but I recognize I was younger and much more earnest and so dramatic. With the mellowing of age, I still have all the same feelings, but the way I write about it now is much more crass and sardonic and with such a scathing attitude. It’s like I just don’t give a shit about myself anymore.”
This is a surprising level of self-awareness for a man whose goal so far has been to avoid it entirely. One of the few times I met Kasher in person, he accidentally but painfully hit me in the face with a door — a situation not wholly dissimilar to what’s happening here, though, on a much more friendly and much less obvious scale. “I’ve turned into a calloused older man,” he says. “To be rosier about it, I’d like to see it as a maturing in perspective and in scope, but I have to fight the dulling of age. Most people don’t realize it, and their sense and their feelings…” A pause in Kasher’s speech rings out as he searches for what happens to those feelings. “When we’re young we’re all activists. But when we’re old, we just don’t give a shit anymore, and just sit on the couch and watch dumb TV.”
Going over my notes, there’s a reason I wrote “DIFFICULT INTERVIEW” near the bottom, but there’s also a reason I’m smiling. “These are just things that I haven’t thought about,” he says at one point, followed a while later by, “I just don’t tend to think on those terms.” Devoid of context, none of his statements are quite empty.
It’s always difficult to tell when your age group has changed from “young” to “old,” but Kasher, as usual, has made the decision himself. Although 36 is young for wisdom, his occasionally shallow brand makes it easier to swallow. A few years ago, Kasher began to feel a tremendous amount of guilt for not settling down with one woman and getting married. Instead of obeying it, he provoked it and the Midwestern, Catholic upbringing which created it. This, quite clearly, is sign three.
“I managed to wake up from that and realize that it’s absurd to think that’s what we have to do or supposed to do to be a good man,” Kasher says. “I don’t really subscribe to that. As far as what comes up as animosity about monogamy, it’s not really the situation itself. It’s the social parameters that surround it. Here I am in my mid-30s, and if I am not monogamous, it seems to me that I’m portrayed as some sort of wild tomcat or something. Which is plausible, but not true.” His guidelines for successful relationships are distinctly modern, though he’s harder on himself when he says they’re “cruel.” If you want to be in love, he says, you have to play along.
And right now, that’s where he’s at. Signs — and a very attractive partner — point to the idea that he is currently monogamous without regret, but he isn’t inclined to comment. The uncompromising indie-rock statesman is surprisingly difficult to crack given how intimate he is in his music, but there’s room to connect the dots. Eating macaroni and cheese for lunch makes him happy. He might want kids, but he doesn’t know.
“I certainly don’t want to stop being one, though,” he says, and later. “Good luck hobbling all of that together.” He sounds like he means it.
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