FREE ASSOCIATION: Tim Kasher Borrows From ‘Blood Meridian’ & That Pointy Bastard Pinocchio On Cursive’s Sixth LP, “Mama, I’m Swollen”

Here’s a snippet of what Tim Kasher had to say when we first asked him to give self-titled a progress report on Cursive‘s sixth record, Mama, I’m Swollen:

This time around, we didn’t much feel like doing another “Cursive” record, but DID have the urge to write something; something together, but without the proverbial rudder of that band name and its five previous records steering the direction of the music. So we decided we would simply write a record, write it any old way we wanted, and if it sounds like Cursive, we’ll call it Cursive. If it sounds so erratically different that it can’t be Cursive, then we’ll go through the nauseating process of finding a new band name.

As you’ll see in Kasher’s exclusive follow-up commentary below (complete with streaming songs and a pair of MP3s), Mama‘s very much a Cursive album–a frothy, mangled meditation on just how fucked the human condition is.

Or as we like to put it, it’s “emo for grownups,” s/t included.

The sequence of this album follows a loose storyline, and I do mean loose. This goes for most of our albums, some looser than others … I guess it’s the way we find meaning in the album as a whole, the way we justify our song choices and their placement. The blanket term for this? “Concept Album”! A term we’ve always been comfortable with, if not always striven for, necessarily. An album, as we see it, begins as a unified concept, rather than a collection of singles, so why not tag it as such?


“In the Now”
This song has always been a weird one for us, as it is such a “non-song” relative to what we usually write. From its inception, I had intended it to be an album opener–an introduction to the rest of the songs, more so than a song unto itself. Despite it having the least amount of lyrics of practically anything I’ve ever written, it proved to be the most difficult set of lyrics to write. (How to get the most meaning across in  only three lines?) What made this more difficult was my insistence to stick with a ridiculous form of wordplay: You can only change (or add) one letter in the last word (i.e. now/know, heal/hell, repeat/repent). I don’t know why this was so important to me.


“From the Hips”
This was written early on, and was the first song we confidently felt would be on the record. It was initially composed as more of a folk song, but quickly transformed to its current arrangement. It still seems like a folk song to me.

This was the easiest set of lyrics to write. I wrote them simultaneously with the music, something I rarely do with Cursive songs. I think it spells itself out fairly well, ‘This whole relationship thing would be a lot easier if we could behave more like the animals we are, instead of the bumbling human beings we’re trying to be.


“I Couldn’t Love You”
I thought I was being pretty clever with the ambiguity of singing, “I couldn’t love you anymore” until A.J. Mogis asked, “Is that ‘anymore’ as in one word, or two words?” Crap … I hadn’t thought of that, now I have to expose which meaning I had intended. No, I don’t–I’ll just take “anymore” out of the title and write it BOTH ways in the lyrics. Problem solved. Kind of.

And yes, I recognize this song sounds like the Cure! Apparently, I just can’t help myself sometimes. But we really like the song, and it was purely accidental (as I swear it always is; apparently, some influences just cannot be helped), so won’t you please give me a break, please.


Crap–here is another accident. It didn’t occur to me until the completion of these lyrics that I was borrowing from the story of Pinocchio yet again (“Driftwood,” off The Ugly Organ, being the first). But they are wholly different ideas from the tale, so perhaps displaying a certain fascination with Pinocchio is fair game. It WAS one of my favorite rides at Disneyland (I visited last year).


A handful of the earlier songs I wrote for this record were experiments in different time signatures. This is the only one that made the album. Brighter in tone and style, we consider this to be the most clear-cut extension of what we were doing on Happy Hollow.

The arrangement of the horn sections came about out of necessity: we were writing in [guitarist] Ted [Stevens’] basement, documenting the horn parts with what we had available to us, a keyboard and a soprano sax, and ended up liking those unlikely timbres so much that we used them on the final recording. You don’t hear much soprano saxophone in rock ‘n’ roll these days. It’s kind of Kenny G’s thing.


“We’re Going to Hell”
This was initially “I’m Going to Hell,” but I wasn’t comfortable with how it sounded. Too exclusive. So, the “we,” as Lebowski would put it, is the “royal we”–me. Or, more appropriately, me and bad me.

It seemed a little troublesome at first, these various “hells” and “devils,” as we didn’t want to wade in too similar a pool as Happy Hollow, but they are used only as religious imagery, which has been inescapable for all our albums, so, hell, why stop now?

But misinterpretation worries me a bit; trust that I have not been injected with the fear of God, or any spiky-tailed devils, for that matter. Coincidentally, the name Timothy means “God-fearing.” Bummer.


“Mama, I’m Satan”

If I’ve managed to keep your interest this far–or more aptly, been a decent enough diversion from that whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing right now but aren’t–perhaps I’ll explain a little of that “loose thread” of storyline I mentioned earlier. The first few songs examine discontentment in society, relationships, responsibility. By “Donkeys” and “Caveman,” those ruminations are put into action; “We’re Going to Hell” is the character’s first sobering moment, that living “duty free” eventually catches up to you (as prophesied in the opening track, “…on a road to hell”) … Bringing us to this song, a full transformation into “Satan”–or something akin to Satan, anyway–paralleling Pinocchio’s conundrum, where becoming Satan would instead be a donkey.


“Let Me Up”
This is our official “Deep Cut,” the seminal “band favorite” that doesn’t always catch on as well as others. But in this case we are hoping it will catch on anyway. We’re even shooting a fairly strange video for it to further state our plea.

The lyrics are far more surreal than what we’re used to. I found this to be pretty fun; a nice break. Yet, they still make sense to me (otherwise, I wouldn’t be comfortable using them), though, to explain them would seem like explaining one’s dreams: fascinating to me, but truly dull to you.


“Mama, I’m Swollen”
This song is easiest to explain by dividing it into three parts: the first verse is birth, the second verse, adulthood, and the last refrain is “Mama’s” response to us humans.

The imagery, I will confess, is borrowed from Cormac McCarthy‘s Blood Meridian, an influence that permeates throughout the record.


“What Have I Done”
Earlier today, I was asked if this song was “true” or not. I’ve never been very good at answering this question; how true is true? Did I spend a year in a motel in El Paso, trying to write my Moby Dick? No, but there IS a motel in El Paso that I have often dreamed of escaping to … but now I have partially exposed my hiding place, haven’t I? And I DID spend a year in Eagle Rock, trying to get a screenplay made, writing this album, unsure of what the hell I was doing there.

Was I stranded in Ann Arbor at twenty years old? Yes and no. I was selling posters at colleges across the East, and spent a few days in Ann Arbor, killing time, seeing a lot of movies at this amazing renovated theater they have there. And I did watch the “sun sadly set,” so to speak, but it was actually somewhere in Ohio, on the same trip.

What’s important is that I DID feel a sense of loss that day, that my life was slipping by and I couldn’t do shit about it other than just sit there and watch the Sun go up and down and up and down and up. I called it a quarter-life crisis.

And I am wrecked with this guilt I can’t shake. Thank you, Catholic upbringing.