Rock Lit is where Hive discusses the intersection of literature and music.
Tim Kasher has his hand in numerous musical projects, most notably art-rock band Cursive. The musician, who also fronts indie rock group the Good Life and has released a solo disc and an EP, brings his literary influences into all of them, although not always in the most obvious way. As Cursive releases their seventh album, the conceptually minded Gemini, Hive asked Kasher to reflect back on his experiences with books and writing. He may only have a few specific literary references in the music he’s penned for his various projects, but Kasher’s book predilections have seeped into his songwriting so much that fans can now tells what authors he likes (see: Philip Roth). Plus, Gemini, a narrative album that spins a yarn of twin brothers feuding between good and evil, tows the line between what is musical and what is literary, particularly as its liner notes include a lengthy script-type account of the story. Mostly, though, Hive learned that Kasher is not a J.R.R. Tolkien fan, so don’t expect to see a Hobbit reference on his next solo endeavor.
What sort of writing are you drawn to when it comes to reading?
I tend to read novels, but I love short stories too. They’re pretty distinctly different. Short story books are great for the road.
What book are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading a book by a friend of mine, Tim Kinsella. It’s called The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense. He’s the guy from [the band] Joan of Arc. He just put it out in the fall and it’s really good.
What was your entry point into reading as a kid?
This occurred to me the other day: I don’t hold Tolkien or Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit in any real regard, but I realized The Hobbit is probably the book I’ve read the most. It’s a really entertaining book and I do enjoy it, but it’s been by default that I’ve read it so much. If you’ve read a book four times you better be a big goddamn fan of it, but The Hobbit I’m not, even though I’ve read it at least four times. About every six years I have this hankering to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And then I read The Hobbit to catch back up and then only make it through half of The Fellowship of the Ring. And for the record, I’m never going to read any of them again!
Do the things you read ever make into your songwriting?
I’m always really impressed with writers of any medium who are good at retaining those things [they read]. I love specific lines or passages as much as anyone else, but I’m less adept at applying them to my writing. But, of course, all of our favorite things tend to seep into our subconscious anyway and come out in one form or another.
On your album Happy Hollow are the references to The Wizard of Oz about the movie or the book as well?
I never read the book, actually. Have you? Is it a thing to read?
I read it a long time ago, but it’s the first in a whole series. I remember liking it.
I just really love that movie so much and wanted to dig deeper into it. I should read the book. I have put elements of books into songs, though. The last release I did was a collection of B-sides from the solo record I did, The Game of Monogamy. I put out a seven-song addendum to it called Bigamy and that has a song on it called “Rabbit Run.” That’s pretty obvious, specifically about John Updike’s Rabbit Run. That series, which I just recently finished after trying to milk it for as long as possible, inspired me.
Do you think there’s a palpable correlation between your song and Updike’s writing?
Yeah, I think so. Philip Roth has become another writer that’s meant so much to me over the last few years and I’ve gotten into discussions with people at shows or in interviews where they’ve asked me “Are you a fan of Philip Roth?” I’ve found that fascinating that they can discern what I like to read based on my music. I thought about this prior to talking to you. Our influences aren’t always on our sleeves, but the amount of Philip Roth I’ve read over the years seems related to my music, even this new album.
Is there any specific book you would recommend to your fans? Besides The Hobbit, obviously.
The last Cursive record, Mama I’m Swollen, was awfully dark. I recognized then and I still see now that I was fully under the spell of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. So much so that the record almost seems unreliable to me now. But that’s why we read books, right? You live in that book for the duration that you read it. So I’d recommend that book to Cursive fans.
How did you come up with the concept behind your new album, Gemini? It’s pretty literary.
It’s an idea that I’ve had for a while, years. I really just wanted to develop a story of our inner argument we tend to have in our heads and it wasn’t until I got to this record that I was able to create it as a pair of twin brothers and put them into an environment where it started making sense. My ideas tend to be really age-old, ones that have always shown up in literature. Not that it’s exactly inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but that had a huge impact on me. I really fell in love with Oscar Wilde a few years back so there are specific songs [on the record] that, to me, resemble Dorian Grey. I had that in mind for the latter half of the album. All the ideas really started with dualism so I did some studying up of where “Gemini” stemmed from and used characters from all over the place [as reference].
Did you also write the companion piece in the album’s liner notes?
I did. We wrote all the music first — that’s really what we always do. I don’t write lyrics until I’m fairly convinced that the song is going to mean something to us and go somewhere. The whole time we were writing the music I didn’t know what the album was going to be about but I knew that I wanted there to be bi-polar and take a lot of turns because I knew I would want a story that went through a lot of turns also. After the music was finished I ended up writing notes of a story of these twin brothers. As I laid it out in sequence I saw what each song could represent lyrically to fulfill the entire story. I wrote all the lyrics in order and lyrics are always vague, in the same way musicals or operas can be. After all that, when it came time to write the liner notes, Ted and I thought it would be a fun way to be able to demonstrate what I’d written a little bit better.
Have you always been conscious of having your music tell a story?
I’m a really big fan of the idea that music doesn’t have to be about that, but I just love storytelling so much. So I have a tendency to do it. I encourage myself to not feel like I have to be compelled to write stories when it comes to music. I like to remember that it’s music. That it should be musical, first and foremost. I write all the time, other than just music, and that helps the music stay musical.
What other sorts of things do you write?
I’ve been writing short stories off and on for a better part of my life. I’ve released those only hardly, but I’ve started doing that a little bit more. Over the last two years I got deeper into screenwriting, which is a great way to pass the time but straining in that the cheapest movie is more expensive than the most expensive album I’ve ever done. I always think about releasing [my short stories] in a book, though. I’d like to say I do art without being conscious of an audience but I do write things with other people in mind. I want to put it out there in the world and see what happens with it.
I Am Gemini is out now on Saddle Creek.