Tim Kasher, Cursive

Tim Kasher of Cursive is a multidisciplinary writer:  he writes songs, but he also writes screenplays and short stories.  It's no surprise that the process of songwriting and the process of writing long form pieces influence each other.  What does surprise me, though, is that the process of the former has made him more disciplined when it comes to the latter: Kasher has long been able to sit for long stretches and write songs, something that's more common to fiction writers.  Then again, Kasher's songwriting process is somewhat unconventional: this a guy whose ideas come best in the morning after a good night's sleep. That's rare among the 120+ songwriters I've interviewed, most of whom say they work best in the late hours of the night. The phrase "in the morning after a good night's sleep" is not often associated with indie songwriters.

Cursive's new album is called I Am Gemini (Saddle Creek Records).  Read my interview with Tim Kasher after the video for "From the Hips."

I'm intrigued by the fact that you do so much writing outside of songwriting. Does that have any effect on your creative process as a songwriter?

I've gone through phases with other types of writing, mostly because I want an outlet to give me the ability to tell more complete stories.  On earlier records our songs seem to be bursting at the seams because I'm trying to fit more story than I can squeeze into the confines of a three or four minute song with the limitations of meter.  That left me frustrated.  As a result, I've written a short series of songs over the years about that frustration and about wanting to fit more into a song.

Then when I returned to short stories and screenwriting, it was liberating.  It freaked me out that I was able to tell stories more completely.  But as I said, I go through phases, and then after that I found myself wanting to squeeze songs into stories again.  I guess I'm just always wanting to do that.  This last record is my most ambitious stab at wanting to tell a complete story in songs.  

I imagine, though, that the liberation to write as much as you want, to be unconstrained by the parameters of a song, can be a challenge because there is nothing telling you to stop.  In that sense, a limit can often be easier.

In a general sense, that might be true.  But I get a kick out of reading about other writers and their process, and I recognize that I have a hard time actually sitting down to write. It's a sense of comfort to know that most writers have that problem.  I mean, you sit down to write, then you get up a few minutes later to eat some crackers, then you sit back down.  A few minutes later, you're up again and cleaning the living room.  But you have to sit through it to get the reward at the end of the day, where you feel so great having achieved so much in the afternoon.  

Does writing longer pieces make you more disciplined as a songwriter? Has it conditioned you to sit for longer periods of time?

I might suggest that it happens the other way around, actually.  I've always been a pretty disciplined songwriter.  I've spend most of my songwriting life doing that; even as a kid I'd sit down and play guitar the entire day because it was so much fun. I think songwriting has made me more disciplined in other types of writing. 

Has writing screenplays and short stories made you more aware of the importance of language and wordplay in songs? Or vice versa?

I might answer that question a little differently.  Considering that most mediums you describe are similar to songwriting for me because I do so much storytelling, writing long form pieces has reminded me how important music and melody is in songwriting because that's the aspect absent from screenwriting and short stories. It's brought me back around to remember that when you're writing songs, it should be music first: the quality of the music and the melody.  It's easy for me to say that now since I do have those different outlets.   I can also say as an aside that criticism has also helped over the years, because I've been criticized on albums for spending too much time on lyrics and not enough time on music. 

How do you feel about the idea bantered around now that true creativity arises from boredom?

My hunch is that there's a lot of different approaches.  The best creative work for me is logical and rational, and I tend to have the best ideas in the morning after a good night's sleep.  That makes sense to me, because my brain is rested.  

How important is environment to you when you write?

For story writing, I adapt anywhere since I travel a lot.  But for songwriting, I have a difficult time doing it just anywhere because I need to have a lot of dedicated time.  I suppose I could be anywhere, but I need a good four hours available to get some good songwriting done; though when it comes to lyric writing, I can do that more on the fly.

Do you get a lot of writing done on the road?

Unfortunately, when we got into this business, people told me I had to get used to writing on the road.  But I've never been good at that.  I write intensely on all my breaks, because that's where I feel like I have to.  I have a worker bee attitude when it comes to songwriting: I like to be able to pat myself on the back after achieving something.

How do you feel about inspiration? Is it something you work at, or does the muse play a big role?

I definitely agree that there is a muse involved,  but on any given day when I can tell I'm not inspired and I don't feel like creating, I still do it anyway.  I know nothing good is going to come out of it, but I believe that you have to work through all those bad ideas. I do think that if you keep working at it, keep chipping away, it will come.  There are days when nothing will come, but that's fine.  I still do it anyway.  I might spend hours on music or on lyrics and at the end of the day I'll say, "Oh yeah, I'm never gonna use that." But that process still makes me a better writer when the good stuff comes.  

Since you write so much outside of songwriting, I have to ask who you like to read.

My favorite authors change over the years, but Philip Roth has become one of my favorites.  His content is very unusual, but also very honest.  It's a refreshingly honest male point of view in his older age, and it's fun to read his work as he's gotten older: comparing the younger Philip Roth to the older Philip Roth.