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Hours before he takes the stage as the headliner of the Plea for Peace tour, Cursive front man Tim Kasher is looking shaggy. His hair's grown out considerably, and he's sporting a ruffian's beard. "I've just pledged that I'm gonna keep growing my hair out until I fix my life," he says to me, taking a gulp of Miller Lite. "So it's gonna get pretty bad, I think."
Kasher wears his demons on his sleeve -- primarily broken relationships and alcoholism -- in both of his bands, the aggressive, cello-tinged hard rock of Cursive and his softer, prettier project, the Good Life. Drinking beer on the patio at Ziggy's (as a prelude to the bottle of Maker's Mark scotch waiting in Cursive's dressing room), Kasher has a literal emotional scar on his arm, a colorful Plea for Peace temporary tattoo over what looks like a Chinese character. "This is the tattoo I got with my ex-wife. I thought it was funny to give it a cover-up," he says ruefully.
Since we first met, a few months prior to the release of Cursive's landmark LP Domestica in 2000, Kasher's divorce has haunted all of his recordings. Domestica documented the divorce, and last year's The Ugly Organ chronicled the screwing around and soul searching that followed it. Similarly, the Good Life's electronica-infused 2003 record Black Out was full of alcoholic paeans to loneliness, and the just-released EP Lovers Need Lawyers revisits the crumbled marriage themes.
Kasher mentions to me that he's given up dating. When I saw him last year, he had a girlfriend back at home in Omaha, so there's obviously been another separation in the recent past. I kid him that he'll have nothing to write about if he's not having his heart broken.
"I feel like I might actually write about something different next time," he says. He knows better, though, admitting, "I think I'd let a lot of people down if I didn't write about some fucked-up relationship."
Kasher is one of the most self-referential songwriters I can think of -- he writes songs about his ex-lovers, his hometown, his long nights at the bar, and songs about writing songs. Not many critics bash his work, but even if they did, they could never be as hard on Kasher as he is on himself.
On "Entertainer," off Lovers Need Lawyers, he sings, "I'm not an artist/I'm an asshole without a job/Making money off of alcohol." Later on the EP, on "For the Love of the Song," he's dissing his songwriting, and referring to his own song off the previous Good Life album, singing, "I thought I'd start this simple song/With something you could sing along/Like 'na na na na na na'/But then I felt a bit clich/I started 'Beaten Path' that way/And besides, that didn't get me very far."
Lovers Need Lawyers' six songs are the most poppy and cheery that the Good Life has done, at least until you pay attention to the lyrics. The EP is meant to be a teaser for the Good Life's upcoming full-length, Album of the Year. "The EP is all upbeat, rock 'n' roll," Kasher tells me. "The album is a lot darker and quieter, and acoustic, I guess."
"This is actually the most over-the-top obnoxiously conceptual record," he says when I ask him what Album of the Year is about (his records are always about a particular something). "It's 12 songs -- 12 months. It's a story about a yearlong relationship -- getting together, the stuff that gets fucked up throughout, then the female finding the strength to be, like, 'Fuck this guy,' and leaves him; then the album's over."
With six dates left on the Plea for Peace tour, Kasher is about to return home to his cheap apartment in Omaha -- another new development in the last year; when we last spoke, he simply had all his stuff in storage. He won't be home for long. The Good Life plans to tour in July, and Cursive will join the Cure's Curiosa festival tour in August. After that tour, Cursive will take a hiatus and Kasher will focus on touring with the Good Life to support Album of the Year. The two bands are like sides of the same coin -- "I'm pissed and a pervert when I'm with Cursive," he tells me. "And I'm more like drunk and apathetic when I'm doing the Good Life."
Later, after we return to the Marquee and work on the Maker's Mark, Kasher takes the stage with Cursive and unleashes a drunken barrage of its explosive songs. Sweating and flailing, Tim Kasher seems outside of himself while he plays, content, perhaps in a Zenlike state where, by screaming his demons out, they leave his head for a moment. He may be an asshole without a job, but when he's playing on stage, Kasher is truly living the good life.