Cursive's Ted Stevens on I Am Gemini, Duality, and Line Up Changes
Being in a band is tough. Just listen to Cursive's travails in "Art is Hard." Over the last decade, the Omaha-based indie rockers have endured their share of personnel changes: subtracting a cellist, adding a horn section, going back to a four piece, and eventually settling on a five piece band (heavy on the keyboards) for the brand new I Am Gemini (it's online and in stores today).
"I'm really happy with where we are. We're at the point where we've been in the game a long time and we've been through a lot of membership transitions, which is pretty normal for this business," says guitarist Ted Stevens. "We're representing the entire history of the band pretty fairly and in a great way."
We spoke to Stevens about I Am Gemini. Although the record features a complicated set of characters and a bunch of open-ended themes about duality, Stevens doesn't want fans to lose sight of its capabilities of being an enjoyable rock album.
More on I Am Gemini, lineup changes, and what Cursive has been up to after the jump.
Cursive is scheduled to play Crescent Ballroom on Tuesday, February 27.
Up on the Sun: I'd like to hear about your upcoming album, I Am Gemini. I've heard a couple tracks, like "The Sun and the Moon" and "The Cat and the Mouse," and noticed a bit of variety between those two tracks. What can we expect from the album as a whole?
Ted Stevens: Well, I'd say as varied as those two tracks are, you can expect each song to have its own surprises and a varied approach to our style of music. It's pretty scattered. There's a few unifying factors throughout the record, but we're pretty pleased with the reaction to the first few songs that have leaked so far and I think the reaction will continue to be one of a bit of surprise in how diverse from song to song it is dynamically and tonally.
Did you plan on making another concept album?
At this point we have a hard time making regular records. I think both Tim [Kasher] and I both in Cursive and personal pursuits of music or solo projects or what not, we've kind of landed on this concept model of a linked record or listening experience. I like to joke that we forgot how to make a regular track-by-track album because I really feel that way. It's hard for us to enter a project without assigning some kind of major theme or image to build around.
Is the format of I Am Gemini more comfortable with than say, Mama, I'm Swollen?
You know, I stand behind both. Mama, I'm Swollen is definitely abstract, as far as the imagery and the message behind it. It has very abstract concepts. There's some of that in our back catalog too; it's not always painted crystal clear. I would say this one is maybe more like Domestica in the fact that it's very linear and there's a narrative that continues throughout the album. Probably our most quote-unquote conceptual or thematic release to date.
I've only seen a few paragraphs describing the theme of the album as something about the Gemini twins. Can you expand on that a little bit?
I've always been interested in duality. I remember as a young man in Catholic school, [being] first approached [with] this idea of Christ being both human and divine. Then later, in college, I tackled philosophy and this idea that mankind and womankind has a body and a soul and I've just always been fascinated with this idea that there's two components toward western Judeo-Christian thinking and then you get the eastern thought and you subtract the idea of a monotheistic society, a traditional god in the Judeo-Christian sense and you replace it with Taoism...like far eastern religions, like the concept of yin and yang and this idea of numerology.
One or two is age old and goes back to the beginning of human consciousness. I'm really into even that idea philosophically of one versus two. I know it seems kind of simple and silly, but it's such a powerful tool when you're trying to symbolize something in this sense that you can play around with these ideas 'til the end of the day. There's contrasting ideas out there and for a human brain to fully mature, it needs to embrace the concept of opposites and contradictions.
I just hope that this record is an effort that shows some maturity on our part and shows some development, and ultimately I just want people to rock out and have a good time and enjoy it like it an album. So far in the criticism I'm reading about the album, people are confused and a little cynical about the presence of a message in the record, but I would just say that none of us in the band would devote this much time and put this much faith in Tim as a songwriter unless we believed that the record deserved to exist. We wouldn't have spent as much time had we not thought that there was a coherent and cohesive flow and message to the narrative.
I know this topic has been done to death, but I'd like to ask about your former cellist, Gretta Cohn. Did it take some retooling to figure out how to play your songs live without a cello after she left? I can imagine after Happy Hollow, the horns may have made up for that a bit.
I'm not a musical theorist at all, I've kind of just fallen into my lifestyle, my career in music, but what I can say about the cello is it's a beautiful instrument. Anywhere from the low, low to the low mid to the high mid, it kind of covers that range that the guitars can't and the bass doesn't really want to cover. It's a really great instrument for rock 'n roll, or at least for what we were doing at the time.
Gretta's parts are fabulous. Anytime you lose a member, especially someone that's voicing things in their own way on an instrument that's really hard to replicate, there's a period of transition where you have to rework things. And yeah, Happy Hollow was our attempt to come out of the cello era and try to find footing and new instruments to provide that experience for the listener and keep our fans engaged and thinking and also questioning and hopefully just entertained.
I guess we've settled now...we've come out of a long period of being a four piece, a short period of having a cello, a shorter period of having a horn section, and now we're at this point where we're really happy as a five piece band again with a synthesizer and a keyboard covering the history of Cursive with additional instrumentation or production. More importantly than a single instrument like cello or horn or whatever is the production tricks that you bring to the table on each album that you cant recreate live.
We've settled with our good friend and wingman Patrick Newbery, who plays full time in the band live. He's covering not just cello parts, not just horn parts, but he's covering the entire history of Cursive's production to represent each song live. I'm really happy with where we are. We're at the point where we've been in the game a long time and we've been through a lot of membership transitions, which is pretty normal for this business. I feel like we've come out of it for the best and that we're really representing the entire history of the band pretty fairly and in a great way for me. As a listener I can only assume, [but] I'm happy with where we're at right now.
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