There is a street in Omaha called Happy Hollow. But the characters who live in Cursive's Happy Hollow are fictional Middle Americans dealing with actual Middle American dramas in a tiny rural town where people aren't particularly bright or wealthy. And because Tim Kasher grew up Catholic in a small town not that far removed from either Happy Hollow, he's made them a God-fearing people whose shattered American dreams can't save them from a living hell one character dismisses as "nothing more than a fundamentalist penitentiary."
Religion, says Kasher, "just ended up popping up more and more as what we tended to be passionate about and what we thought was problematic about small-town America."
In "Big Bang," Kasher weighs in on creationism's war on science with "They say there was this big bang once, but the clergyman doesn't agree/There was this big bang once, but it don't jive with Adam and Eve/Original sin, idyllic garden, some talking snake giving apples away."
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And what would the snake say, he wonders, if he could see what we've sunk to since taking him up on the apple? Chances are, he'd beam with pride at the sight of the natives all "whippin' each other over which God they prefer" in "Retreat," or the preacher in "Bad Sects" who's just had his way with a drunken recruit. And then there's "Flag and Family," where a kid whose father wants to ship him off to war as a character-building experience asks his uptight girlfriend, "When you're down on your knees, are you praying for Holy War?"
If it seems like his "Hymns for the Heathen" is targeting Bush's America, Kasher swears, "That's really not what we set out to do. We're political people personally, but we still want the writing to be about writing, not an agenda."
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As for the musical side of the writing, Cursive attacks Kasher's dark little character sketches with an upbeat lust for life, as Nate Wolcott of Bright Eyes arranges an army of horns where once you might have found departed cellist Gretta Cohn.
"I wanted to write an exciting record," Kasher says. "And I guess I didn't realize that 'exciting' would end up meaning 'upbeat.'"
For a while there, Kasher didn't think there'd even be another Cursive record, despite the success of 2003's The Ugly Organ not unless he figured out a way to make a "hugely different record," even knowing that for many fans, a retread of The Ugly Organ would have been the way to go.
"I'm kind of going off that long shot," Kasher says, "that maybe I could be more like Elvis Costello, where you don't really know what the next record might be like. What if we could have a whole bunch of different ideas and keep making different types of albums? Would you be interested in continuing to listen to us? We just do it anyway and hope people follow along."