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Welcome to The Good Life: Tim Kasher on Getting Older and Staying Relevant

The Cursive frontman talks about making his first Good Life record in seven years.

by Todd Olmstead
Aug 19 2015, 3:10pm

Tim Kasher, 41, creator of 14 studio full-length albums over the last 18 years, doesn’t want to be that songwriter that gets old and starts to suck.

“I try to keep a close eye on, like, ‘Watch out for getting older, Tim, and not connecting to the music as much anymore,’ or somehow becoming out of touch the way that we watch artists that we really like get older and then you don't really know how to relate to them anymore,” he says. “I feel like as long as I can keep relating to myself and to the music, then hopefully it's ok. I don't want to get older and become a dull songwriter.”

If there’s one way to stave off becoming out of touch, I suppose it is to stay prolific, which Kasher has done. In the last six years, he’s released two albums with Cursive, his most well-known and longest-running band, as well as three solo albums under his own name. The Good Life, which began as his solo project and a quieter foil to Cursive more than 15 years ago, hadn’t released anything since 2007's Help Wanted Nights.

From a fan's perspective, though, it wasn't clear if The Good Life was still a band at all. Over four albums during the 2000s, it had clearly become a second official band for Kasher—Ryan Fox, Stefanie Drootin, and Roger Lewis have rounded out the quartet for more than a decade now. Had Tim's albums from the last few years taken the place of The Good Life completely? The answer is less dramatic, and more a question of logistics. The bandmates all live in different cities now (Kasher calls Chicago home). There would be no Good Life record without a concerted effort to make one.

"I think it definitely wouldn't have been such a long break—I'll just say for myself, personally, I kept assuming that the right time would present itself. You kind of realize after a while that there's just always something going on between us, and we either make time to do this or we never get around to it. I think we went the make time route and that's how we're here."

When he started working on solo material, he tells me, he didn’t conceive of it separately from the Good Life, it was just a logical new extension for his work. But it raises existential questions for the band: What is a Good Life record, anyway? What distinguishes this particular band? And though those questions weren’t explicitly discussed, they drove the band into new territory.

Everybody’s Coming Down is more of a rock album than anything The Good Life has made before. Kasher says that this was the result of the band becoming part of the process instead of just playing what he brought to the table. Getting the band back together needed to be something different than what it had been before.

"To justify us being together as a band again, it should really be a band," he says. "That's what makes it different from anything else I've done, because this is the first time The Good Life as a band is being fully represented."

Longtime fans of Kasher’s music may find that it doesn’t sound like a “traditional” Good Life album. Kasher agrees, and cites the band’s two previous albums, Help Wanted Nights and Album of the Year, as what people perceive The Good Life is supposed to sound like (he’s right). Everybody’s Coming Down is consciously not a rehash of what’s come before it.

The Good Life, photo by Tony Bonacci

“There were batches of songs that I think I was writing because they were jangly and poppy and that's kind of what is representative of Good Life in my mind, but as I was doing them, they just weren't hearing as interesting to me,” he says. “I think that's because they felt like they've been done before. Like, ‘Oh, that sounds kind of like a Good Life record you've already put out.’ So I think we did end up more interested in and gravitating toward songs that felt like things we haven't released yet.”

Throughout his career, Kasher’s music has often been self-referential and aware of the relationship between the artist and the audience. This seemed prescient on “Art is Hard,” from Cursive’s 2003 high-water mark The Ugly Organ:

Well, here we go again - the art of acting weak
Fall in love to fail - to boost your CD sales
And that CD sells - yeah, what a hit
You've got to repeat it
You gotta' sink to swim

But here he is, 12 years later, on “The Troubadour’s Green Room,” still dissecting the role of the performer, existential as ever:

I'm singing for show and tell
I'm singing for a spot on your record shelf
I'm singing to sell myself, I'm singing,
"Oh-oh, oh-oh"

I ask if he feels jaded. After all, he’s been in this business, to some extent, since he was a teenager in Omaha. "I'm not a jaded person,” he says, “I think I'm just a pretty blunt and honest person, and I think there's a difference. Is that fair?"

The Good Life may not emerge again for another eight years and Cursive is "kind of glad to be taking a break right now," but he says there’s already a solo album that's next in line for recording. And then there's a career in film that's been moving more slowly compared to his musical output. Now ten years into writing screenplays, he feels he's on the cusp of getting something out into the world.

"I finally took the filmmaking matters into my own hands and I shot something last December,” he says of a feature-length film that he’s hoping to pitch to festivals. “I've been working on that for the last year and going really broke in the process. I have no idea if this is going to have any impact on anybody or not. It's at least turning out the way that we intended to so that's nice."

Maybe that’s the way to avoid losing touch: Don’t worry about what you don’t know, and just keep making things. That seems to have worked for Tim Kasher so far.

Everybody's Coming Down is out via Saddle Creek Records.

Todd Olmstead is on Twitter.