An Interview with Matt Maginn of Cursive

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For one reason or another, some bands will always be important to us. For me, Cursive is one of those bands.

In 2006, I graduated high school, and around that time, I was aimlessly drifting, watching all my friends go off to college while I was left behind at home. Some of this was my own doing, but a lot of it was due to a complete and total lack of guidance or care from my parents. Anyway, one of my pastimes was to head over to my local shop, Looney Tunes, and flip through the CD section for something new to listen to. It was on one of those occasions that I came around Cursive’s 2003 effort, The Ugly Organ.

Fast forward to the present day, and I can still honestly say that The Ugly Organ is one of the more important albums for me in my life, which all things considered is really saying something, given the amount of music I’ve consumed. The Ugly Organ was basically my entry point to Indie Rock, and songs like “Some Red-Handed Sleight Of Hand,” “Art Is Hard,” and “The Recluse” will always be among my favorites. I still revisit this album often, and that is something that will never change.

Today, I’ve got an interview for you all with Cursive’s bassist, Matt Maginn. He’s one of the groups’ founding members, and we went deep. Among the banter, we touch on Matt’s early origins in music, the beginning of Cursive, The recording of The Ugly Organ, making their way as a genre-fluid band, and a whole lot more. If you would like to learn more about Cursive, head over to the band’s website here. Enjoy this interview with Matt. Cheers.

Andrew:
Matt, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. How have you been holding up?

Matt:
Hey Andrew! Thanks for reaching out. This year has been a mess as every human on the planet knows but I think we’ve been making the best of it. We own a couple of bar/pubs in our beloved hometown of Omaha, so we worked on repairing those while we are closed and then keeping them going when they let us reopen. Musically, it’s a bit more depressing. We have thrown around lots of long-distance ideas, but we have really not had the time to focus on them.

Andrew:
Tell us a bit about your backstory? How did you get into music?

Matt:
Tim (Cursive singer and songwriter) and I have been friends since we were kids. We fell in love with music at a young age. Our first band involved some drum sticks, a chair, and a Casio keyboard sampler. We got more serious about real instruments when we saw one of our older brother’s friends’ band play at our high school. We said, “Hey, we can do this too!” I think Tim was the first to get a 6 string electric guitar. We knew from our love of music that our best bet to play together and musically coexist was if I played bass. I got a cheap crappy bass and fell in love with it.

Andrew:
As an artist, who are some of your earliest influences? As you’ve evolved musically, how have those influences changed?

Matt:
The earliest influences were heavily weighted in “college” music of the 80s, Punk, and New Wave. Early was more poppy with Men at Work being my first vinyl ever. Followed by The Clash, Michael Jackson, Grease Soundtrack, and Simon & Garfunkel. I slowly evolved into heavier music like Metallica, Fugazi, Quicksand, Helmet, Tool and more discordant music like Pavement, Archers of Loaf, Built to Spill and more. I have always had a moderately wide spectrum of taste and it seems to continue through to today.

Matt Maginn

Andrew:
You’re the bassist for Cursive. Tell us how the band got started? What are the origins?

Matt:
Cursive formed from the ashes of our first full-on original band from High School and early college called Slowdown Virginia. Tim Kasher, Steve Pedersen, and I decided we wanted to play together again, and we determined to play something faster and more “punk” and catchy. We probably wrote about 10 songs that way, and something drastically changed before we recorded our first album, and we quickly evolved into a much more discordant, slower Post-Hardcore band. Not sure why we gave up on the original plan so much, as maybe it just wasn’t a good natural fit. Some of those songs survived to seven inches but not much further.

Andrew:
In 1998, Cursive broke up but quickly reformed a year later. What was the story behind the stop and start? Do you feel the bad was able to pick right up from it left off at the time? Or did it feel almost like an entirely new beginning?

Matt:
In 1998 there were many real-life choices that came into play with the band members. We were young, impulsive, and emotional, so quitting bands was a big move but easy. Tim had recently married, and they wanted to move to Portland while Steve had been accepted into the Law School at Duke University. So the band broke up, and they each left town. Clint and I played around more with our friend Conor who was just in the early stage of Bright Eyes records and tours. I started work on an MBA that year as well.

A year later, Tim returned home, and we recruited our buddy and influential songwriter, Ted Stevens, to join us and fill in Steve’s position in the band. Luckily the whole thing felt extremely normal and natural. We had discussed a new name for the band, but in the end, it was all so normal and easy to get back in the groove together that we felt we needed to keep the name Cursive.

Cursive – The Ugly Organ (2003)

Andrew:
My favorite album by the band has always been The Ugly Organ. It’s such a masterpiece. What do you remember about the recording of that record? What was the inspiration?

Matt:
That was a very interesting time full of ups and downs throughout 2002. It was recorded in sections and over a year’s time. We demoed 16-18 or so tracks in January of 2002. Those demos would become the 4 songs we contributed to our split release, 8 Teeth to Eat You, with Japanese legends – Eastern Youth. We tracked those 4 pretty quickly after the demos and then continued to track The Ugly Organ songs in early summer. We had our first tour to Europe in March of 2002, so we were able to hone a lot of The Ugly Organ tracks further on the road before recording. I think we had it all tracked by June of 2002 except for overdubs and vocals. We had planned a month-long tour in the US and Japan with our friends Eastern Youth in order to celebrate our split release but on our way to the west coast, Tim, unfortunately, experienced a collapsed lung. This led to the cancellation of the tour as well as pushing back-vocal tracking for The Ugly Organ. Tim has always been tough, though, so he recovered pretty quickly, wrapped up the vocals in later summer early fall, and Cursive was ready to hit the road in October with Thursday for 2002’s Plea for Peace/Take Action Tour.

I think the inspiration at that time was to be as free and creative as possible musically. We felt that we had written enough songs that we could stray from our usual Post-Hardcore style, and it would still sound like Cursive. We had that conversation many times as we approached songs like “Art is Hard” (which we joked was more a swing song), “The Recluse,” “Driftwood,” and all the other oddball songs we brought together for The Ugly Organ.

The Ugly Organ was really a product of that time in our lives and the pure love and excitement we felt around our music, our band, our friend’s music, and bands and for what at the time at least was “our” label.

Andrew:
The band released an album in 2019 called Get Fixed. With this newest record, how do you feel Cursive has progressed since its earlier days? How was the reception?

Matt:
Get Fixed and Vitriola represented to me and I think the whole band sort of a full circle to that musical style (or lack of) we were exploring around The Ugly Organ. It’s got similar genre sweeps and discordance and oddball ideas that we really felt excited and engaged like never before. I don’t think they sound like The Ugly Organ, but I think the spirit and exploratory style are similar. That all being said, I think they are both progressively different and inevitably more mature as we age ourselves.

The reception was really great. People connected well with the urgency, angst, and contemporary themes of the record. I think the political environment was inescapable at the time the songs were written, and we channeled a lot of frustration and anger in a way that was cathartic for us and hopefully for the listener as well.

Andrew:
Cursive is a bit hard to pin down genre-wise. You guys have been classified as everything from Indie to Emo, Art Rock, and even Post-Hardcore. What are your thoughts on the band so genre-fluid? Is it intentional, or is it just what comes naturally?

Matt:
Good question! It’s always been elusive to us. I think genre-fluid might be the best description I’ve heard. We have so many influences and appreciate so many genres that it all seeps into our music from subtle to blatantly obvious ways. We’ve always felt like we never really fit in with any genre or groups of bands. We definitely didn’t help change that situation by writing albums that rarely sounded like the one before.

Cursive – Get Fixed (2019)

Andrew:
Let’s switch gears a bit now. Tell me your thoughts on the current state of the music scene these days? What’s it like out there for an indie artist?

Matt:
That’s a really tricky one. Ever since the advent of the internet it’s been a mixed bag. There are so many wonderful things about the internet that really leveled the playing field and lowered the bar of entry in so many ways BUT that also brought so many new challenges as the years progressed since then. We’ve always felt very lucky to have existed when we did because it was sort of a sweet spot in time and space. The exposure of independent music to a greater number of people was facilitated by this new, very cheap, and easy distribution and exposure network that the internet provided.

I feel like it’s still a great time for independent artists as they utilize so many different outlets and methods to reach new listeners. I do think it’s harder now, though, for new artists because there are so many more artists utilizing these same methods that are hard to cut through and be heard. At least ideally, now it’s a more affordable venture for new artists since you aren’t dealing with the old expensive and physical methods of sharing your music…making tapes or CDs and snail mailing them all over the US and the world begging people to listen and at least send you back a postcard.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Taps? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Matt:
I still like to shop for and collect vinyl as much as possible, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that I’m almost always listening via a digital format nowadays. When we are on tour is usually the time I get to shop the most for vinyl.

Andrew:
Once COVID-19 is finished with us, what’s next for both you and the band?

Matt:
I think we are all trying to figure that out! I think we will start writing again as soon as it is safe and ideally get back on the road as soon as possible too. We are playing the Psycho Festival in Las Vegas, which we are really looking forward to at the moment. It will give us a chance to feel a little normal again and remember we are a band.

We had to cancel a lot of good shows when the pandemic struck, so we are itching to get out there and play. It sounds like a dream right now to actually return to a life that involves writing, rehearsing, and playing live. It’s funny how one year can really change how you feel about your existence and purpose in the world.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you, and why?

Matt:
Fugazi’s Repeater – Fugazi was a big musical and ethical influence on myself and most of our musician friends. They opened our eyes to the powerful rhythmic and discordant interplay between the guitars, drums, and bass. I don’t think I can fully express the musical effect that had on us. All their records continued to influence us. I remember hearing them play “Sweet and Low” for the first time from 1993’s on the Kill Taker, and it blew Tim Kasher and I’s mind. I haven’t thought about it very concretely, but that song and the whole In on the Kill Taker album influenced us to become more experimental and gave us the green light that it was ok to really bend your genre as much as possible.

Fugazi exemplified for me what I found most attractive about Post-Hardcore artistically while also setting an example of how bands and artists should protect and respect their art and be skeptical of commercial and corporate involvement in music. Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted – I think this album taught my brain how to understand discordant music did not always need to be dark and heavy. Understanding this album opened my mind to so many more bands including another hugely influential album…

Archer’s of Loaf’s Icky Mettle – This is so close to Slanted and Enchanted in the way that they both opened my mind to the beauty of such discordant eclectic sounding Indie Rock. It was appealing that there was more edge and energy to Archer’s music compared to Pavement’s more playful and slacker style. Icky Mettle had an earnest and powerful energy and even a little darkness and melancholy that made it so seductive and easy to connect with for me and most of my friends at the time.

Andrew:
Last question. How do you feel you’ve evolved as an artist compared to your earlier days? Has the mission statement of Cursive changed?

Matt:
I really miss the youth, naivety, and passion of the early days, but I also loath it sometimes too. I wish I could have given myself a little advice from the future, but that’s really an eternal human struggle. I think it’s easy to look at your early days and think of yourself as a bit of a hack, but once and awhile you hear something you wrote, and you stop and really appreciate it, and then you get a little scared and wonder if you could ever write something that satisfying again.

I miss the freedoms of the early days that let you really focus and dwell on music and its creation. We always worked and played music, but our jobs at that time weren’t particularly important to us, so we really felt like we had as much time as we wanted to play and write music. I think it’s the pandemic talking, but really it’s also the eternal plight of being an indie artist that you spend so much time working other jobs to live your life that it can be really easy to lose sight of yourself as a musician and your passion for creating music. I don’t say that as a complaint but more as a conundrum. You maintain your independence artistically, which allows you to have creative freedom and space. Still, in order to support that existence, many or most indie musicians need to spend their time on other jobs or ideally other jobs that are also other passions in order to support your life and your family. And those other jobs and passions leave you less time to focus on music. We are extremely fortunate to be musicians at all so that I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I think it’s natural to romanticize the days when you had time to live and breathe it.

As far as Cursive’s mission statement, I think it’s been pretty much the same for at least the last 20 out of our 25 years. At around the Burst and Bloom and The Ugly Organ time in our lives, we embraced the fact that we would always sound like Cursive whatever neighboring genres we dabbled into and that we’d always want to push our boundaries and take risks musically with each album that would or could jeopardize the reception of the music and our longevity as a band. Our goal has consistently been to challenge ourselves and our listeners but in a way that connects with them personally and emotionally and seeks to recreate that listener and musician bond that made us fall in love with some many bands and so many records.

Interested in learning more about Cursive? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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