Image by Jess Ewald
Who is Tim Kasher? The man himself could not provide a definitive answer, at least from the perspective of the public. "Certainly the average person wouldn't ask, they'd have to Google it" he told me when we met at a coffee shop in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. At the heart of the question is a concept beyond biographies, lists, or charts. Tim Kasher is an idea, and a fast disappearing one at that, especially in today's turnover driven music industry. Who is Tim Kasher, for those who know him, or his work? "That's probably a question I don't want to answer" he said, but how could he? So we'll answer it for him.
Tim Kasher may not be a household name, but neither are some of the best and brightest creators of our world. In a world of Ke$ha, who is to say "household name" is always a good thing? Kasher is the definition of the modern mid-west American career rock musician; born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, (good friends with Conor Oberst, better known as emo-crooner Bright Eyes), Kasher's status in the music community is a parallel to his personality &mdash he's of a definitively demure nature. Kasher may not be stadium status, but he is respected by his peers, known by fans of his label (Saddle Creek), and ubiquitous enough to be recognized by a large selection of indie-music aficionados.
"I'm a total cynic and smart-ass with music" he told me, an interesting reflection for an artist so drenched in universal human themes and deeply personal meditations. One thing is for sure; he is anything but tame, and far from finished.
2010 is the year Kasher finally got to pen his first solo record. The Game Of Monogamy
is, like most Kasher work, personal and focused on his issues pertaining to his life and adulthood. Kasher wrote some of the arrangements, along with Patrick Newbury (the co-producer), but there is no mistaking who was in charge here. The subject matter is often a rehashing of Kasher's most prominent recurring themes, but he is well aware of his own preoccupations. "I recognize that I'm basically back in my wheelhouse" he said. But art is only as inspired as its intention, and Kasher's observations of the progression of life and responsibility have always been some of his most poignant.
These themes appear frequently in his past group work, but perhaps not as concentrated as they do here. Tim Kasher is known predominantly for his most successful project, Cursive, but the band's goals didn't necessarily line up with everything Kasher wanted to accomplish with a solo record. "With Cursive" he said, "we always try to avoid genres, to kind of stick out or take hard turns and kind of keep people alert." Avoiding the pigeonholing is near impossible, but the band does have quite an eclectic, yet recognizable tone. "Cursive has to be somehow more discordant, more dissonant, stranger, there are quiet rules we dont speak of" he said. "Most of Monagamy wouldn't make the cut. Not for levels of quality, it's just not the approach Cursive likes to take."
The approach does suit a solo Kasher, who plays with canned strings and soap opera lyrics with an affecting timbre, albeit much different than the eclectic momentum driven rock of Cursive. Monagamy
sets a tone. Those looking for the process can start with the pseudo title track, "Monogamy", one of the first songs written/arranged for the record (despite being the last on the tracklist). Kasher recognizes how much that first stab shaped the ideas for the string sections and the horn leads for other tracks, like "Cold Love". Keen ears will recognize this as a theme driven body of work, both musically and lyrically.
"Cohesion is important" he told me, and perhaps the album represents a bit more of Kasher's beliefs about the music industry and creating a work. "I tend to be a bit curmudgeonly" he said, "I don't like Billy Corgan's approach to how we should change the shape of the music industry. There's an art form that was refined in the seventies, making the album, and that seemed like a great time for it. and I want to keep doing that... The album should still be the focus".
It helps to have a label who has always been on the same page. "It's nice to have a home you can depend on" he said of his longtime label Saddle Creek. But Kasher came up in a different era for musicians. As a young band in Nebraska, writing their own songs, Kasher and his then bandmates were a natural magnet for music lovers and label personalities alike. But without the internet, or enhanced visibility, Kashers early success was a tiny blip on the radar. Despite early success on local radio and in the paper in Omaha, it was ten years before he could quit a day job and pursue music full time. Today, success happens so rapidly for a select few that young acts don't have the stamina to follow in Kasher's footsteps (a complicated path of collaborations and friendships, multiple bands and the like), a path that seems dated but remains the way the majority of life-long rock musicians find their audience.
In his anecdotes about friends like Minus The Bear, who also worked incredibly hard to get to the level they've achieved, dedication and perseverance seem to be at the heart of Kasher's idea of success. But it's not always a given. "I know a lot of good songwriters that just can't get a leg up" he said. In today's world, it feels less likely than ever before.
Tim Kasher is one of the best remaining examples of the American rock dream as it exists without million dollar machines and major label fluff. He is prolific, honest, talented, and tireless, a child of the Midwest who worked hard for everything he's performed and created, and continues to do so below the mainstream radar, not out of a need for fame, but a need to express through creation. Despite his foray into screenwriting, even with numerous non-music projects on the back-burner, he doubts he'll ever give up his original medium. "I don't think I'll ever make the decision to stop making music." he said. "I'd like to have my cake." The best part of it all is that in many ways, Kasher has already fulfilled his childhood wishes, and it's the most any artist could hope for. "When I was 15...my daydream was always pretty modest" he told me. "I'd imagine a back door to a club filled with stickers, and my name would be one of the recognizable ones in the cluster. So it's kind of like, I've reached my humble dreams."
The Game Of Monogamy
is out now on Saddle Creek. -joe puglisi
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Tim Kasher on Myspace