We’re sat in the deceptively large beer garden hidden behind Guildford’s Boileroom. What starts as a fresh spring evening turns into a bitterly cold night – and one in which a light windbreaker would be more use if used as fuel for a campfire.
Tim Kasher’s a hardier sort though. Wrapped up warm in a lined coat and with a hat pulled tightly over his ears, many Nebraska winters have prepared him for life on the road. He looks snug. And I’m insanely jealous.
Yet it has not been the best of days for Tim and his travelling companions, including cellist Megan Siebe. What should have been a straightforward journey from London to Guildford has taken a torturous three hours. For someone like Kasher, who has many irons in the fire, you can imagine it made for a frustrating day – especially when still trying to arrange songs for an ever-evolving set list.
“There’s one song we’ve been wanting to pick up and work on for the live show, but to do that we need to avoid being in a car for three hours,” he half-jokes. “Mostly it hasn’t been a problem, but we’ve also been doing sightseeing and stuff like that. I think we have eight shows left and it still feels like the set is evolving a little bit. Last night [London – which was utterly compelling] was a really good example of how well-situated we are at this point in terms of what we’re doing.”
Performing as a duo, Kasher and Siebe have worked out the songs so they complement the guitar and cello set-up – including a haunting take on Cursive’s ‘The Recluse’. Reworking the songs wasn’t difficult says Kasher, “It’s actually been a little bit of fun; I mean, it’s not a blast or anything, but…” he laughs.
“A lot of the songs we play come with the creativity of what you can do as a two-piece. It wasn’t like ‘OK, these are the songs I want to play, let’s figure out how we can make them sound good’. It was more like ‘there are other songs that I’d like to play, but they don’t feel quite right.’ So there’s one song off the new album, ‘Break Me Open’, that if the crowd is quiet and receptive tonight we might try it, but I’d say it sounds good as a two-piece, but it’s not awesome as a two-piece.”
Kasher and Siebe would indeed play ‘Break Me Open’ later, and it would in fact sound awesome, despite Kasher’s reticence.
In town to promote new solo album ‘No Resolution’, Guildford is the second stop in the UK on an exhaustive European tour. Kasher’s willingness to experiment comes from a need to be adaptable to the audiences; London was rowdy, Guildford much more reverent.
“As you will have noticed, some of the stuff we’re playing is so quiet,” says Kasher. “If the crowd is going to be irritable, or in the mood for something else, then it might not translate.
"The tour has been really nice overall, but Munich was a Friday night and the support act was a pretty upbeat pop thing, they brought in a lot of young friends, and after they were playing there was still a Friday night to be enjoyed. So we then had to make a decision; we don’t just have upbeat numbers. At least two-thirds of the stuff we have is quieter stuff. So we played every louder thing we could, and it got to the point where it was this group of people talking and doing something else, but there were these other people who came for the show and they were quiet.
"You can try and keep the wrong songs in the set to a minimum. We’re hamstrung to a point because it’s just the two of us, but the content is mostly pretty quiet and pretty dour. And then I don’t want to completely flip it and be like ‘OK, we’re just gonna play Cursive songs tonight,’ as that’s not why we’re out here.
"I think I’m also being a little bit reserved trying to make the great ‘right’ show for everyone, but my assumption is, because the new album has been out for like two weeks, that people are going to be more interested in hearing stuff from ‘Game of Monogamy’ and ‘Adult Film’.”
The result is a set which offers a diverse journey through Kasher’s extensive back catalogue, including diversions through some Cursive deep cuts and new takes on classic Good Life numbers.
“I try to pick songs that the respective band almost never does, and that’s probably a lot more nuanced than it has to be,” considers Kasher.“At least I know if said show-goer is coming to the show and is a big Cursive fan, then Cursive almost never plays ‘Into The Fold’ – and I want that kind of reward to exist.
"But then we also prepared ‘Driftwood’. Bringing a cello along, there’s always a pretty big temptation to do something off of ‘The Ugly Organ’, and I think, thankfully, that’s a record where people are familiar with most of the album.”
Seeing Kasher perform Good Life and Cursive songs as a solo artist adds an entirely different spin on the classic numbers, dragging out nuances and emotions that would otherwise have been missed. Kasher talks about preparing for tour – when he gets back to the States after the European run he’ll have a fortnight’s downtime before the American leg – yet will spend that time preparing songs for that run instead. With three acts on the go, as well as a soon-to-be-shown film that accompanies ‘No Resolution’ and a new record label (15 Passenger Records), more so than ever before, Kasher’s downtime is being eaten up by other projects. It also means he has to work smart to make the most of the available time.
“The best times of the year are when everything is casually but diligently been worked on, and when I can have coffee and read the news, write a few pages and spend the rest of the day working on a song. Then I’ll meet up with friends for a beer around happy hour or something. As in, that’s something you can do when you’re slowly plugging away at stuff. That’s my favourite time of year.
“But then, there are other times when things fall behind, like when touring season happens. I’ll be home for two weeks between this and the next US tour, and I’d love to – and I feel like I need to – get some songwriting done in that time. But I probably won’t as I’ll be editing videos and preparing for the next tour, and then the tour after that, and then there’s the movie which I’m trying to put out, so things are getting hectic.
"What I do is so enjoyable, and I love working on it, but also, in a real nerdy way, I love writing things well in advance. So last September, I was writing a lot of music, knowing that I wasn’t going to have much time, so I can also backlog stuff.”
The result is that there is often a disconnect between what Kasher is working on now and when we, as fans, will see it. Some of the rough versions of songs found on ‘No Resolution’ exist from as far back as 2013, having been written at a similar time to those that found their way onto ‘Adult Film’. Yet ‘No Resolution’ found itself usurped by The Good Life’s ‘Everybody’s Coming Down’, which was released in 2015.
“I was working on it, then I set it aside, and that’s something don’t usually do,” says Kasher. “’Adult Film’ was hugely revelatory for me, I was like ‘why did I do this rock band album? I already have Cursive and The Good Life – not that there has to be any rules to that – just that I had to try and spend some time and translate what I wanted. And it was like ‘Oh, I want to do a Good Life record. If that’s what you want to do, you should do that’. But I recognised, with myself and that band, that I had to get in touch with them to make a long-term plan, because if I didn’t, the idea of doing another Good Life record was never gonna happen unless I made it happen.”
On top of this, Kasher has also been working on film scripts for the last decade, making for an interesting companion to his traditional songwriting. To go alongside The Good Life’s 2007 album ‘Help Wanted Nights’, Kasher had penned a screenplay, only for it to be held up in commissioning hell. It means the first Kasher-penned film we’re likely to see is the film that accompanies ‘No Resolution’.
“’Help Wanted Nights’ was the first one that I finished,” says Kasher. “Originally I was planning on shooting that one myself, but there was interest and people wanted to be a part of it. And that’s not a bad problem to have – and it’s not the type of assistance that you want to turn down. So I didn’t [turn down the assistance], but it also never got made. I think it will eventually get made though. There’s currently a production company that has actually picked it up again, so there’s a small team trying to get it made.
"Instead I have my own track. I’m starting to show ‘No Resolution’ later this year, and I’m finishing my next script that I know I can make myself, so that’s where I’m really focussing at the moment. The fact that this company wants to produce ‘Help Wanted Nights’, that’s fantastic – I don’t have to stress about it. And if it doesn’t go through – I mean, I want it to succeed – but I can see what they do with it. And if, in a couple of years it doesn’t go through, I can go ‘yeah, let’s see what I can do with it.’”
It means a lot of Kasher’s attention this year will be on gearing up for the film. An early edit has already been shown at the Omaha Film Festival, providing Kasher with a lot of positive feedback, before he takes that on tour later in the year. On top of that, he also has his new label, 15 Passenger, run in partnership with Cursive bandmates Matt Maginn and Ted Stevens. Originally established as an imprint to push the Cursive back catalogue, it’s grown to be its own beast, with Kasher’s latest full-length finding a home on the label. Most of the business side is managed by Maginn (“he loves that stuff,” says Kasher), with his own involvement somewhat more esoteric.
“I feel I get to enjoy the best aspect of it, as I just get to do A&R,” laughs Kasher. “I just daydream, and then I get in touch with Matt and Ted to say ‘this would be amazing to do if the artist was into it’, and they’re like ‘yeah, that would be really cool. If you can pull it off, we’ll do it.’ It’s fun though. It’s another activity to play around with.”
As if Kasher needs anything else to play around with. The busiest man in rock’n’roll? It’s almost like he doesn’t have time to sit through a three-hour traffic jam…
‘No Resolution’ by Tim Kasher is available now on 15 Passenger Records.
Tim Kasher is currently touring the UK:
29 Studio 2, Liverpool
30 The Portland Arms, Cambridge
31 Hope & Ruin, Brighton
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)