When Cursive decided to take a break just over a year ago, the pause was well deserved. The band had recently released their widely-celebrated record, The Ugly Organ. a foot-to-the-floor collection of brash, dynamic post-rock. It was their most accomplished to date and found the band as tour partners with the Cure and embraced by a wide audience far beyond their Omaha, Neb. home. When bandleader, and primary songwriter Tim Kasher called the rest of the band together – core members including bassist Matt Maginn, guitarist Ted Stevens and drummer Clint Schnase – for a follow up, it wasn’t so much to better their past efforts as to make something wholly different.
The result, Happy Hollow, is a collection that sees Cursive's trademark dissonance through the looking glass. Kasher's half-hollered, nervy testaments have all the brute force as ever, but, due mostly to the addition of a horn section and large, whimsical arrangements, the new songs weave and bop along like a post-rock carnival game. We spoke to bassist Matt Maginn about the record, the band’s politics and how success has changed Omaha.
MT: It seems like Happy Hollow is a departure for the band – especially sonically. How would you describe the difference between this record and past ones?
MM: Its very different, for sure. Maybe it’s more refined, especially in the tone of the guitars. We tried harder to make the guitars sound really good so they work with each other tonally and fit the songs. Quality-wise, it’s the best recording we've had to date.
MT: Was there a moment during the writing when the band realized that this record had to have a big horn section?
MM: We started messing around with horns on The Ugly Organ. Or, toward the end of that tour, and started to fantasize about doing a record with lots of horns because of the almost perverse sense that the sound can create. That was the birth of the idea. When Tim [Kasher] and Ted [Stevens] would bring in the songs and we would create our parts around it, and the horns were in the back of our minds. The writing itself was straightforward, and much like how we've written in the past. For all of the writing time it was just the four of us, but when it came time to record it, we had a friend do the arrangements and it changed everything. They're not you're standard arrangements and odd.
MT: Cursive is definitely one of the first bands from Omaha that got a lot of national attention but there are a lot of other Saddle Creek bands like Bright Eyes and The Faint who are widely popular. How has that changed the scene in Omaha?
MM: A few years ago, it kind of happened quickly and everyone tried to react to it as best they could. In the last few years things have definitely settled down and everything is more tame, more normal. But in general, the scene is just as strong as it always was, even if there's more attention and interest from the non-concert-going public.
MT: When Bright Eyes had their big record it came right after one of the first big breaks for the White Stripes and I remember reading in NME that Omaha was the new Detroit.
MM: [Laughs] That's better than the new Seattle, I guess. People would talk about it being the new Seattle all the time, which is kind of ridiculous. I mean, at least both Detroit and Omaha have had moderate amount of successful bands -- the success of Seattle in the ’90s produced a million great bands. I think both [Detroit and Omaha] were cities where good bands were less expected.
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