May 7, 2004

Talking with Omaha band that's not Bright Eyes

[Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part interview.]

Last Wednesday, Cursive played the Metro, headlining the fifth annual Plea For Peace Tour, organized by Asian Man Records founder Mike Park. The goal of the tour is "to promote the ideas of peace through the power of music," and the organizers' aim is to provide access to information alongside the music at all the shows. I had a chance to sit down with Matt Maginn, bassist for Cursive, before the show, to talk about the tour, Omaha, and breakfast in Europe.

Chicago Maroon: When you came to Chicago not long ago, you used to play the Fireside, and nowadays you guys play [at the Metro]. Is it really different playing a much bigger venue like this?

Matt: That's a good question. I think there are pluses and minuses to it. The sound is amazing here. Probably that's the clincher for us, the sound.

CM: Does it change the way you interact with the audience?

M: It's really similar, I think. Here it's not bad; there's no weird problems with being four feet away. There's actually more room, so it's kind of easier for people to interact, rather than being behind a speaker or something.

CM: Is that in contrast to some of the other clubs you've played?

M: Yeah, some of them are just too big. A lot of the time, we're only in there because in some towns they don't have the wonderful options they have here, which are a number of different sized rooms. We come from Omaha where we only have two or three—at the most—places where you could ever think of playing a show. I admire towns like this. [Laughs]

CM: How do you guys like being on the tour so far?

M: Um, we are liking it. It's been a tour that's faced lots of adversity, a lot of lineup adversity. We had trouble. People would be pretty much on it, and then they'd bail, so it took us a long time to finalize this tour. That sort of made us more excited because we saw it as a challenge. It's kind of like a joke, like, "We've got to see this tour to the end." So it's been challenging that way, but we like that, I guess.

CM: How did you get involved with the tour?

M: We did the tour when Plea For Peace was combined with Take Action in 2002, and it was a good experience—not just for playing shows, but also for the tight-knit group that we had traveling for that long together. We've been in close touch with Mike Park ever since. He came up with the idea for us to do this, and we thought it would be great to work with Mike again, and we feel like this is something that we can support because we're not a political band, and this tour is just about education and human rights—which we feel are some of the most basic rights that need to be honored and exercised. So it was something we could get behind without feeling like we were misrepresenting ourselves. We all have our own views politically, but we don't choose to express those with the band. I don't think any of us feel like we should be telling people what to think. Music has always been involved with politics, and I think that's good and should continue; it's just not something we delve into.

CM: The types of bands playing Plea for Peace have really changed in the past few years.

M: It's kind of switched up here and there. They kind of change it around, and I imagine it will continue to change. We tried to make this one as diverse as we could—and I think that, mostly, we succeeded. When you only have four bands, you can only do so much. [Laughs] We could say, "Half your set has to be one genre, half your set has to be another."

CM: You guys just got back from a tour of Europe and Japan. How was that?

M: Those were fun. There's definitely a good response and great people.

CM: Is touring internationally really different from touring around here?

M: I think so, yeah. Even doing small clubs here and in Europe is different, and then Japan is just totally different. It's a way bigger challenge to get in and out of there. In most places in mainland Europe they usually provide room and board and dinner and breakfast; it's very much for the traveling musician. Whereas here, you get hospitality, but you're on your own every evening and every morning. But that's fine—that's the way we grew up doing it. It's funny there. They'll say, "You have to come back for breakfast!" and you're like, "Why?"

Then in Japan, you don't even move your own equipment. They take care of everything. If you're over there legally, you go through a promoter, and that's just what they do. It's a fairly large industry, and I think they make a lot of money. But they're wonderful. They're super nice, and they make it terribly easy.

CM: Shifting gears a bit, I've always felt that Cursive is a band that's very aware of itself as a band and as a group of artists making music. I think that's very true of The Ugly Organ. Is the album, as a whole, a reaction to anything, specifically?

M: Of course, it's not a reaction to one individual thing; it's sort of a reaction to either situations or self. It's more like a lot of short stories.

CM: A song like "Art is Hard," though—is that a reaction to accusations that have been leveled at the band?

M: That's a good question. I don't know if it's a reaction to criticisms of us or if he's using his lyrics to create a sort of outside view of what's going on. I think he's just trying to see it, not necessarily trying to be self-deprecating about it.

CM: Do you think that this is a good way of making music? Should artists interrogate the art that they make?

M: I think so. It keeps you out of the ruts and out of the crutches. I think it helps you write better as well. Of course, if you're self-analyzing, you're going to take what you're writing more seriously.

CM: At the same time, I can see how the tongue-in-cheek sort of manner that you guys employ might also help you take yourselves less seriously.

M: Yeah. It's a two-way thing, really. For example, he yells "Cursive is so cool!" in the background of "Art is Hard". It's pure sarcasm and humor. It helps us realize that this isn't a big deal. We're having a good time, and whatever happens, happens.