Q&A with Matt Maginn of Cursive

In Sound-off

For fans of: Minus The Bear, Q And Not U, Bright Eyes

In 2003, The Ugly Organ illustrated just what Cursive was made of: youthful angst paired with a Dylan-esque social commentary which carved them into the indie-emo charts for good, paving a successful path for subsequent releases. Now, after a three-year hiatus, the group gathered together from many side projects and many life changes, producing a reflection of what it means to be older, wiser and still living for music.

Mama, I’m Swollen, Cursive’s seventh album, is a conceptual expression of society’s pressure to grow up, to put on nice shoes and a tie for some respectable job.

But these guys won’t take it. They’ve still got their sneakers, their torn jeans and sweaty T-shirts and though they’ll be losing hair soon enough, they’re still touring the nation and  screaming into microphones one at a time: “I hate this damn enlightenment / We were better off as animals!”

In a lime-green painted backroom at the Glass House, just before their show with Alkaline Trio, Cursive’s bassist Matt Maginn sat on a partially broken black couch to discuss their most recent release. Bright-eyed and sweaty, he cheerfully admitted this was the first day of the tour, and it was starting off “great.”

Daily Titan: Do I sense some sarcasm?

Matt Maginn: No, it’s like the only time ever I can say that because it’s been a good day so far. It’s sunny, we got here early, and there’s no stress or running around.

DT: How’s the tour been in general for Mama I’m Swollen?

MM: We did it differently than usual. It was broken up into sections, so it took up all year. Instead of going on for like six weeks straight we went out for like two weeks five times.

DT: Is that easier?

MM: It’s a little easier, but then you also end up spending a lot of time doing just that, just waiting to go on the road. We have other projects. Tim has solo work and screenplays that he does, Ted has another band and I work at a label. Touring keeps us away from those jobs.

DT: Do you feel like Mama, I’m Swollen grows off your previous release Happy Hollows in an organic way, or does it take a totally different path?

MM: I feel like it’s more connected to our second record in a lot of ways. It’s on two pacts — one is sort of a reaching back to that era, while at the same time progressing forward. And I think it’s quite different than Happy Hollows. It’s less pop-driven. The lyrical direction is a little different. This is more gloomy and melancholy. The funny thing is, with Happy Hollow, it’s kind of a more sarcastic and sort of irreverent. This one is completely vacant of all political stuff. Whereas Happy Hollow was rife with it.

DT: I keep hearing the phrase “Peter Pan syndrome” in describing your lyrics. What do you make of this? Do you agree with it?

MM: I think it’s basically a refusal to grow up, or that hesitation when you come to a point and you’re choosing between what you’re expected to do and what you want to do. The Peter Pan part is just any individual reverting to a youthful side, and whether that’s the responsible thing to do, although I think by definition thats not the responsible thing to do.

DT: Do you feel like this album is more or less polished than your previous releases?

MM: I would go less. It’s less than Happy Hollows, that’s for sure. It was a conscious effort to use less production, maybe because its darker. The production is a lot shinier in Happy Hollows because it’s happier. When we approached this one, we wanted to make it more raw and strip it down, but we ended up compromising some of that and fell halfway between what we were striving for and increased production use.

DT: Why did you want to make this one more raw?

MM: It was a reaction to the environment, really. Recording has gotten so much more affordable and more easier to edit, so everything has become shinier and a lot more poppy. There’s no room for mistakes. We wanted to avoid any edits and to record the way we started doing it, which is to lay it down one way and pick and choose from there.

DT: You played every song live before recording them for Mama, I’m Swollen. Did this help or hinder the recording process?

MM: It helped a lot, since you got everything all figured out and you know your muscles and you know your parts, so you can play it all again pretty easy.

DT: There are notably more wispy instruments, like the flute and violin, in this album. Did these additional instruments complicate the recording process at all?

MM: Yeah, we keep doing that. I think in the next one, we’re going to strip it down.

DT: So you guys are planning on making another album after this?

MM: As much as we ever have been. We haven’t had time to get together and start hammering anything out, but we definitely do have some ideas that we’re excited about.

DT: You guys once said that you want to conceptualize every album and that you want to be a different band with each release. Was that the case with Mama, I’m Swollen? If so, what’s its primary concept?

MM: There’s multiple things, one would be the Peter Pan syndrome — that friction between what you’re supposed to do and what you want to do. I guess that falls over into a pre-thinking human versus a more animalistic or desired-driven human, whether it’s a desire for relationships or anything like that. Meaning, that conflict that arises when you are trying to do the “right” thing, but your instincts want you to do something else.

DT: Do you feel like you are doing what you want to do or what you’re supposed to be doing?

MM: I think we’re doing what we want to do. Well, I think the reason the lyrics come out the way they do is because there’s a certain influence coming from the Midwest. There are those norms that you’re supposed to follow, so you grow up believing you have to grow up, and there’s some sort of latent guilt that you can’t get away from. At least the three of us have always had that because growing up, being a musician was hobby only, there was never any encouragement to make it a career. If you did, it was frowned upon. It’s like, “You’re crazy. No one makes it, you’re just going to great heartbroken.”

DT: This is the first album that you guys put out without the original drummer, Clint Schnase. What was it like working with Cornbread Compton?

MM: (Laughs) It’s been great, he’s a great guy. He’s a different type of player. They both have their great qualities, he’s a wonderful guy. But it was different and weird not to have that other drummer after being used to having him for ten years. I’d say Cornbread has a lot more finesse, Clint was a little more rooted in the beat and skipping with the beat so-to-speak, like hip-hop. He came from  that vision of drums so he incorporated that into our music, so it was very beat-ridden rather than more expansive, which is the way Cornbread plays.

DT: When do you think you’ll be ready to hit the studio again for the next album?

MM: I don’t know, it could be as soon as next winter, if we’re lucky, just because Tim has a solo thing, and I’m doing some other stuff. And we don’t really know when we’ll have time to do it.

Cursive will return to Southern California April 1 at the House of Blues, San Diego supporting Alkaline Trio.

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