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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Music

Indie rock band Cursive comes to The Rave tonight at 8 p.m. (PHOTO: Daniel Muller)

Cursive draws audience in with high-concept indie rock


For many people, cursive is a type of elegant, flowing writing that most children are forced to learn in grade school. For knowledgeable music fans, however, Cursive represents something far more interesting and a whole lot more entertaining.

Cursive is an Omaha-based indie alternative rock band performing tonight at The Rave. The concert is just the second stop on the group's nationwide tour with prog-rockers Minus the Bear. While Minus the Bear is considered the headliner, Cursive's high-concept music and even higher critics' reviews show the band is well above what one would expect from a typical opener.

The group, formed in 1995 and then reformed in 1999 and 2006 after two brief hiatuses, has earned perfect scores and rave reviews over the years for their unique sound and interesting conceptual ideas. Three years ago, the buzz and hype around the band led to their first national televised appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

"It was a real treat on every level," said guitarist, keyboardist and backup singer Ted Stevens, who joined Cursive in 1999. "The logistics were kind of a mess – we had some problems at the airport in Chicago – but it was a great day. It was as thrilling as we hoped it would be."

The indie rockers drew a considerable amount of influence early on in their existence from the new wave music movement of the early '80s, including groups like Joy Division and U2. Stevens notes that as the band has grown up, though, more types and genres of music influence the band's ideas and what kind of sounds they want to make.

"Now, it's hard to say what influences us because everyone just listens to what makes them happy, but as we get older, I think classic rock and the older '60s and '70s stuff – the Kinks, Queen, perhaps Led Zeppelin – is now more important to us than when we were young," Stevens said.

Cursive combined all of their various influences together a little over a year ago for their latest album, "I Am Gemini." The record is unlike most CDs in the fact that it tells an overarching story – a creepy, surreal battle between Cassius and Pollock, two estranged twin brothers – across its 13 songs. It's an ambitious concept that is very different from most of the music industry's focus on catchy, radio-ready singles.

"We were, and still are, aware of the risk," Stevens said. "Our motives, though, for writing and playing music are different than what is expected of us and sometimes what people want from us. We've written seven full-length albums, so we feel like it's more interesting for us to take on more challenging records."

Cursive began with the riffs in the music, looking for rhythms, hooks and choruses in the music. As they recorded the instrumental parts for "I Am Gemini" and figured out the sequence of the songs, lead singer and lyricist Tim Kasher began piecing together the lyrics to the story.

One of the biggest risks in doing a story album is hoping the listener can put together the narrative in a satisfying manner. To help with this, "I Am Gemini" comes with a playbill in the liner notes, organized and structured just like a musical playbill with acts and stage directions.

"The traditional listener, sitting with the record or CD, could fill in the blanks with the liner notes," Stevens said. "The end of the record can be, and actually has to be, interpreted. I was a little concerned that wouldn't be apparent enough, but we spent a lot of time with the liner notes and trying to make it read well as well as sound good."

The concept of "I Am Gemini" harkens back to the days before MP3s, when a CD was a whole experience with a strong effort put into every element of an album.

"The fact that we're trying so hard to continue to make records that represent 13 tracks of a bigger idea I think shows we're trying to cling to that mentality," Stevens said.

Of course, Stevens and the rest of Cursive hope that the musical aspect of the new album is just as satisfying as the storytelling part.

"If someone isn't quite getting the whole thing, I guess I hope they can at least just enjoy the music for what it is," Stevens stated. "Hopefully, it can stand as just a rock record as well."

Cursive doesn't intend on playing through the entire story of "I Am Gemini" tonight at The Rave. Stevens noted that the band hasn't discussed how they plan to bring the complete album and story on stage yet. Their current tour just began Thursday night, so for the time being, they intend to include about three or four songs off the new record mixed in with a few of their older hits.

As for future albums, Stevens said they haven't thought at all about whether another story album is in the works.

"We're kind of wrapped up in the present, just trying to play well every night."


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