Art is hard, and so is growing up

Cursive's Matt Maginn explains the band's renaissance and Midwest roots.

Cursive members aren't too convinced they're actually professional musicians, or even good for that matter. We can't agree, but the modesty is cute. Courtesy of Saddle Creek Records

Although he's been a musician for 14 years, it wasn't until 2005 that Matt Maginn considered himself one.

"You do get to the point where you feel like, 'OK, when am I supposed to get a real job?'" he said. "And that really messes with your head after you get to a certain age. It was only maybe five years ago that I would even call myself a musician if someone asked me. That's how ingrained it is that art has to be a hobby and it cannot be work or it cannot be a career."

This mindset is more than a little surprising for a man who performed on "The Late Show" last month. Maginn's main creative project and, in all senses of the word, career for his entire adult life has been Cursive. Today, the Omaha, Neb.-born band faces the challenge of growing older and remaining a functioning rock band. It's a contradictory lifestyle, looked down upon in the Midwest, but one that shaped Cursive's latest album -- Mama, I'm Swollen.

Released in March, Mama finds the band tossing a colossal curveball, eschewing the bedlam of former records in favor of a more brooding and pensive feel. Though the buzzword for the record has become "melancholy," the majority of songs on the album crescendo to a revelatory peak, as the cathartic nature of the band's music is reflected both lyrically and musically.

"Anything that's been melancholy for us results in some sort of catharsis," Maginn said. "I remember that with our first record. That's what made it feel good, because you felt like you were getting that feeling out or that emotion out."

Cursive's greatest strength might just be its contradictory nature. The lyrics on Mama deal with aging and coming to terms with fading youth.

"We were realizing that certain parts of it (2006's Happy Hollow) were super similar to this band we had before Cursive called Slowdown Virginia," Maginn said. "We also joked that we were going back to that, and we wanted to. We were really nostalgic for that feel we had back then."

Reinvention is a limiting term with which to peg Cursive. Rather, the band is a chameleon, adopting instruments, styles and moods as necessary for each album's perfect thematic conception. Without singer/guitarist Tim Kasher's fiction-like storytelling and the rest of the band's songwriting, which builds the atmosphere for Kasher's lyrics, this wouldn't be possible.

It also helps that Maginn and his bandmates refuse to take themselves too seriously, instead crafting their art to a particular vision for each album. It's a natural attitude that results in candid music.

"We always joke about it, at least Tim and I, that we're not really musicians," he said. "I mean, we're musicians, but we're not good or pro necessarily."

But if there's any simple way for Maginn to gauge his success, it might be the brief backstage exchange with Will Ferrell before his band's March 13 Letterman performance. Beyond that (and making some more records), there's just one more thing to accomplish for a devoted "Old School" fan.

"It'd be cool to play Conan," he said. "We won't get greedy."

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