The Echo Presents
Tim Kasher (Cursive / The Good LIfe)
Laura Stevenson, Jake Bellows
1822 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, California, 90026
This event is 18 and over
Tim Kasher, with his bands Cursive and The Good Life or as a solo artist, has continuously pushed musical boundaries over his career, which has produced 17 LPs and EPs over 20 years. His fearless attitude is easily evident: he’s known for switching up sounds between his bands or his solo work (even switching up sounds on each project’s albums), crafting intricate concept albums (two of which – Cursive’s 2003 LP The Ugly Organ and 2012 LP I Am Gemini – featured play-like stage directions), and transforming songs originally conceived as a soundtrack for his self-penned screenplay into a standalone album (The Good Life’s 2007 release Help Wanted Nights).
Kasher’s forthcoming third solo album No Resolution (which will also be the first release from 15 Passenger, the new label founded and run by Cursive) is no exception, delivering what is arguably his most ambitious and intrepid work to date.
No Resolution is the natural continuation of Tim Kasher’s constantly evolving body of work. It is his most cinematic creation, a moving and cathartic collection of soundscapes that feels more like a suite of movements than a standard pop album, complete with instrumental breaks conjoining the nine songs. Fittingly, the 15 pieces will be featured in Kasher’s directorial debut film of the same name, which he also wrote, to be released later this year. Across the album’s strong story the characters – an engaged couple on the brink of a break up – grapple with the specific and the broad, including the restlessness of adulthood and smothering external pressures; relationships in various states of transition and the walls built within them; distrust, indecision, and despair; and the existential anxiety that drives a deep need to leave a mark on the world.
Filled with lush arrangements, No Resolution is some of the most beautiful and finely orchestral music from Kasher, yet it is also his most subdued and understated work. The string arrangements that dominate the album don’t simply hang in the background or accent the pretty melodies, they move the songs forward and force out the melodies as guitars do in traditional hard rock music. There is also a warm sophistication to No Resolution, with its fluid vibraphone tones, and also exhibits Kasher’s deft pop hand, with sudden horn blasts and dynamic shifts.
Kasher recorded the album at The Hobby Shop (with Andrew ‘mudrock’ Murdock) and at home in Los Angeles, CA, the Shape Shoppe in Chicago, IL (with Nick Broste), and at ARC Studios in Omaha, NE (with Ben Brodin), with additional arrangements by Patrick Newbery (Cursive, Oquoa) and percussion arrangements by Dylan Ryan (Sand, Rainbow Arabia).
Some day in the not too distant future, America will dip its corners deeper into the ocean, the waves ever grinding at its shores as tectonic plates shift and sink. The effect of melting icecaps on the beaches of her native Long Island is one of the triggers for Laura Stevenson’s worrying mind, as she struggles with the overwhelming notions of an infinite universe and the imminence of her own death. Obsessive musings on these subjects has led her to describe herself as an “unfunny Woody Allen,” though friends and fans might disagree, finding plenty of humor in her introspective and self-deprecating nature. The repetition of these existential questions is the driving force behind Wheel, an album brimming with life and death in the desperate search for what keeps us turning in the face of doubt, an exercise in coming to terms with the overwhelming beauty that can be found in the lack of an answer.
Laura Stevenson was born and raised on Long Island into a family of mariners and music makers. She spent many of her younger days on the sugar barges of NY harbor with her father and uncles, who all made their living on the water, at one time running one of the largest fleets on the Hudson. Meanwhile, her mother’s parents were successful musicians; Harry Simeone, the composer and choral arranger responsible for such works as “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and Margaret McCravy (stage name McCrae), a singer from South Carolina who got her start accompanying her elder siblings “The McCravy Brothers,” a harmonious gospel folk duo, before continuing on her own to record and tour with bandleader Benny Goodman. Armed with her grandfather’s love for modernist dissonance, a genetic predisposition for harmony, and with her sea legs firmly planted in the traditions of American folk singing, Stevenson began creating melodies at a very young age. “My mom would find me in my room, looking out the window, out at the street, singing by myself, sometimes crying,” she laughs, “I was a weird kid.”
At around five Stevenson began playing piano by ear, and at that point her mother decided lessons were a sound investment for the young musician. In High School between going to punk shows every weekend, she spent her afternoons singing in four different choral groups, exploring a growing love for acapella. “Big time nerd stuff,” as she recalls, lamenting that there wasn’t a show like Glee around to validate her when she was in the thick of it. Hundreds of hours of extra-curricular singing combined with a natural talent has no doubt paid dividends when it comes to Stevenson’s powerful vocals. The confidence and precision with which she unabashedly sings out on record and on stage stands in sharp contrast with the reflective uncertainty and isolation that comes through in her lyrics.
Though Stevenson began writing classically on piano early on, it wasn’t until her late teens that she taught herself how to fingerpick the guitar, aspiring to have the quickness and intricacy of her “guitar god,” Dolly Parton. The new instrument opened up a window of creativity and Stevenson soon began writing songs heavily influenced by the writers her father had raised her on, such as Neil Young, Gram Parsons, and Carole King, while also drawing inspiration from music that she discovered on her own like Leonard Cohen, and Jeff Mangum. Meanwhile, leaving her comfort zone, Stevenson started playing in friends’ bands in and around Long Island, a time that she says, “taught me how to be on tour, how to give and take with other musicians, and not be afraid of my own ideas.” With a new found confidence and a solid and supportive community of creative people behind her, Stevenson moved to Brooklyn in her early 20s and soon started performing her own material, loosely assembling a backing band of friends from other projects. In 2010, she released her bare-bones full-length debut simply entitled, A Record, which she quickly followed the year after with Sit Resist, the first solid document of her work playing with a full band. Those two albums and a healthy amount of touring brought Stevenson a dedicated fan base, drawn to her voice, her words, and her relatable down-to-earth persona.
While writing the 13 songs that make-up her newest record, Wheel, Stevenson sought to understand her place within the frame of time, nature, and among those that she loves. With her words, a careful twine of prose and humor, Stevenson manages to expose the nagging contradictions that make life so terrifying but also so worth living, how it is possible to simultaneously feel both fear and joy, the bitter aftertaste of something so beautiful it makes you sick. Themes of passage, the cycle of the moon, the seasons, and love’s ever-shifting states of dependence, are all interwoven throughout Wheel as songs ebb and flow from her band’s crashing walls of distortion and pounding drums, to sweet string-led overtures, to moments where it is just Stevenson and a guitar.
In recording Wheel, Stevenson decided to up the production value, steering away from the lo-fi approach of her previous two albums. Forcing herself to fully give-in to the recording process, and relinquish some of creative control she enlisted producer, Kevin McMahon, someone whose work she respected immensely and who would, as she put it, “be the perfect set of ears for these songs.” She also brought in Rob Moose on violin and Kelly Pratt to play brass, adding their own layers of depth to the band’s full arrangements. Despite the move to sleeker production, Wheel retains its organic nature, relying primarily on the resonance of acoustic instruments and the electricity of simply over-driven amplifiers, with its most synthetic moment coming from a Roland organ, an unconscious decision that Stevenson explains as her and her band’s way of “being real, relying on each other’s energy to keep time and just playing the songs like human beings, flaws and all.”
Jake Bellows had quit music. Or so he thought.
After fronting Neva Dinova for more than 15 years which included five full-lengths, a split EP, and countless tours, he packed up his dog and moved from his native Omaha to his girlfriend's hometown of Los Angeles. Two days before he left he recorded 18 demos with musician and engineer Ben Brodin (Before the Toast and Tea, Conor Oberst) at Brodin's insistence. Once in L.A., Bellows got a job installing sliding-glass doors and sold his Les Paul to buy a Datsun pick-up truck.
Though he had no plans to form a new band, he played the occasional solo show, performed with Whispertown, and continued to write songs. In early 2011, an invitation arrived from Omaha's Film Streams Theater for Jake's old friend Ryan Fox (Our Fox, The Good Life), also living on the West Coast, to perform an original live film score. Fox enlisted Bellows and Brodin to collaborate and the trio began to compose and discuss improvisational ideas over long-distance. Since they were all going to be in Omaha and had a long history of playing in each other's bands, Brodin and Fox nudged Bellows into booking studio time to record some of his dormant songs.
Fox and Bellows drove from LA to Omaha that November in a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle that didn't have heat, a speedometer, a fuel gauge, seatbelts, or radio. They made it as far as Lincoln, NE, before the car caught fire at 4 in the morning. Later that week the trio performed the score to The Adventures of Prince Achmed. That weekend, they entered ARC Studios for a feverish recording session, arranging and writing parts on the fly with an impromptu band including Heath Koontz (Neva Dinova), Todd Fink (The Faint), Whispertown bandmate Morgan Nagler and other old friends. Committing quickly to intuitive arrangements the band recorded 17 tracks in a little more than a week. They worked remotely on the record throughout that winter and spring, adding overdubs in basements and bedrooms across western North America.
The group reunited in Omaha to debut the new songs at a couple of shows one week the following June. Excited to release the new material on their own terms the band put out a preview EP on cassette, Help, at the end of 2012. The new music is underpinned by philosophical conviction and shaped by an interest in physics, cosmology and mythology. Bellows returned to music with a renewed sense of the intrinsic value of art and its ability to express the commonality of human experience. His debut full-length, New Ocean, offers a mix tape of different kinds of songs hanging out on one record - love songs that are not necessarily ballads despite their introspective gauziness, with left turns into drunk-in-the-sun bossa nova and blue-eyed-soul ruptured by fuzz guitar. Bellows believes that songs change the fabric of the universe through the very frequencies they emit. As such, the record attempts to create the world he wants to see instead of reflect the world that is. "Our theory of the beginning of the universe is the big bang - a sound," Bellows said. "What gave birth to the universe is our one tool that we can change the universe with."