- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

As the driving force behind two prolific bands, songwriter Tim Kasher composes music at a frenetic pace.

Cursive, the long-running vehicle for his more angst-ridden output, released its sixth album earlier this spring. Meanwhile, the Good Life — whose softer sound caters to Mr. Kasher’s sentimental material — issued four albums between 2000 and 2007.

With such demands on his creativity, is the songwriter ever worried about the well running dry?

“Quite often,” he admits, “and I’ve spoken to other songwriters about this. It’s a hypochondriac’s scenario. You strum some chords, they all sound dull and done before. And you worry that perhaps you’ve dulled yourself, reached an age of absolute indifference, drank away the last of your imagination. You convince yourself of this. But play the same chords a couple days later, and they sound brand-new again.”

Cursive’s latest release, “Mama, I’m Swollen,” continues Mr. Kasher’s exploration into the grisly details of failed relationships. Distorted guitars, horns and the occasional violin are mixed with careful nuance, creating discord one minute and harmony the next. Presiding over the fusion is Mr. Kasher himself, whose lyrics remain both cunning and self-effacing.

“I’m at my best when I’m at my worst,” he sings at the beginning of “From the Hips,” whose slow introduction gradually gives way to a barreling, percussive stomp.

“It seems that this line is mostly read as doing one’s best writing as directly influenced by one’s own folly, which is fine,” he says of the lyric. “I think that is often accurate for any kind of writing. We learn from mistakes and write about what we’ve learned. Comedy is based on tragedy. We can’t stand watching Jim and Pam on ‘The Office’ anymore because there is absolutely nothing wrong with their relationship — it’s like watching a Hallmark movie. But the lyric stemmed from a much simpler problem in my life: that I tend to perform better drunk. This is arguable, to say the least, but that’s where the lyric began.”

If Mr. Kasher sounds happy despite the heart-rending content of “Mama, I’m Swollen,” it may be because he’s anticipating his return to the Washington area.

“I think the first time I played D.C. was with Lullaby for the Working Class,” he remembers. “I was sitting in as their mandolin and clarinet player, which was nerve-racking. I am not a clarinet player. We may have played at what used to be the Food for Thought Cafe.

“Since then, I have played the Black Cat many, many times, both the older locale and the current, and have enjoyed many seitan burgers from Food for Thought.”

Mr. Kasher brings his own tasty fare to the Black Cat this weekend. Cursive will headline the venue Sunday, following performances by Man Man and comedian Andrew Wright. Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets are $15 in advance.

Floydfest: A festival closer to home

Tucked into the southwestern corner of Virginia, Floyd County harbors enough small-town charm and pastoral beauty to draw a dribble of tourist traffic. Every July, however, diverse audiences descend upon the town in droves, their cars packed to the gills with camping gear and tubes of sunblock. The goal? To experience live music in an idyllic setting, with farmland and rolling hills serving as a serene backdrop for a variety of bands.

Floydfest launched in 2002 as a relatively small festival, its modest crowd dwarfed in size by the nearby Bonnaroo. From its inception, however, Floydfest boasted a distinctive identity that set it apart from similar events. The stages were framed with timber, an architectural nuance that helped integrate the festival’s infrastructure with the surrounding woods. Cell-phone reception was poor, thus isolating attendees from the frenzy of the outside world. Finally, the music was compelling and somewhat special to the Appalachians, with many local musicians performing on the various stages. A blend of bluegrass, reggae, folk, roots rock and world music helped round out the bill.

Floydfest has grown in stature, of course, with the number of attendees and A-list bands increasing every year. Feminist icon Ani DiFranco headlined the festival in 2005, while last year’s event saw strong performances from Rusted Root and the Avett Brothers.

Scheduled to commence July 23, the next Floydfest will feature one of the most diverse lineups to date. Blues Traveler, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the Duhks and the Felice Brothers are among the many bands slated to play, while a variety of local artisans also will be in attendance to hawk their wares.

Those accustomed to shelling out upward of $250 for festival admission can give their wallets a rest. Admission to Floydfest is $140 at the gate, with a variety of cheaper options for those who purchase tickets in advance. There are no service fees or auxiliary camping costs, making this one of the sweetest deals of the festival season.

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