The Sound of Songwriting: With Tim Kasher of Cursive and The Good Life

Much like a lyrical Woody Allen, Tim Kasher doesn’t hide behind his neurosis, he celebrates it. Mature enough to recognize his own self-limitations as an adult, and candid enough to share these tales with his audience, Kasher’s style of songwriting comes off as witty, humorous, self-deprecating and humble – often all in one song and sometimes before the second chorus.

Kasher demonstrates this ability in “Art is Hard,” a sarcastic lament for songwriters who must use their own tragedies as tools through which to boost album sales. “Cut it out – your self-inflicted pain is getting too routine,” he demands from the start. Later followed by, “You gotta sink to swim / impersonate greater persons / cause we all know art is hard / when we don’t know who we are. “ By the close of the song you have a pretty clear image of this type of self-loathing rock band to which Kasher is referring. But if you weren’t paying close enough attention you might have missed the “fan” who screams mid-song, “Oh, Cursive is so cool,” begging the question: who is this song really about?

It’s this type of dark irony that Kasher is famous for. And it’s also what leads to the confusion between the historical Tim Kasher, and the Tim Kasher persona with whom he refers to in his songs.

Last October he released his first solo-album, The Game of Monogamy, which lyrical reads like an hour-long theatrical monologue on the unsatisfying woes of marriage. On stage, in support of the new album, Tim shared an antidote with the audience about a fan 10 years his younger that approached him with a pat on the back offering his condolences, “Don’t worry Tim, it gets better.” Kasher brushes it off with a smile acknowledging that he is implicit in the joke. He understands that his fans sometimes misinterpret his style of lyric writing as 100% truths. After all it was Kasher who set himself up by once singing, “There’s no use to keep a secret, everything I hide ends up in lyrics”, in Cursive’s Some Red Handed Sleight of Hand (and later in the album calling himself out by name). I mentioned this to Kasher in our interview, to which he responded at length – a statement he would later summarized as, “I’m not doing documentary music”.

Could you tell me about the first song you wrote?

I can’t remember the title of it, but I do remember that it was ‘A minor – D minor – E minor.’ I’m going to guess it was called “You Don’t Care if I Die.” It was something along the lines of, “If I shot myself, if I hung myself, you won’t care…” because well, “You don’t care if I die.” That was the first song, it was really bleak and there was no such thing as nuance or subtlety whatsoever. I was probably fifteen at the time.

Did you know you wanted to be a songwriting at that age?

I had been learning how to play guitar at the time – learning Simon & Garfunkel songs primarily. And playing with Matt Maginn [bassist of Cursive], we’ve always played together. At the time we were playing mostly covers. I was just a kid, but I really had a hunch from an early age that I wanted to write my own songs and not just play covers.

What lessons have you learned about songwriting since writing “You Don’t Care If I Die”?

I might suggest that I’m still writing that same song [laughs] it’s just that I’ve learned subtleties and a few more chords [still laughing]. Even though I still use ‘A minor – D minor’ pretty predominately.

Do you ever find yourself stuck in the same progression of chords?

You know I don’t talk about songwriting much with other songwriters. I imagine any songwriter gets stuck with his go-to chords. I have chords that are my comfort chords, but I do keep myself away from them. It kind of goes by album: I’ll set parameters of what I can and cannot do on any given album. For example, “you cannot use bar-chords”, or “you cannot use these traditional full chords that are your comfort chords.”

I wonder if these “go-to chords” limit your growth as a songwriter? If they complicate the process for developing new ideas that don’t sound like songs you’ve already written?

Wow, yeah I’m a big believer that I should start talking to more songwriters to see what others think. And I suppose that what you’re doing.

There are only so many chords you can play – the chords are always going to be the same. Here and there you can stumble upon a new chord structure or composition idea that might really inspire you and then you can work from there.

Ok I can use a really simple example: so you’re playing a simple progression of C-F-G and on most days of the month it sounds like C-F-G, or maybe it sounds like something else you’ve already played, or it sounds like Neil Young or… whatever, it just sounds derivative. But then on that day you’re ready to write the song – whatever that means – then C-F-G can sound very different. It sounds like the first time you’ve ever played that chord progression and it sounds very exciting. And you have all of these ideas and it seems like new chords.

When you were writing with Cursive, what was the process like for presenting new songs to the other members of the band?

We decided a long time ago, like in the 90s, even before Cursive, that we can speed up the process if I come in with a finished composition. That’s not saying that I’m just the one that writes the songs, but I write the composition: the chords and the vocal melody. I come with a completed song and then we start throwing around all these ideas about how the drums should be, what kind of bass part, what kind of guitars.

To give proper credit to the bands: the kind of junky song that comes out of my house is often a hell of a lot different from what it becomes. It’s a fairly plain idea where I see potential. I’ve definitely had to push songs, like, “Wait, no, you’re just not seeing it how I’m seeing it in my mind. I think this can work.”

Can you think of one song in particular that took more convincing than others?

There’s a song in the middle of The Ugly Organ, it’s called “Butcher the Song.” It ended up being one of the more important songs on the record as far as it being this adhesive for the first half and the second half of the record. It’s an important storytelling song for the album. But the music was really weird, and it was really hard to convince them of what it would become, to the point where I started convincing myself, “Ok maybe this song isn’t working.” It wasn’t until I took a last crack at the lyrics that it all kind of made sense and everyone was like, “Oh, ok this all makes sense now.”

What songs are you most proud of having written?

On this last record, the song “Strays” is where I feel like I’m actually hitting some kind of pure nerve that I was trying to find. On Happy Hollow it was “From the Hips.”

There are a few of those songs on each record – and that’s what keeps me going. The other songs aren’t filler; it’s just that not every song is that one special song that made the album for me. I wonder if John Lennon looked at one of his albums and would say, “All eleven of these songs are gems?”

How was songwriting different on the solo album you just released [The Game of Monogamy] – where you don’t have the support of a band to bounce your ideas off of?

It’s just a different process, one that I don’t mind. I would bring musicians like Erin Tate [drummer for Minus the Bear], Matt Maginn [bassist for Cursive] and Patrick Newbery. We’d flesh songs out until they were like, “That sounds great,” but even when they were unsure at times they would be like, “Well Tim, it’s your album.” And I kind of like that because I felt like, “Yeah, don’t worry about it. I like it and I think it sounds cool.”

The new album is so much more literal than your work in the past. I wonder if that was deliberate, or if you even recognize this?

I take that as a big compliment, and not that I’m achieving something as some great lyricist, but just that I’m in the constant process of trying to become a better writer.

People recognize this album as being so literal – and it’s actually not. There’s fiction on it and I think that I’m getting better at fiction writing, to the point where people don’t know the difference anymore. Not that I’m trying to confuse people, but it’s tough because it’s not like it’s supposed to be autobiographical. It’s not like I’m lying.

You can’t break down fiction and say it’s lies and truths. I’m trying to write these pieces of writing that are based off of all these experiences, and I’m trying to craft them into a better song than life actually is. That makes it fiction to me. Of course there are very literal nods to my own experiences, but it weaves in and out of with these fictional characters – I don’t see it as me, but as these people that resemble me.

So I’m assuming a song like Sierra is fictional?

Yes. That’s a good example of a song way back from 2002 that still to this day people have the impression that I have a daughter. It’s not a total piece of fiction, but it’s about if I were to [have had a daughter].

I write something like Sierra because it sounds like it could have stemmed from the possible different choices in my life. I would never write something that wasn’t in my autobiographical nature. And so I’m writing about experiences from my life. It’s almost like historical fiction.

On some songs you cross the line between the biographical and the fictional to the point where it comes off as intentionally vague. A song like Sink to the Beat or Art is Hard comes to mind. It’s this Woody Allen moment where the listener wonders: is this about Tim? Or is he talking about someone else?

I think that’s for the listener – or viewer – to decide – you have to make those decisions for yourself. I’ll watch a Woody Allen film and think: this is clearly coming out of his own life. I don’t hold him to it, but you can recognize that he’s working through certain things. He’s in a safe place because he’s doing stuff that’s totally out there.

The songs that you just mentioned, Sink to the Beat and Art is Hard, that stuff is pretty out there. It’s stuff where it’s fully self referential, but it’s also so ironic and fairly tongue-in-cheek by playing with the concept of what rock and roll is about.

They are song about songwriting, aren’t they? You have a lot of those.

I do that because I have a lot of interest in self-reflexive writing and that fourth wall concept. It’s harder to have that [forth wall] in music, but that’s that idea anyway

The term rock star is just so defamatory and I used to get really pissed off if friends would say that word – it’s just obnoxious. But some people really embrace it, and I think it’s fairly obvious that lyrically I’ve tried to be the antithesis of it by deconstructing it as much as possible in this way. And that’s why I write a lot about the songwriting process.

The Sound of Songwriting: With Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols

“Songwriting? That’s something that I don’t really know how to do.” Courtney Taylor felt that I ought to know this before we even began our interview to discuss that very subject. As we sat upstairs in Webster Hall on a chilly November day in New York City, the Dandy Warhol’s lead singer and songwriter wanted to make this one point clear: “I don’t write songs, they just happen to me.”

In 1995 America, when the popularity of grunge was in a swift decline and a new wave of punk-ska was heating up around the country, Taylor was writing music inspired by bands like the Velvet Underground and My Bloody Valentine. In one of the Dandy Warhol’s earliest music videos for the song “Ride”, Taylor is fashioned like a young Mick Jager, fresh faced with neatly trimmed bangs, while Zia McCabe shakes a maraca and the entire band spins around in a tiny kaleidoscopic room—a very subdued and stereotypical “British” looking music video. It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise that at the time the Dandy Warhols—who actually hail from Portland, Oregon—were playing to full clubs in Europe while remaining virtually unknown back at home.

The Dandy Warhols have a full and all-inclusive sound; it feels like the four band members are always present and aware of maintaining a song’s equilibrium. There is rarely a moment where any one member tries to rise above the others—which is interesting, considering Taylor alone is credited with writing all of the Dandy Warhol’s music.

Taylor’s lyrics are typically cryptic and terse, which could lead a listener into thinking he’s a bit remiss. But it’s in the final product, with the entire band supporting him, that the lyrics are translated back into his original emotions. Often, it’s more about conveying a subconscious feeling than a literal meaning.

Songwriting is Taylor’s profession. It’s his passion, but it’s also a burden. When he confessed just how taxing it could be, I wanted to stop him and interject, “Why do you do it to yourself? Is there ever going to be a point in your life where you’ve just written enough songs?” I was brimming with curiosity—but I needed to let him come to his own conclusions and work it out for himself.

Can you tell me about how you would approach the band with a new song?

God, I don’t know. I guess it’s usually when we’re standing around at practice. If I’m by myself, I start to play, and if I have the beginning of a song I just play the chords and sing it to see if it’s actually a thing that would work live. ‘Cause I write songs… [pause]. It’s weird for me to even say I write songs—let me just preface by saying that, because I don’t feel like I write them. I wait for them to happen to me.

So when the beginning of a song happens to me, I’ll fiddle around with it at home for a bit. And generally it happens by just murmuring to myself. I don’t sing aloud, I do it all falsetto in my head while quietly lying in bed. But ultimately, I need to check it out on a microphone and see if it translates to standing there and actually doing it. And so this is how we swap ideas. I’ll be like, ‘Pete, that is an amazing riff!’ Millions [of riffs] have gone away, but if someone is like, ‘that’s fucking amazing,’ well then, it’s great.

So is it a numbers game? You put out 10 ideas and hope that one sticks?

When it comes to guitar riffs or keyboard riffs? Then, yes. But if there’s a word for ‘the opposite of prolific’ in the dictionary, then there’s a picture of me under it. I think every song I’ve ever written in my entire life has gone on one of the Dandy’s records. I mean, I’m dredging stuff up from 15 years ago, constantly, just to fill in these records and make them seem complete. Twelve songs every three years is about my average. It’s kind of pathetic, and it’s probably given me ulcers and high blood pressure, because it’s scary when you do that for a living and it’s not coming. They’re not coming! Then six months go by! Nine months go by! And a year goes by… and nothing. Nothing.

I don’t know where the hell they come from, and I don’t know why. All I can figure is that if I continuously put myself in fucked up situations where I feel like I’m out of my depth, or in a vulnerable situation where I’m out of my depth then… Look, if you put yourself in a vulnerable situation someone will hurt you; somebody will fuck you. And you can usually get a good song out of that. Something that makes you angry enough for long enough will give you the stick-to-it-ness to finish a song. Starting songs is easy; finishing songs is hard.

And then you transpose these vulnerable situations into music?

I don’t transpose it or even think about it—it just happens. The cathartic instrument is a guitar: An acoustic or an unplugged hallowed body. I’m just lying down and stewing about something and then the right hand’s strumming and the left hand is moving around playing random chords until accidentally three chords—or two chords back and forth—something like that happens on the guitar and unlocks the flood gates. C to Am to C to G. And then it’s like, ‘Oh whoa!’ That tempo and that rhythm is exactly what I’m feeling inside. It creates an equilibrium inside the cell wall between what’s going on inside of you and what’s going on outside of you, and then it’s like osmosis.

The lyrics come after?


Do you consciously try to follow an idea, or do you subconsciously just follow the feeling?

It’s one block of words around a feeling, and then you have to figure out how to tell the story in order to add perspective to what is going on inside yourself.

Is there a time limit with a song? A pressure to say, ‘Okay, it’s been two months and I’ve got to get this song finished right now.’

It seems like 15 years is the longest I’ve ever let one go.

Which song?

’Wasp in the Lotus’ [from 2008’s Earth To The Dandy Warhols]. 15 years.

On the latest album [The Capitol Years: 1995-2007] the song “This is the Tide” was the first song written by Brent [De Boer, drums] and Zia [keyboards]. How was this different for the Dandy’s?

Instead of me spending 15-hour days in the studio for two weeks and then everyone else coming in for an hour and a half and laying down some neat shit, they got to spend two weeks in the studio, and I came in and spent an hour and a half. It’s fucking perfect. I haven’t written a song in a year and a half—coming up on two years. And I’m not worried now because we’ll be fine. Fathead [Brent] is getting really good. He’s amazing. [long pause] Can you imagine what a relief that is?

Well, why haven’t they written songs before?

Right! Yeah exactly.

Had you approached them about this?

Well, that’s how this happened. I showed up and I was like, ‘What the fuck? This is amazing, where did it come from?’ and Fathead was like, ‘Well, it goes back about four years ago. One day I was playing this riff and you were like ‘That’s an awesome riff. Let’s make a song out of that.’ So better late then never. I think things are going to get a lot better, a lot more productive for us now. [breathes a deep sigh of relief]. God, it’s so cool. I can’t believe it.

Is there a moment of vulnerability when you approach the band with a new song? Do you worry they won’t like it?

It’s only happened a couple of times, and I just dropped it. Never to be heard of again.

Would you consider yourself a lyricist?

No. I didn’t grow up writing poetry. What I write is far more in the realm of prose than it is poetry. Poetry being decorative language and prose being holding a mirror to reality. I write prose [speaking lyrics], “You got a great car, yeah what’s wrong with it today?” [from 2000’s “Bohemian Like You”]; “Boy’s better beware” [from 1997’s “Boys Beware”].

It’s social commentary. Emotions. Or a scathing criticism of myself. I’m not trying to connect with people; I just want to get this shit off my chest and get it out there so that I feel better. And the best way to do that is to just let yourself go and admit what a small, icky piece of shit you are. And then you take some huge sonically powerful guitars to protect yourself from the opinions of others. It’s like, ‘You can’t have these opinions of me! I can have these opinions of me! And here is the cage that keeps you out!’ The cage is the music.

Is it the band, or is it the music?

It doesn’t matter who is in the band—it’s the music. When you’re making a recording it can be this band, extra musicians coming in, nobody but one other person. Music is music. You just have a goal of emotional clarity that you’re trying to achieve.

And when you achieve it, do you have a sense of pride afterward?

Pride is a small part of what you have. The cathartic experience is like the ultimate two-week-long orgasm. It’s like redemption, and it’s forgiveness. You name it and it’s just like… fuck! [exhales slowly] I’m ok; I’m ok; I’m going to be ok for a minute.

Is there one song where you can look back and think, “I can die now that I wrote that one”?

The last two songs I wrote… because it occurred to me several years ago that all my songs are just attempts at “the song.” And then I wrote two songs a year ago, and they were so quintessential. One is “the me song”, and one is “the her song,” and I was like, “Wow that really sums me up.” But I don’t know what to do with them; I tried recording both of them with the band and they never quite achieved it. So I’m going to demo them and do a recording where I play all the instruments and see if that works.

Once I achieve that—‘the her song’ and ‘the me song’—I don’t feel like there’s a lot more that I need to write about. I’m a person who is pretty happy in life, and they say a happy man does not write his memoirs.

So if you stop writing then is this the closing chapter of the Dandy Warhols?

We could have eight more years if Zia and Fathead keep coming up with songs.

Watch: Dandy Warholds, “Bohemian Like You”

Expression Engine Should Be GNU (and Free?)

This isn’t the typical argument that Expression Engine should be GNU and “free” because it is too expensive, rather my argument focuses on the fact that the EE pay wall slows its growth and inhibits innovation. As far as Content Management Systems go, Expression Engine is an efficient, functional solution for both developer and clients. But unfortunately, snappy functionality isn’t the only factor you need to consider when choosing a CMS. Compare EE with two of its “competitors”, WordPress and Drupal, and you’ll find that EE falls short on a number of other issues including: price, smaller community, less updates, and an unfortunate licensing situation. Continue reading “Expression Engine Should Be GNU (and Free?)”

The Urban Screens Conference

cell-phone-discoOn December 4, the Institute of Network Culture organized the Urban Screens conference at Trouw in Amsterdam. The conference celebrated the launch of The Urban Screens Reader: the first book to focus entirely on the topic of urban screens. In assembling contributions from a range of leading theorists, in conjunction with a series of case studies dealing with artists’ projects and screen operators’ and curators’ experiences, the reader offers a rich resource for those interested in the intersections between digital media, cultural practices and urban space.

Thanks to all the speakers and participants for their great contributions to this event! The videos will be online soon, and many of our reports are already online:

My Thesis is Finished! – University of Amsterdam New Media

The final version of my MA Thesis is ready!

Copy What Can’t Be Sold (and Sell What Can’t Be Copied):
What Musicians Have Learned From Blogging

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[backup download]

The “crisis in the music industry” (declining profits blamed on piracy) has been presented in the media as a crisis for musicians. This thesis challenges such assumptions by differentiating between various components of the industry and by illustrating how some musicians are benefiting from, and sometimes even promoting, piracy and other types of free online content.

Studies of the music industry suffer from a marked inability to comprehend the underlying logic of the Internet when analyzing digital music distribution.  Digital music lives within the framework of the Internet, therefore it is subject to the logics of that context. By analyzing this context and looking closely at the influence that the Internet and blogging culture are having on music distribution, this thesis updates outdated concepts and presents recommendations for musicians living in a ‘post-Napster’ era.

Through a wide range of academic texts, empirical reports, interviews and case studies, I equate the current role of the musician to that of the blogger, ultimately arriving at the conclusion: successful musicians must copy what can’t easily be sold, and sell what can’t easily be copied.

Intro – Explains it all
Section 1 – P2P & Music industry background/history
Section 2 – Free music, and the benefits of piracy
Section 3 – Musicians that blog, and selling what can’t be copied
Conclusion – Sums it up

New Media Interview: The Silversun Pickups

This interview was published on The University of Amsterdam’s New Media blog in 2009. It is part of a collection of interviews on how the Internet is affecting the business of being a full-time musician.


As I was preparing for my interview with the Silversun Pickups I received a Tweet acknowledging that they had just rolled into town. Later that day I chatted with the Brian, Nikki, Chris and Joe of the Silversun Pickups before their show at the Melkweg in Amsterdam to discuss what it takes to be a successful musician in the new media climate.Silversun Pickups Amsterdam

You guys use Twitter quite frequently, can you tell me about your experience as a band using Twitter:
Chris: It is nice to have the photo option, it’s the best, the fact that you can just take a picture and put it out there. It’s so immediate.

Brian: It’s also, at one point we had a journal on our website and it became daunting, we were all daunted by it cause we thought we had to write these masterful paragraphs. But the Twitter thing, it’s like cliff notes. It makes it really easy.

Chris: Cos the twitter thing we can just put one line.

Brian: “hey we’re in Amsterdam.”

What was your motivation for using Twitter?
Chris: I checked it out to see what it was about and if anyone I knew was on it. And then I noticed our booker was on it, so then I kind of followed him and I was like “oh your on this?”. I didn’t touch it for 3 months, then one of our label guys found me on Twitter and was like, “lets have a meeting about this, you should do this more often for the band”, and I was like OK I’ll give it a try. And so we eventually got onto it.

Do you also maintain a Facebook accounts?
Nikki: Chris and I do

Chris: It’s definitely not a personal thing anymore. It’s like we understand people are going to come in and they know who you are through your band and so they add you as a friend. And then all of a sudden they accept you as a friend.

What was really nice about it was, on my birthday about a month ago all these people were saying happy birthday to me. I made sure to say “Thank You” to everyone and people were surprised like, “OMG my friends don’t even write on my wall.”

That was going to be my next question, it seems like it must be difficult to stay in touch with fans this way?
Brian: It does get a little overwhelming. Also, privacy is important too.

Joe: The band is an entity to itself. You have to work hard to keep it separate from your personal life.

Brian: Nikki and I were just talking about this. You’ll be waiting for a movie in line, and you really just want to see this movie and the guy in front of you in line will turn around and be like, “Hey man”. It’s cool at first, but then after an hour it’s like, ”…well, so you going to see this? Cool man cool. Expensive huh?” Yeah…… and it’s like “……awkward”

Do you feel that you are forced to be friends with people that your not friends with?
Brian: NO….we always try to meet people as much as possible. You just kind of notice it getting more intense, which is fair enough. But it gets hard.

Nikki: You meet so many people every day, it’s hard to remember.

Brian: I’ve started to just feign recognition. In LA. Someone just looks at me in a coffee shop and I’ll be like, “HEY!” and they’ll look back all confused thinking, “What??” It’s hard I almost feel like there is a little friend quota in your brain.

Yeah actually there is, it’s 150 friends.
Brian: Really? Yeah that makes sense though. In context, like at a radio station or in the same kind of room where we first met it is easier. I’ll see “Ed” and I’ll be like, ok, “radio station Ed.”

How much money do bands make these days? Or to rephrase that, what does it take to be a successful band?
Brian: We really thought we were successful before we had records out, like when the band started to feed itself. When we actually didn’t have to put any of our personal money into it – we were like, “This is it!”.

Joe: If you can go on tour and come back and not have to look at your empty bank account then it is good.

Brian: I think it’s a world of blue-collar rock stars now, which is totally fine, really. If you can get by and play music.

Nikki: We feel successful that we don’t have to get another job.

Joe: Yeah, the fact that we can do this for a living is pretty much as awesome as we could have hoped it would be.

Brian: At this point we’re living larger than we’ve ever have before, we have three or four cars each, and our own blimp…and so we’re broke.

Nikki: (laughs) Yes the blimps are expensive to upkeep.

Brian: As long as you can travel around and play and make records. Than that is pretty much fantastic

So you guys don’t have jobs anymore?
Brian: No…
Nikki: …we would be fired

So you aren’t all going back to work at Disneyland?
Brian: Hehe, yeah that was a funny one.

Joe: But yeah, I think the blue collar thing. It is possible to make a living and do this without that sort of extravagance of rock bands in the past. You don’t have to be The Who to make a living and travel. You can do it economically and smartly – we can all make a living and pay our rent back home.

Brian: I mean, there are still going to be the Kayne Wests and Lady Gagas, but the middle ground is much bigger. It’s amazing. People are really hip on what bands need. For example, now a days if people hear your song in a commercial they don’t get up in arms and say you’re a sell-out . They say “Great now they’ll be able to play my town.”

Joe: Yeah the way bands support themselves now…People are pretty knowledgeable about how bands get paid, it is more transparent.

I think people are willing to accept that there is a lot of free music out there and there needs to be a way for artists to make some money. For example, I know “Lazy Eye” was included in Guitar hero?
Brian:  Yeah that was really just for fun. It was pretty awesome, a lot of  kids like that game.

So that’s the coolest way to sell out I guess?
Joe: Well and that’s just another venue to get your music out. Because not only are people hearing your song, but they can play it if they want. Which is even cooler. They can play “Lazy Eye!”

Brian: Yeah and it’s hard! I’m not very good at it.

But you play guitar!
Brian: That’s why I’m bad at it.

Joe: Turning 6 strings into 4 buttons, it actually is kind of complicated.

Brian: We’re trying to work our way into scoring the next Legend of Zelda

Are CD sales important anymore?
Brian: CD sales are important, we still get some money from that.
But most of our money comes from shows, merchandise and licensing. But that’s something you got to be careful about. We get pretty strange stuff. And we turn down a lot of things, like TV shows. We’re just like, “Wow that kills me inside.” But then hopefully you get to the point when you don’t have to do that anymore.

Has the vinyl deluxe package been successful?
Brian:  Yeah, actually it has. Vinyl is going up now. Actually there are two new shops in Silverlake, LA…one of our friends has one of them and he was on the news, it was like, “The one shop now making money in this economy…Oragami.” I have no tears for CDs, I’m like fine, just vinyl and digital downloads for vinyl.

It seems like some people want it cheap and quick, but other people want to treat the album like a piece of art. That’s what is interesting about the limited edition set, it’s not just something overproduced on the rack – you can really appreciate it.

New Media Interview: Pains of Being Pure at Heart

This interview was published on The University of Amsterdam’s New Media blog in 2009. It is part of a collection of interviews on how the Internet is affecting the business of being a full-time musician.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were at the Paradiso on Monday night. I met up with lead singer and guitar player Kip Berman before the show to chat about the tour and renting his apartment in New York City out to crazy POBPAH fans.

kip berman - Pains of Being Pure at HeartI had read an article where you said you were cool with people downloading your music: what has stopped you guys from releasing your music for free on the site?
It’s downloadable anywhere else, you can’t physically put it on the site because we have record labels that still actually need to sell stuff. Recently I was looking at something and noticed a torrent for Pains of Being Pure at Heart with 5 million hits.

Honestly, people can find it if they want to find it, so I’m not going to try to stop anyone. But I think that people are conscious of the fact that you have to do something for the band in return. We find that people come to our shows and we’d rather play for people than not play for people. And people are usually honest, they’re like, “Hey, I downloaded your shit. That was cool, I’ll buy the vinyl now or a t-shirt”. So you kind of have to roll with it, and we’re just psyched that people are listening to it.

When you guys are working on new songs how do you come together and share ideas?

I think that democracy is overrated in terms of songwriting. If everyone writes 25% of a song then it sounds like a bit, well you know.

There are certain types of music where complete and total collaborative ideas might be worth while, but for us I kind of write the structure and lyrics and the ideas for the song. It’s up to the band to play out those ideas and bring them to life, and offer themselves once the blueprint has kind of been drawn. The songs wouldn’t be good if they stopped with me because everyone contributes there ideas to them.

Kurt is a fantastic drummer and I can’t even program more than one drum beat. So, just from him the song has such a better feel, because I can only do so much. Like on my keyboard drum set! Our first EP sounds like that, it doesn’t have real drums they are all electronic drums.

What do you use to record with when you are playing around at home?
I use Logic. My favorite thing is a snare setting called ‘Big Ballad Snare’ and I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT! It is hard to get a good snare sound. I’m not sure if it maybe sounds like The Jesus and Mary Chain, but it is just so synthetic and huge.

Did you play it for Kurt and were you like, “Hey can you do this?”
Yeah, it’s funny because a lot of the drum sounds aren’t how you play drums, it is just how it is mixed in the record process: reverb, mics, or how it’s tuned. You can record with a really shitty drum set and still make it sound cool by tweaking it a little bit, which is cool because we don’t have fancy stuff.

Like when kids from Indonesia write and they’re like, “What kind of snare sounds do you use on your album?” And Kurt’s like, “Just tell them it’s a shitty snare. They should just turn the EQ a little bit!”

How has the Internet helped you guys?

We didn’t have time off to tour, and the reality of having to work full-time in New York to stay alive is… Well, so the Internet has helped us get out our music without having to establish ourselves everywhere. At the time we couldn’t say, “Let’s just take off two months and play shows”. I know it sounds romantic, but it is really difficult and you still have to work to make it happen.

The Internet is just a sort of introductory thing, but you still have to connect with people and make a lasting impression. I think the old-fashioned ethics of hard work, touring and paying your dues are just as relevant today as they were in the past, if not more so. It’s almost like a political campaign, you can’t just run a campaign based on a few good op-ed pieces, everyone has to go out and shake hands.

How many shows did Pains of Being Pure at Heart play before getting signed to Slumberland?

Quite a lot, but they were all in New York. The signing to Slumberland thing was a vague notion of whenever we had a record they’d put it out. It wasn’t like, “ALRIGHT, we’re going to get signed guys!”. Actually, we never even signed anything.

Do you still have jobs back in New York?
Peggy and Alex do, but I lost my job back in November. But we have to do something to pay our rent. It’s not like our eight day whirlwind tour of the southeast playing to six people a night in 2007 was going to cover our rent in New York City.

So do you have apartments waiting for you in New York?
We all do actually. Peggy was able to sublet her place, which was smart. I should have done that, but that would have required me cleaning out my bedroom and it’s pretty messy.

Maybe you’d get some crazy Pains of Being Pure at Heart fan that would take it and be like, “Oh Kip sleeps right here!! This is Kip’s toilet!!”

[laughs] …yeah, “And Kip passes out in his clothes right here…EVERY NIGHT”. I’d be funny when they get into all the unreleased demos on my computer and tell me, “so I guess your next new single is going to be called ‘shit-faced’?” And I’ll be like, “No! that was a working title!” And they’re like, “Too bad we’re releasing it on the Internet anyway!”.

That’s another thing, we’re more concerned about unreleased things being put online, and people coming to weird conclusions on what things are going to sound like based on my inability to program a drum machine correctly. In that case they’d be like, “It seems like they are working on a concept album where every song has the same drum beat”. Again, the one I love is the “Big Ballad Snare” in Logic. If you get a chance just go in there and hit the lowest C# you can.

We’re going to steal that sound and pretty soon you’ll hear of a band coming out of Amsterdam that they say sounds just like Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Yeah it’s cool. Actually, it would be really cool if bands got accused of ripping us off for once, that’d be ironic.

We could probably work that out for you.
Haha, yeah people would be like (mockingly), “Man…this sound is totally derivative of Pains of Being Pure at Heart.”

Anatomical Analytics

Anatomical Analytics is a project I developed while at University of Amsterdam. It got the attention of UC Santa Barbara and was awarded 3rd Prize in their BlueSky Innovation Competition.

Here is the full announcement and some highlights from my project. You should know that it’s just a skeleton for a creative mockup and that we didn’t actually build the platform.

Description of the idea:

Ubiquitous computing is a model of human-computer interaction in which
small, inexpensive chips are embedded into everyday objects {1}. In contrast to
popular futuristic visions of cyberspace where we immerse our bodies inside
a virtual reality system, ubiquitous computing extends technology beyond
the borders of our screen and works like reverse virtual reality.

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags are commonly used in ubiquitous computing applications. RFID tags are already all around us: they are woven into our passports where they store bits of data about our identity, they
connect products on the shelf to a database which instantly aggregates an
inventory status, and they are used in certain libraries to map a book’s exact
location within the library. My idea for a technology in the year 2020 is to
embed RFID chips inside our body in order to monitor health. Connecting
these chips across a global network will allow us to manage health trends
and lead to new developments in what I will refer to as Anatomical Analytics.

The first step in this technology would be attaching microscopic RFID tags
near a few vital organs. Perhaps this is best achieved by placing small RFID
chips at locations closest to the organ and just beneath the skin; or the RFID
could be administered as an annual pill that over time would organically
disintegrate inside the body and be re-administered each year. The chips
don’t store data, they communicate data. Each tag is a listener that
transmits the current condition of the respective body organ to which it

The data is then collected by a server and illustrated graphically
by an online software application. The software interface would resemble
something like Google Analytics, but for your body. A few examples of how
this type analysis would be extremely helpful in the prevention and the
detection of illness include:

  • The analytics would display signs of high blood pressure putting a
    strain on the kidney and therefore warn of kidney damage.
  • If you are consuming inordinate amounts alcohol the analytics could
    map out a projection to see if you are in jeopardy of developing liver
  • In the case of someone suddenly falling unconscious, before the
    patient arrives at the hospital the doctors could receive a Twitteresque
    status alert and preparing for “A man in his late 50’s suffering
    from heart failure.”

On a macro-sociological level the data is aggregated by Anatomical Analytics
Trends in order to predict local, national and global health trends. Once the
RFID chips are in place it would be fairly easy to monitor an individual’s
location by using RFID readers that could be installed in schools, the
workplace and stores. Combining locative data we could potentially link an
outbreak of E.Coli to a particular fast-food chain; visually segment the
population based on nutritional intake data; or detect and track influenza
activity in The United States.

Of course there are many ethical issues surrounding anatomical analytics,
but I don’t think it is too difficult to imagine developments into this type of
technology over the next 10 or 20 years. Consider other examples of placing
technology in our body:

  • It has been over 50 years ago that the first pacemaker was implanted
    into a human.
  • Recently it has become popular to place RFID technology under the
    skin of pets.
  • Filmmaker Rob Spence has begun plans to install a camera into his
    eye socket. {2}

Furthermore, issues of privacy and Orwellian surveillance would be of
concern to many. Yet again any intrusion of privacy made by Anatomical Analytics is not all that far off from many present-day scenarios. A notable
example of a surveillance tool commonly used in our cars is the electronic
toll RFID tags that, in addition to charging our credit card, transmit locative
data each time we use a toll. The other – perhaps less obvious but more
pervasive – example of a locative surveillance tool is the Internet.

Lawrence Lessig has shown through his research of “code as law” the
Internet is actually one of the most controlling mediums that has ever
existed. And despite the fact that we never know who or when someone
might be looking at the data we leave on the Internet, we sacrifice privacy
for efficiency in our lives.

Kevin Kelly in speaking about the future of ubiquitous computing has
remarked, “Ten years ago the notion that all doors in a building should
contain a computer chip seemed ludicrous, but now there is hardly a hotel
door in the U.S. without a blinking, beeping chip in its lock. These
microscopic chips will be so cheap we’ll throw them away” {3}. My theory is
that in the future, the idea of monitoring human vital organs with RFID chips
won’t seem so ludicrous. The definition of ubiquitous computing will
eventually have to be expanded beyond ‘a network that connects everything
as it will truly be ‘a network that connects everything inside everyone’.


  • {1} Wikipedia, “Ubiquitous Computing” (accessed January 27, 2009).
  • {2} (accessed January 25, 2009).
  • {3} Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy (San Diego: Viking, 1998), pg. 10.

Imaginative Realization, Embodiment, or Illustration of the Idea:

Below I’ve included two screenshots that represent hypothetical illustrations
of Anatomical Analytics (higher resolution versions of these images have
also been submitted). The following is a description of the Anatomical
Analytics and Anatomical Analytics Trends:

I. The Anatomical Analytics interface is a personal report detailing up-to date
information about an individual’s body condition. Anatomical Analytics
offers a wide-range of services that help prevent illness and diagnose


II. The Anatomical Analytics Trends interface is an aggregator of the data
collected from the personal edition of Anatomical Analytics shown above.
The interface below details potential influenza outbreaks in the United States.

Anatomical Analytics

Facebook Connect Vs. OpenID The Format War for Your Identity

Facebook Connect officially launched on Thursday and gives its members access to third-party sites using their Facebook login/password.  This feature is available to all FB’s members on (so far) 24 partner sites including: Digg, Twitter, Citysearch, CBS, CollegeHumor, Hulu and others.  In addition to instant access, Facebook Connect promises data portability: taking your friends, profile pics and privacy settings with you as you transverse the web. Facebook Connect will give us a well needed rest from profile-fatigue, but at what cost?

The data portability debate has been going on for some time now. The DataPortability Project has been promoting open source standards for data portability since 2007.  They encourage use of the well known OpenID authentication protocol which has already been adopted around the web by Google’s Blogger, AOL, Yahoo, etc – as well as having been incorporated into open source platforms like Drupal and WordPress.

Continue reading “Facebook Connect Vs. OpenID The Format War for Your Identity”

Every Time You Use IE6 God Kills A Grandmother

IE6 is my grandmother on her deathbed and she just won’t die. Her skin is obviously wrinkled and dated, she doesn’t have any recollection of the past, and she is sucking the life (and money) out of everyone around her. God, can you please pull the plug!?

IE6 is a seven-year old technology. It was released in 2001 and predates Windows XP, Gmail, Facebook, Safari, Firefox, 9/11 and the iPod. In the days before Web 2.0, the two most popular browsers were IE6 and Netscape. Choosing between those two browsers is like choosing between a Ford Pinto and a Hairy Firetruck, but back in 2001 we were just happy to go for a ride. So….SEVEN YEARS later why is IE6 still one of the top two browsers? Why is (roughly) 25% of the world still using IE6?

Why IE6 Sucks

  1. IE6 doesn’t support CSS standards
    IE6 complies with (roughly) only 55% of CSS 2.1 Basic properties, compared with Firefox’s 98% compliance.
  2. IE6 Is Destroying The Economy
    Web developers spend hours (sometimes days!) optimizing CSS and HTML for IE6. This is an enormous time suck for the developers, a drain on the client’s budget, and wasted resources for the company. As a developer myself I can attest to the hours of painful labor spent solely on fixing IE6 bugs, and there have even been initiatives to Save The Developers.  A poll on CIO (from of over 500 voters) shows that 40% of developers still optimize for IE6.
  3. IE6 Is Unsafe
    a) “Using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser to surf the Internet has become a marked risk — even with the latest security patches installed”, says USA Today.
    b) “THE US GOVERNMENT has sent out a warning out to internet users through its Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), pleading users to stop using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.” according to The Inquirer.
    c) New York Times, Slate and others have similar stories
  4. IE6 Doesn’t Display Pages Correctly
    Many sites don’t render correctly on IE6. Here are two sites off the top of my head that don’t look quite right:
    a) Google Documents has never worked for me in IE6; they have stopped supporting IE6 on Vista.
    b) Facebook chat constantly fails for me in IE6.  Meanwhile, Facebook asks you to “…switch to another browser”
  5. IE6 is the 8th Worst Tech Product of All Time says “PC World
  6. IE6 doesn’t have tabbed browsing

Why IE6 is still around

  1. Ignorance: most people don’t know or don’t care
  2. Beauracracy: Universities, companies, and large organaztion have IE6 preinstalled on millions of computers around the world and they are unwilling to upgrade. I noticed this trend last summer as I traveled around parts of the US, Asia and Europe: public computers default to IE6. What is even worse is that many of these comptuers are controlled by system administrators, so the user can’t install new programs or browser upgrades! Even as I sit here, a New Media student at the University of Amsterdam computer lab, IE6 is my only browser option.

What You Can Do

In addition to the obvious things we can do…

  1. Spread the word to friends
  2. Stop developing for IE6 compatibility

…to kill IE6 we need a top-down approach:
If your organization defaults to IE6 then contact your boss or the IT department and let them know that they are using a seven year old technology to run their business! Tell them exactly why IE6 sucks! They’ll probably thank you for being so “cutting edge and innovative”.

Upgrade To Another Browser Now!

*This post comes after a long line of other frustrated people trying to make the web a better place: End6,, BrowseHappy, BrowseSad. What other sites don’t look correctly in IE6? What are some other initiatives to stop IE6?