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Sleeping Upright

Cursive, Terry Malts, and Gardens & Villa on making ends meet as a working musician.



This is the first installment of a new series in which we ask some of our favorite local and national bands how they manage to make music without going broke. Without further ado:

Terry Malts: Deal with Discomfort

The members of Bay Area rock band Terry Malts (previously Magic Bullets) don't expect to quit their day jobs any time soon. And when touring as a relatively unknown group, Corey Cunningham and Philip Benson get a little Zen:

"To sleep sitting upright is a really good technique to learn," Cunningham pointed out in a phone interview. With any money from shows disappearing into the gas tank, he said, "We never can afford a hotel room, so a lot of times we end up just sitting in the car to sleep."

Benson advised not to be picky with shows, either: "When we get offers, I don't haggle with them. And I'm not trying to sound pious or nothin', but I'm just grateful to get a show. It'd be nice to make money, but we're at a point where that's not really a priority for us."

"You have to enjoy a certain level of discomfort," Cunningham professed. "Once after a show I slept on a concrete floor, just me in my sleeping bag. And in the morning was when everyone told me, 'Dude I can't believe you slept there, there were, like, roaches and rats.'

"After a few weeks of not taking a shower, it can take a mental toll on a person," he added. But how to stay hygienic in Nowheresville, North Dakota? "I got two words: Wet Wipes."

You could almost hear him shudder through the phone.

Tours can be enlightening, though. Unexpectedly friendly folks in the Midwest, or a cluster of rabid fans in El Paso, Texas are the types of surprises that keep bands touring. Cherish the unpredictable, satisfying moments along the way.

Cursive: Know Your Friends

Over fifteen years and half as many albums, Cursive has developed a reputation for filling venues, working hard, and eking out a working-class living. For frontman Tim Kasher, that means maintaining momentum. The Nebraska-based Saddle Creek collective was instrumental in the band's success, and Kasher said of his friends in bands such as Bright Eyes, "We grew together, and all of us doing our own separate things benefitted each other's bands as well."

Those same friends have provided real employment, too. "Matt [Maginn] has always kept another job. He worked for [Conor Oberst's label] Team Love, and now he works for a promotion company. Even though that's always kept Matt busy, it's cool work and it's nice that the hustling he's doing is for music that he loves."

And instead of another day job, Kasher just has another band: "Over the years I could always have used another job, but in an odd way, the other band that I do [The Good Life] kind of represents that — it keeps me busy. You're writing twice as much and you're out twice as much."

Staying busy is key for Kasher. Last year he recorded and toured for the first time as Tim Kasher, but even his own father didn't understand why he shed Cursive's name recognition. Kasher admitted, humorously, that "from a business perspective, it was not that bright." But he said that the excitement of starting a new catalog was crucial to reenergizing his music and getting him amped for a new Cursive album. I Am Gemini, Cursive's seventh LP, is out February 21.

Gardens & Villa: Good-Natured Thrift

The verdant vistas of Cottage Grove, Oregon helped shape and characterize Santa Barbara's Gardens & Villa. The band members are currently at the home of veteran producer Richard Swift for the second time, recording six new songs. This time they've split up accommodations between a small cottage and late-night crashing in the studio, but for their debut self-titled album in 2010, they took up less conventional lodging.

Dusty Ineman relayed the story: "Richard [Swift] was basically a total stranger, but he apparently said, 'Come on up, you guys can camp in my backyard.' The band was like 'Sweet! Let's do it,'" Ineman said. "I think we'd do that type of thing again."

A good attitude helps Gardens & Villa stay thrifty. On the road, the five members set aside small food allowances and work together to make funds stretch. "After every tour we'd put the money in a band account ... we weren't really seeing any money personally, it was to buy band stuff, gear, etc. When we finished our European tour we had a little money to split up, but that was the first time we really did that."

Back home they take odd jobs — everything from random shifts at restaurants to document scanning. Keyboardist Adam Rasmussen recently sold his van to stay afloat. And like Tim Kasher, Ineman stresses the importance of using your hometown friends' connections to get work between tours.

Ineman sums up the band's good nature: "My philosophy is the easier you let money go, the easier it comes back to you."

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