Cursive Matt Maginn On Playing Between The Lines

BEST KNOWN AS THE RUDDER FOR the indie rock vessel Cursive, bassist Matt Maginn has also done tons of tracks with folk hero Conor Oberst in Bright Eyes. Cursive’s latest, Mama, I’m Swollen, alternates between peppy rockers and dreamy drifters, giving Maginn space to shift his sound from biting and overdriven to warm and clean.
By Jimmy Leslie ,

BEST KNOWN AS THE RUDDER FOR the indie rock vessel Cursive, bassist Matt Maginn has also done tons of tracks with folk hero Conor Oberst in Bright Eyes. Cursive’s latest, Mama, I’m Swollen, alternates between peppy rockers and dreamy drifters, giving Maginn space to shift his sound from biting and overdriven to warm and clean.

What’s behind your choice of the Ampeg SVR-215 as your onstage cabinet?

It’s one of the oddest cabinets ever—it has two 15" speakers placed back-to-back, so it fires out both the front and the rear. They’re rare cabinets, but worth the trouble to find. We call it a “warthog” because it’s tiny and heavy. Its advantage is greater overall volume. It helps the drummer hear me, and fills in the sound all around as it bounces off the walls. I don’t know much about how frequencies travel, but I’ve always found bass to be omnidirectional.

What cabinets do you use in the studio?

I used my Mesa 4x10 on this record, and on past records I mostly used a Mesa 2x15. I always split my signal before the distortion pedal in order to ensure that my low end is preserved on the direct path.

What are your thoughts on fingerstyle verses plectrum playing?

I use both. For my first four years playing, I only played with my fingers, and then I discovered the fun of using a pick. The louder the band gets, the more I use a pick.

In a video of the band performing “From the Hips,” you appear to use mostly upstrokes. How come?

Upstrokes give me greater control, and a punch that allows me to lock in hard. I’ll favor the downstroke if the rhythm demands, but I prefer upstrokes for single notes and melody work.

Do you think or work differently in Cursive as compared to Bright Eyes?

Yes, because they are completely different animals. When I’m helping with Bright Eyes— and I haven’t done it for a few years now—I try to be minimal yet melodic, and focus on tying the drums to the guitar in a more traditional manner. I try to make the parts special, but not stand out or be flashy. The idea is to assist the song, rather than push it along.

I play more percussively in Cursive. I try to really beat it out with the drums because the guitars are usually doing a lot rhythmically. My approach in Cursive is more aggressive, but I try to keep it tasteful. I’m interested in creating something even more melodic as we move forward. That was the goal was on the latest CD, and I’m still on that trajectory of trying to bring it all together.

HEAR HIM ON

Cursive, Mama, I’m Swollen [Saddle Creek, 2009]

GEAR

Bass Mid ’70s Fender Precision Bass
Rig Ampeg SVT-4PRO, Mesa/Boogie 4x10 cabinet, Ampeg SVR-215
Effects Boss ODB-3 Bass OverDrive
Picks & Strings Dunlop Tortex Standard .88mm (green), D’Addario XL roundwounds (medium)