Big News! August is fast approaching, and I’ll be touring through Colorado and New Mexico! Many of the shows are going to be performed with drummer Austin Vidonn, the badass drummer from my last studio album Bleed Out. Some fans and friends have been asking how they can help support the tour, and if you’re wondering as well, then wonder no more! You can donate any amount you'd like through Venmo or PayPal. This could be as little as $5 for a cup of coffee (coffee’s expensive these days), maybe $20 for gas (I’m driving the whole tour), or $1,000 for bail money (kidding). Whatever amount you donate, make sure to include your Instagram handle, and I’ll give you a shout on my IG story on the tour! If you're not on Instagram, just let me know and I'll give you a shout out anyways!
Note: this is about a new single of mine, a looping cover of the Who's "Eminence Front." I’m playing all the instruments on the track: cigar box slide guitar, bass, vocals, and drums. It releases Friday, June 14, 2019. It can be downloaded now at https://caseywickstrom.bandcamp.com/track/eminence-front
Part One of this blog was written in February of 2018.
Eminence Front, Part One
I saw the Who at Shoreline amphitheater in Mountain View in 2002 when I was thirteen years old. It was the first concert they played after their bassist John Entwistle had died. It was an emotional and amazing show, and it was a defining moment of my life. I remember looking up at the sky when Roger Daltrey was screaming “Love Reign O’er Me,” and thinking, “I am going to play music for the rest of my life.”
One of the songs they played that I had never heard before was Eminence Front. Pete Townsend led this orchestral score that intensified and grew, and by the time it all kicked in, it was this flowing, intricate, deeply layered song.
Fast forward from 2002 to 2017. I had made my very own cigar box guitar with my good friend Teddy Randazzo Jr, of Dazzo pickups fame, and I began looping a dark and bluesy song, with a bass line that held down the track nicely. I began to add more layers, bit by bit, like a delay and a wah that accented the rhythm. This song that I was working on was heavily influenced by my friends in the band Aotearoa; these guys are the biggest influence on my looping. This whole song is kind of a shout out to them. Also, the bass looping influence can be credited to my friend and musical genius/madman Kalle Mathiesen.
The song’s buildup became really cool, and I thought about what to do with it. In a flash of insight, I thought about Eminence Front. I looked up the lyrics and set to work. I intentionally avoided listening to the Who’s version because I had a certain sound that I wanted to capture with the song; it was a deep vibe that I didn’t want to lose. I listened to the original track maybe twice during the whole process. It took about a week or so for me to have a structure with the loop pedal that I felt was really tight. This song was a game changer for me, because it became a whole musical experience of live looping. The audience saw me build this song from nothing into this flowing, layered composition, much like I had seen Pete Townsend do nearly two decades before.
Quick note: my electric guitar is an American made Schecter Telecaster, the Pete Townsend model from the 80s, and it just so happens to be the guitar that he plays on the Eminence Front video. I didn’t know that until very recently. I had fallen in love with the guitar in high school, before knowing it was the Pete Townsend model. It just made sense that this was how it went.
Anyways, I had a weekly residency at Forager in downtown San Jose for the month of October 2017, and they wanted to do a promo video of me playing to some studio recorded tracks. I went into this really nice studio at Harvest House Church in Fremont and recorded Eminence Front, and also a solo rendition of Grindhouse Blues and Broken Girl for B sides. The engineer and mixer in the studio was Anthony Pereira, who I would work with on the production and tracking of the song. He’s an awesome dude—this song would not have happened without him.
The promo video was never competed, but I had this really awesome take of Eminence Front. I decided to mess around with a drum line, once again, evoking the sound of the band Aotearoa. I have a drum kit at my home studio, so I started writing a drum line, which took a few months to nail down. The song is nearly six minutes long, and there’s a lot of parts to it. This is the most complex drum part I’ve ever recorded, and that’s because it evolved over a period of nearly four months. When I felt I had the drums down, I reached back out to Anthony at the church studio and set up some time to record the drums.
I tracked the drums in March of 2018, in a single day. After various mixing sessions and edits, as well as extensive email messages, Anthony and I began slowly wrapping up Eminence Front over the next six months.
Eminence Front, Part Two
My decision to release my version of Eminence Front in June 2019 was sudden. It just felt right, and when I decided to take the leap, things fell into place incredibly fast. I had received the most recent, mixed version from Anthony back in January of 2019, and I’d been sitting on it for half a year while I focused on my live shows, getting my degree in English Lit, and teaching yoga. I hadn’t played at the Brit in Cupertino since the amazing St. Patrick’s Day show with the Irish Rogues back in March, so my June show returning there was a perfect opportunity for me to schedule a release party. The track was ready, and I needed some artwork.
I reached out to my friend Cuatro Kruse in Durango, Colorado. I had grown up with him and his sister Gracie in Hermosa Valley, just outside of Durango. Cuatro and Grace front a reggae dub rock band; they’re both phenomenal musicians—together and independently, they’re badass, artistic, creative, genuinely awesome humans. I had started following Cuatro’s artwork on Instagram, and I really liked the designs he was creating with geometrical shapes, especially the Metatron Cube. I commissioned Cuatro to work out a design for the cover of the single; he sent me the artwork and I designed some flyers, posters, and shirts for the single’s release.
Once I looked into it, I found that the Metatron cube is part of what’s known as sacred Geometry. According to the site Soul-Flower:
“Metatron’s Cube starts with the Fruit of Life shape, and connects all 13 circles with straight lines. Metatron’s Cube includes all 5 Platonic Solids hidden inside, symbolizing the underlying geometric patterns found throughout our universe. It’s named after Archangel Metatron, who watches over the flow of energy in creation and provides a connection to the divine. Metatron’s Cube is balanced and provides a visual focal point for meditation. It can replace negative thoughts with positive ones.”
It also had this image:
Far out stuff. I didn’t even know this was a thing, but I had felt the design, especially Cuatro’s take on the metatron cube, speaking to me. I knew I needed it for the song. The kaleidoscopic vision of Eminence Front, all the layers and the depth, the moods that I felt were captured, perfectly matched the image. The design is super fucking cool, and what it stands for is even cooler—I’m happy that I get to share the concept of sacred geometry through my music, with people that may have never seen or heard of a Metatron cube.
I’m incredibly proud of my version of Eminence Front. This song was a total labor of love that was literally years in the making. I’m so stoked to finally have it out to the world. It’s available for download here: https://caseywickstrom.bandcamp.com/track/eminence-front
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Today marks the fourth year of my yoga practice, and my fourth year of sobriety.
Four years ago, I walked into Bright Heart Yoga Studio in Cupertino and I took my first yoga class since high school. Words cannot express the profound impact that the studio space and the practice of yoga has had on me; what can express it are the life changes I’ve established in the time since I began at Bright Heart.
I led a self-destructive lifestyle through my twenties. These years have been catalogued and documented in my music, my writing, and my memory. When I first came into Bright Heart, my life had been flooded with dark, deeply rooted issues that I felt I could never overcome. Still, I was determined to start a new existence—one without drugs, drinking, self hatred, depression, and being constantly held hostage by my mind. Bright Heart provided the space for me to start working my way through the darkness, and the last four years have flown by with a momentum that feels closer to a decade.
I never went to meetings for my sobriety; NA and AA weren’t right for me—though I don’t discredit or deny the impact that those groups have had on so many people. Instead, yoga became my meetings; Bright Heart became my safe space for establishing my personal growth. My yoga practice laid the foundation for my fitness routine, my meditation, self inquiry, healthy eating habits . . . It fostered the gradual evolution of my true potential, and helped me create a new life, one worth living.
In the past four years, I’ve come closer to truly understanding myself than the previous twenty eight years combined. Yet those dark and dangerous times were essential, too: I needed all those years of self-hatred and abuse; years of struggle and self-sabotage; I needed to fall apart, to self-destruct, to bring myself right to the edge and say . . . “Okay, now it’s time to change.” For me, yoga at Bright Heart was the catalyst of that change. I teach yoga now, because I want to share the power of the practice, to help others like I was helped.
Four years of sobriety is a big accomplishment—but at the same time, four years isn’t long at all when you’re going for a lifetime of being drug free. As anyone in recovery will tell you, there’s no finish line; it’s a continual process, one that requires mindfulness and self-accountability. For me, my yoga practice at Bright Heart has been the biggest factor in my recovery, and continues to play the biggest role in my personal and spiritual growth.
I rarely contrast my old life with the life I lead now, because it seems unreal, too overwhelmingly extreme. I feel separated from who I once was. At this point, I’ve lived multiple lives. But today, I am leading my best one, absolutely.
Note: this was an essay written for my Women’s Study class at De Anza college.
Women in Horror Films: a Shifting Role
In the world of film, the horror genre can always be credited for pushing the limits of what is appropriate, and challenging what can and cannot be shown in terms of violence and sex. It’s quite easy to see the rise in graphic depictions of lurid and gory subject matter, from early black and white horror films to the modern torture porn movies that we see today. It seems as though our appetite for horror violence grows more each decade, prompting an increase in carnage mixed with more explicit sex. Yet beyond the obvious bloody mainstream appeal lies a disturbing trend showing a strong emphasis on violence towards women, either as a punishment for their sexuality, or a consequence of their gender.
Entire franchises have been spawned from the misogynistic cinematic trope of the scantily clad female running from her stalker. A helpless female victim, wearing very little, runs for her life while she’s pursued by a masked killer. She falls down multiple times, and it doesn’t take long before she’s killed in a grisly fashion. Slasher films from the 1980s continue to rake in cash, either in remakes or spinoffs. It seems to be a surefire way to score at the box office: the formula is plain and clear: girls who appear to be promiscuous and express themselves sexually are sure to die first (think Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scream), in the most gruesome ways, and the unspoiled virgin girl remains throughout the film’s duration, spared from death due to her purity. Not a lot of subtlety there.
Although women are greatly sexualized in these movies (and in so many other forms of entertainment), as soon as they act on their sexuality, they are considered worthless, expendable, and are punished. As explained on wikipedia, “[In horror films] Sex is considered to be a masculine trait because it is a form of power over someone, and if a woman tries to take control of this power she will instantly be punished for trying” (wiki). Phallic objects such as knives, axes, and chainsaws are used as murdering weapons against women who seem all to ready to die, as they appear to run and fall in what is known as “the Chase:”
“The chase consists of a sexualized and degraded woman running for her life as an assailant hunts her down and kills her, unless she is termed the “final girl” [female survivor]. Female victims in slasher films are shown to be in a state of fear five times as long as males, specifically occurring during ‘the chase’” (wiki).
From the early origins of cinema, women are virtually always depicted as victims, helpless damsels in distress in need of rescuing by a male hero archetype. In many ways, this has not changed; even women who are regarded as the heroes in film still experience gendered violence on their journey towards heroism. While a man can be assumed to be a hero just by being a man, a woman seems to have to suffer enormously before she can be regarded as a heroine. Her femininity must be cast aside as a weakness as she metaphorically “mans up” to face whatever’s in her way. Generally she experiences physical and psychological violence of a sexual nature, and an overall dismissal due to her gender.
A category of horror film that blurs the line between victim and victor is the sub-genre of rape-and-revenge. An excellent example of this is 1978’s I Spit on Your Grave. In this infamous exploitation film, widely regarded as the first rape/revenge flick, a woman is brutally gang raped by four men, multiple times. The film was controversial for it’s violence and it’s lengthy, graphic depictions of sexual assault, which make up 30 minutes of the film’s runtime. The female victim later enacts revenge on her assaulters by way of castration, hanging, bodily mutilation and disembowelment. Also titled The Day of the Woman, I Spit on Your Grave received strongly negative reviews, but has gone on to become a cult classic of the genre, spawning several remakes and sequels (some as recent as 2013), and a long list of copycat films. The directors of these movies seem to suggest that the women in the genre are heroic, yet spend most of their time focusing on the degradation and sexual exploitation of the female roles. It seems clear where the focal point of the films lie. Indeed, sex and violence seem to go hand in hand, with the female role always having to deal with both as a victim or a heroine.
While this cinematic cliche is familiar to all horror fans, there has been a slow but clear transition from females being portrayed as the victim to being portrayed as the film’s hero. Alien was considered by many to be the first horror film featuring a female lead in a hero role. Channelling second-wave feminism to reflect and critique the slasher genre’s spectacle of violence against women (theconversation), Sigourney Weaver’s role was groundbreaking in that she survived the (male) slaughter to emerge as the central hero. Fast forward to the present day, where women’s rights and the #metoo movement have put sexual assault and harassment squarely in the spotlight. If this movement is finally revealing the seedy and sexist underside of Hollywood, and exposing predators left and right, then we are seeing many real life women heroes emerging from the (male) slaughter in the press. Given the recent “Me Too” movement promoting awareness of violence and sexual harassment towards women, we may finally be on the cusp of seriously rethinking how women are portrayed in horror films, and films in general.
There is another demographic that seeks to shift the gender roles not only in film, but in the social fabric of the US and beyond. The change is brought on by the Millennial generation. We can see this by the influx of strong female leads in pop culture and cinema, from the updated Star Wars series to young adult movie franchises such as the Hunger Games and Divergence. It can even be argued that major horror film franchises are focusing less on female driven violence and more on equal opportunity gore (an interesting term, but true nonetheless). Take the Saw films for instance: the franchise has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars, yet the plot lines and characters avoid gender driven violence, instead opting for the gory and graphic demise of both sexes in complex and violent methods, in roughly equal ratio. It seems that the gender driven violence of the 1980’s slasher film craze, and the raw misogynistic violence of movies that came before them, are becoming stale, overplayed, and downright offensive to today’s youth. The film industry must cater to what the public want, and if there’s an uprising in the “woke” generation, whose top priorities include gender equality and the #metoo movement, the entertainment industry must follow suit if they wish to remain relevant.
Any kind of social change occurs at a glacial pace, and many times it is only in retrospect that we see the way things have been altered over time. With the millennial generation leading the way into a world where women’s rights, equality, and political correctness are key, we may be able to see a significant change in the way that women are portrayed in horror films, and pop culture in general. Violence towards women has always been a problem, all over the world. Now that it has made its way into the public discourse in America, gendered violence and stereotypes are being challenged like never before, and it can begin with pop culture and film. Female empowerment has been a long time coming.
“Misogyny in Horror Films.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misogyny_in_horror_films. Web.
“Alien: Covenant falls short of the original Alien’s trailblazing feminism.” http://theconversation.com/alien-covenant-falls-short-of-the-original-aliens-trailblazing-feminism-77820. Web.
“I spit on your grave.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Spit_on_Your_Grave. Web.
I met Adam Bailie when I was living in LA, on the west side near Santa Monica. Back then, I knew him as Adam Sounds. I was running an open mic night at this place called Bar Pico (rest in peace), tending bar, hosting the open mic, and playing some of my own music every Tuesday night. Adam came in one night and played, and he was really fucking good. His style was like Jack Johnson meets Donovan Frankenreiter, with his own kind of unique vocal delivery that bordered on hip hop, and he had solid acoustic guitar work. We started hanging out; he was visiting from Canada and was staying in a place near Venice Beach. I was playing a lot of shows at the time, so Adam would show up, and we’d talk about music and the changing industry. Once when I played at Room 5 (another bygone LA venue that’s near and dear to my heart), I gave him some stage time during my set to play a few of his songs. Adam was a big influence on me; in retrospect, some of the defining characteristics of my music style evolved from him.
During this time, I was doing a lot of drugs. I had a beautiful girlfriend named Victoria, and my lifestyle was somewhat nihilistic. Los Angeles had made me jaded, and while I was still playing a lot of music, my attitude was more like “What’s the point? Who gives a fuck?” Adam, who was maybe thirty, a couple years older than me, had an attitude that was much more chill, open, relaxed. It started to rub off on me a little bit. He had recorded a lot of his own stuff, and he had a lot of cool aspects to his musical style. One of the reasons that I got into looping was because of Adam.
We were hanging out at Bar Pico, and he had his pedals arranged on the stage. One of the pedals was a vocal autotune, and another was a loop. Adam showed me how to use the loop; up to that point, I hadn’t really messed around with the concept of looping.
“Just click it on the one, play something, and click it again on the one.” He explained. I did it, and it was surprisingly easy. The autotune pedal for the vocals was something that I would have normally scoffed at, but it was actually kind of cool to see Adam at work with it. It opened up my mind about being a one man band, which would come to fruition much later.
I had lived in LA for over a year at that point, so I took Adam around to some cool hangouts. One was Vidiots in Santa Monica, off Lincoln and Pico. (Goddamnit, none of these places are around anymore! It kind of breaks my heart.) Vidiots was a one-in-a-million kind of video rental store with DVDs and VHS movies that were hard if not impossible to find anywhere else. When I began to get into my Italian grindhouse phase, ground zero for all that was at Vidiots. They had a whole section devoted to Italian horror. (Nostalgia is coming on hard right now.) While Adam and I were perusing through the video shelves, he pulled out a documentary on Fela Kuti.
“Have you heard of this guy?” Adam asked.
“No,” I said.
“He started the Afro-beat movement. He married all his backup singers, like thirty of them, and he started his own commune in Africa to defy the government.”
“Huh,” I said.
I looked into Fela Kuti’s music later that week and found Zombie, one of his best known albums. It became the soundtrack of that time period in my life: I had just been accepted onto a tv show from Sony and ABC, and while I drove around Hollywood and the LA area for filming and rehearsals, I listened to Fela Kuti. The show never aired, but it was still a killer experience, and it was my introduction into Afro-beat music. I still listen to a lot of Fela Kuti. His albums Zombie, and Koola Lobitos 1964-1968, an early record, were some of my favorites.
Adam and I would visit this taco truck near his place off Lincoln Blvd, where we’d eat and smoke cigarettes and talk about our different influences, drugs, and the difference in culture between LA, the United States, and Canada. We’d go out to eat with my girlfriend Victoria at places like Pink’s Hot Dogs on La Brea, or La Cabana on Rose. It’s surprising to me how much time I spent with Adam in the little time that he was in LA. He really struck me as a cool guy.
Adam returned to Canada later on, maybe a month after I met him. We stayed in touch casually online; both of us keep on recording and releasing new material, and we’re both still playing and touring and making a living doing what we love. I hope that one day we’ll cross paths again and jam.
October is my favorite time of year, and for some reason, I end up getting a lot of things done. Three years ago this month, I released my first ever music video “Surf Zombies!” which I edited and produced myself. The video was released on Halloween 2015, and although I’ve come a long way with my film editing skills, I still enjoy the campy style of the music vid. On the song, I'm playing guitar and drums. Check it out!
Going back even further, October month marks the fifth year anniversary of my fourth album Desperate Times, which I recorded when I lived in LA. This album is a personal favorite of mine. Contrasting with my latest album Bleed Out, which is a highly produced rock album, Desperate Times takes a much more intimate and minimalist approach to a very different time in my life.
While Bleed Out was recorded entirely in three days, Desperate Times took me months to record. I would get into the studio at Timewarp Records in LA to record a few songs, then I’d run out of money and have to save up for more studio time, all the while writing and arranging the songs that would eventually make up the album.
In retrospect, the album was recorded during a very difficult time in my life; the title Desperate Times is a totally accurate description of my existence at the time. It was the first album I recorded after the car crash that nearly killed me, the aftermath of which had left me addicted to opioids and severely depressed. I was also in a very turbulent relationship, living with my girlfriend in Hollywood, using and drinking with her. All of this came out in the album, which deals with the recurring themes of addiction (the song Orange Grove), drug use (The Drug Song), fucked up relationships (Broken Girl take two; Bonni), and deep introspection (Sleep; Orange Grove).
Desperate Times was a very different kind of album for me. I didn’t raise any money for the studio time; my social media presence wasn’t nearly as put together as it is now. In fact, very few people knew that I was even working on a new album. It was a total passion project, a labor of love; I recorded it because I felt I had to. There was something driving me to create this work, this unknown force was pushing me to complete this album—and when I finally did, it created an intense and intimate snapshot of where I was, and who I was, when I lived in LA.
Desperate Times is my LA story; it’s full of darkness, moments of beauty, and it’s a very vulnerable piece of me. It captures a time period where I was breaking into new territory with my lap slide playing, my fingerpicking, and my songwriting. But don’t take my word for it—you can find out for yourself. For the next month, the whole album is just $5, in celebration of its fifth year anniversary. You can also stream it and check out the song lyrics on the site.
(Note: this was an interview between myself and Anthony Jewett for a Berklee Conservatory of Music class.)
Death and Redemption:
Bleeding Out with Casey Wickstrom
by Anthony Jewett
Multi-instrumentalist and looping artist Casey Wickstrom has been performing in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years and has released a remarkable discography. I got a chance to sit down with him recently to chat about his life as a performing artist and his recently-released fifth full-length album, “Bleed Out.” For links to his music, blog, and more, visit his website at caseywicktrom.com.
AJ: Your album, “Bleed Out,” is dark and heavy. There’s a lot of variety between tracks.
CW: It covers a lot of ground stylistically. There’s some Red Hot Chili Pepper influences, some people say there’s Nirvana in the tracks. It’s definitely a rock album. When I play solo acoustic and people ask about the CDs, I tell them that that “Bleed Out” is like a rock album and gets heavy, and “Volume One” is like what you’re hearing tonight. So, if people hear the mellow acoustic stuff, they opt for “Volume One.”
AJ: Some of the songs, like “Hollywood and Vine,” are fun, upbeat songs, but others, like “Evocation,” are fuzzy and heavy.
CW: Totally, the tone on [‘Evocation’] was like, when I was heard it coming back while it was getting mixed, I was like ‘Fffff…’ It’s definitely one of my favorite, but that’s as heavy as it gets. If it was on vinyl, side two would start with ‘Evocation,’ that is definitely the start of the other side. For ‘Hollywood and Vine,’ my M.O., so to speak, is really upbeat melodies with contrasting dark subject matter. ‘Hollywood and Vine’ is about drug addiction, toxic relationships, self-hatred, you know all that good stuff I draw so much material from, but if you don’t listen to the lyrics, the melody itself is very upbeat and catchy. I like that, you can get away with so much in a song if it just sounds happy, but if you read or focus on the lyrics you’re like ‘Fuck dude, I didn’t even know that was what this song was about.’ But ‘Evocation’ doesn’t pull any punches.”
AJ: Can you tell me about the story of “Bleed Out”?
CW: Some of those song started when I was twenty-one, and then the band I was in, The Shoes!, we split up. I moved to California, moved down to LA, then I got in a car crash with a drunk driver. I almost died; I broke my knee, my arm, my back, they had to take out my spleen, they had to fix my liver. That’s what almost killed me, the liver lacerations. My face was torn off, it was really, really intense. The recovery process of that was so intense that I immediately got hooked on prescription pain killers. Then it started to progress into other heavier drugs and for the next three years it was this downward spiral, and I was suicidally depressed.
All this time, I was writing and playing music, because I had this feeling that I wasn’t going to be here much longer, so I’ve got to write and record as much as I can. I recorded a three-track EP in LA, I recorded a live album, I recorded “Desperate Times,” which is my fourth album. I had to leave LA, just because shit was getting so crazy there; drugs and everything was just falling apart. Then I came up north and that’s where the climax happened. I overdosed, and I checked myself into Stanford [Hospital], I’m like ‘I’m going to die, this is the last option, and if it doesn’t work, at least I tried.’ Stanford was the turning point for me, the psychiatric ward, the suicide watch. I was there for a week. They were like ‘Man, you can not do drugs anymore. If you want to live, you can’t drink and do drugs anymore.’
So, I got back on my medications, because I had stopped taking them. I started doing yoga, which I hadn’t done since high school and I love yoga, and I started meditation. I started turning my life around, and I thought ‘Alright, if I’m going to live, I need to start working on these songs again and start making some sort of cohesive project.’ I put together a recording studio in my house and I started working on these songs, playing all the instruments. I reached out to Austin Vidonn [drummer for the album] in Colorado, and I said ‘I’m thinking about working on an EP’ and he was so down. I thought it was going to be a five track EP, and the more I worked on the songs the more they opened up, and all of the sudden I’m looking at an eleven-track album. The landscape of these songs I hadn’t seen through all the way, I’m looking at this collage of sounds and memories and music, from a point of sobriety too. I’m looking back at these songs, many of which I wrote when I was not of a healthy mindset, and I think that’s what’s so cool about music and writing in general: you have documentation of your past, and it can act as a strong source of confirmation for where you were and where you are. The album from start to finish is very intense. It’s very violent. I mean, the album’s called ‘Bleed Out.’ The picture on the cover is my head busted open.
AJ: I was checking out your blog, and on there you have pictures of your recovery and the crash.
CW: Yeah, and those are even more intense than anything else. Yeah…that car crash was insane. If you live to a certain age, I think there’s certain parts of your life where you’re like ‘everything changed.’ I’ve had quite a few of those, but the car crash was definitely one of them. I mean, in my mind, I was twenty-four, and I died, and then everything after that is bonus time. I’m living on bonus time. I mean, I’m a yoga teacher, I’ve turned everything around.
AJ: How did you get into looping?
CW: I moved down to LA when I was twenty-four and everyone was looping, like everywhere I went, people were looping. I’m like, ‘Well fuck, I guess I’ve got to start looping then.’ By that point, I had been playing guitar for fourteen years so looping wasn’t that challenging to get into. But then I started looping lap slide, because I didn’t see that going on much, and I thought ‘what else do I want to loop so I can be different?’ So, then I started doing cigar box guitar, and then I would add bass into the same mix, so I was playing two instruments in a single song and composing like that.
AJ: How did the cigar box guitar happen?
CW: I came back up north and started looping the lap slide and thought ‘This is cool, I’m not seeing a lot of this. I want to keep looping slide instruments.’ I was looking at different options for slide. One of my favorite bands is Morphine; it’s a trio out of Boston. It’s drums, baritone sax, sometimes the guy plays two baritone saxes at once, so he’s got a double sax, and then a two-string slide electric bass. They have this super dark, deep drone, because he’s playing this two-string slide bass and so it’s super bluesy and dark and also jazzy, because you’ve got the sax. That was a huge influence on that really open drone.
I thought ‘I want to check out a cigar box guitar.’ I ordered a really shitty one off Amazon, a three-string. I think it was under thirty dollars. I started looping it and wanted to make a music video for it, so I had my friends come over. Before they came over, I was looping and thinking ‘Eh, I don’t like the sound, I want to add bass to it.’ All of the sudden, I was looping two instruments in a song, so it just happened like that; a spur of the moment thing. Then I thought ‘Well this is cool, but this guitar is a piece of shit, and it’s as good as it’s going to sound ever.’ I reached out to my friend Teddy Randazzo who makes guitar pickups and I have his pickups in all my guitars. I asked him, ‘Have you made a cigar box guitar before?’ He’s like ‘I don’t even think I know what that is.’ I said ‘Well, alright, let me figure something out and I’ll talk to you later.’ I called the Los Gatos Cigar Shop, said ‘Do you have any cigar boxes I can borrow?’ They said, ‘Come over before we throw them away and see which ones you want.’ I got this one, it’s a Nicaraguan cigar box, and I’m Nicaraguan, and I thought that was kind of cool, like ‘we’re the same blood’ or something.
I took the neck from the crappy Amazon one, because it was actually a good neck, it had the tuning pegs and everything. We used that, and I went to Teddy’s studio and we just figured it out. I think it took us three or four hours to figure it out, then he put a pickup in it. Now everywhere I go, people ask ‘what is that?’ ‘Oh, I made it!’ It’s really cool, it’s an attention thing. It’s cool, because I can cover The Who songs, like I do a version of ‘Eminence Front,’ which is rad because people don’t know what it is until I start singing it. That’s essentially what I like most about playing lap slide and cigar box guitar; I can play any song and it’s guaranteed not to sound like the original because it’s a totally different instrument. I feel like I have more liberty with certain songs and covering certain artists because it’s automatically my own take because I’m playing it on a different instrument.
AJ: You play a lot of slide. There’s slide all over the album, you play slide when you perform, but there’s also music videos where you just play acoustic guitar.
CW: Sure, which I love, but that’s the thing. I’ll play for three hours just on acoustic guitar, and people are like ‘Yeah, he’s good, sounds good,’ but the second I sit down and start playing lap slide, or the second I take out that cigar box, everyone turns around and is like ‘What is he doing, that’s crazy!’ That’s what you want. People need that, it’s like your calling card.
AJ: You write a lot of cool entries in your blog. How do you approach your blog?
CW: The blog on my website is awesome to me because I’m able to touch upon anything I want. I’m on Facebook and Instagram, but I approach those as business. I use those for promotional tactics, for shows, and for keeping in contact with friends and fans. My website is much more personal, and that’s why I chose that as a platform to blog about really whatever I want. I write all the time, that’s why I’m getting a degree in English Literature. I’d like to teach creative writing, which would be cool because then sometime this decade I could teach creative writing, yoga, guitar, and play live shows, and that sounds like a pretty sweet existence. I write every day, and I always have since I could hold a pencil. It’s poetry, memories, or just journal entries of everyday things, I’m always writing. For the blog, I just look over past entries and get an idea. I’ll blog about some of my favorite albums, or I’ll blog about an overdose, or yoga, or I’ll do a research paper on meditation. It’s really anything and everything I like. The ghost story I published [Jolene: A Ghost Story] was originally put on my website and people liked it so much it eventually got published. I wrote a short story of a Tinder date I went on, and hundreds of people read that. It really resonated with people, I think because of the age we are in, but so many people connected to that blog post. It’s called “Tinder Casualty.” There’s no set thing to blog about, whatever I feel is important. I’m a writer above all else, I don’t really see a distinction between writing and music; it’s just a continuation of the same thing for me.
AJ: One of your deep cuts is “Surf Zombies.” I looked at the credits and realized you’re into Horror/Gore. Do you pull inspiration from that?
CW: After the car accident, something happened. I don’t know, I sometimes joke that when I got a blood transfusion, I think they gave me the blood of a very disturbed person. I was never really into violence or gore or horror before the crash, and afterwards there was a switch that was flipped in my head. I think it was a way of processing through the violence that had almost taken me away. I really got into Italian grindhouse horror films, with an emphasis on cannibal exploitation films. It was funny, my good friend Marcus, he lives in LA, he’s in the film industry there, he’s like a horror aficionado. He loves the horror genre with a passion. We were working together in a kitchen, and we were talking about horror films and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ came up. He showed me the poster, and it’s some girl getting skewered through her body coming out her mouth, and I’m like ‘Wow, something about that seems so hardcore and intense and tasteless and violent and twisted.’ He came over and we watched ‘Cannibal Holocaust,’ and I just fell down the rabbit hole with that. Cannibal whatever, I’ll take it.
My songwriting has always been dark and violent, and I think that helped it. The song was originally called ‘Surf’s Up,’ which is a Beach Boys tune as well, and it has that Dick Dale, Ventures vibe. The day before I recorded it, I said ‘Fuck this, I’m calling it “Surf Zombies.’” It totally changed the whole feel of the song. I started producing my own music videos, and I wanted to make a zombie video to that, but it’s got to be beach themed, so I searched for a free domain Italian horror film and found one. I think it’s called ‘The Ghost Galleon,’ and that’s where I took the scenes from. It was my first music video ever, I think it shows, but it’s still pretty funny. You’re like ‘Man, these girls are stupid, how are you going to fall down the stairs that many times?
AJ: What’s in the future?
CW: Content. More video content, more singles, I’m in the studio now working on some stuff. Promotion for the album, the album’s been out for two months now, which is great because we raised a bunch of money from the Kickstarter. Playing more live shows. The local music scene is so cool, it’s such an honor to be part of that. It’s really cool to see your friends come up, like damn dude, I love it. The San Jose music scene is amazing because people aren’t trying to tear each other down. That’s so refreshing, because so many people see other people’s successes as their failures, but the music scene here isn’t like that. It’s very inclusive. It’s different down there [LA], I’m much happier up here. There’s a deeper appreciation for art up here, just because Silicon Valley is not…it’s saturated with tech, but it’s not saturated with music and art and entertainment the way LA is. Anywhere you go, there’s five bands playing on ten band bills on a Monday night in LA, like god damn how am I going to do anything with this? Don’t get me wrong, I love LA, I had a fun time. I would love to go back, but up here I’ve found a very comfortable niche of playing, where people are very appreciative of what I do. I’m trying to take full advantage of that.
AJ: How did the Kickstarter happen?
CW: My friend Courtney, she works on the website with me. She helps me with social media. She’s an angel, a god send, I love her. I told her I’m thinking of putting this album together, and she says, ‘Oh cool, we’ll Kickstart it.’ And I said ‘Alright, great…how much do you think?’ ‘Oh, about eight grand.’ I’d never done it before, but she had helped my cousin Kickstart before because he’s an amazing singer too. It was such a rush, doing that. A little bit, then a little bit, then a snowball effect, and once I shared the story, like ‘Here’s what the album’s about: accident, car crash, pictures, drugs, overdose, redemption.’ Redemption was a big thing there. People I didn’t even know were reaching out. We raised eight grand for the Kickstarter, and then I raised two grand outside the Kickstarter, so I raised ten grand for this album. Now that the album’s out and everyone’s happy with it, I’m happy with it, I’m going to start PR for that with music videos and promos and things like that.
AJ: What was the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
CW: I have a magnet of Hunter S. Thompson in my medicine cabinet. So, I open it up every morning, I get my toothpaste, it’s up there, and it says, ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.’ That was probably the best advice I got until about four years ago. You know, Ari Herstand, do you know Ari? I speak as if I know him on a very personal level, which I kind of do, like we’ve Skyped and stuff. He’s an author and a blogger, but he’s a do-it-yourself musician. He wrote a book, ‘How to Make It in the New Music Business.’ It’s a total game changer. I did a course with him and his advice is so amazing. It really changed the way I felt about music. I’ll paraphrase a couple of his words, like for one, there’s no expiration date on making it. Like you don’t have to be under a certain age, or have a certain look, you just have to keep doing it and don’t stop. Ari promotes work ethic, networking, being real, being genuine, he just really wants people to succeed. Luck has very little to do with it, and what does ‘making it’ mean? One of the best pieces of advice I took away personally was ‘What do you want to happen? Write it down, be specific, because being a rock star is too ambiguous and you’re never going to get that because what does that even mean?’ For so long, I was like ‘aww, I just want to be famous, I don’t even know what that means but I know that I’m not happy now because I don’t have this ambiguous sort of rock start thing because I don’t even know what that means,’ It’s a horrible way to live, and I know because I lived it.
Finding Clarity: A Short Memoir of My Yoga Practice
At age twenty seven, I found myself in the psychiatric ward of Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California, on suicide watch. I had been addicted to drugs and alcohol on and off, though mostly on, for about a decade. My issues with depression, anxiety, self hatred, insomnia and substance abuse had brought me to the edge of an emotional cliff, one that I was ready to plunge off of and finally end my suffering. Stanford was a last ditch effort on my part to help me survive: before I killed myself, I wanted to know that I had done everything in my power to save my life. If it didn’t work—well, at least I had tried.
I was put back on medication at the ward; I took all the meetings and classes on cognitive brain therapy, I began to meditate for a few seconds (any longer than a minute and I’d unravel back into the abyss of my fractured mind), and I took a yoga class. The class was seated, in a very basic and introductory style. Still, it calmed me, and it brought me back to my high school days, a decade earlier, when I first fell in love with the practice of yoga.
I wrestled in middle school and my freshman year. After that, I was completely turned off to the world of athletics. I’ve never cared for sports, and I refused to play them. Junior year, I walked out of gym class on the first day, went into the office and told them that I wasn’t playing sports. Whatever else there was for PE credit, I’d take.
“Well,” one of the academic advisors said. “There’s a yoga/walking/cardio class.”
“Perfect.” I said.
I went in with no expectations whatsoever, and I fell in love with yoga almost immediately. My upper body strength from wrestling led me to advance in my personal yoga practice almost effortlessly, exponentially. I was one of the only guys in the class (the ratio was about one to ten, something that I still enjoy about the practice), and I began to do yoga regularly. Still, my home life was in flames, and I had started using drugs and alcohol as a way to both rebel and cope with my life. I left school at the start of my senior year, barely graduating, and began to pursue a life of music, drugs, writing, drinking, and an overall reckless abandonment of a conventional lifestyle. My yoga practice faded as I grew older. At age twenty four, a catastrophic, near death collision with a drunk driver sent me into the depths of my darkest and most dangerous downward spiral. All my life I had struggled with depression, a vicious cycle of self hatred and narcism, and by the end of my twenty seventh year, everything had built up to a volatile and deadly crescendo.
Now, in the psychiatric ward of Stanford, the medications were beginning to take hold again; I was learning techniques to effectively deal with my thoughts in a healthy way, and I once again felt the calming, grounding, comforting effects of yoga, something I had nearly forgotten. I knew then, that if I was going to survive, if I was going to turn everything around, I had to stay sober, I had to stay on my meds, and I had to start practicing yoga again. I seemed to recall that there was a studio near my house, and I promised myself that once I was released, I’d go check it out.
I got out of Stanford and a day later I walked half a mile down the street to Bright Heart yoga studio. I picked up a schedule from the information box and walked back home. The following day, I took my first yoga class in nearly ten years.
The day after class, I felt a healthy soreness in my shoulders and my obliques—and I was once again hooked on the practice. I began to go to the studio three times a week. Then, as my body began to adapt, to lose weight and slim down into lean muscle, I progressed to five days a week. I began to work the front desk at the studio in exchange for a membership, and my obsession with yoga sustained for over two years.
Since day one at the studio, people had been asking me if I was a teacher. When I told them no, they asked why. It had never occurred to me to teach, I told them. My yoga practice was extremely personal and deeply introspective to me. Still, as a male practitioner of yoga, the question of teaching came up quite often. It was a mild irritation. I told myself: let me do five hundred yoga classes, then I’ll think about teaching.
Five hundred and seventy yoga classes later, I received an opportunity to partake in teacher training. I hesitantly agreed, and within three months, I had nearly completed my 200 hour training, sans teaching a full class. Still, the thought of being a yoga teacher seemed too daunting to take on. I was still wrapped up in remembering my past: years of impulsive, careless, and dangerous behavior had me anxious that I wouldn’t make a good teacher; I felt that I lacked a kind of purity to really teach. Months passed as I refused to complete my training; teaching one class was just one too many for me.
During this time, my meditation practice had grown quite expansively. I began receiving therapy from an amazing psychologist. Slowly I started to come to terms with my past, realizing that who I once was did not define who I am now. Seven hundred and fifty yoga classes later, I taught my first yoga class. After watching the video recording of my first class, I know that I am, truly, a yoga teacher. I realize now that my entire journey is what makes me a good teacher.
I believe in yoga. I believe in the practice; I believe in the results and the benefits. And because of this, I now believe in my ability to teach. To guide others in the practice that helped save my life is an amazing honor.
It is the start of a beautiful journey.
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Hollywood & Vine
This was the first song that I wrote coming out of Stanford, clean and sober for the first time in nearly a decade. The music was pretty, lyrical, the guitar part is pretty challenging, which I like. The steady thumb playing the rhythm independent of the other fingers, I really like that style. It reminds me of Lindsey Buckingham and Paul Simon.
The beginning lyrics came standing in line at a coffee shop; I just wrote them into my phone. I liked the rhyme scheme of the words, so I went with that. Then I went home and figured out the F major 7 to G part. The lyrics came pretty easily once the song structure became more set. Later on, I was showing what I had written to Luke Reilly when we had gotten back together as Funk & Wagnall, and he asked me "Where's the bridge?"
"What's a bridge?" I asked him jokingly, and then I just busted out the E minor to C part, and it stuck. "Oh, there it is," I said. I recorded an early version of the song at Henry Rust's place in LA, with some sweet mics of his and a mellow atmospheric vibe. I still like that recording. The finished version in the studio is a favorite track of mine, and also a favorite among the crowd reviews that we submitted to.
Lullaby for the Devil
I wrote the music to Lullaby for the Devil the same night that I wrote the music to Broken Girl, in my LA apartment, when I was living with my brother Greg. Dark and violent times, post car crash, broken and scared, sick and addicted to all kinds of self destructive vices. I was in the death throes of a twisted and toxic love affair with a girl named Claire, and it was already taking its toll on me. The song's melody stayed with me for five years while I fucked around with the structure, the lyrics, the key, the tempo, etc. Finally I added the D minor part towards the end and it eventually fell into place one night, the same night that I recorded Dance Through the Fire for the first time in my home studio. "Lullaby" is my guitar playing nod to Robert Quine of Richard Hell and the Voidoids: the ferocious kind of biting guitar tone, especially towards the end. The guitar noise during the outro of the song is somewhat symbolic of the madness I went through in LA: my mind falling apart, coming undone. This song is dark. But you already knew that.
Dance Through the Fire
What initially began as a guitar practice warm up in A minor eventually grew into Dance Through the Fire. It began at age 22; I kept adding new parts to it, always returning to the main hook, and the song didn't see it's full completion until six years later. "Dance" is very rhythmically and technically advanced for me as a guitarist. It's got a raw punk and latin feel to it, which is great. It had lyrics briefly, earlier on, but I could never really figure it out as a whole song. And then the home studio happened, and I started messing around with it. I ended up recording what would become the definitive song structure for both "Lullaby" and "Dance" in the same night. My grandmother had just died, and the funeral had been only a few days prior to my recording this. It was an intense and soul bearing experience; I felt her energy with me as I recorded the song from start to finish, something I had never been able to do. I reached inside and pulled out music that I had never known I could play. It was beautiful and it was real.
The drum part was also conceived and produced in my home studio: a minimalist kind of tasteful track to compliment the guitar part. Obviously, when Austin got his hands on it, he was able to enhance and tighten up my ideas, adding in some of his own. This song is an instrumental testament to my sobriety, in that I could never play it when I was using. It was too advanced for me. I have played "Dance Through the Fire" perfectly, without any fuck ups, maybe twice in my whole life. The song is so challenging that even completely sober, I almost always miss one or two things. It's another reason for me to stay clean, knowing that the healthier I am, the more likely I am to nail the song, and continue challenging myself with my writing and playing. On the album, I kept writing songs that pushed certain boundaries of mine, whether it was sound and tone, tempo and overall mix, or just lead runs on the guitar. Dance Through the Fire is a complex song, one that makes the album a little more distinctive of my style.
Lyrics to Hollywood & Vine
She says that it's not me
no clarity in desperate times like these
I try to feel complete but I can't compete
with her insanity
She tells me it's alright
I don't have to fight the hate inside my heart
but every time I cross that line
I'm right back where I started
and I try to call her name again
but I just fall away again
and I'm trying to stay clean again
but I'll just fuck it up again
I take my medicine
she lets me in and I black out on her floor
she says she's gonna leave
but she's told me that a thousand times before
I take my time
try to define what makes me feel like I'm alive
but in my mind
slow suicide's the only way to die
and I try to clear my head again
but I'm too far away again
and I'm looking for my closest friend
but he's nowhere to be found again
these days are killing me
can't seem to breathe and I can't find the door
I walk through dreams, inside routines
that bring me lower than before
coffee and cigarettes
loss and regret, this taste inside my mouth
if I stay just one more day
I know I'll never make it out, and
I'll try to run away again
I need to just stay gone again
and I'll never call her name again
goodbye Los Angeles, my friend
Lyrics to Lullaby for the Devil
How can I save you girl, can’t even save myself
she says she loves me more than anybody else
I don’t believe her words but I believe her mouth
get myself inside, then I can’t get back out
how can I trust you girl, when the lights go dark
standing in my room I tear myself apart
I’m looking for my pills, she’s looking for her man
I try to hold her close, do the best that I can
but every dream is the same, in a different way
got myself to blame, I got myself to . . .
but every dream’s the same, in a different way
got myself to blame, you know I want to
how can I love you girl, don’t even know my name
she tells me one more time, then she’s here to stay
she wanna hold my hand, she need a little kiss
you ask me what I want, ain’t nothing close to this
how can I quit you girl, her body’s like a drug
she’s got me hooked so hard, now I can’t get enough
she says she wants me all, I hear her call my name
but jealousy is the sweat that’s running down my face
and every drug is the same, in a different way
you know they’re all the same, I know it all is
every drug is the same, running through my veins
and they’re all the same, you know I want this
LA seems so far away
Michelle seems so far away
the crash seems so far away
but Claire seems just like yesterday
Dance Through the Fire
Bleed Out is an album that was years in the making. Some of the songs are nearly a decade old, and between the time I wrote them and when I actually recorded them, I had changed significantly, many times over. The fact that these songs stayed with me through everything is proof of their importance to me personally; the songs have changed with me, they’ve grown and remained relevant to who I was and who I am now. Not all songs do that. I throw away a lot of songs because they just don't feel real to me anymore.
The whole album is a story. It’s dark, sometimes violent, deeply introspective, and intensely personal. It reflects on my struggles with drugs, depression, and toxic relationships. It deals with self doubt, the dichotomy of my narcism vs self hatred, and slightly touches on my new life of sobriety and stability. Bleed Out explores many different styles of music: it’s a rock album, though there are many types of genres that can be heard.
I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts detailing each specific song on the album, individually, in album order. These posts will give insight to anyone who wants to know the backstory of the album and the songs: who I was when I wrote them, how the songs evolved and made it onto the album, and how they’ve changed since their first conception.
Let me start from the beginning. I wrote the song "October" when I was 21 years old. I was living in Boulder, Colorado, trying to make it with my band "the Shoes!", living in the drummer's parent's house. Strange and difficult times; we lived together for a year, and in that year we played a lot of shows, and drank and fought way too much. Everything seemed to fall apart. The band eventually split, and "October" is the only song I wrote during that year that I kept. I wrote it on the first day of October 2008 (hence the title, go figure), in a kind of Chili Peppers/Dispatch groove. Fall has always been an intoxicating time of year for me. It’s symbolic in the change of seasons; trees start to die, night comes sooner, days grow colder. There’s a kind of rush that October brings me every year. It’s darkly fascinating and intoxicating. The song stayed with me after I left Boulder and moved to California, though I rarely ever played it—it was just a painful reminder of that time period, which I perceived as a failed attempt at musical success.
Years later, I was giving a radio interview for KKUP, in Cupertino, California, and in a spur of the moment decision, I decided to play the song live on the radio. I stated, "I think this is going to be the opening track on my next album." It seemed to make sense at the time; it just slipped out, and I eventually followed through with that promise when Bleed Out became a real project.
“October” was the very beginning of the creative process that would become the Bleed Out Room Recordings. I had just started putting together my home recording studio after finally getting sober, and I began to work on the different parts of the song, playing the guitar, bass, and drums individually, and working on the vocals and harmonies. It was essentially a practice in experimentation that allowed me to work on the song’s parts while getting comfortable with my new studio recording equipment. I had separated from my bassist Bob Lanz just prior to the early recordings of the track, which left me to compose and record the bass myself. Months later, my drum and bass parts still left a lot to be desired, which is where drummer Austin Vidonn and bassist Keith Shacklett came in.
Keith Shacklett is a bass virtuoso, a Berklee College of Music grad, and an amazing musician overall. He and I recorded together years ago in Colorado, when we did early demos of “Upper Hermosa Mtn Blues,” “Near Death,” and a few other songs I had written. I reconnected with him during the early stages of the album’s creation, and although he was too busy to actually record the album with me, Keith helped out significantly with ideas, ideas that I used while recording the bass tracks on the album. Keith told me with confidence, “I’m sure you can just record the bass yourself, Casey.” So I stepped up and did exactly that. The bass line for “October” was the hardest on the entire album for me to figure out and play. The amount of notes and the speed with which I play them was a serious challenge. “October” definitely turned me into a bassist during the creation and recording of the album.
So now, nearly ten years later, I finally recorded the definitive version of the song. Austin’s drum line is far better than anything I could’ve come up with, though we worked on most of the parts together. I was mainly stuck on the verse section, which Austin figured out prior to recording in the studio. To start the whole album out with this song was very symbolic for me; being able to take a song that was once too painful to play, and turning it into the lead track for my entire album.
Keep in mind,
all I ever wanted was to tell myself that I'm just fine
in these signs of times
these dead leaves send shivers up my spine
but they're just passing by
and I'm seeing ghosts out the corner of my eyes
maybe one last time
this whole thing's gonna make me lose my mind
and I take my time
all I ever wanted was to tell myself that I'm a man
that can comprehend
all these things that make me what I am
and that this master plan
will bring me love and the beauty of my friends
which never ends
time won't break and neither will it bend
and I look within
keep in line
what I miss the most about you must be your eyes
I'm just killing time
trees they scream and birds refuse to fly
under these red skies
am I right, or did I miss these signs
right before my eyes
in my bed unconscious I will lie
for another time
Five years ago, I was sitting outside the Britannia Arms in Cupertino with my attorney and bassist Bob Lanz. The Brit is only a few blocks from my house, and when I used to drink and smoke, I spent a lot of time there. Bob and I had played several shows at the Brit since I’d come back up from LA, so everyone there knew me through my music, too.
Morgan, the Irish bartender, came up to Bob and I outside.
“Eh boys,” he said in his thick Irish drawl. “De band dat plays 'er on Saint Paddy’s day just canceled on me. If I gave ye guys tree hundred dollars, and all ye can drink, do ye think ye could learn a bunch of Irish tunes in under two weeks?”
“How long would the set be?” I asked him.
“Tree hours, and ye guys could take breaks.”
I looked at Bob, who shrugged.
“Sure,” I said to Morgan. “We’ll do that for you. I know some guys that would be down to play, too.”
“Oh boys, yer savin my ass. Tank you.” Morgan said.
“I need your help figuring out some Irish songs, though, Morgan.” I said. “You know a lot more than I do. I can’t think of a single one.”
“Oh, I know em all. Dirty Old Town, Whisky in the Jar—”
“Cockles and Mussels,” Bob chimed in.
“Dat’s a good one.” Morgan concurred.
I had my notebook near me. I put out my cigarette and started listing the song titles. I hadn’t heard of any of these songs. Soon I had committed to learning eleven Irish songs for St. Patrick’s Day, the biggest day of the year at the Brit, all in under two weeks. “But hey,” I thought as Bob and I took down another pitcher. “I am, after all, a professional.”
I set to work streaming the songs, researching more on youtube, just googling “Irish drinking songs.” A bunch came up, and I soon had a nice set list: Spanish Lady, Finnegan’s Wake, Seven Drunken Nights, Cockles and Mussels, Black Velvet Band, Dirty Old Town, Galway Girl. The songs sounded good, with a lot of lyrics. I couldn’t possibly memorize all of them, but I figured I’d print them out for the show. I wanted to throw some Paul Simon and Johnny Cash into the set as well. I knew those songs would go over nicely, too.
I was working as a prep cook at a wine bar in downtown Los Gatos; I had the whole place to myself in the afternoons, so I’d listen to the songs over and over and make mental notes. Bob and I rehearsed in the park near my house, and at the Brit, where we would drink and eat on the house while we went through the songs. Morgan was super grateful. St. Patrick’s Day was closing in on us. I set to work on putting together my Irish band.
I knew a few players from the Bay Area open mic circuit: Autumn Rose Thompson played a mean banjo; George Paolini played mandolin and harmonica; a friend of ours at the Brit, Chance, played the violin. I met up with each of them individually and rehearsed the set with them. No one really knew each other when we showed up at the Brit on St. Patrick’s Day. I had called us “Casey Wickstrom & the Irish Rogues."
I had to run the soundboard, which was a real pain on top of it all. I don’t like running sound for big shows—I’d much rather have someone else do it, and take the pressure off of me. That way I can just focus on the music. But, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Robbie, the sound guy, was out of town. On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone in the band showed up at the Brit. I got them all introduced to one another, and then we hit the stage. I EQ’d the band, and we blew the place away. The night flew by in a rush of drinking, shouting, singing, playing, energetic musical frenzy. After the show, Morgan came up.
“Brilyant, boys! Ye all were fuckin’ brilyant! Can you do this ev’ry year fer me? I want ye all back here again.”
“Fuck yeah, dude.” I told him. We had just scored an annual party show at my favorite neighborhood pub.
Fast forward to the next year: Chance was up at law school in Davis, so we were out a fiddle player, but Autumn and George joined Bob and I for another successful show. The year after that, George was working on his new album, so he couldn’t play with us. I reached out again to the wonderful Autumn Rose Thompson, the Rogue's banjo player, to see if she could rustle up some new players to jam with us. Autumn is a banjo gypsy queen who has played with everyone in the Bay Area. She invited her two friends Tom Sullivan and Robin Fish to play mandolin and fiddle, respectively. I took on harmonica duty on top of guitar and vocals. Bob, as always, held it down on the bass. This line up would become the regular players in the Irish Rogues, and this year, Sunday, March 17, we’ll be back at the Brit. .
A few of the songs that we play have a special place in my heart. One of them is our rendition of “Dirty Old Town/Wish You Were Here.” I remember Bob and I sitting out in the sun, in the grassy park near my house, playing through the tune. Suddenly, I had an idea.
“Check this out,” I said to Bob, as I weaved in Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” with the melody and chorus of the original English miner’s song.
“Whoa, that’s awesome.” Bob said.
I showed the songs to the other band members, and they loved it. It’s our favorite song. One of the things that I love about this band, and the Irish set, which gets better every year, is how we’re able to take these classic songs and slightly modernize them for our audience. There’s some classic old Irish sounds in our playing, but we take some liberties with the songs, incorporating some country and even some rock into them. I like the way that the set flows from song to song, with jams and singalongs and Irish ballads.
This will be my fifth year performing at the Brit for St. Patrick’s Day. It just gets better and better. Hope to see you there.
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(Note: this is about an upcoming single of mine, a looping cover of the Who's "Eminence Front," with me on cigar box slide guitar, bass, vocals, and drums. It's coming out in 2019.)
Eminence Front: I saw the Who at Shoreline amphitheater in Mountain View in 2002 when I was thirteen years old. It was the first show they played after their bassist John Entwistle had died. It was an emotional and amazing show, and it was a defining moment of my life. I remember looking up at the sky when Roger Daltrey was wailing “Love Reign O’er Me,” and thinking, “I am going to play music for the rest of my life.”
One of the songs they played that I had never heard before was Eminence Front. Pete Townsend led this orchestral score that intensified and grew, and by the time it all kicked in, it was this flowing and intricate, deeply layered song.
Fast forward from 2002 to 2017. I made my very own cigar box guitar with my good friend Teddy Randazzo Jr, of Dazzo pickups fame, and I began looping a dark and bluesy song, with a bass line that held down the track nicely. I began to add more layers, bit by bit, like a delay and a wah that matched the rhythm. This song that I was working on was heavily influenced by my friends in the band Aotearoa; these guys are the big influence on my looping. This whole song is kind of of a shout out to them.
The song’s buildup became really cool, and I thought about what to do with it. In a flash of insight, I thought about Eminence Front. I looked up the lyrics, listened to the Who track a few times, and set to work. It took about a week or so for me to have a structure with the loop pedal that I felt was really tight. This song was a game changer for me, because it was a whole musical experience live looping; the audience saw me build this song from nothing into this flowing, layered song, much like I had seen Pete Townsend do nearly two decades before.
Quick note: my electric guitar is an American made Schecter Telecaster, the Pete Townsend model from the 80s, and it just so happens to be the guitar that he plays on the Eminence Front video. I didn’t know that until very recently. I had fallen in love with the guitar in high school before even knowing it was the Pete Townsend model. It just made sense that this was how it went.
Anyways, I had a weekly residency at Forager in downtown San Jose for the month of October, and they wanted to do a promo video of me playing to some studio recorded tracks. So I went into this really nice studio in a church in Fremont and recorded Eminence Front, and a solo rendition of Grindhouse Blues and Broken Girl. The video was never competed, but I had this really awesome take of Eminence Front. I decided to mess around with a drum line, once again, evoking the sound of Aotearoa. I have the drums at my home studio, so I started writing a drum line, which took a few months to nail down. The song is over five minutes long, and there’s a lot of parts to it. This is the sickest, baddest drum part I’ve ever recorded, and that’s because it evolved over a period of nearly four months. When the time was right, I reached back out to Anthony at the church studio and set up some time to track the drums.
I've only ever played this song live, but it's become a staple song of my shows. I'm stoked to bring it to you soon.
I go in tomorrow to record. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I stop for gas along highway one, on the California coast. It's an old fashioned gas station, with antique pumps and a small, shack like building where you pay. It's set up on the edge of this sheer drop cliff that gives a view of the ocean hundreds of feet below. My girlfriend and road tripping companion Dawn waits in the car while I go inside to pay for the gas. It's a sublimely pleasant late afternoon, the sun is beginning to make its descent, playing off the ocean in sparkling flashes of blues, reds, and gold.
I go inside and there's a little asian lady sitting at the desk; there's an old fashioned cash register, made of heavy bulky iron that rests in front of her. The place is plain and tiny. I pay for the gas and ask to use the restroom. She points to a door in the back of the small building, the only other room in the place, and says "You can use it. But be careful -- the tide's coming in."
I step into the tiny gas station bathroom, there's windows to my left, along the wall, big windows that are open and let in the sea breeze. I look out a window for a moment and notice that the waves of the ocean, which a moment ago were at the bottom of this gigantic cliff, are now pushing up against the side of the house. We are now at sea level. "The tide is coming in," I remember the lady told me. The waves are big, white and frothy, strong and powerful; I can feel their force against the creaky old building. The sea water begins to rise into the bathroom through the floorboards. I move over to the corner between the sink and the toilet, my shoes now wet, but not soaked, and I'm wondering how I'm going to take a piss while all this water is rising from the bathroom floor. Stand on the toilet seat, aim carefully? (I think this in the dream.) The sea water outside is now nearly at the height of the windows, the force of the waves is massive.
There's a gigantic cracking sound -- the waves jolt the bathroom violently, suddenly ripping it apart from the rest of the building and dropping it into the ocean. "Shit. Like a pulled tooth," I think in the dream. Lost for a moment in this box of sound and sudden confusion, I feel the onset of panic begin to kick in, realizing that I'm about to be swallowed up by the sea. The sea: I visualize the endless expanse of the ocean in my mind: the unfathomable depths and amazing force of the ocean, the ocean: unflinching mammoth waves that will swallow me up with their power, I experience a modicum of the boundless strength of mother nature. The helplessness that man has against the earth, the environment. The sea has grabbed me and is taking me away.
But panic doesn't set in -- my mind snaps to survival mode: I race towards the windows as a wall of ocean blots them in darkness, water furiously rushes through them in freezing salty deluges. I'm rocking violently in this little gas station bathroom, but I have to get out. "The windows, the door -- the door! Open it up, get out and swim!" I'll die, probably. A quick momentary flash of the current daily news: hurricanes in Florida, massive flooding in Texas, angry ocean, rising tide . . . The water in the bathroom is rising rapidly; I see myself swimming for my life, trying to reach dry ground, while furious ocean waves the size of buildings pull me back in. I know that the whole ocean is out there, and I know that I am nothing against it. But still, I am going to try to get out of this scenario and swim, and fight, and try to survive, even if it leads to my death. I reach for the door, ready to wrench it open -- ready to go up against the entire sea, man versus nature -- my hand touches the knob.
And then I wake up.
Okay, so here's the deal. Six years ago this month (August), I was nearly killed by a drunk driver. She was going the wrong way on a freeway offramp in LA. I broke my knee, my arm, my back, my spleen was removed, they had to solder my liver back together, my face was ripped apart, I needed a blood transfusion . . . I spent the next four years after that spiraling down into drug addiction and suicidal depression, trying to stay alive while I wrote and recorded all the music I could. At age twenty seven, after a failed suicide attempt, I was admitted to Stanford Psychiatric Ward in Palo Alto. I was put back on meds, and I started doing yoga in the ward. When I got out, I had to stay sober and healthy, and I began to practice yoga and put together a home recording studio.
My newest album "Bleed Out" deals with the aftermath of the crash; from my drug addiction to my sobriety, from my self-loathing to my eventual self acceptance. It's a deeply introspective, dark and personal album that I began to conceptualize after Stanford. Many of these songs have been with me for a while, and just never got completed until now. This album covers a lot of ground stylistically: from dark and driving blues to latin infused punk rock, from grunge and metal to mellow acoustic grooves. I've spent the majority of my time working on this album, and it's finally ready to be recorded. I wanted to get my friends and family involved in the making of "Bleed Out," because it really means so much to me.
I'm working with a drummer, Austin Vidonn, on the album. We're at 11% of our Kickstarter goal of $8,000 already, which is great, but we still have a long way to go. Help me make this a reality. Love you guys.
I'm working on a brand new album. It's called Bleed Out, and it's set to be recorded in late August of this year. This will my first full length album in nearly four years. Sure, I've released a bunch of singles, a lot of recordings with Funk & Wagnall, and I've been pumping out a lot of music videos and blogs, but a lot has changed since my last album Desperate Times in 2013.
For one, I'm working with a drummer, one of the best drummers I've ever played with. His name is Austin Vidonn. He and I played in a band called the Shoes! in Colorado when I was eighteen. Austin and I share a strong musical connection, and we both have the same drive for the music. We reconnected two years ago when he recorded a new percussion track on my song "Secret." When I began to piece together the songs for Bleed Out, I knew that I wanted Austin in on the album. Rhythm is in this guy's blood -- he's a stoic, sturdy, rhythmic machine. Austin lives in Colorado, but thanks to the power of the web, and my home recording studio, I'm able to flesh out ideas and work these songs out with him as if he was living next door. I've also made a few undercover trips to Colorado to rehearse the album with him. These songs are his songs, too. He's completely committed himself to this album.
Another big change is the studio that we're recording in. We're recording at Scooter's Place, in Durango, Colorado. I worked with Scooter (Scott), the owner and sound engineer, when I was twenty years old. My band Strange New Shoes recorded a full length album called Dig This. Scooter's studio is absolutely top notch, and he and I really connected during the production and recording of the album. I'm incredibly stoked to work with Scooter again. This will be the cleanest, most consistent and professional album that I've made thus far.
You may be thinking: Casey, you have your own home studio, why don't you just do the album there? For a lot of reasons -- mainly, I want the album to be the best it can be. I can record demo tracks and mix singles just fine in my home studio, but as far as taking on an entire album, and the amount of work and fundamental tech knowledge that goes into that -- well, I'll just leave that to a pro. And Scooter is a total pro.
However, I will be releasing a collection of Room Recordings. It features early takes of all the album tracks, with me on every instrument in my home studio. You can hear how the album evolved, and get a better idea of the writing process; you can hear what I was thinking when I was writing this album. The Bleed Out Room Recordings are a Kickstarter incentive -- more on that a little later.
Most of the songs on Bleed Out will be new; no one will have ever heard most of the tracks. There will be two songs that many people will be familiar with, and those are "Hope" and "Upper Hermosa Mtn Blues." I recorded those two songs in my early twenties, and I never felt like I was able to do them justice. They sound like demos (which they were at the time), and I've always wanted to record a definitive, professional version of those two songs. Under Scott's watch in the studio, and with Austin's percussion, I know that I can bring them to the level they deserve to be at.
This album has been a culmination of some intense life changes, over a long period of time. Bleed Out covers a wide landscape of my life -- I've spent the better part of a year figuring out how the songs will work, both individually and as a whole. This album has come to life after two years of sobriety, meditation, yoga, school, and the construction of my home studio in Cupertino, California. I've spent countless hours figuring out the parts on each instrument, recording them, sending them to Austin, experimenting with tempo, arrangements, layers, tone . . . These songs all finally rose up to the surface, the album began to take shape, and I ran with it.
I want all our friends to be involved in this experience. We're working on a Kickstarter campaign, with all kinds of cool stuff if you contribute. I know there's people that have been waiting a long time for a new CW album, and I'm stoked to be able to finally deliver it. Pitch in what you want, or what you can, and know that every cent will go towards making this album, and everything that follows it, a reality.
More to come.
Playing a regular guitar turned over on my lap wasn't an intentional attempt at originality. I simply didn't have any money for a real lap slide -- I could barely afford to eat at age twenty -- so I made my own. I was helping my friend Scott move out of his parent's house, and he had this piece of shit Korean guitar, a Tanaka, that he was going to pawn off. I told him to give it to me instead, which he did, and I raised the action on the guitar (the action is the space between the strings and the neck of the guitar) and converted it into a lap slide. I was amazed at how good it sounded.
It's less common to play an regular acoustic guitar like a lap slide, as opposed to a dobro, which is a pretty common instrument in bluegrass and country music. Dobros generally have a square neck and a very twangy, high resonance sound. The cool thing about converting a regular acoustic is that you don't have any of that twang; it's not bluegrass-sounding -- instead it's got a deep tone and it's bluesy and more rock-sounding. (Note: "Dobro" is an actual company that makes lap steel resonator guitars, but a lot of musicians use the name in a general sense to identify a lap slide guitar.)
Growing up in Colorado, there was a pretty prominent bluegrass scene; some of my friends played dobro, and I liked what they were doing with it. I like bluegrass, but I don't really play it. My main influences on the lap slide are (in order of influence) 1. Ben Harper 2. Xavier Rudd 3. Jack White and 4. Morphine (the band).
I still have the same lap slide that Scott gave me. I've broken it half a dozen times; twice on purpose. My friend Henry Rust in LA finally fixed it for good with some bolts and washers on the headstock, to keep it from cracking. It's got a lot of personality. I tune it to a really open drone, influenced by early Velvet Underground and the band Morphine. It only has two notes, a first and a fifth note, generally Eb and Bb, and that's it.
If I had to choose, I'd say my favorite song on the lap slide is my cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." Here's how that came about:
I had just turned twenty, and I was playing in a band called Strange New Shoes in Durango, Colorado. I had just assembled my lap slide, and I was messing around with it. I went out into the mountains, deep into the woods with two of my friends, and we took some acid. This dose was some of the purest LSD I've ever tried: it was an out of body, near spiritual experience. I played my lap slide for four or five hours, almost non stop, and it completely changed the way that I thought about music. It felt like I was playing the guitar backwards and upside down; I was totally reworking my brain on this new experimental instrument I had made. I really learned how to play the lap slide that day. It was such a rhythmic instrument for me more than anything else; really percussive when I got into it.
The musical waves were moving me hard, and I started putting together this melody in my head, and figuring it out on the lap slide. It became the crying, sorrowful, melodic solo to Folsom Prison, although I didn't know that then. The acid was so intense that I'd figure out a small part of the melody and then I'd have to stop and take a walk to breathe again. And then I'd trip out on a flower -- or see myself outside of myself, tripping on a flower -- and then I'd hear a little bit more of the solo, like it was a bird singing to me, and I'd go back to the lap slide and work it out, bit by bit, until I had this cohesive and really beautiful musical part.
By the time I had figured out the solo and was comfortable with playing it over and over, it was night time in the woods. We built a fire, and I kept playing. I suddenly became aware that I was playing in open E, and I knew that Johnny Cash's song Folsom Prison Blues was just a 1, 4, 5 chord progression; that is, E, A, and B. Without thinking at all, I picked a few notes on the bottom strings, and out came the classic introduction to Johnny Cash's most famous song. It was fate, I felt, like the song had chosen me or something.
I had learned to fingerpick by studying Paul Simon, playing his Simon and Garfunkel guitar arrangements, and I had just started getting into Lindsay Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, so I started picking on the lap slide and going through the chords of the Johnny Cash tune. This was the very first time that I had incorporated fingerpicking into my lapslide playing. It was around the end of the night when the song came together. I recorded it two years later, after the band had broken up, and I was preparing to move to California and start over as a solo artist.
People sometimes tell me that they like my version better than the original. I don't know about that. But I will say that I think my take on it does the original song justice. I think Johnny Cash would like it. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash; I love his music, and he has a special place in my heart.
I enjoy playing covers on the lap slide because I make the song my own -- there's very little resemblance to the original song, and the only reason it's a cover is because I've made it a cover. The song Teen Spirit, off of my album Desperate Times, is a good example of that, too. The song came to me in much the same way as Folsom Prison did: under a heavy current of controlled substances. One minute I was jamming, and the next, it was like I woke up and was playing a Nirvana song on the lap slide. It just came to me, nothing was forced.
It's kind of unfortunate that so many of my songs have come to me while I was under the influence, but I'm grateful that I was able to take something from the experiences that I've had and create some positive art from it. I've learned that I was able to create my music in spite of my drug use, not because of it. These songs would have found their way to me eventually. Now that I'm sober (I just passed two years clean -- fucking crazy), I'm pushing the limits of what I can play every day, and there's nothing holding me back stylistically.
This all started with my mother. The first music I ever heard was Paul Simon's Graceland. That album came out in 1986; I was born in 1987. My mother would rock me to sleep listening to that album, every night.
I remember Paul Simon, Dolly Parton, and the Beach Boys. My mother's favorite band is the Beach Boys, so they're one of my favorite bands, too. By the time I was seven, I knew the artists by name and had memorized some of their songs. My mother's taste in music was the earliest and most impactful influence I've had. By age seven, I was obsessively listening to Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel. I didn't know that Paul Simon was the same Simon that was in Simon & Garfunkel. I thought that nobody could have that much music. It's still kind of insane to me how much music Paul Simon has. Paul Simon is the reason that I play music.
I recall being seven years old, standing on the playground outside of school, leaning against a post, like Paul Simon on the insert of Graceland. He's wearing glasses in the picture, and I had glasses, too -- big dorky frames -- and I felt kind of cool wearing them. A little girl came up and asked me what my name was. "Paul Simon," I told her.
At seven years old, there was a soundtrack that would totally change my life. My mother had the soundtrack to Pretty Woman, the movie with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. That album was actually a fucking rocking playlist: it had a bunch of stellar artists that I'd never heard of before. That album introduced me to Roy Orbison, David Bowie, Go North, Iggy Pop, and, most importantly, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I remember thinking what a cool band name that was, as I listened to their song "Show Me Your Soul." That song was like biting on an electric wire each time I heard it. I loved it. Seven years old and listening to the Chili Peppers. If Paul Simon was the reason I played music, then the Chili Peppers were the reason I played in a band. I listened to that compilation album nonstop, along with all the other artists that my mother had in her cd collection.
My friend Dustin, whom I had grown up with since age six, was the other huge musical influence that I had growing up. It was Dustin who turned me on to Ben Harper and Xavier Rudd -- the two biggest influences on my slide playing -- he also got me into the Flaming Lips, the White Stripes, Beck, the Pixies, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Nick Drake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Morphine, and a bunch of other bands. That guy really expanded my mind. Even today, when I'm writing a new song, I'll ask myself, "Would Dustin think this song was cool?" If the answer is yes, then I keep working on it.
Marc Arbeeny was the third biggest musical influence I had. He turned me on to bands like Television, the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Frank Zappa, the Clash . . . I wrote a long blog about him here.
I get asked a lot what kind of music I listen to. I try not to say the regular "Oh, I like everything." I hate it when people say that. There's a lot of music that I don't like. Still, my taste in music, at this point in my life, is very eclectic. Just the other day, I put my ipod on shuffle, and I smiled as it jumped from Bach to the Beastie Boys, from Hank Williams to Lamb of God, from the Fugees to Frank Zappa, Aretha Franklin to the Misfits, Dave Brubeck to Garth Brooks, Leadbelly to System of a Down to the Everly Brothers . . . The only thing I don't really listen to is rap. I think that rap is so much more of a cultural statement than a musical genre, and I've just never identified with it. I don't want to force a connection with music that I just can't feel or relate to. That said, I do have Straight Out of Compton by NWA. Everyone should. And there's some some hip hop that I am into: Public Enemy, Outkast, Fugees -- although these artists bridge the gap between hip hop and rap effortlessly. POS is a personal favorite hip hop artist of mine. He's lesser known, perhaps; he's in the same musical realm as Slug and Atmosphere.
People ask me where I find new music. My answer is 88.9 KXLU Los Angeles. It's a college radio station out of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I fell in love with KXLU when I lived in LA; it was constantly playing in my car and in my apartment. They have everything, and I'm not exaggerating. Vinyl avant-garde music, classical and opera, old school ska, salsa, ambient noise, kids songs, sub pop garage rock, hardcore, girl rock, folk punk, lo-fi jazz . . . each show is entirely unique and different. I've fallen down musical rabbit holes that I never would have gone into had it not been for KXLU. Just stream it online, day or night, and I guarantee you'll hear some shit you've never heard before.
I enjoy it when people reach out to me and want to talk about music. I felt compelled to write this to kind of explain my early musical roots and answer some general questions that I get asked pretty frequently. I wanted to share, and it feels good just to write about music. Keep hitting me up with questions and comments; I love hearing from you guys.
I often overlook the major influence that Joe McCormack had on me. He lived just up the hill from my house in Hermosa Valley, outside of Durango, Colorado. His garage was a crammed up miracle of cardboard box mathematical architecture. His father was a fire fighter, a big, tall guy with long hair, and a deep voice. His family had like five identical Shitzus that would run all over the house, looking cute as fuck. I never really figured out how many there were, they all looked the same to me, and they were all over the place.
Joe was a year above me; he and I started hanging out my junior year of high school, after we played an impromptu bluegrass show for the school. Joe played stand up bass in the high school orchestra, and he and I had been tasked with opening up for a touring bluegrass band that was stopping by the school. Joe and I put a few musicians together, and I compiled a set list that included some Johnny Cash and some bluegrass-infused Bob Marley covers. I also wrote an original bluegrass song about drug sniffing dogs coming to the high school (it was actually a current event at the time), and how you'd better leave your drugs at home -- "Or better yet, don't do them at all," my mother wisely suggested. I ended up using her lyric, playing it safe. Joe was a great musician; he was easy to play with, and he was funny -- we laughed our asses off when we hung out. Our sense of humor was very like minded.
Joe liked to party in high school. I had heard that he once went to school and drank a whole bottle of watermelon vodka. At the time, watermelon vodka sounded delicious to me. I have changed since then. But we'd smoke cigars together and play some ska songs that I wrote (ska and reggae songs -- I still hadn't found my own style back then), and some bluegrass jams, Joe playing on his huge standup bass in his tiny attic room on the top story of his house.
"Have you ever seen Reservoir Dogs?" Joe asked me one afternoon. I said I hadn't. Joe immediately put his VHS copy into his VCR, and we watched one of the coolest movies ever made. I was blown away by the style, the dialogue, the ferociousness and violence of the film. It was so fucking bad ass, it made you feel cool just watching it. Reservoir Dogs is my favorite Tarantino film. I like it even more than I like Pulp Fiction -- there are scene that I can do without in Pulp, but Reservoir Dogs is all killer, no filler. It's 90 minutes of pure cool that blows you away, and leaves you stunned. To this day, it's one of my top ten favorite movies. Thanks, Joe.
Joe and I played ska together, a Reel Big Fish type ska, with upbeat and funny sarcastic youth-aimed lyrics. We played with my drummer Stephen, whom I had played with for years at that point, in a band called the Kriminals (spelled with a K -- how original). I wrote the song "Trazodone" while I was jamming with those guys. Joe introduced me to the Specials, the original ska band. One of my favorite ska albums instantly became the Specials self titled. As soon as the guitar and harmonica came in on "A Message to You, Rudy", I was hooked on that classic vinyl kind of old school ska. The Specials were huge to me -- such a cool band. I began to write songs with that kind of feel, so now I was listening to the Specials and Reel Big Fish for my ska fix.
But then Joe turned me onto another ska band, this one was a hard-core punk-ska band. He told me when we were jamming in his room: "You know, there's other types of ska besides Real Big Fish and the Specials. Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Glow Skulls?" I said no, and he placed a cd in his stereo and pressed play. Then I was slapped in the face with the tight metal distortion guitar, the horns and hardcore vocal delivery, and the tight, lightning-fast punk drums that was the Voodoos. It blew my mind. "This album is called the Band Geek Mafia," Joe told me. He let me borrow the album, just like he had let me borrow the Specials, and I really got into it.
Today, I've seen the Voodoo Glow Skulls live maybe six times. I love their shows. I'm actually seeing them in June at the Ritz downtown. Every time I've seen them it's a great show. But to me, their most memorable concert was the first time I saw them.
It was maybe three or four years after Joe had first showed me the band, and I was down in Tucson, Arizona, with my semi-girlfriend Kelly, during a month long roadtrip. I saw on a poster that the Voodoo Glow Skulls were playing in town. When? That very night. It was perfect. I was so stoked to see them; Kelly and I picked up tickets at some CVS or someplace for $15 bucks each -- I bought everything on that road trip -- and we picked up some beer from a pizza place. The young cute girls behind the counter never ID'd me, which was good, because I was twenty. I love cute pizza girls. I have a real connection with them. That night Kelly drove us to this little sports bar where the show was. I slammed five of the beers in the car, heavy IPAs, and took a hit of acid before the show. What happened after that was an amazing experience of acid infused drunk mosh pitting electrical stimulation of metal ska punk.
Looking around this dark little unassuming sports bar in Tucson, I couldn't believe that one of my favorite ska bands was playing there: my excitement was at its peak. The 21+ bar area had been sectioned off inside with a chain link fence. Kind of bizarre, but the stage area was all ages, so I didn't care. Besides, I had pre-gamed nicely. Three local bands played as openers as the acid slowly took hold of me. By the time the main act came on, I was frying hard. We had scored some good dose for our roadtrip. The Voodoos came out from behind the curtain, the lead singer donning a Lucho Libre mask, like the Mexican wrestlers wear. The distortion from the guitarist's Mesa Boogie amp melted the skin off my face; it was a wall of fierce, aggressive sound. The band played every song from the Band Geek Mafia, my favorite album of theirs; it was an epic fucking show. I was immediately caught up in a torrent of bodies, skanking and moshing and jumping around, out of my mind the whole night. I thought of Joe on and off the entire show, thanking him for turning me on to this amazing shit. After the show, I shook the drummer's hand -- goddamn, could that guy play. And then, once Kelly and I made it to the car, I promptly threw up everywhere. It was as if I had been saving it the whole show.
Later that night, Kelly and I got down in our tent, out in the Arizona desert, duct tape covering the tent opening (to keep the scorpions out). Having sex while you're tripping on LSD is a strange experience; I've done it only a handful of times. Your mind is all over the place, and it's hard to stay focused. My ears were still ringing hard from the punk rock show, my body was thrashed from the mosh pit. I was tired, but I felt electric; a live wire of sound and sensations. I was still frying as Kelly and I came simultaneously, out in the desert beneath the full moon. Beautiful stuff. It was an amazing night, all around. Moments like that stay with you forever.
Here, listen to some Specials and some Voodoos.
There's a band called Morphine?
When I heard that there was a band called Morphine, I automatically assumed they were a punk band. I placed them in my head categorically with other bands like Rancid, the Descendants -- Morphine . . . I was at my friend and bassist Dustin Krupa's house in the mountains, and we were scrolling through his vast library of music on his computer. I was twenty. The band Morphine came up on the list as he continued down.
"Morphine's a punk band, right?" I asked casually. In my head, I already knew what they sounded like: fast fast, loud, aggressive, punk.
"Nooo," D told me, shaking his head, his eyebrows furrowed. "Morphine is like bluesy jazz." And then he played me their song "Super Sex", off of their album Yes, and all my assumptions and presumptions melted away into the hot and dark rainy city streets deep jazz and poetic bluesy rock that was Morphine. Hearing Mark Sandman's deep baritone voice: "I got the whiskey baby, I got the whiskey. I got the cigarette." Morphine was nothing like I'd expected. It would be later on in the year that I really got into them, with their album Cure For Pain.
Cure For Pain, by Morphine. The album, with it's darkly haunting deep droning overdriven bass and sexy curvy baritone sax, it's tasteful and tight jazz drums; the powerful roar of Mark Sandman's two string slide electric bass, such an innovative instrument; the flow of the album from start to finish: it has dynamics, it tells a story, it takes me to another place.
The album conjures up my time spent at the apartment in the Mountain Sun apartment (Mountain Slums, as we jokingly called it) in Durango, Colorado. I was living with my best friend Doc (Dustin Stoneburner). On the top story, the third level, all put together nicely in a two bedroom pad, everything was Doc's except for whatever was in my room. And it snowed that winter -- goddamn, how it snowed. Three feet high, we were snowed in, and I became deathly ill; hallucinatory and deliriously sick; the sickest I'd ever been in my whole life. This was in the apartment where I wrote many songs to my album Dig This: I wrote For "Fuck's Sake", "Pitch Black Blues in E", "King's Canyon", "Near Death" . . . it was the apartment where I started accumulating effects pedals for my newly acquired tube amp, where I began to tinker with my sound, with feedback, experimentation. In the apartment there was always music going. There was the Flaming Lips, the album Water by the Beautiful Girls, and for me, there was Morphine's Cure For Pain.
Mark Sandman's low and deep voice, sophisticated, like beat poetry, snap your fingers in the dark jazz club. It changed me: the darkness of the songs, the overall arrangement, the beauty of it all. And many songs sounded alike, sure, but each song had the unmistakable unique style of Morphine; there's nothing like it.
Songs like "Buena", "Thursday", and the title track "Cure For Pain", were all dark and unique. There's not a bad song on the album. There are few albums that hold up in their entirety; most albums have at least one or two not-so-great songs on them; songs that don't seem to fit, songs that you intentionally skip over while listening in the car. Cure For Pain is not like that. I put it in, and it stays in; I don't need to touch the dial.
I listened to the album regularly, continuously, every time I was in my deathtrap breakdown car, as the snow dumped mercilessly on Durango, and the bourbon whisky poisoned my soul. Coming come at night, driving home completely shitfaced after a shift cooking at the fine dining restaurant north of town -- how did I make it home night after night? Drinking Maker's on an empty stomach, spilling the stolen food from the restaurant all over the walkway and the stairs, finally getting into the right apartment, cataclysmically wasted beyond repair. I lay on the futon and let the ceiling spin into oblivion, utterly lost, the kaleidoscope of burning fire rubbing alcohol fusing into my dying brain. Twenty years old.
I drank too much in the apartment, sure. Twenty years old, I got away with a lot. While I was living with Doc at the Mountain Sun, I'd come home with prime rib and Alaskan King crab legs and New York strips from the restaurant, we ate like kings. We constantly had two thirty racks of Pabst Blue Ribbon taking up all the room in our fridge. We had a bong that fucked your brain sky high; we were always getting stoned. Music constantly playing, guitars all over the apartment, cartoons (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, how I love that show even now), it was our own place. It was an amazing, creative time, short lived but impactful. And Cure For Pain was the soundtrack to this time period in my life.
Before I ever played lap slide, I listened to Cure For Pain; the open two note drone, the heavy rock two string slide bass was overwhelmingly powerful for me. Morphine was (is) a huge influence on my slide work. My main influences for lap slide guitar are Ben Harper, Xavier Rudd, Jack White, and Morphine; they have sculpted my style with lap slide.
Listen to it. You might feel what I felt, to a certain extent.
So, the first time I performed at the Whisky A Go Go in Hollywood with my band, Casey Wickstrom's After Dinner Theatre, I was twenty two years old. We were sharing the show with five other bands, one of which was a band named Aotearoa. That's A-O-Tay-Uh-Row-A.
When my band walked into the Whisky before our set, there were two guys on stage, one playing guitar, the other on drums. They were tall, skinny kids with long dark hair, and they were really grooving. The guitarist was looping some funky ass tunes; he had like four or five layers going. The drummer was tight, keeping in time with the loop. On the next song, they switched instruments. These two guys were the band Aotearoa. I really dug their set; I've always appreciated good looping techniques. My band went on later in the night. It was a great show all around, and after it was done, I went to talk to the two guys that were Aotearoa, Jake and Ilan.
They were super cool, friendly, down to earth dudes. We talked about looping and different effects pedals, and we exchanged cds. I left to go back up to Northern California the next morning, and I put the cd they'd given me into my stereo. I figured I'd just play it until I got tired of it.
I drove for three hours straight listening to their five track EP, and even when I finally took it out of my cd player, I still wasn't sick of it. I was hooked on the funky looping grooves of Aotearoa. Their EP, Aotearoa, was a great piece of music.
We kept in touch, Jake, Ilan and myself, through the power of social media. We shared a few more shows together over the years: twice in the city (San Francisco), and once in Echo Park (LA). Each time was a blast.
These guys have their shit together: they constantly tour, living out of a sweet van; they book shows everywhere, and they consistently release new music and merch, most of which I immediately acquire. They have seven studio releases, all of which have their trademark two-man nomadic jungle funk grooves and vibes.
But in 2012, when I was living in Los Angeles, these guys released a full length album that would become my album of the year, and would eventually make its way to one of my favorite albums of all time. The album was called Strange Weather.
The impact that Strange Weather had on me was a gradual influence. I loved the consistent quality of the recordings, the dynamics of the tracks, and the overall theme. It told a story, which is what any great album should do. I gained a real affinity for the album in its entirety when I was touring; I played it while driving, listening to it from start to finish. This was before I had started looping -- before I even owned a looping pedal. I can honestly say that Aotearoa was my first big looping influence.
The amount of music that these guys are able to create, just the two of them, and how they were able to conceptualize and bottle up this experience of an album, is really amazing. Their sound is kaleidoscopic.
I've always thought that with really great albums, each song should be able to stand alone, with the album in its entirety creating a cohesive and conceptual experience. To me, Strange Weather is like that: each song is strong on it's own. Of course, some songs stand out for me more than others; certain songs just reach me more, but there's not a weak song in Strange Weather. Each song kills it.
The song "Jaguar Tornado," off the album, influenced some of the music to my song "Teen Spirit," off of my 2013 album Desperate Times. Most people wouldn't make that correlation between the two songs: electric jungle funk and acoustic lap slide blues, but it's there.
I'd venture to say that the mainstream isn't fully aware of Aotearoa's music, but to me, that makes it that much more authentic. These guys play and tour for the sake of playing and touring. They're real in what they do, and it shows.
I listen to the album Strange Weather, and I'm driving to Vegas again, cruising through the desert as the sun sets, fingers tapping the wheel, the wind raging through the open windows, my head and body grooving to the music; it's impossible for me to stay still while I listen to this album. Over the years, Strange Weather has remained one of my favorite albums, and I don't see that changing.
I recently started writing on my website about music; songs and artists and people that have influenced me musically and otherwise, and I wanted to do a piece on Strange Weather. It's not everyday that you can just personally reach out to the guys behind one of your favorite albums and ask them if they'd answer a few questions for your website blog. But in this case, I can. I wrote Jake and Ilan and asked them if I could do this piece. They said totally, and I sent them the questions. The interview is featured on the next blog.
Below is the full album on Youtube. It can be purchased here.