East Bay man of many talents Dan Casey steps out under his real name
Recently I had a 90-minute commute to work, two or three times the usual length, caused by some power outage on the A line. I listened to Dan Casey’s new album the whole time. Called Empty City, it’s the East Bay artist’s first under his real name after years of producing vaguely dancey electronic music as Yalls, and it’s a fairly sharp departure, essentially a guitar-driven singer/songwriter project. I think it's the best thing he's done. On my walk to the train, in crisp early fall air, Brooklyn at its most habitable, Empty City seemed happy and carefree, but after sweating in the underground station for a half-hour too long, I felt buried under the weight of Casey’s sadness—that his music can heighten emotions on both sides, that it can work with your vibe rather than against it, suggests it'll be an album to keep close. Ceremony Recordings will release it on October 22nd, and the vinyl is up for preorder now. Get pumped by streaming a new song, "Hidden Guide," and reading an interview with Casey about Lil B, guitar and emotions.
Stream: Dan Casey, "Hidden Guide"
Where are you this very moment? I’m actually walking around Lil B’s neighborhood in the waterfront of Berkeley. I work down near the industrial area in the most stereotypically Berkeley company you could ever imagine. We do linoleum block printing of trees and yoga poses and stuff like that. It’s a small company and I’m the only one there who knows how to use a computer pretty much, so I’m like the go-to IT guy. I showed them Dropbox and they thought I invented it.
Have you seen Lil B around town? Oh my god, no. Seriously, I’ll go for walks sometimes and I’m like, feeling positive and I feel like these positivities have to, at some point—we just have to be walking down the same street. I guess he’s elusive. He’s Lil B, who can really keep track of him?
You used to live on the east coast—why’d you go to California? I don’t know if you ever pressed a CD, but I used to work for Disc Makers. I was living in Philly at the time in a shitty neighborhood, and I had a girlfriend and we were both thinking about moving, and then the company got a job offer from Berkeley, so I was like, “Why don’t we just go to California? That sounds cool.” She was an adventurous girl, so we just did it. I had a band in Philly that I kind of gave up on and started fresh. I didn’t make any music for a while out here. I was really into science and astronomy and dating this girl. Eventually, though, we broke up, she moved out, and I started Yalls, and it’s been music nonstop ever since.
"It’s about what I’ve always known: guitar and emotions, soul-baring stuff."
What does playing in this style brings out of you that maybe didn't come out in other work? I tried to be more traditional with songwriting. Usually with other projects like Yalls and collaborations with my friends, I’ll lay something down and that’s what it is. With the Dan Casey record, I rewrote each of the songs two or three times from the ground up. I’d come up with a song, I’d like it, then I’d totally go back to the drawing board and move verses around, change the words, go back to it. I hadn’t done that before, a fully baked—I don’t want to call Yalls half-baked, but it’s still in the oven a lot of times, whereas the Dan Casey stuff I wanted every note and word to be exactly what I’ve envisioned. That and just getting back to guitar, which is my primary instrument. I gave it up for a while when I got into electronic music, but it felt really good to get back into it and let it rip.
Why did you decide to use your own name, instead of Steezy Ray Vibes, as you did at first? I got the impression it was for legal reasons. No, actually it was no copyright thing. I don’t think it was big enough to have gotten the attention of the real Stevie Ray Vaughn. One of the dudes from Impose magazine did an interview and they asked me if the real Stevie Ray Vaughn had ever heard the music, and I was like, “To the best of my knowledge, no, he has not.” It was more like, when I put the first Steezy demo out, I was focusing 100 percent on Yalls and that song just came out of a weird feeling. I couldn’t sleep one night, so I got out of bed and made a guitar song. When some momentum started to develop behind it, people would always say, “I love it, but the name is kinda silly. Might turn some people off.” I consider myself a mixed person, like I crack jokes and churn out bummed pop songs, so I didn’t think it was terrible, but I didn’t want people to immediately write it off like a joke thing. The more songs that were finished, the more personal the album got, and the better I felt about putting my own name on it. At some point it stopped being Steezy and started being Dan Casey.
Stream: Dan Casey, "Empty City"
How do you conceptualize and manage the two projects as different parts of yourself, since they’re both solo projects? I’ve always thought of Yalls as pure experimentation. I started Yalls because I was into Eminem in 2009 and revisited him and decided to download Reason and make Dr. Dre styled beats. It’s all about experimenting, trying something cool and different. That’s where I want to keep Yalls. I put out samples on my last record, the next one will have no samples. I approach it as projects and experiments. Whereas Dan Casey, I want to have the Dan Casey songbook. Every song on every album I’ll put out will be a full song. It’s about what I’ve always known: guitar and emotions, soul-baring stuff.
By singing so much more as Dan Casey, it automatically sounds like you're conveying yourself instead of conveying the relationship between you and technology, or between you and someone else's voice. With Yalls, a lot of the time I’ll use vocoders and Auto-Tune. I’ll basically hide my personality and sing cryptic lyrics and it’s all about the vibe of the song, whereas none of that stuff factors into Dan Casey stuff. It’s about making something that’s beautiful and true and honest.