Interview with James Casey of the Trey Anastasio Band
New Album, Paper Wheels, Due out October 30th
James Casey is a multi-instrumentalist and member of Trey Anastasio Band (TAB), Lettuce, and his own electronic outfit, Animus Rexx. Casey has shared the stage with Soulive, Alecia Chakour, Dumpstaphunk, Nigel Hall, Ledisi, John Medeski, Skerik, George Porter, Nicholas Payton, Talib Kweli, Bilal, The Roots, Jennifer Holiday, Chaka Kahn, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Hadrien Feraud, Ryan Leslie, Hezekiah Walker, Marvin Sapp, and many more. We sat with James before TAB’s run at the 9:30 Club to talk Paper Wheels, touring with Trey Anastasio Band, Animus Rexx and much more. The new album is available for pre-order here.
What was your favorite part about the new album, Paper Wheels, and what was your favorite songs and why?
The recording process was very different. It was my first time recording an album with Trey. So we went out to the barn and pretty much recorded everything live. We did the whole thing in like two takes.
That’s what happens when you come off a tour and record. We get in there and we get it done cause we are already tight. So we record all the basics in one take, everybody together and then put over the percussion and whatnot. Everybody in the same room at the same time together.
Any songs stand out live that you’ve been playing off the new album?
There is a song that is new to me that we are doing called “Burn that Bridge” and I just enjoy the song. You never get to play a shuffle anymore. It is basically Tony and Russ’ bread and butter so it just feels good.
How do you settle on horn arrangements both live and in the studio. Is it settled all beforehand or do you try different voicings?
Well live, we make up stuff on the spot. Natalie, Jennifer, and I make up things. It is interesting on this tour. We now have in-ear monitors so we can’t just talk to each other like we did in the past. Now we have a little talk-back microphone that works between our ears and we sing parts into that and then we play it live.
In the studio we work on the songs that were written and we come up with different horn arrangements then.
Two songs on the Paper Wheels album are extremely intricate. There’s a lot of horn arrangement things that were done on the album and we did a lot of that in the studio actually.
You clearly enjoy a variety of Genres you’ve got your funk/jazz/soul groove with Lettuce and Soulive, some outstanding jazz with 6figures, your work with Trey Anastasio, and your new project Animus Rexx. Do you find it important to play all genres in order to grow as an artist ?
I love music man. For me music is simple. Western music is 12 notes, that’s all that it is. It is just different permutations of 12 notes and the groove that comes with it. If you can get into the groove it is all the same. So because of that I love music.
I love music so I want grow and be the best musician I can possibly be and to do that you have to put yourself in situations that you may not be 100% comfortable with at first, but it helps you grow.
Kind of like how you took the Disney gig just because you didn’t think the teacher wanted you in on the project and your friend passed an opportunity on that project your way ?
[Laughs] Yea my friend passed it to me. It is part of it, you really want to grow. I want to be as thorough of a musician as possible.
Last year I got commissioned to write a ballet. That was a thing I thought I’d never ever do.
I am actually scoring a movie next year. Things I’d never thought I’d do.
Your most recent project is Animus Rexx which includes you as DJ. When exactly did you begin exploring electronic music ?
To be honest I started getting into electronic music when I started playing my first festivals with Lettuce. So I didn’t know much about it. I’d known about James Blake for a long time, but I didn’t know a lot about electronic music at the time.
Electric Forest was my first festival and that was about four years ago. So that was a full electronic festival plus Lettuce. I got to witness a whole bunch of things I’d never seen before and since then I’ve just been listening to more.
My friends who I play with in Animuss Rexx are musicians I went to school with and they love all styles of music too. I decided that this was something that I really wanted to do so I did it.
Why do you feel that music with an appreciation for improvisation will continue to thrive in this day and age despite that music not being “radio friendly” most of the time ?
Being “radio friendly” is not something that I’m really necessarily attempting to be. I make music because I really enjoy making music and I enjoy the fact that people really enjoy what I do and that’s great. However, I don’t make music so it can be mass produced. I make the music that I make because I enjoy it.
Who wouldn’t want to have their song played on the radio? My mom would love it. But that is not something that is not a major goal of mine.
As far as improvisation is concerned. Improvisation and the style I come from there is way more improvisation happening than most people actually realize.
Unless you’re playing a pop song on the radio. Even if you’re playing pop live it is going to sound like pop, but there is a lot more improvisation going on than most people realize.
We all have parts to play in different situations. Let’s say I’m playing drums for Shawn Mendes, the guy I played on Letterman with. If I was playing drums in his band I don’t have to play every fill the same way, even then there is an improvisational aspect to it. It may not be on the scale of Coltrane or Trey playing in a show, but there is still room for me to speak. That is where I come from and that is who I am.
What artists have you wanted to play with, but haven’t?
I’ve done a whole lot in the past couple of years. There’s Stevie Wonder. If I could just talk to him, we don’t even have to play. If I could just have a conversation and chat with him that would be great.
I’d really like to talk to Daniel Lanois the guitarist from Black Dub who is also a producer. He produced to U2, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. He’s just an amazing musician. I would really love to play with him one day.
I’ve played with a lot of my heroes and still being young I just hope I still get a chance to continue. A lot of my heroes are reaching their age.
Any upcoming releases for any of your projects we should be aware of other than the new TAB album ?
For Animus Rexx we are going to release a song every month over the course of the next few months (editor’s note: answer from last Winter). They’re live recordings.
A lot of people have asked about the new video. That was just straight from the board and mixed there were no overdubs. That is just what it sounds like live.
The members are all old friends right ?
We all went to Berklee together. I picked each one of them because they bring something totally different to the table. The bass player lives in London. He’s an amazing musician and producer. His ideas on electronic music differ from ours which is why I brought him in. The guitar player Randy Runyon he’s actually from Maryland. He’s an amazing guitar player. You’ll hear on the next thing we release.
Yuki the keyboard player is out of his mind. I’m sure a lot of people have seen Yuki around. Even the stuff I did with Talib he’s on it.
Justin Tyson… You’ll see, just wait for the next recordings.
The whole band is a bad monster, they’re all out of their minds, it just makes things that much easier and fun.
As far as you were talking about earlier, the improvisational element. There is a whole lot of improvisation in that band. No two shows are going to be anywhere near the same.