Interview: Casey Cavanagh (@ Hill Country — 3/23/19)

Casey Cavanagh
Casey Cavanagh (Photo by Daniel Crane)

Wide-brimmed hat and beard, smooth voice and introspection, it’d be easy to mistake Casey Cavanagh for just another folk rocker hoping to catch the Americana wave. It’d be just that, though — a mistake. I chatted with Casey to learn more about the man in advance of his recent show at Hill Country in DC.

Casey possesses an easygoing quality, an affability and seriousness juxtaposed with an honest kind of humor. It’s easy to imagine a night spent drinking and singing songs with Casey being paired with both philosophical conversations and runaway humor. It’s that honesty that catches me off-guard in this age of manufactured selves; he is not frightened to show you his truest self.

And certainly, on his just-released EP called Old Souls, he does just that. Four tracks, distinct and related, wide-angle stories and macroscopic shots of living. There’s some sadness, sure, right there on the edges, but these songs shout out loud with hope and vigor.

Stream Old Souls by Casey Cavanagh on Spotify:

Listeners can hear the history in his songs, the lived life. A Marylander by way of Maine, now a Virginian, Casey writes poignantly about place, especially in the song, “Country.”

I grew up in a small town in Maryland and couldn’t wait to get out. It wasn’t until I went to college then moved to the city when I realized how much I loved the place that I came from.

Casey added that he ”cherish[es] the memories[…]and experiences that shaped me into who I am today,” all while explaining that the song is less about a particular place and more a “state of mind.” Sometimes, he finds it necessary to ”go there in my head when I need to ground myself.” The song itself emphasizes a country sound, the pedal steel prominent, familiar, and a little intentionally “on-the-nose.”

Which isn’t to say it’s a pure country song; it certainly borrows liberally from whatever sound suits the song. Casey named Americana, folk, and alt-country as the main influences, but highlighted that his annual pilgrimage to Newport Folk Festival certainly influences him, saying,

I’m always extremely blown by the diversity and talent in the lineup. Its super inspiring. I love how the genre of folk has shifted and morphed over the years. The lines are blurred and people are just making great music…and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint genre. I guess that has been my personal charge to some extent; make something authentic and timeless. Genre doesn’t matter as long as it’s real.

Lyrics are a clear focus to the songwriting process for Casey. Tight verses with words measured carefully define his songs. He said he wrote one of these songs — breaking a longstanding and damned debilitating writer’s block — at Steve Earle’s songwriting camp called Camp Copperhead, the song he’d someday sing for his wife. He’d been sitting on that writer’s block for more than a year and a half, his creative well running dry daily from his day job — formal graphic design for a company, specifically apps, and some freelancing, both of which he loves — and the experience of focusing on music and songwriting all day, on practicing little and new techniques, dug his well a little deeper and he found plenty creativity to drink.

The song, “Be Mine” burst forth like a spring flood, first slow as a hummed melody, and then every line came out ”in one sitting”. Casey still has the original song recorded to his phone, sharing that “you could hear the campfire and crickets in the background.” When he brought the song to the group, the other campers sang the refrain with him without any planning and then met him with a standing ovation. A few years later, Casey performed that song for his wife at their wedding, in front of friends and family.

Casey also spoke about the importance of balance, especially in a creative life. He works as a songwriter, a graphic designer, and also a cocktail-maker (peep his Insta). About balance, he shared that his creative well-being is a “work-in-progress”, but that

Recently, I’ve been learning to trust myself, to be ok with downtime and being bored, and chase creative opportunities when they present themselves.

I also had to ask Casey to imagine a cocktail inspired by his songs. He settled on calling it a Rambling Woman, maybe with grapefruit and mezcal (Vida, specifically), spirit-forward. He said he loves whiskey, but it’d be too obvious to have a whiskey cocktail for Americana music, though adding he’d likely drink Shiner and whiskey at his shows or any others.

Make sure you go catch Casey at the next show you can. Pay close attention to local clubs’ announcements and catch him around DC. And go listen to his EP, which can be streamed on Spotify or other streaming sites. While you’re at it, check out Casey’s website and his music Instagram (through which he engages with fans often).

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