GIGsoup’s Lauren Scott talks to Cast’s John Power about being in the music business for 21 years and the art of song-writing
Twenty one years on from the release of their debut album All Change, Cast are still hitting the road and playing better than ever. When the band came to Bristol, I spent time catching up with Cast’s front man John Power. The band are due to release their sixth studio album in October 2016.
You have a new coming out in October, and it has been a long time coming, can you tell us a little bit about it?
“Well it came about because last year was the 20th anniversary of All Change and in the December before 2015 we went into the studio and recorded a song called Baby Blue Eyes which is a free download. We played it on tour and it went down a storm. So it got the juices flowing, when the 20th anniversary came I had a few demos that we had never recorded, so we recorded them and then all of a sudden we had three songs which planted the seed and brought about the concept that we could get an album out and that was great because before then we didn’t have any plans to record a new album. Over 2015 and early this year whenever we had 3 or 4 days we would go into the studio and I was always having ideas so we started arranging songs. By February this year we had an albums worth of material, so the concept of getting a new album out grew and grew and then I knew, you know I want to do this. With a lot of recordings in the past I would have a lot of songs and we would record it in a block session, but this new album was very fragmented. I’d come in the studio and just work on ideas, we’d put together a chorus, then a verse and this way the songs kind of defined themselves as opposed to being hemmed in. So that’s what happened, it’s called Kicking Up The Dust and it’s out in October. There is another song, which isn’t the finished mix but we threw it out on Soundcloud called Roar. I say roar as opposed to R-A-wuh. *He demonstrates a lions roar a few times to ensure I’m on the same page* Like a lion, not like a lions food!”
It’s been a long time…
“It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled!”
Has the way you write your songs changed at all since your last album?
“Yeah, this whole album was different because I found when recording songs as I said they weren’t finished, I was finishing lyrics on the day of recording. I’d go in the studio with Keith and Jay to do the arrangements, the rhythm section and that and it Keith would be like ‘do you think we should be in the rehearsal room instead of paying full whack in the studio?’ and I was going ‘no because it’s making us come up with things, it’s making me pressure on’. You know the whole process of writing has changed on this album. But the actual nucleus of writing hasn’t changed, it’s still me, with a guitar trying to fish for or receive, you know, ideas. That hasn’t changed at all, I find the pressure of finishing a song these days is not the same as 20 odd years ago when I’d sit around want to finish it now. It’s one thing to know I have a really good idea, but to finish it and nail it, I’m thinking oh god can I face that? Face that pressure?”
Has the subject matter changed?
“Has the subject matter changed, well maybe to a degree Yeah it has, I think this album is very at ease and very fresh with its self. It’s not trying too hard to be defined and I think that’s something I’ve not always done. I’d have a picture to fulfil. This is just really cool, just cool in itself, it doesn’t feel anxious. It feels like me, I’m in a good place, I’m really interested to see whether people dig it and like it, it will be lovely if they do. The songs that we play live on tour at the moment, we’re playing about 4 or 5 and no one has heard this material before, they are really being warmly received, in fact more so than any of the other songs. There’s something about this album as I said, it’s relaxed and it doesn’t feel like its racing anywhere.”
You say the album’s not racing anywhere, however you have got yourself a busy year this year, what have you got lined up?
“Well there’s the tour, and then there’s Musicians Against Homelessness. Musicians Against Homelessness is a project that we’re involved with, we’re helping raise awareness really of a problem that seems to be growing in every city I visit. So because of that, homelessness, and the way it’s getting demonised and stereotyped, I’ve been looking into it more. You know, I’ve always given someone a quid or give them a nod to acknowledge the fact that they do exist. We need to talk about the reasons, whether it’s the NHS, or education or homelessness, I don’t want to get too political but this government just seem to be dismantling everything in our society where we have had the feel of helping people less fortunate than ourselves. Whereas now this government seems to be promote the ideal that it’s outrageous to try and help people. It’s outrageous that today we still have so many living on the streets. We spend millions on the military, but we can’t fix the NHS and give people a place to live you know. But we’re just musicians, but I will always get involved with things like that, it’s one way of helping. It’s kick starting on September 18th in Leeds with a concert, and The Farm are playing with us. It’s a nationwide thing. People all over the country are getting involved, you don’t have to be a big band, just get involved, you can set up the gig yourself, it’s great.”
Are you of the belief that when you write a song you’re genuinely putting parts of yourself into the music?
“Oh god yeah, I think really that’s why people latch onto music. A little bit of honesty, I know it sounds a bit of a cliché but I’m an honest song writer. Of course I’m writing about things that are very close to me, even without me knowing about it, or somethings that I’m trying to make sense of. I do think there are primary colours, emotions and nature of people that I always tend to come back to. There’s love songs, or something about love and loss and everything in-between you know. There’s songs I write that aren’t love songs but when you see someone kissing at the gig it’s obviously a love song to them, but it’s not for the person next to them. The beauty and the mystery of great songs is that they mean different things to different people and it’s the people that give it life. Songs mean different things to people in the way that they mean something to me, and we play them we obviously give a bit of ourselves to it, because to do it any other way would be, you know, people would know that. When I was doing my solo stuff away from Cast, more rootsy stuff, I didn’t wanna play Cast because I wasn’t feeling like Cast, so I didn’t, because you can tell. You’ve gotta really want to sing the songs, and I really want to sing them at the moment, the band are in a great place, we’re performing amazing and the gigs are going down great. We have a hard core fan base and they’re keeping us where we’re at. There’s lots and lots of people out there who probably don’t know the band is still being creative and making new material who just have the old stuff, I hope somewhere along the line the dots will join together and we will touch to a bigger audience again.”
What’s your favourite song to perform live?
“I mean I love singing Live The Dream, Walkaway and I’m So Lonely, they are all the same kinda genre. But then I adore Scream and Free Me and Alright. I love singing all of our songs and I mean that genuinely, if I didn’t love singing every song I wouldn’t. Each of them have different reasons for me singing them. At the moment, the new songs are the highs of the show for me, I’m really enjoying playing them. We sing a song called Bird Cage, which is a beautiful song. Kicking Up The Dust which is a bit more frustrated and aggressive and more slightly political of the soul. And then we’re doing Roar, and then we’ve got a song which is just like a god damn disco hit. Which is great *he says with a beaming smile* I love it yanno. To me, at the moment that’s what I’m enjoying most, but I don’t wanna make out that I’m not enjoying the others. I’m having great, great moments singing all, all, all the songs and enjoying performing.”
You just described some of the new album, it sounds like there’s a lot of different things happening. What would you say have been your inspirations, perhaps coming from different areas?
“Well yeah of course, it’s very eclectic. If you listen to the rhythm and the beat of Kicking Up The Dust, it has a slightly Talking Heads rhythm section going. Some of the other stuff has a foot to the floor beat, inspired by Miss You by the Stones, that sort of beat going on. We did a lot of different sorts of arrangements, it wasn’t forced that we wanted to try something different it was very natural thing, like hold on, maybe keep boxer beat, but with a clash roll, that sort of vibe. With a lot of songs the open mindedness of trying to arrange the songs, has definitely shown a lot of influences and you’ll recognise them, in a sense that it’s still very much Cast, but it’s very much a contemporary feeling album. Keith has been playing much tighter beats, which you’d find on The Clash or the Talking Heads, or Stones sorta beats. That was something that I really enjoyed doing. With Skin being away with Robert Plant, we would go into the studio and put the backing track down, because it was just bass, drums and me doing a bit of strumming and that we could really see what the rhythm section needed to be. The rhythm section has moved by degrees. Then there are slower songs, like Paper Chains which is more country soul. I’m happy, not sitting there smiling like a Cheshire cat but I’m happy we’ve got a new album that’s feeling great, sounds great.”
So Skin is playing with Robert Plant, are you as a band working with Robert Plant?
“Well Skin, he plays with Plant when he’s not working with Cast, or vice versa you know. So Skin goes on the road with Robert a lot and works recording a lot of Robert’s solo stuff, with his band called Strange Sensation. So Skin is juggling both things at the moment.”
Does Robert Plant ever play with you?
“Err, no but I have said hello to him! *he laughs* and he says hello to me but god, you know if Robert ever wanted to it would be great, maybe to do a vocal with him one day. As you know he’s a fabulous singer like, and also, he was in Led Zep, one of the greatest bands in the world.”
Is there anyone in particular that you have ever thought you would like to work with?
“I think the idea of doing a duet or singing with other people or even doing a different style of music is a lot more appealing now than it was to me 15 or 10 years ago, I was a bit more locked in my own world. But now I’ve been thinking about getting involved with other people since a year or two back. But you know I’m always on tour with Cast, or I’m recording myself. I’d love to collaborate with people but whether it happens or not, I don’t know.”
On a finishing note, is there anything else that Cast fans could look forward to for the future?
“Well we have the new album coming out, and that’s giving the energy. But we have the classics and we’re never gonna let them go. When you go to a concert you have songs you want them to play, and you’d be pissed off if they don’t, but what’s important is that we’ve got present songs, that balance it all out. Look forward to the fact that we’re still really feeling creative and that we’re performing better than we ever did. Britain’s hung up on fads really and you can be great for 6 months, well I’m probably singing and playing better than I ever did, so as long as that continues and we’ve got the energy which we have at the moment, we’re looking forward to the future and so should they.”
This John Power interview was all the work of Lauren Scott, a GIGsoup contributor