Brett Caswell: Better Than Sex
Snowballing and the Ecstasy of Playing Live
By: Aaron Binder
How much would you sacrifice for a dream? What if that dream shattered right before the climax?
That’s what life was like for Brett Caswell just a few years ago. After riding a wave of modest success with a former band, the pressure reached an explosive juncture as multiple personalities and musical directions tore the band to shreds. Lost and heartbroken, Brett had to do something so he did what came naturally, he rebuilt a life bigger and better. Jump forward to the present and you’re graced with the presence of a rugged musician that has seen things…seen lots of things man.
Brett Caswell isn’t a big man, some would say his appearance is slipshod, his demeanour messy and derelict and they would be pretty accurate. That is, however, where the charm walks in. Some men require a $2,000 suit to make a favourable impression, Caswell merely needs to walk into a room and he becomes instantly gravitational; give him a guitar and a microphone and any males in the general vicinity may reconsider their sexuality.
His music is the product of angst, blatant mistakes, pop sensibility and love lost, but it still maintains the creative wonder and beauty of a first kiss. I had the chance to speak with Mr. Caswell about the transition from band to band-leader, building a brand on your own name and the ecstasy of seeing hundreds of people singing along to you live.
Aaron: So I’ve been reading some interviews with you, it sounds like you’re a pretty passionate guy when it comes to music and that you couldn’t be doing anything else.
Brett: I don’t know what else I would do man. I got lucky, I was able just to do it from day one, picked up a guitar and played a chord right away. I do work hard, I really do, I work my ass off, but it sorta came easily as well.
Aaron: You were already in tune with the creative side.
Breat: Yeah! Yeah, it’s such a gift that it just came naturally.
Aaron: You’ve managed to build a career as an underground name over the years, you had a couple of bands that did well and then broke up and then decided to take it forward with your name. Do you feel as you continue with this that there’s still excitement and no limit to what you can do?
Brett: Absolutely, I’m always doing exciting things; they’re getting better and better as the months go on. You work harder and there’s always excitement, right now we’re getting better shows, tonight we’re playing with Michou and they’re a great draw in Toronto. So slowly things are getting bigger and better so I’m always excited for little things like seeing my face on a poster, it just makes you feel good…it’s worthwhile and not a waste of time.
Aaron: Michou are talented guys.
Brett: I heard them at sound-check and holy shit! They’re really good man, they’re really tight.
Aaron: When you talk about your own band, it’s you plus the backing band, it’s a bit of different mix for musicians to get into, what’s the major difference for you?
Brett: No politics involved, it’s a straight thing, I’m kind of the boss and it seems to work that way. The last couple of bands there were always personalities clashing and creative differences and all that kinda politics sort of come along, so it’s been working well this way. I’m lucky that I have really good friends that will donate their extra time because they all have other things they do, so I’m really fortunate.
like to have a lot of control over the way my songs sound so I think that’s where it started from, I wanted to have control over what was happening, I’m not a control freak, but…
Aaron: So everyone has a little input?
Brett: Yeah! Certain songs wouldn’t be the way they are without the band. Some songs, when I write them I know how I want the drums to go, the guitar parts, the violin parts. Sometimes the song wouldn’t be nearly as good if I didn’t work it out with the band first. I’ll have a shell, I’ll have the lyrics written, verse, chorus and bridge, but we’ll build from these things. So we are still a band, sometimes we’ll have a fill-in member, once in a while a member can’t make it, tonight we actually have a bass player filling in. So it is a band still but I do all the writing. We have great songwriters in the band so sometimes we’ll toss their songs in during the set.
Aaron: That’s really important to have, if you’re trying to make a full time career out of this, having the best of the best in your band.
Brett: Yeah, I think going with my name is a more marketable way to go about it. It’s simple and it works.
Aaron: How has the switch been for you? Going from 4-5 big personalities in a band to something where you are the personality, what’s it been like? What’s been the biggest change?
Brett: It hasn’t been a big switch until lately, now I’m getting busier and trying to make a name for myself seriously. It is overwhelming, the amount of work that goes into it because when you do have a band, everyone contributes equally with the booking, this and that.
So now I pay for everything, I have the van that takes us around everywhere, I do all the interviews, it’s a lot of work man. I like it though, I do love it, I just recently have Heather as a manager and my friend Sari as a publicist so that takes a lot of the weight off, now that I have Heather on board I feel like a huge weight has been lifted.
Aaron: So you can focus more on the creative side.
Brett: Yeah, exactly! That’s the way it should be with artists, we need to focus on that and not the business bullshit, cause there’s a lot of bullshit that comes along with trying to make it in music.
Aaron: What’s the creative difference like going from that four person to that one person? Do you find yourself even more creative now that you have control or is it harder to piece everything together?
Brett: It comes both ways. I do miss writing songs with the band, I do miss that for sure, and I would like to collaborate in the future with some folks, maybe with some other people and some artists in my band, I do miss that. I don’t know if I’m anymore creative on my own than I was with the band…I don’t know, good question…sorry, I’m stumped.
Aaron: Haha, we can get back to that.
Brett: I’m a bad interview sometimes.
Aaron: Hah, it’s not often I stump people. Going forward, you said it’s recently snowballed for you with the publicist and manager, how important is it to tour compared to recording right now?
Brett: I think both are equally important to me, I want to get out and tour my ass off and make great records.
Back to the previous question for a second…I’ve actually made a conscious effort for the next record I make to be a little more defined. As I’m trying to write for the next album, it is a difficult thing, I always thought it was easy to just write folk songs or an album that has a general feel. I think I want to go in more of a piano direction for the next record, so it’ll be 95% piano songs. Not necessarily like Ben Folds, but it’ll be Ben Foldsish.
Aaron: Do you write a lot on piano?
Brett: These days, a lot! As I’m trying to write this piano record, I’ve been fooling around with songs that were written on guitar and taking them over to the piano and trying them that way, which is always fun to do. I’ve taken some old lyrics and brought some of those back and tested them on piano. So these days I’m writing a lot on piano, it’s usually about 50/50, the last album A New Balance was about 50/50…so…I don’t know if that answers your question.
Aaron: It’s close enough.
Aaron: That does bring up an interesting point though. A lot of musicians use piano and you can tell they sound much more broad compared to their counterparts that only use guitar. If you’re writing more on a piano, do you think your own compositions will become more complex?
Brett: Hmm…I don’t think they’ll become more complex necessarily. It’ll still be rocking, but it won’t be anything like Nicaragua which is a full-blown rock song. Even the opening song It Rains It Pours is a full-blown rock song. There won’t be any rock songs like that.
Aaron: I kinda found It Rains It Pours not so much rock as a blend…
Brett: Yeah, it’s pop chorus.
Aaron: The thing that sticks out in that song for me are the strings. The melody and the strings are beautiful. Is that what we can expect in the future or is it less poppy?
Brett: I always have this instinct to write catchy choruses and pop choruses so I’m always going to have that aspect. I like to write songs that people can sing along to and in the back of my mind I always have to remember I want to make money off this, I want to make a career so I like to always write a couple of songs that could be singles, so I don’t think I’ll ever lose that pop aspect.
Aaron: Going from recording to live, what’s the best part of being on stage?
Brett: These days if people know the words and are singing along that’s a fucking great feeling and I look forward to getting a little more successful and seeing that happen more and more because that’s a fucking great feeling…it’s better than sex, there’s no better feeling, I love playing live shows…I don’t know if I can pick one thing about playing live. It’s hard to explain to somebody that’s never done it.
Aaron: Your heart stops, everything seems timeless.
Brett: Yeah, completely, and sometimes it’s just magical, the energy between your whole band, the stars are aligned or something.
Aaron: So what is success for you?
Brett: Good question…to me right now success to me would be paying my bills and putting a roof over my head while playing my own music. So whatever level that would be, I’m not sure how far I’d have to go. My friends Zeus, right now, good friends of mine are killing it in Canada and they still have to work jobs.
Aaron: They’re probably more broke than you.
Brett: Haha, yeah! Exactly! It’s a little discouraging, like whose dick to you have to suck to make it in this business? I don’t care to be rich at all but if you want to gauge size…Mod Club, to me if I could pack that place it would blow my mind. To me that would be success.
Aaron: Cool, thanks for chatting today man.
Brett: Oh, thank you, cheers.