Nearly one year employment
Miss Ess: What's the first music you remember hearing when you were a kid?
Cas: That's tough, mainly because my head is kind of flooded with musical memories, so much so that it's hard to tell where it all started. Both of my parents are music lovers so there was usually some kind of song being played or sung around the house. I've inherited my mom's habit of playing music in the morning to get myself going. She usually played some kind of contemporary R&B music and the occasional gospel album. My dad was in a singing group that performed around New Orleans in the late 70's and early 80's. When the guys in the group weren't having practices at our house, my dad was usually going around singing songs by artists they were influenced by: The Temptations, Luther Vandross, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. I used to think my dad was Teddy Pendergrass.
My folks split up when I was pretty young but their respective record collections remained integrated with albums that belonged to both of them. After my parents split, my mom, sister and I went to live with my grandmother, aunt and great-great aunt, making me the only boy in a house full of four generations of women. Many of my earliest musical memories are of sifting through the in-house record collection which contained albums that belonged to practically all of the people I just named. A typical browse through the record stack might look something like...here's an album by Anita Baker (my mom), then an Elton John album (my aunt), then Ohio Players (my dad), then the film score to Doctor Zhivago (my grandmother), Switch (my aunt again), Boz Skaggs (back to my mom), Grand Funk Railroad (dad), a Moms Mabley comedy record (grandma), Funkadelic (?), and so on. I kept all of my records separate and cherry-picked from the melange.
ME: What impact has what your sister listened to growing up had on your listening choices?
Cas: We're so close in age that we grew up in pretty much the exact same musical generation. I suppose that would be the "MTV generation," the age of music videos in the 80's and 90's, back when MTV actually played videos...that whole cliche. And while I'd like to think that I had some sort of an impact on what she listened to growing up, I'm honestly not sure I did. It would be more correct to say that we listened to a lot of the same music with me being into a ton of other stuff that she would've just shrugged off. For example, we could agree that New Edition was awesome, but she probably wouldn't cosign on my love for Lush. Speaking of New Edition, my sister and I used to learn all of the dance routines from their videos and do them in front of the tv in the living room. And the year "N.E. Heartbreak" was released, I bought all of the 12" remix singles from that album and gave them to her for her birthday. That might be the extent of any impact I may have had on her music listening choices. Truthfully, I was just as happy to have those singles in the house as she was. Everybody wins!
What does the music of New Orleans mean to you? And how is music integrated into everyday life there?
New Orleans is music...period. Growing up there, I'm positive I took for granted that I lived in a place where music is so integral to the way people live their lives. That may sound like a romantic notion but it's very true and I had to leave New Orleans to learn this, to understand how special it is. I've never lived in another place where the city's most well-known local musicians are simultaneously hometown heroes who are lauded for keeping tradition and also just regular folks that nobody is making any particular fuss over. There are families in New Orleans that are literally musical dynasties. I'm talking about the Marsalises, Nevilles, Batistes, Jordans, and several other families that have been churning out accomplished musicians for generations. At the same time, these are folks who everybody knows or is related to or knows someone who was in so-and-so Batiste's mama's elementary school class. So it's a big deal, but it's not a big deal, if that makes sense. The thing is, there are a ridiculous amount of people in New Orleans who play instruments. A friend of mine said it perfectly when he remarked that New Orleans is the only place where it's actually cool to play in the school band. Where else do you get respect for being a band geek?
The only place I can think of is at Amoeba! Who are some of your favorite New Orleans artists?
I'm a bit more partial to New Orleans funk and R&B in the broad spectrum of genres that are represented in that city. So that means everything begins with "Fess" -- that is Professor Longhair. I've probably listened to The Meters more than any other New Orleans artist. Funkify Your Life, the Meters anthology that Rhino Records released in the mid-90's, is rather essential even though it leaves off a couple of gems. Dr. John's Gris-Gris is straight up spooky, funky, swampy, voodoo R&B. James Booker's Junco Partner and Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah are incredible and influential. Ditto for Allen Toussaint's From a Whisper to a Scream and Life, Love and Faith. I really dig the new Galactic album, Ya-Ka-May, because it's a seamless cross-section of so many New Orleans music styles. They even get sissy bounce rappers Big Freedia, Katey Red and Sissy Nobby in the mix, which is major exposure for a distinctly New Orleans, underground queer scene. The Hot 8 Brass Band is awesome and their Rock With The Hot 8 album is an exciting entry in the brass band tradition that manages to sound fresh and foward-thinking. And you'd be doing yourself a huge favor by seeing Rebirth Brass Band do their resident Tuesday night gig at The Maple Leaf at least once in your life. Trust me.
You work in the electronica section -- what group/artist got you into electro at first?
I started off back in the day with Art of Noise, which I guess might be considered proto-electronica. I was exposed to Kraftwerk via Afrika Bambaataa. By the time trip-hop emerged as a genre tag, I was very much into the artists that defined that genre: Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky. I heard my share of house and techno while I was in college but it was jungle/drum n' bass that I really dove into, especially after I graduated and moved to the Bay Area in the mid-90's. Back then, San Francisco's drum n' bass scene was huge and I took every opportunity to enjoy it.
How did you end up at Amoeba?
I was a regular customer at Amoeba for many years before getting a job here. During my first year in the Bay, I lived in the East Bay and frequented the original Berkeley location. I would walk all the way from my apartment in North Berkeley with my "Discman" in tow so I could listen to my new purchases on the walk back home. Once the San Francisco Amoeba opened and I found myself hanging out in SF all weekend long with friends, it was very common for us to make a group trip to Amoeba and just get open. This was around the same time that the aforementioned SF drum n' bass, house and electronica scene was in full effect so I spent a lot of time sifting through the electronica section. It was there that I met Mikebee, who worked in the electronica section and also happened to be one of the main drum n' bass dj's I would go to hear spin at "La Belle Epoque" and "Bottom Heavy," which both took place at a Lower Haight club named The Top, now called Underground SF. Mikebee became my electronica guru and I would hit him up for recommendations every time I came to the store. I also used to bug him about working at at the store but there never seemed to be an opening. Last year I saw Mike's post on Facebook about Amoeba needing a new electronica floor person and I jumped on it, having been unemployed off and on for almost two years. It was the most confident I've ever been in a job interview because I was totally in my element. After spending my entire life hanging out in record stores, getting to know staff members at each one, and wanting to be one of them, it's nothing short of a fulfillment of a lifetime dream that I'm now working at my favorite record store of all time. It's such a validation of who I am as a person that I'm helping people discover new music.
I've just heard you are learning to play the bass. Why the bass, and what bass players have influenced and inspired you?
In my adolescent years I tried playing guitar, drums, saxophone and viola but none of them stuck. I was a co-vocalist in a band for a couple of years in the early 00's and would play around on the bass with the drummer while we waited for the other guys in the band to show up for practice. I liked that I could pick it up and work out a simple bass line to accompany the drummer without really being versed on the instrument. It was around that time that I flirted with the idea of learning how to play the bass but I wasn't driven enough to make it happen. In the last few years, I've really missed being in a band and with my writing and spoken word performance stuck on pause I've also missed being creative or artistic in any way. So I got that itch to learn to play the bass again and now I'm finally getting down to scratching it. On top of all that, I sort of have a "thing" for the rhythm section. I find bassists and drummers incredibly hot and I'm just trying to get sexified. I can't say that I have any particular bassist that has influenced or inspired me but I've been paying attention to bass lines in songs a lot more intently lately so I'll probably find a bass hero soon.
What song makes you cry?
First, a caveat. As I get older, I realize I'm turning into my mother, which basically means it doesn't take much to make me weepy these days. We totally used to clown my mom about her tearing up over the most sappy shit and now I'm the one getting misty over ridiculousness like Hallmark commercials.
As far as music is concerned, nostalgia can bring on the waterworks something powerful. A couple of years ago, I went to the Rock The Bells show that was headlined by A Tribe Called Quest. I'd spent all day seeing dope sets by personal hip-hop heroes like De La Soul, Rakim, The Pharcyde and Nas but A Tribe Called Quest is arguably my favorite hip-hop group of all time. There was a point early in their set where they busted out "Lyrics To Go" with bright lights popping and the energy of the show just surging upward. I was suddenly hit with this huge wave of nostalgia, remembering listening to ATCQ in high school with my boys, seeing them live for the first time in college, listening to the killer Dilla beats but weak rhymes on The Love Movement while I walking through the outer Mission on the way to meet the first guy I ever dated. Before I knew it, I had tears streaming down my cheeks and the hugest smile on my face. Crying at a hip-hop show like a dork.
Sometimes I don't even need to actually hear the music to start crying. I have a collection of ticket stubs from damn near all the concerts I've been to in the last 18 years. The earliest stub I have is for the The Beastie Boys (w/ Big Chief and Fu-Schnickens) at The State Palace Theater in New Orleans on June 1, 1992...the day after I graduated from high school. The most recent ticket that entered the collection is for the ass-kicking LCD Soundsystem show I saw last night. Right now, all of the ticket stubs are in a box in no discernible order. Last year sometime I went through the box figuring I'd organize the stubs chronologically and put them in a photo album or something. I found myself flipping through 18 years worth of ticket stubs, a lifetime of musical memories, saying to myself "my god, I love music so much" and just crying. I'm kind of getting choked up right now just thinking about it. See...big baby!
What have you been listening to lately?
I've been absolutely silly for this duo from Denmark named Quadron. Their self-titled debut is an extremely refreshing take on American R&B that references everything from 60's girl groups to jazz to electronica. It gets me in its grip and refuses to let go. I've been dabbling in so-called "dark wave" or "cold wave." I highly recommend checking out The Minimal Wave Tapes and So Young, But So Cold: Underground French Music 1977-1983 compilations for some rare gems in those genres. I also love, love, love the resurgence of shoegaze and dream pop sounds that artists like Toro Y Moi, Kurt Vile, The Radio Dept., Washed Out, Memory Tapes, and The Depreciation Guild incorporate to varying degrees. Along those lines, a buddy of mine gave me an album by a band called Wild Nothing a few days ago that I can already tell is going to own my eardrums for sometime, possibly usurping Quadron.
What's your favorite local band?
I don't really like to play favorites because it takes such a huge investment of time and space in my heart that it's difficult for any artist to earn that title with me. Even when it's close it's hard for me to say "this is my favorite (fill in the blank)" because there could be something just as devastating around the bend that I haven't been privy to yet. All that said, I feel like local bands and artists The Fresh n' Onlys, Ex-Boyfriends, Excuses for Skipping, The Bruises, Marc Manning, Gowns, Sorcerer, Windsurf, and Tycho are in a battle royale for king of the mountain status in my heart. I'm sure I'm forgetting others. Speakin' of, there's this band called Poor Little Saturday that I may or may not be the new bass player for. They just may walk away with the crown.
Do you have a daily music ritual? What is it and why do you have it?
I listen to music literally all the time. I turn it on when I wake up in the morning and listen to it as I fall asleep at night. I'm listening to music right now as I answer these questions. I walk practically everywhere I go in this city, true pedestrian style, and usually have my headphones on to provide the soundtrack for my stroll. Someone recently told me about a guy they know who comes home from work and, before doing anything else, will sit down in a chair and listen to an hour of music. There was something pretty compelling about that scenario and I've thought about making that a new ritual, if anything because I feel like my constant music listening tends to be more passive than active. I like the idea of taking time out to listen to something intently, critically, perhaps meditatively. I know of very few albums by newer artists that are worthwhile listens from beginning to end but there's no saying that I can't switch things up during my contemplative listening sessions.
Thank you for your time!