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Make Something Honest: Cassels Discuss Their Debut LP 'Epithet'

Thursday, 05 October 2017 Written by Laura Johnson

Jim and Loz Beck are brothers from Chipping Norton who have been playing music together since the former was 12 and coaxed the latter, who was 8, onto the drumkit. It wasn’t until Jim moved to London in 2013, though, that they started making a racket under the name Cassels.

A couple of years later, when making the rounds on the toilet circuit, things took a fortuitous turn when they played a show in Brighton with Vincent Vocoder Voice, a band featuring Matt Parker of the Big Scary Monsters-signed Tall Ships. Parker sent a text to label head Kevin Douch urging him to check out the duo. The rest, as they say, is history.

BSM put out their debut EP, ‘Hating Is Easy’, in 2015 and its follow up, ‘You Us And They’, the following year. Now, the siblings are set to release ‘Epithet’, their first full-length. It was recorded live with Rocky O’Reilly at Start Together Studios in Belfast over the course of five days, three of which Loz napped through.

In fact, he slept so much that he missed the chance to add the tambourine he’d requested to the record’s final track. So if it’s missing something, you know why. We caught up with Jim prior to the album’s arrival to discuss the road that led to it, his writing process and the band’s ambitions.

You make plenty of literary references on the record. You’ve got Aldous Huxley on Coup, for example, and the lyrics for tracks such as Where Baseball Was Invented could stand alone as poetry. How do you write?

At some point I’ve ended up divorcing writing the words from writing the music. At some point I bring the two together. I used to write some music and then write some words to fit with it. I’ve just ended up writing a lot more in isolation. Partially it’s been a conscious thing because I really don’t like it when lyrics sound like lyrics, and they’re a bit too rigid and metered and have those really predictable rhymes.

I’ve made an effort to write things which are a bit more free-flowing, probably stood up a bit more on the page. I write words a lot more now than I write music. A lot of it’s utter crap, but you just have to accept that a lot of it’s going to be shit to get to the good stuff. I’ve got notebooks full of absolute rubbish that didn’t make it in.

A lot of your writing could be viewed as bleak. Are you a pessimistic person in day-to-day life?

I think I’m just as miserable in real life to be honest. I’m not miserable to be around, I’m not horrible. I like to think that I’m a fairly nice person to converse with. My outlook, a lot of people would say [is] pessimistic, I say realistic. Generally I’m a glass half empty kind of guy and that’s worked its way into the music.

It’s meant to be funny a lot of the time, which I think probably gets a bit lost. A lot of the lines, going back to Where Baseball Was Invented, are meant to be a bit absurdist and a bit silly and they’re kind of surreally taking the piss out of this place that I didn’t really like. Hopefully there’s a bit of tongue in cheek there. I’m not just going ‘the world’s shit’ over and over again.

I want to make a point of putting the things I think into the songs and not on social media, because I think most bands do it the other way round. They sing about...summer and having fun and what not, but then on social media seem like the most politically active people and they’re really trying to bring attention to all these injustices in the world.

If that’s what you’re really thinking about and it’s on your mind, it seems like such a strange thing that it’s not gone into your songs. It seems like a real disconnect between what people are saying in their art and stuff they’re posting all over social media. On social media you get people liking it and positively reinforcing it, where maybe putting it in your music it’s a one way conversation to an extent and probably won't sell as many records.

You used a section of a speech Winston Churchill gave at Harrow in 1941 on Let and another sample on Chewed Up Cheeks. Can you tell us more about why you chose them?

I just thought it was ironic. The words came together on the day of the Brexit result and here’s Winston Churchill talking about how we were completely alone and isolated and we’d seen terrible events over the past month. There’s parallels to be drawn about terrible events, but he seems to be advocating for everyone coming together and everyone joining together, when in fact we’ve just decided to isolate ourselves.

Someone did point out to me, ‘Why have you put Winston Churchill on your album? He was a massive racist.’ But by then it had already been mastered. So hopefully no one thinks we’re massive racists, because we’re not.

[Chewed Up Cheeks] was my attempt at writing a positive song actually. I really made an effort to try and write something a bit positive and suspend my cynicism and try and write something for the people listening. When I’m a bit depressed or anxious, or anything like that, I often use music as a way of getting through certain things. I imagine a lot of people are the same.

The sample in that fitted with those themes. This feeling of being like a pressure cooker. I searched around for a while for a good sample for that and I found a better one but it was really bad audio so I ended up with that one. But it seems to work. I quite like it.

It’s from this weird 1950s anti-anxiety tape. There’s a whole series. It’s actually quite sexist really. There’s this guy who has all these various problems and his wife is a ‘very well spoken lady’ telling him what to do. It wouldn’t be allowed nowadays, but it fitted quite well.

You had a documentary, Is This Punk Music?, made about you by French filmmaker Rodrigue Huart. In it you say you dislike the cliches that people often fall into and that you aim to avoid them yourself, so will probably never be successful in the mainstream. With that said, what are your ambitions?

I’m kind of constantly conflicted about it. Every kid, when they start a band, sees themselves on this huge stage rocking out and up on the monitor shredding and stuff. No kid is: ‘I want to be in a cult band that no-one really listens to when they’re around.’ No one sets out with that ambition.

In some ways I’d still love to make a living off of it. Though in practical terms I don’t know if I’d be able to hack what that involves. Theoretically I’d love it to be this all the time, be writing music and making music. But at the same time I’m very conscious of the fact that the music we’ve ended up making, while I’m more proud of it than I’ve ever been, I’m under no illusions that probably means that we’re never going to get to a point where we could make a comfortable living.

It’s actually really frustrating sometimes. Quite often we’ve had people say ‘you don’t easily fit into a certain bracket’ or ‘you don’t easily fit onto a bill’, like it’s a negative thing. And I always thought the point was to try and make something that sounds a bit unique. I always say we’re just making something that sounds honest. We’re not trying to overthink it at all.

But it seems the bands who really think about their image, and think about their sound, and think about it all, the ones who play the game as it were...I just can’t believe that people still like that and people don’t want to hear something a little bit different now. Maybe they do, maybe it’s just the record companies that don’t. I think once you start writing with someone else in mind you’re going to fuck it up.

‘Epithet’ is out on October 6 through Big Scary Monsters

Cassels Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri October 06 2017 - LONDON Birthdays
Sat October 07 2017 - OXFORD Cellar

Click here to compare & buy Cassels Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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