THOMAS FISS, Singer - Interview

First of all, I owe this week’s guest an apology. Thomas Fiss was good enough to take time from his schedule to do this interview back in early September, and due to personal commitments I lost track of the fact that I hadn’t posted it yet. His album, which we talk about, has already been released. Still, I think you’ll all enjoy the interview and go out and check out Thomas’ work.

Thomas Fiss

Thomas Fiss

Thomas Fiss’ career  runs from Broadway (one of the two boys to play the son of Patrick Wilson’s main character in THE FULL MONTY) through boy bands (as a member of Varsity Fanclub) and on to a solo career ( four albums, including the current “Chasing Satellites”).

ANTHONY: Hi, Thomas, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Where in the world are you right now, and what are you up to?

THOMAS: What’s up man!  I’m always down for a good interview.  –I’m literally just getting back into my place in LA.  I was just out on a quick radio tour through the Mid-West again.  I actually head back out next week for a West-Coast run.  Always on the road….

ANTHONY: You’ve been working on the new album for a while now. When is it officially due out, and will there be a new music video for it?

THOMAS: Believe me, I know….haha.  I’ve been working on my new album Chasing Satellites for about 8 months and I’m BEYOND ready to let it loose.  I think people will be excited with these songs.  If you’re a fan of Walk The Moon, The Wanted, Coldplay, U2 and One Republic….You’re going to be all over this thing!  I’m planning on having a music video for every song.  It’s a HUGE expectation, but I’m determined to make it happen.  I already have 2 new videos ready to go and I’m really proud with what my team and I are turning out.  It officially releases September 18th, but my single “Let Go” iss available now on iTunes!

ANTHONY: What’s your song-writing process like? Lyrics first then music, or the other way around, or somewhere in between?

THOMAS: Honestly, I just write.  It kinda bugs me sometimes too…I have a really hard time shutting down and not thinking of new concepts or song ideas.  I don’t have a road map for how I write a song…normally it’s music first, but I’ve had some great songs come from a simple lyric idea.  I’m also really picky about how my songs are written and produced.  You could ask anyone I’ve worked with and they’ll tell you it’s my way or the highway when we’re in a studio.  Not out of pride or ego…I just know what I want as an artist.  I’ve worked with too many writers and producers who waste time…who are careless and lazy.  If you ever get in the studio with me, pack a lunch and bring coffee, cause we’re not leaving until a song is done.  I do a lot of work with Gabe Lopez (amazing producer), he understands, more than anyone, that a 16 hour session with me is out of a vision, not a hobby.  The studio is my second home, so I’m very protective of who I let in.

ANTHONY: Has your Broadway experience influenced your songwriting process?

THOMAS: Sure has.  It allows me to transport myself into a character when I’m writing…to pretend that I’m really living out a situation or emotion in real time…When I write a song, I live it.  Either as a true life situation or in my head….All my lyrics come from a place and have a reason for being sung.  Acting has definitely been a trick I up my sleeve compared to other writers or artists…keeps me away from singing about “Dollar bills” or “Hittin’ the club”.

ANTHONY: How does the music you’ve written for the new album compare to the songs on your earlier EPs? How have you grown/changed as an artist?

THOMAS: This new album is my sound.  It took me a while to find out what that meant really.  It’s crazy to listen back to my last EPs and hear my voice on those songs.  A few I’m proud of, like “Jealous of Distance”.  Songs like that don’t come to writers everyday….I’m going to be chasing that song for a while.  As far as my new album…I’m so proud of every song!  The writing, production….it’s all perfect to me.  Hopefully my fans, new and old, feel the same!

ANTHONY: Have you collaborated with anyone for this album? And how do the songs from those collaborations differ from the songs you’ve written on your own?

THOMAS: I spent a few months working with a lot of big A-List producers.  Which is always an honor, but I was having a hard time translating my vision with outside sources.  I think collaborations only work for me when I’m writing for an artist other than myself.  I LOVE collaborating on songs, but for this new album, I discovered I was the only one should be writing it.  A few people think that doing so is a suicide mission when you get too far into your own work.  It might be true but screw ‘em.

ANTHONY: Who are your biggest musical influences?

THOMAS: Oh man, this is a long list!  The Dream, The Beatles, Walk The Moon, Something Corporate, The Fray, The Wanted, Justin Timberlake, John Mayer….everything I listen to on the radio influences me, whether I know it or not.  I spend a lot of time on Youtube listening to bands no one has ever heard of…There’s so much good music out there…It’s painful to know what makes it to radio rather than what should.  

ANTHONY: Will you be touring in support of the album when it releases?

THOMAS: Sure will!  I’m pushing to radio now so most of my shows will be focused around radio festivals….Jingle Ball, etc.  I’ve been lucky enough to play with some amazing artists this summer.  Karmin, The Wanted, Cobra Starship, Austin Mahone, Chiddy Bang, Sammy Adams….They’ve all been super cool.  I’m working with MTV-U for a national tour at the end of this year, so stay tuned!

ANTHONY: And my usual closing question for all my interviews: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

THOMAS: Haha, awesome question! My favorite book is called “The Los Angeles Diaries”.  It’s a true story about this kids life growing up during the “seedy” time of LA.  If you like a good true story, you’ll dig this one!

ANTHONY: Thanks again, Thomas, for the interview and for the great music. I’m really enjoying the new album!

THOMAS: Thanks so much sir!

You can find Thomas on Facebook, on Youtube, as @thomasfiss on Twitter, and on his own website.
And here’s the video for “Chasing Satellites:”


This week I welcome back singer, songwriter and anti-bullying fundraiser Anthony Gargiula.

Anthony Gargiula by Louis Gargiula

Anthony Gargiula by Louis Gargiula

You know, this whole interviewing thing is actually Anthony’s fault. When I met him at the 30th anniversary performance of Mahopac High School’s ILLUSION rock ensemble last March, and discovered his beginning singing career, I suggested to his mother that we do an interview for my website. That got the ball rolling, and I’ve been at it ever since. Anthony hasn’t exactly been resting on his laurels, either, as you’ll see in the interview below, in which I chat with Anthony and his father Rich.

ME: Okay, let’s start out with Bowling Against Bullying. Remind us how you got started.

ANTHONY: Bowling Against Bullying started last year.  My social studies teacher gave my whole class a challenge to change the word in any way we could. So I wanted to do something with bullying. I thought of doing an event that could raise money and bring awareness to the subject.  So I came up with Bowling Against Bullying and I really enjoyed it so I decided to do it again this year.

ME: How much money did you raise last year and how many people were involved?

ANTHONY: Last year we raised just under $500 and I would say there were 20-30 people there, lots of close friends. This year there’s room for 300 people and possibly more.  We have 4 hours, 2 two hour sessions, but may extend that depending on how many bowlers there are.

ME: How can people contribute if they can’t attend? Can people send checks?

RICH:  They can mail a check to Bowling Against Bullying PO Box 433, Glenmont NY 12077 if they can’t attend. If we go to year three, we may add paypal and an actual website. It’s grown so much that keeping up with it has become a full time job. What we have done is go to people who Anthony has sung for and asked them to be involved, and that’s worked out very well.

ANTHONY: They can also check out the Facebook page and my website for more information.

ME:  I saw something on the Facebook page about corporate sponsorship. That’s a new aspect, right?

ANTHONY: Right now we’re working with a local counter top company called Solid Surface Craftsman, Inc. The owner, Alan Boulant, is one of our dancer’s fathers. He is a diamond sponsor with a $1,000 donation.  Also, SIS Insurance and Financial Services and Met Life are a Gold Sponsor with a $500 donation.  More are coming, I’ll keep you posted.

Albany Broadcasting has decided they want to be my exclusive media sponsor and they own 6 local radio stations which will be covering the event. I’ll be on all the stations’ morning shows to promote the event.

RICH: April 1st they’ll start advertising the event on their websites, and then I think April 14th the radio spots will start. On the Thurs/Fri before the event, Anthony will go to each station and do the morning shows. Hopefully he’ll sing on them as well.

Bowling Against Bullying

Bowling Against Bullying

ME: Other than bowling, what else will be going on at the Lanes that day?

RICH: Anthony and his dance crew will be performing.  There will be a magician, a face-painter, a silent auction, a 50/50 raffle … a pretty nice event. And of course the bowling. You know, families are buying whole lanes to be able to bowl together.  We’ll have the local minor league baseball team & hockey teams mascots also.

ANTHONY: The Facebook page has really helped.

RICH: There’s a 70 year old man in Canada who read about the event on Facebook and wanted to donated $70 for his 70th birthday because he was bullied horribly as a child and still remembers it, and can’t believe Anthony is making such a stand at such a young age.

ME: I’ve said since I met Anthony at the Illusion reunion and we did that first interview that you really are one remarkably “together” kid, and how great it is that you’re committed to a cause like this. One of the great things about all the interviews I’m doing is meeting so many teens like you, who are committed to causes outside themselves – whether it’s bullying, cancer, MDA, homelessness. Almost every kid has had something outside of their career that they wanted to discuss with me.

RICH: Anthony, I don’t know about you, but I know when we were kids, all I wanted to do was play with my friends and hang out …, and these kids nowadays are so focused and are in fact changing the world.

ME: I was so shy at Anthony’s age, all I wanted to do was sit someplace and read comic books!  Anthony, what else would you like people to know about Bowling Against Bullying?

ANTHONY: I want everyone to know that I’ve always been really focused on trying to change bullying because it’s a huge issue for teens, for adults, for younger kids, it’s insane and out of control. It’s something I’m passionate about and I wanted to do this. My birthday is the day after the event, and instead of a 13th birthday party I decided to do this again.  My goal is to raise $10,000.

ME: That’s great. So what do you do with the money raised?

RICH:  Last year he took the money and donated it to Teens Against Bullying  (a charity that Demi Lovato promotes) and that was all fine and good, and as we were very excited about that, but it was a little bit of a bummer that you don’t get to see what good your money is doing.  So this year, we’re going to use the money to bring in anti-bullying speakers and programming to local schools, YMCAs, churches … whatever we can do (as far as the money we raise will go) . We’re meeting with principals to see what kinds of programs they would like.

We want to do programs in gyms. Performances and such. Bring in speakers. There’s a woman in Michigan who does national anti-bullying work, and she’s been in touch with us. We’d like to have at least one of the events have her educating adults in one room while the kids are entertained and educated in another way in another room. We’ll see how that goes. It’s a work in progress.

ME: You know I have to ask, Ant, since I’m a big fan … what’s going on with your music?

ANTHONY: I’ve been doing a lot of songwriting lately. I wrote six new originals. I’ve been to Nashville three times for meetings. I’m hopefully going to start recording soon.

ME: Awesome! Can’t wait to hear the new stuff, so get to that recording soon, please! What appearances do you have coming up?

RICH: He’ll be at Madison Square Garden singing the National Anthem for the Knicks again. Their entertainment coordinator told us, “I wouldn’t go a whole season without Anthony coming down to sing.” It just took us this long to work out this season’s appearance.

ANTHONY: We’re looking at some summer concerts too.

RICH: There’s interest from Boston, NYC and Nashville. We’re just kind of letting it happen organically.

ME: That seems to be a running theme among the parents of performing teens that I’ve spoken to lately, sort of bucking the stereotype of The Pushy Stage Mom. Making connections, staying on top of things but not pushing so hard you because that can actually turn the opportunities away.

ANTHONY: Nashville was cool. I was there in July, August, and September.

RICH: He played at the Bluebird Café. From its’ reputation you expect this huge stadium but it’s really this sort of small bar / restaraunt. People line up hours early to put their name in to perform, and the show runners just pull people’s names from the hat and say “you’re on tonight.” It worked out that Anthony got to perform, and it was great.

ME: Anthony, you’ve become friends with country singer Jimmy Wayne, right?

ANTHONY: I loved meeting Jimmy Wayne. We’ve become friends, and he’s a really nice guy. We’ve been talking about my next visit. We had Mexican Food together. He is really passionate about his charity and he has inspired me to make a difference too.  I’ve also become close with Melinda Doolittle. We had coffee at Starbucks last time we were in Nashville.  She actually donated signed CD’s and a sweatshirt for me to use in the silent auction at the Bowling Event.

ME: Very cool. If I was going to be there, instead  of halfway across the country, I’d bid on the stuff Melinda donated! Okay, I think we need to wrap this phone call up. I won’t ask you about your favorite book, since we covered that last time  … unless your favorite book has changed!

ANTHONY: I’d love to talk about my favorite book, it did change. It’s definitely The Hunger Games! I’m really into it, absolutely into it. I haven’t quite finished the 3rd one yet but I really love them and can’t stop reading. I can’t wait for the movie!

ME: haha, I think Suzanne Collins should start paying me for all the free advertising I’m giving those books. I think almost everyone I’ve interviewed in the past month has talked about them!  Okay, thanks again Anthony! Talk to you soon!


Don’t forget, in addition to the Bowling Against Bullying Facebook page and Anthony’s own website, you can also follow Anthony on Twitter as @anthonygargiula and become a fan of Anthony on Facebook!

NATHAN SCHILZ, Singers - Interview

This week’s interview is a few days late, through no fault of our gracious guest. The blame is all on yours truly, your host. Regardless, this week we sit down to ramble on with writer-composer-musician Nathan Schilz, the creator of “Nightmare Man: A Musical.”

Nathan Schilz

Nathan Schilz

Nathan M. Schilz is a film and theatre composer located in Minneapolis, MN (originally from Pekin, IL). He has worked on three feature films and more than two-dozen short films in his limited career; he has also worked on two relaxation CDs, an album of children’s music, some commercial work, and numerous songwriting projects. Nathan is a multi-instrumentalist with an extensive background in music theory, composition, and arranging.

Making its world premiere in August 2011 as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, “Nightmare Man” is a new musical adaptation of bizarro fiction writer (and Bram Stoker nominated author) Jeremy C. Shipp’s short story of the same name. It is part of his collection of stories entitled Sheep and Wolves “Nightmare Man” will premiere on August 5th, 2011 at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul ( starring Derek Meyer, under the direction of Paul von Stoetzel of Killing Joke Productions.

ANTHONY: Hi, Nathan, thanks for agreeing to sit and ramble with us for a little while.

NATHAN: Oh, thank you for agreeing to interview me!

A: Your current project, “Nightmare Man: A Musical,” is based on a Jeremy C. Shipp short story. How did you initially approach Jeremy about the project?

N: Well, I met Jeremy sometime in 2010 via Twitter. I think our interactions were pretty limited, if non-existent, before the Fall when I simply sent him a direct message asking if I could adapt one of his short stories. I didn’t actually know what story I wanted to adapt when I first contacted him. I picked Jeremy because he seemed like a genuine guy that I would be able to work with easily. He had suggested three stories: “Camp,” “Those Below,” and “Nightmare Man,” so I focused most of my time on those after receiving my copy of SHEEP AND WOLVES from Amazon. I really, really liked “Camp” but the difficulty of finding children for the stage would have been a nightmare (no pun intended). I requested that I adapt “Nightmare Man” and after some exchange of legalese between us and Mark, his agent, I got the rights I needed!

A: Give us a quick summary of the plot and main characters of “Nightmare Man.”

N: “Nightmare Man” follows Thomas as he struggles to come to terms with his past. At the beginning of the story we learn that Thomas suffers from terrible, debilitating nightmares. Jade, who comes to Thomas in one of those nightmares, becomes his guide to a promised salvation.

A: When adapting a short story to musical form, how did you decide which moments would become songs and which moments would stay pure dialogue? Did Jeremy have any input into the process?

N: It was actually very foolish of me to choose a story like this for my first foray into the theatre world. Shipp’s prose is beautiful; it has moments of poetics and moments of starkness. In addition his characters are very internal. So, my process initially was to keep all dialogue intact and “songify” the internalizations. This changed a little in order to incorporate other characters into the realm of song, but it was my general framework. And Jeremy didn’t have any say in that. He sort of let me do my thing with it and has just been really supportive every step of the way, which I appreciate greatly.

A: For the songs, what has the creative process been like, in terms of crafting lyrics and music?

N: The first song I wrote was “I Call it Hell” and that just came together in the course of an hour or two. It’s the second line in Jeremy’s story, and I had decided pretty quickly that it set the tone of the forthcoming tale perfectly. I wrote the melody line away from the piano and added the chords later. I came up with that song sometime in September. Other songs, like “More than You,” I wrote sitting at the piano, banged out some chords that I liked, and worked in a melody above them. When writing the script, I didn’t have all of the songs written (to be honest, I still don’t!) so, I had to leave markers in there so I knew what work was still left to be done. I mostly just put some of the first emotions, feelings, and lines that came to mind down so I would remember what to write later. Nearly none of those lyrics remain because my songwriting is very organic: sometimes lyrics come first, other times melody, other times chord structure. It’s really whatever serves the song best. There’s one song that was written strictly from a rhythm that I thought was interesting. Most of the songs have little to no direct correlation to the original story, actually; they are extrapolations on the feelings, context, and meaning of the story. The only exceptions are the few instances when I turned dialogue directly into song.

A: Many short stories are expanded, filled out if you will, when adapted to some other format (movie, stage, etc). Did you find yourself adding plot or characterizational points in your creative process, or is this a pretty faithful morphing of story onto stage?

N: The musical expands on the original 12-page story considerably, since the final runtime of the show needs to be just shy of an hour. In the play’s evolution I added and subtracted dialogue and created additional moments of tension that would lend themselves to heightening the conflict in song. In this process, I added a character, “The Presence,” who is mentioned in the source material but doesn’t physically manifest himself. Whether physically or not, in the musical Thomas and he have an altercation which leads to the tipping point of the story and allows the denouement of the play to flow naturally.

One of the main reasons to choose something from the obscurata catalogue is that it’s not widely known. It allows a little more freedom to interpret than a best-selling novel or a literary classic. I would say, and would hope Jeremy would agree, that I stayed very true to the spirit of the piece and that the few moments with which I took liberty only served the plot of his initial story.

A: You’re crowd-sourcing the musical’s first production through Kickstarter. How’s that going, and what do people get if they donate?

N: I am! It’s been very successful so far, but that doesn’t keep me from stressing out about it. With only 7 days left at the time of writing this, we are 52% funded. Kickstarter, being an all-or-nothing format, means that we need to secure that other 48% or none of the 50 backers that have already generously pledged their support will be charged. The primary rewards are the official “Nightmare Man: A Musical” t-shirt and a signed, limited edition copy of SHEEP AND WOLVES by Jeremy Shipp. For locals we are also offering tickets to the show, and anyone who donates over $5 also gets the official sticker.

If we meet, or come close to, our secondary tier goal of $5,000, we’ll have enough funds to produce a studio recording and will give that away for free to ALL backers. But, let’s just focus on the $2,750 goal first!

A: If NIGHTMARE MAN doesn’t get full funding through Kickstarter, what lies in store?

N: Ha ha! Well, we’ve already started rehearsals, so we’re making this show no matter what! Most of the money is already allocated to actor stipends, producer fees, and our director. The only room for movement would be the orchestra. Currently we have plans for a cellist, violinist, pianist, two percussionists, an electric bassist and a guitarist. There is also hope for a small chorus on stage. The musicians are one of the only places that we can still adjust for lack of funding. I can definitely pull a loan from the bank, if necessary, but I really wanted this to be a project that people could be proud of saying they were a part of. I wanted to raise an army as much as I wanted to raise funds.

A: Okay, now on to my usual last question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who has never read it?

N: My favorite book is THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, as it is pretty much the story of my life. I, too, was going to be in the clergy and left in search of who I really was. Dostoevsky is a genius (duh), and I’ve read almost all of the major novels. Read it if you like real, existential literature with a tinge of humor and lots of Russian vibrato. Also, I’m working on a musical adaptation that I will stage when I am old enough to do it justice.

A: Thanks for joining us, Nathan. I hope this interview brings a few more donators to the “Nightmare Man Army.”

To join the list of donors supporting “Nightmare Man: A Musical,” go to the Nightmare Man Kickstarter page.

Follow Nathan on Twitter for updates on the creative process as the show gets closer to performance date!

And don’t forget to visit Studio Alethea for more on Nathan Schilz, “Nightmare Man” and Nathan’s other projects.

MATT LANDE, Singer - Interview

Tonight’s guest is singer/songwriter/ghosthunter Matt Lande from the band Heaven Is Where.

Matt Lande

Matt Lande

“Heaven Is Where” has caused quite the stir since bursting onto the Los Angeles music scene in early 2009. Whether performing an epic, full production band show or a dramatically touching acoustic concert, this band is quickly growing their roots around the globe, gaining recognition and praise from industry, media and fans alike. With a texture of paint splattered musical influences all the way from Annie Lennox and Savage Garden to The Killers, Skillet, HIM, Muse and 30 Seconds To Mars, Heaven Is Where’s audience is quite diverse. Blending the trials of life into his songwriting, front man Matt Lande bleeds for the song and never takes for granted the impact a single line or musical movement can have on a person’s emotions. Partnering intimate, personal lyrics and passionate melodies along with guitar and keyboard driven music causes an interaction between happiness and sadness, love and hate, gain and loss…heaven and hell. The meaning behind the name of the band is simple. It’s about finding your own heaven…taking hold of the moments in life that evoke happiness and living in them. We want to get to heaven when its all said and done but what’s this life worth without finding your heaven on earth? (from Matt’s website)

ANTHONY: Hi, Matt! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. You’re in the process of putting together an acoustic solo album. So what does that mean for the future of the band?

MATT: The future of the band is actually unknown right now. I’m not sure if I will record another album as “Heaven Is Where” or not. I had put the band together after recording “Stories From Yesterday” to play live since it was a full production album. We’ve all kinda gone our separate ways at this point. We’ll see how the acoustic record goes and if I tour off of it. After that though, I’ve also started writing for another full production and it’s got some exciting, artistic, edgy tunes that I can’t wait to get recorded.

ANTHONY: How does the music on the solo album differ from the band’s music? Are there stylistic or thematic differences? Production differences?

MATT: The solo acoustic album will be more raw and of course scaled down. The style is still similar because I actually did the writing, arrangement, and co-produced the band album.

ANTHONY: What is your song-writing process like? How do you take a song from concept to completion? And how does that process differ when you’re working on music for Heaven Is Where rather than solo?

MATT: It all starts in the same place. I sit on my acoustic guitar and hash out musical ideas that are running through my head. It magically comes together to form some form of coherent arrangement somehow.  I write what comes to me and then sort it out later as to if it will be full production or stay as an acoustic song. Some work well as both and some get tossed out or forgotten.

ANTHONY: You’re fundraising/crowdsourcing for the new album. What’s the goal and where can people help out? Is there anything they can do to help other than financial?

MATT: Always by word of mouth…Telling family and friends in person and online through social networks. There isn’t really a set goal. It takes a lot of money to record, distribute, market and tour off of a record so I just continue to have different campaigns for people to get involved in if they’d like. The best way to keep up is by my personal twitter at or

ANTHONY: I have to ask at least one question about your ghost-hunting activities. Tell me a bit about how you got into it and what you do. (I’ve had a few interesting experiences myself, so I am not a skeptic!)

MATT: It’s something that has interested me since I was a child. I experienced a few things then and decided to get into exploring the paranormal in depth a few years ago. Conducting an investigation basically consists of hearing the claims on a location, researching the history, going in there with equipment such as EMF detectors, digital recorders, various cameras and whatever interesting gear I can get my hands on. It’s a thrill sometimes. Ya never know what your gonna get.

ANTHONY: And my usual last question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who has not read it to convince them that they should?

MATT: I’m not a big reader but I’ll tell you that right now I’m halfway through a great novel called “DarkStar” by Carol J. Hansen. It incorporates love, magic, fantasy, mystery, suspense, life and death, good and evil. Definitely pick it up on Amazon. You’ll be happy you did.

Thanks again Anthony.

ANTHONY: You’re welcome, Matt. Let’s do this again when the solo album comes out!

You can follow Matt on Twitter as MattLande, find him on Facebook, and of course check out his own website.

You can help Matt fundraise for his solo project by going to his IndieGoGo page. Any amount will help!

And here’s “Walking With Ghosts” by Heaven Is Where:

CASEY STRATTON, Singer - Interview

Well, after a three week hiatus, we are back with a new batch of interviews! We kick off tonight with singer-songwriter Casey Stratton.

Casey Stratton

Casey Stratton

Casey Stratton graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy in 1994. He moved to LA and released several albums both with a small indie press and with Rondor Publishing. After moving to New York City and becoming the subject of a bidding war between RCA and Sony Classical, Casey scored a major label deal and went back to LA to record “Standing At The Edge” with legendary producer Patrick Leonard (who has also worked with Madonna, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney among others). Casey left Sony shortly thereafter, but has continued releasing music on his own Sleeping Pill Music label. His latest release is The Vigil, available for download on his website.

ANTHONY: Hi, Casey! Thanks for “sitting down” for this little chat. Let’s start out talking about your new project. Tell us what the album is about and how it came to be, if you will.

CASEY: The latest record is called The Vigil. It is an orchestral production with all the songs arranged for vocal, piano, strings, oboe and percussion. It is technically a follow up to Messages Sending, which I wrote and recorded in 2009. It deals with terminal illness. My cat of 16 years, Henry, was diagnosed with chronic renal failure in April. I knew our days were numbered. We were extremely close. I was distraught and feeling very caught up in the whirlwind of hospice mode and anticipatory grief. Writing this work gave me an outlet for those feelings, how it feels to know you are going to lose someone you love. I tried to give a voice to everything from hope to despair to resignation. I truly hope it will help others.

A: THE VIGIL is an intensely personal work, as is so much of what you’ve released over the years. Have you ever written a set of music and then felt “no, this is too personal to release right now” and held it back?

C: I can’t think of anytime I have done that. I am fairly comfortable being exposed emotionally in my work. I have always loved intensely personal music. So when I started writing songs, even at 11 years old, I knew what my “calling” was. I will say I have had moments where I write a lyric and change it before I even get to the recording process because it is too personal, but once it’s recorded I generally release it even if it might make me feel a bit uncomfortable. There is a great sense of weight lifting to put my emotions into the music.

A: As your friend, I knew exactly who you were singing about on THE VIGIL, and yet I couldn’t help project my personal experiences onto the songs. Do you intentionally set out to make your music personal and universal at the same time, or do you write the personal and just hope other people can connect?

C: I absolutely make sure to keep things as universal as I can while writing. I have moments where lyrics are personal to my situation alone, but even with those you never know who might take it a different way. I do not release music with the intention for people to think about me, I want them to think about themselves. I feel that is the most important thing that music can do; help people process their own experiences. Or even just to remind them of someone, something.

A: Would you describe THE VIGIL as a classic “concept album,” with (for lack of a better term) a storyline for listeners to follow? In the past it seems like you’ve shied away from clear storylines even when your albums did have a defining concept to them.

C: I do think it’s a concept album, but there really isn’t a clearly defined linear narrative. The songs are not chronological to me. I chose to order them in the best way I felt they belonged musically. Still, of course, in the end there is death so it does wrap itself up. The narrative is almost like a ‘Choose your own adventure” book. You can make it whatever you need to. The thing about grief is that you jump around all the time, so I didn’t think a clear linear narrative was necessary. But it does certainly cover the bases of what the days and months are like when you are in the holding pattern of a terminal illness.

A: You’ve had your brush with major studio label production, but the majority of your career has been as an independent artist. Talk to me about the pros and cons of being a self-supporting independent artist.

C: Well of course the pros are that I have complete control over what I write, record and release. From the track sequencing to the artwork to the promotion, it is all up to me. I can be as artistic as I want to be. In the major label world, I was constantly being told to dumb it down. That “less is more.” To cater to the lowest common denominator. I didn’t care for that. I also just felt that there was far too much micro-managing when I was signed. It is not my cup of tea to have 14 people arguing for 6 weeks over whether or not I have to wear glasses in every photo and concert I ever do for the rest of time. That actually happened. Too much talk about clothes, weight, not being attractive enough, what I said in interviews, what I didn’t say in interviews. Too many cooks. Too many corporate bottom lines. I dreamed of it my whole life, but in the end it wasn’t for me.

A: With Youtube and such sites, younger singers and musicians are getting “discovered,” some going directly to major label contracts and some growing large fan bases with the goal of getting a major label contract. What advice can you give to those young singer-songwriters?

C: Be careful! Unfortunately the immediate access to millions in the internet age is a double-edged sword. It gives people chances they would never have had before. But it also over-saturates the market. There is just SO much out there, it’s hard to be noticed. Yet some people are, and many are not ready. I would tell them to keep the people they trust, REALLY trust, close to them. Don’t be fooled by big promises and empty compliments so much that you shut out the people who really care about you and don’t just see dollar signs. Sadly, you just never know who may be betraying you. It happens to all of us.

A: We know that touring is difficult in the current economic climate; most of the independent artists I know are playing close to home and no longer traveling cross-country to play small venues in big cities. Podcasts seem to help fill that hole in your ability to play live for your fans. Where can people find your podcasts, and how often do you put out a new one?

C: My podcasts are available at under the Podcasts tab. You can even watch them live. I also record them so they are available for viewing after the fact as well. I do them on Thursdays at 6:30 Eastern US time. I do not do them every week, but when I do it is always at that time.

A: Is creating a new podcast still fun for you, or has it become another marketing tool?

C: I understand that I am doing them because it is necessary, but I also enjoy them or I wouldn’t do it. I like when people send me questions. And I love being able to do a little informal Q&A with the people who join live after the recorded portion ends. It’s very fun to talk to everyone. They use the chat window on UStream, and I answer on the video feed.

A: I can’t imagine talking to you about music without talking about your musical influences. In your bio online you mention that people think you sound like certain artists, as well. So, let’s play “word association:”

A: Tori Amos. 
C: Dali

A: Sarah McLachlan.
C: O’Keefe

A: Peter Gabriel.
C: Rhythm

A: Loreena McKennitt.
C: Ethereal

A: Lady Gaga.
C: Image

A: Patrick Leonard.
C: Kindred spirit

A: Rosanne Cash.
C: Wit

A: Indigo Girls
C: Folk

A: Wilson Phillips
C: Beautiful friends

A: On a completely different topic: are you already on to writing your next project, or are you taking a little bit of a break?

C: I am taking a break from writing for a while. It is odd for me not to be way ahead of myself all the time, as I was for many, many years. I am enjoying the feeling of not knowing what is next. I am playing a show of all Tori Amos songs in August here in Michigan, so I am very busy with that. When that is over I will take some time off. When my cat Henry died, I was very much destroyed, but I have had a lot of work to do since then. I am looking forward to just taking a week or so to go inward with no obligations. I am lucky to be self-employed in that regard.

A: I’d really like to talk about your creative process. I know as a writer I hate the old standard “where do you get your ideas from,” so we’ll avoid that line. But I’m curious: lyrics before melody? vice-versa?

C: I write the music before the lyrics 99% of the time. Every once in a while one or two lines will pop into my head and I’ll write to them, but hardly ever. In fact, most of the time I produce an entire track before I write one word. I feel that, to me, the music tells its own story. So I listen to it and try to decide what it wants to be about lyrically.

A: How do you go about putting an album together, in terms of song sequence. The anthology editors I know talk about “strong anchor stories” for the lead-off and final spots. Do you think of it in that way, or is there a more organic process?

C: No I do think of it exactly that way. I like to know what is opening and closing a record early in the process if it happens that I write those songs early enough to do so. It sets a tone and gives me space to maneuver in and out of, knowing where it began and where it is all headed. I also tend to know which songs feel like they need to go in the first half and which in the second. This, of course, comes from the vinyl and cassette age of Side A and Side B, but I still do it. In the end, I have to narrow down which songs will actually make the final cut and then assemble them. I tend to be sequencing as I go, putting songs where I think they will end up and then, as the projects gets to be completed I can move them around if something feels off. It’s very organic and I rarely get stressed out about it.

A: Some projects of yours feel very scaled down, others have full orchestral arrangements. What makes the decision to fully orchestrate or not?

C: I do with my gut about almost everything. It has been the secret to my success as a writer, I think. I don’t get caught up questioning everything. Whatever comes, I take it. I have a very spiritual approach to writing. I take it very seriously and make sure I have all the tools I need (a large knowledge of music theory, especially) to compose, but I never worry too much about it. If it is there, I grab onto what is coming in. If not, I walk away and try again another day without judging myself or worrying. I think writers can create traps for themselves. Some are very good at working within a structure of time or daily goals or what have you. But for some, I have seen it create a situation where what they write disappoints them or they write nothing, and then they are upset with themselves and wouldn’t you know it here comes a month of writer’s block! I find this to be universal in all of the arts. I am very careful to just let it go if it’s not a great day and trust it will come around again. But in respect to production, the song kind of knows what it wants. Or I can just be in a certain mood. Sometimes I’ll say “I want the next project to sound like _____” Sometimes that works out, and other times I end up a million miles from wherever I thought I was going. You just never know until you begin. Instincts, for me, are key. And following them is part of the challenge…and the fun.

A: And now for my usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who hasn’t read it yet?

C: My favorite book is The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. Something about her work really resonates with me. Perhaps it is that she has just as much fervor for exploring our inner thoughts and feelings as I do. I don’t know. It is a hard book to describe, since there are stories within the stories. It is mostly a story told through a female writer, as she traverses life in 60s London. Through complex relationships with both lovers, children and friends, she weaves a tale of self-discovery that everyone can relate to in some way.

A: Thanks again, Casey!

You can find Casey on Facebookhis websiteTwitterYoutube, and just about every other social forum out there where music is discussed. Check him out, and tell him Anthony sent you!