After some initial problems with dodgy phone signals Cassia front man, Rob Ellis and myself got down to talking about everything from the African influences in the bands music to life in Berlin and the highs and lows of creativity in current times…
How you been keeping, staying busy during the down time?
Pretty good, just writing a load of music. Its been really good in a weird way, its been totally different for us seen as we can’t play any shows so just concentrating on that and getting as much done as we can this year – see what we come out with…
I seen that you were on Radio 1 with Annie Mac for the premiere of your single Powerlines…
Yeah, its pretty crazy… I mean like its something you can’t really get use to to be honest. Never take it for granted! There’s just something about hearing your own song on the radio that never gets old…
I could imagine so, its a pretty big deal. I believe its not the first time the band have featured on Radio 1 though…
No we’ve had a kind of constant support since we started to be honest. The thing that got us going was we uploaded a bunch of tracks to BBC introducing and then we got ‘Track Of The Week’ and that was as far back as 100 times over like some of our first releases and stuff. They’ve been really nice and support every song that we put out which is really cool.
Am I right in saying that you recorded some of the new EP out in Berlin?
Yeah so we kinda spontaneously moved out there because my girlfriend is from Berlin.
Basically we were looking for a place around a year ago in around Manchester, to move out as band. But we were looking for a room specifically for like a studio or something like that but everywhere was so expensive and she was like “well you can move out here, there’s space for everybody and see how it goes, use one of the rooms and set up the studio” as her Dad owns this big house, so we were like yeah!
Within a week, and I hadn’t told my mum to begin with so she was dead angry with me afterwards, we had packed our stuff up and headed over to Berlin.
I think in a way it was really good for us the past year, I’ve always wanted to produce and stuff and its something that we all love, recording and things because you feel like you’ve got proper control over it.
You get the chance to do your own thing without the need of others…
Yeah, every decision you make you’ve got control over so if it sounds shit its your fault and you’ve got to figure out a way for it to sound good, I like that kind of pressure. So all the new stuff we’ve recorded ourselves, produced and edited everything. Its taken a long time but it feels really good. So yeah, we’ve built a studio out in Berlin.
I’ve been to Berlin a few times its a pretty odd city in that it doesn’t really feel like a city at all…
It is weird, of course we’ve been a few times before as we’ve played a lot in Germany at loads of festivals and stuff the past two years, so we know it quite well.
But actually living there you start to realise that the place is sort of split into small towns and districts which is weird because its not like an overcrowded crazy city like London, you know where its so overwhelming you’re like what the fucks going on.
Its really cool you can just chill out and relax at these like, almost beaches, because there’s these massive lakes that they’ve got and in the summer it gets so hot, which I didn’t realise, that’s when we moved so I didn’t pack any shorts or that because I thought it was going to be like Britain where its just one week of the year it will be hot, but we got there and it was like 36 degrees the whole summer.
Its an amazing city, well cool.
So you had the debut album which came out in 2019, what was the reasoning behind returning with an EP as opposed to a follow up album?
We wanted to collate all these tracks we’ve been doing after the first album and put them into a little bit of a story.
It took a while to get all the tracks as it was done sort of split, we didn’t just write the EP and that was it. We had this song, and this song, and this song… And after writing ‘Drifting’ I was like well these songs really fit together and it felt like a new thing so maybe we should do a couple more and make a thing of it.
I think that the actual message and story that flows through them gives it a good feel throughout the tracks, so it kinda made sense to just put them out on an EP rather than stretch it out any further to put them on an album, it felt right.
I have been listening to the EP, I’m a big fan of the track ‘Don’t Make A Scene‘. The sort of build up and the chorus sticks in your mind…
Aw nice one! I had wrote that song a while ago and it was like one of those that came together really fast. Within an hour it was pretty much done. It never happens like that as well, its usually always a proper hard slog.
Can you talk us through a little bit about the other tracks on the EP?
Yeah so it felt right to first of all call it ‘Powerlines’ as that track is a sort of culmination of all the tracks as its the last one we did in terms of the style.
‘Do Right’ was an interesting one because we had just finished a huge tour and done something like 110-120 shows and I was just knackered. Of course you do all those shows but there’s spin offs like acoustic sessions and daft things in between and you’re trying to squeeze as much into each tour as possible and I proper lost all sense of perspective because when you’re travelling between all these places you’re sort of like “what the hell is going on!?”
Like I love playing shows and stuff, that’s what we’re all about. But I was just knackered and was like I don’t really know what to do now. I was that way you just feel lost, so I thought it would be a good idea to go to South Africa.
Our first album had a proper west African influence in terms of the music which is completely different to the sort of stuff that we’re doing now.
So anyway, my Girlfriends got a friend whose a big musician out there, proper cool guy called Jeremy Loops who we got in touch with. We stayed out there for around four weeks and just chilled out, the place was really cool and it got me thinking about what I want to write next, how I imagine things going for the band and wrote ‘Do Right’ there and then which I think was a big change for our sound.
He (Jeremy) only had acoustic guitars and I’m use to always playing electric so I was a bit out of my comfort zone, we never had any equipment or that so it was all back to basics which was great. Its probably changed the way I write and things now.
Now that you mention Africa, am I right in saying that you live out there when you were younger for a while?
No, so basically it was my Dad who lived there in Zambia with my Grandad so I’d grow up and always hear stories about it. My Grandma always really loved music so she brought back all of this music from the locals which was like really how you’d imagine it to be, dead happy and vibrant. So that was my whole affiliation with there growing up.
I spent some time in Africa a few years back, its an amazing place. I found all the locals to be incredibly upbeat and welcoming…
The vibe is just great, they’re like all proper spiritual ain’t they? They’re all super nice and dead friendly. We were supposed to go back over this year but obviously with all the Corona and stuff it wasn’t possible, but I’m definitely going to go back soon. Best place I’ve been to I think.
Its still not looking great at all with all the restrictions and stuff. I had booked so many tickets for gigs and festivals just in the blind hope that things would go ahead this year, one being NBHD Weekender which you guys were on the line-up for. Are you still looking to go ahead with that should it happen? (DISCLAIMER: interview was done prior to rescheduling announcement)
I think the way we’re gonna do it is just wait and see whats on. For the festivals, it must be a right struggle for them, its horrible. I just hope that they survive, the smaller ones especially.
It must be majorly damaging for them, I think they maybe feel like they still should be putting line-ups out there and selling tickets in the off chance that things do settle and go ahead…
Well they put to much money behind it with the planning and stuff, but it is good to see that a lot of them are still putting stuff out there like, we’re gonna do this but it might need to get pushed back to September, so they’re at least trying. I think if we lost a load of festivals that would be pretty devastating, it impacts artists, crew and so many different people… But if we get to play NBHD that would be great!
What would you say is the best festival you’ve played at?
Uh, I’d say there’s probably two actually that are the most memorable. The first one would be Truck festival because it was the first festival that was just like a sea of people all bouncing, that was pretty crazy. It was that way where you step out on stage and you couldn’t identify anyone but the first row.
And then the other would probably be the Radio 1 stage at Reading, that was a big one, because it was so unexpected like we had been to Reading & Leeds before but played on smaller stages and then we got asked to play there and I was just thinking back to seeing the likes of Glass Animals and stuff on it.
The crazy thing was that Billie Eilish was supposed to play the same day on that same stage with us…
Was that the year that she ended up getting up to the main stage?
Yeah it would have been dangerous if she didn’t get moved up I think the whole festival turned up to see her, it was fucking mad.
But that was great, that was pretty special I think, its just so big (the stage). It feels so big and proper real and I guess that’s something that we all really miss because that’s like the proper real way of experiencing where you are at with your music and that.
A lot of bands and artists over the past year have went down the road of doing live streams and online gigs, is that something you have ventured into yourselves?
We’ve done a load of stuff like that, and we done a couple of covers and things.
We actually done an Oasis cover for Radio X and we thought we would do it proper hard style because everyone who listens to Radio X is a die-hard Oasis fan. It was proper 50/50 and got a great response.
We’ve tried to keep things as fun as possible because we see ourselves as a positive band and I wanted to kind of use that and keep on it as much as we could to make people feel good. But we’ve just been focusing on writing loads because I want to make sure we release a hefty amount of music.
Are there plans to release more music this year then?
Yeah we’ve got a couple of things coming up bet we will keep that on the down-low.
So going back to listening to the west African records when you were younger, would you say that’s your earliest memories of music growing up? Was there any bands or records that stick out in your mind?
My Mum was well into David Byrne and The Talking Heads, and then my Dad tried to teach me piano, and I wish that I had learned it now because he was really good at it. He was a big inspiration for me getting into music from watching him play.
In terms of records that people would put on that I remember is like The Talking Heads and some Paul Simon. The Prodigy, and The Stone Roses as well as lot of Manchester stuff through my Uncle. Madness as well, they were proper into Madness.
It was a good mix and mostly all like high-energy stuff. I’ve never been one for a slow song.
I use to play Saxophone, that’s what I wanted to do. I use to do loads of Jazz for a while which was a huge thing for me and helped me learn a lot like how to change things naturally and make them relatable.
That was something we used for Cassia, we wanted it to feel relatable but when you dive deeper its a bit more complex. Its still got that kind of thing to it but its definitely got simpler.
We were in rehearsals the other day and compared to the older stuff what we’re doing now is way easier to play.
How would you say the past year has impacted your creativity? Has it brought it on a bit?
It did in the beginning, definitely. But its all peaks and troughs its certainly not been an inspiration rodeo.
A lot of the time I get days where I’m like, I’ve just wasted that. Well not that I’ve wasted it because I’m always working and feel like if I just rattle it out and can kind of write a song a day then something will come together eventually.
Its a big thing like when you finish something then you can go out and have a beer or whatever and being stuck in the house without that it is strange, especially being in music because you’re use to just being able to put on a gig or even go to a gig, and without that it is all a bit strange.
But it is the same for everybody I suppose. Its definitely been both good and bad.
You can purchase the brilliant new EP ‘Powerlines‘ as well as some cool merch on the bands store here – wearecassia.com