Up-and-coming gypsy jazz & flamenco fusion band, King Cassady, sat down with BEAST to chat about their new EP and why the god of wine, music and madness has become their totem. By Ellie Smith
I meet King Cassady at their Crouch End apartment on a rainy Thursday evening. As I arrive they’re putting together CDs for their EP launch (17th August, Paper Dress Vintage) and our party of five quickly becomes six with the arrival of Olive, a lion-like, ginger tabby who’s purring provides the backdrop for our conversation.
On busking beginnings…
Now a troop of four (Jasper and Gabriel on guitar, Merlin on percussion and Sebastian on double bass), King Cassady began in Brighton where founding members — Jasper and Gabriel — started testing their ideas on the general public.
“In the early days we’d hone our songs by drilling them over and over,” says Jasper. “We’d go busking with tunes that were half-worked, we’d improvise and then slowly they’d grow into something more structured.”
“Playing on the street is a good litmus test,” Gabriel adds. “The audience have fewer inhibitions so you very quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. The ‘vim and vigour’ of the EP owes a lot to our early days just trying to be heard over traffic or over drunk people in Camden.”
“As long as there’s someone dancing, it’s a successful gig’: King Cassady on their new EP, Bacchus be Praised.
On growing the band…
The twosome started to gain a reputation at open mic nights dominated by singer/songwriters. “Everyone was prepared for another love song and we’d come on with something quite different and in-your-face,” says Jasper. “People really fed off our energy and that’s when we started to think ‘we could really do something with this’”
The sound evolved with the addition of Hackney-born percussionist, Merlin, who turned up to his audition with a winning combo of classical training and Tibetan ankle bells. “Our previous percussionist had been very strong — almost like a machine gun,” Jasper explains. “Merlin brought washes and symbols and more of the subtlety we needed.”
After a year or so, the trio began to realise that there was still something missing. “All our sound men kept asking us where our bass player was,” Gabriel explains. “We were like — Oh yeah…where is the bass?”
The final piece of the puzzle was Sebastian, a jazz bassist from West London. “We found Seb and never looked back” says Gabriel. “The basslines he’s written add a strong rhythmic foundation that bring even more energy to the tracks and really encourage people to dance.”
On the composition process…
“Our music starts with Gabriel and I jamming together and building a library of ideas,’ says Jasper. “Gabriel’s style comes from the gypsy jazz side of things and then my soloing on top brings the flamenco influence.”
“That’s when Seb and Merlin come in with their jazz and classical training,” Gabriel adds. “ They have to stop us from running away with ourselves.”
“Often we’ll be like — ‘guys that just does not work’,” Merlin laughs.
“I think the organic writing process is one of our main strengths though,” says Seb. “I’ve been in bands where you get everyone together and you’re like — ‘no one is leaving this room until we’ve written a song’. It never works.”
On playing with an audience…
Reenacting their early busking experience, for King Cassady the final stage of composition happens with an audience. “We’re always performing and writing,” Gabriel explains. “We’re not writing in the studio — we’re in front of real people, improvising and reading how they respond.”
“If we’re busking it’s even better,” Seb adds. “It’s a non-captive audience — they haven’t paid so you have to fight to keep them there.”
“There’s something very personal about the way we play,” he adds. “It’s never the classic set up with a band, behind a singer, in front of a crowd — it’s more democratic than that. We’re playing with the crowd.”
“That’s what keeps the music interesting,” says Gabriel. ‘Each time is a little bit different, depending on the crowd and their energy — they’re the fifth band member.”
“It’s a very Western idea to judge a performance based on the sound alone,” Merlin adds. “We’ve been influenced by cultures that judge a performance based on the participation of people in the room. The audience might not be touching the instruments but they’re still musicians.’
“So long as there’s someone dancing we consider it a successful gig,” says Jasper.
‘We’d encourage anyone to come down,’ says Jasper. ‘We can promise debauchery and lots of dancing… sweaty dancing.’
On wine, music and madness…
Dancing there always is. Their new EP — Bacchus Be Praised — is a nod to the Greek God of wine, music and madness and has beautifully captured the raucous energy whipped up at their gigs.
“Bacchus be praised is something we’ve always said to each other before gigs — it’s become our self-affirming war cry” says Gabriel.
The first track on the EP — Trampagne Champ — opens with sounds of smashing glasses, popping corks and general bar revelry. ‘It’s the only song on the EP that we chose to overproduce,’ Merlin explains. ‘We wanted to paint a picture and create the ambience and energy that the EP is all about.’
That track is an ode to — in Jasper’s words — ‘a gentleman of the road that we saw stumbling out of cathedral in France clutching bottles and bottles of champagne.’
“We’ve tried to bring the heroism of that image into the music,’ says Gabriel. ‘I always aspire to be a Trampagne Champ.’
On the EP launch…
To witness the fiery flamenco and gyspy jazz firsthand, head down to Paper Dress Vintage (just by Hackney Central station) on the 17 August. King Cassady will be joined by ‘Jeff Buckley-esque’ soul singer — Joe Hitchcock; festival favourites — Rum on Tap; and DJ Jon Bongly with pulsing techno to see the revelry continue well into the early hours.
‘It’s wrong to call it a gig,’ Gabriel adds. ‘It’s more like a party — we’re celebrating the EP and we want you to come down and praise Bacchus with us.