We sat down with Cassel at a small cafe in East Nashville, drank matcha, and talked about social conditioning, angst, and the inspiration behind her new single.
“Given Up” is largely an internal battle between depression and a loss of motivation and the need to move forward, be productive, and make progress on her career.
Tell us a bit about your journey as an artist: Attending Berklee College of Music, being Nashville-based, and what inspired you to pursue music.
I started playing guitar when I was about ten years old, and I played in this band of kids taught by this dude. We played a lot of rock music, a lot of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. So that was kind of my introduction to guitar. It was super cool at first, but then I ended up having a bad experience with that teacher. Yeah, it just got weird and I was just kind of turned off by playing rock guitar and electric guitar for a while, so I got really into songwriting then and started playing acoustic. I ended up getting this beautiful acoustic guitar. I was writing kind of like folksy stuff, well into Berklee as well. I came back to electric guitar halfway through College.
I love folk music and bluegrass and all that stuff. But I just had this craving for electric guitar. So I ended up getting this beautiful strat (stratocaster). Even after getting that guitar, it took me a really long time to start writing the way that I wanted to write – writing more like rock stuff and being more aggressive with my playing and my writing. I feel like it was only in the past couple of years that I’ve really kind of come into my own as an artist, writing the stuff that really feels like me, as opposed to just writing songs that I think are nice.
Do you feel like that teacher sort of shut you down or made you feel like you weren’t welcome in that space?
I think he just wanted to live vicariously through us. There was one lesson in particular that I remember – I was eleven years old and he told me that if I didn’t work harder, I’d be playing coffee shops the rest of my life. I was just like, ‘bro, I’m just trying to have a good time. I’m eleven! What are you even saying?’ At that point, I knew deep down that I wanted to do music but I was feeling pretty terrified about trying to make it professionally. But getting into Berklee was like, oh, maybe I do have what it takes and maybe I could do this. But, there have been so many cycles of imposter syndrome.
What’s the story behind this new single, and how do you hope that listeners are going to receive the song?
So I heard a song by a friend of mine and it was a direct address to himself. I’d never really heard that before, I thought it was so cool. He was kind of singing to the part of himself that’s lazy and it was like come on, get up off the couch, do something with your life. It was really cool and I had been really feeling that way too.
I was kind of depressed at the time and feeling really frustrated with myself and angry at myself for being depressed because I was like, you know, I have to be writing all the time, I have to be practicing. But I just couldn’t because I was feeling so bad.
And then musically, a big part of this was figuring out a new sound for myself. I so badly wanted to write something with a musical hook because so many of my favorite songs have musical hooks. I wrote the riff and at first I was like, ‘this riff is stupid, this sucks!’ But I was just like, ‘I’m going to make a voice memo cause at least I’m doing something, and I’m trying.’ Thank god I did because I recorded the voice memo and a couple days later, I was like, ‘oh, what was that shitty riff I was playing?’ I pulled it up, and I was like ‘wait, this is actually kind of cool!’
You write with a lot of intention. Were there any specific sonic choices that you used to help convey the feeling you were going for?
I just really wanted to write something aggressive! I always wanted to be this, kind of like, rock artist, but I didn’t know how to express that. So that was a huge part of not just the song, but choosing to put a ton of distortion on the guitar. I really wanted it to feel like rock and roll, aggressive – like I’m in charge. I wanted it to be like depression, but sexy!
Can you share how your early influences like Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, and any others shaped your music today?
Led Zeppelin is like my pillar of rock and roll. It was such a big part of my early musicianship. I’m so glad that was my introduction to music. I remember we would watch live videos of people performing, Led Zeppelin especially. Just seeing all them be so confident on stage and playing this music that was so edgy but so fun – like people are dancing. Just the energy around it – I was really drawn to that. Stevie Wonder was another huge influence for the same reasons. I was so captivated by the grooves. I love songs that just make you feel like you want to dance and makes you feel really cool too!
You have a show coming up at The Basement in Nashville on October 24th. Tell us about that!
I’m so pumped about the show. The Basement is one of my favorite venues. It always sounds amazing and it just has this very intimate feeling. In college I played a lot of basement shows, ratty, literal basements, next to a washer/dryer, rats down there, so much dust, smelled like mildew, but it was an awesome time. The Basement is much nicer than the literal basements I played in college, but it feels nostalgic for that reason. The other people on the bill – Erin Jarvis and Olivia Barton – are amazing.
What can listeners expect following the single release and this upcoming show?
Following the show I’m going to release my next single “In My Head,” December 3rd. So that will hopefully be cool. It’s another rock-y song, and I’m playing two shows at The East Room in Nashville.
“Given Up” release date: 10.22.21
Image Credits: Libby Danforth