“Oh father, where did you go, you left me alone, you left me outside with the wolves
and I struggled to follow your ghost, I walked up the coast, watched all the lights from the city” -- “Oh Father”
There are songs with a certain rhythm - a symbiotic balance between the words and the music that seem timeless. Songs which sound both brand new and as though they’ve been a part of you throughout your life. That’s how “Oh Father” sounded to me the first time I heard it. The song kicks off the debut album by Shane Casey, a singer-songwriter from Sussex County.
“Nostalgic is one of the words I was shooting for when I was writing this album,” said Casey. “I wanted to start off strong - start out heavy and powerful and draw people in. ‘Oh Father’ itself was a lot of fun to make too. I remember just walking on a beach and the lyrics started hitting me. It just sort of came out of nowhere.”
The song is the most autobiographical on Silver Star, which is constructed loosely as a concept album. “I’ve been sitting on that song for so long and finally recorded it,” he explained. “At this point, it’s been so long since I’ve written it and I’ve come to terms with a lot of the feelings that I was going through at the time. I’ve definitely changed as a person. There was a point where it was very emotional - maybe a little hard to sing - but now it’s more therapeutic and just a nice song to me.”
The album’s concept follows the life of a man who has just lost his father, shares his struggle and personal journey until he finds joy in the birth of his own son. A few of the songs were written quite a few years ago (“Oh Father,” “Mariana”, and “Landslide”) and dealt with how Casey felt towards the death of his father and the distance it put between him and the paternal side of the family. Other songs are works of fiction. When he wrote “Songbird” the concept started to come into focus.
“I wrote ‘“Songbird’ a couple years later on a balcony in Ocean City, Maryland,” recalled Casey. “That’s where I had the idea to start taking these thoughts and fusing them into a character that was similar to me, but dealing with different circumstances. I remember sitting on the beach with my friends, excitedly brainstorming ideas about the different themes of the album and the story itself. It’s really come a long way since then.”
“I wanted to make a very relatable story, but vague and told mostly through imagery,” he continued. “I had been reading Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men where he talks about passing on the torch and I really liked that concept. That gave me a lot of inspiration for this album - just finding your meaning and passing on what you’ve learned to someone else; trying to make a difference and keep that going.”
It’s not your typical singer-songwriter / folk album as the lead track reveals when a beautiful classic rock styled guitar solo hits about 45 seconds in. The mix of classic rock, Americana, and even some celtic sounds are found throughout the record. Casey was accompanied by Keith Macadoo on bass, Joex Marotta on drums, and Brian Lawrey on lead guitar for the album which was recorded last year and officially released in August. The sounds of classic rock bands like The Eagles and Pink Floyd, which they all grew up with, combine with the sound and vibe of modern acts like The Lumineers, Iron & Wine, and Bon Iver - acts which Casey had been listening to lately.
“It just seemed natural once all of us were together for those influences to kind of seep into it,” said Casey. “And it’s funny because after I wrote the album, I got even more into classic rock. I’ve been listening to more Stones, more Petty, and all that. I’ve probably listened to more of it now than when we were writing it.”
His classic rock knowledge has been growing thanks to a request posted on Instagram for artists to check out. Casey listed some of the bands he liked and asked for recommendations. Friends sent him a bunch to check out that he is still going through.
The band recorded much of the album in a whirlwind weekend. Brian Lawrey, who had moved to Chicago, came back for two days in the studio in which they worked all day, ending exhausted at midnight. Lawrey headed back home before they had time to finish the single, “Find My Way.” Gerry Rosenthal was brought in to complete the track. By the time the pandemic started, Casey said just about all of the recording had been finished.
“The last thing I wanted to do was get a choir for ‘Lost In The Valley,’ which sort of ended up with one,” he recalled. “It wasn’t a real choir; it was my friends singing to the song through random mics and phones and whatever they had around. I had John Roccesano - the guy who mixed and mastered the album at Silver Horse Sound - work his magic into it, and he made it sound like an actual choir.”
New Jersey has long had a few areas with distinct music scenes such as Asbury Park, New Brunswick, and Hoboken. But sometimes being outside of these areas can be good for an artist. While Sussex County has few clubs for original music, it offers artists the opportunity to develop on their own. Casey released his first EP (In Sight of Land) in 2015 and released Tumble, a collection of four songs from 2012-2017 in February. Silver Star is his first full-length and first official release. It’s also the work of an artist with a true plan.
“I’ve been writing since I was 16 and it wasn’t until I was 22 or 23 that I felt good enough to record,” admitted Casey. “And it wasn’t until I was around 26 that I felt good enough to put my music out there under one name in one place. It’s been a long journey, but I’m finally feeling confident and I feel good enough to put my music out there and give it a shot.”
He’s definitely giving this album a nice push. In addition to a nicely produced record, it’s being promoted with a PR campaign by Behind the Curtains Media, and has a series of promotional pictures done by Lauren Cappadona of LOZ Photography. The original idea was to use the photos to give his Instagram page some content, but they also help him stand out from the rest of emails received each day. New Jersey Stage has long advised artists to remember that it’s called the music business for a reason. It’s important to be proactive rather than wait for media outlets to discover you. It doesn’t matter if you’re releasing your first album or your tenth, there are ways to get press coverage and everything from promotional photos to press releases and media kits plays a role. Casey’s steps with this album have been noticed by fellow artists as well.
“I’ve actually had multiple artists reach out to me through Instagram and ask about certain things I’ve been doing,” said Casey. “There’s a cool website called linktree where you can clip all of the links to your social media on one page and just click there. People would ask me about things like that, the media company, and the press campaign. I guess people are like, ‘I’ll just throw my music on the internet and see if it blows up.’ But there’s a certain amount of preparing and there’s a lot to do if you want to take it seriously. I think a lot of people underestimate that. They see artists who put out a video they took in a basement get five million views and think that will happen to them, but that’s rare.”
Before the pandemic, the band (minus Brian Lawrey) had been playing shows together as something of a power trio that featured more rock and roll and less folk/Americana. Like many artists, he’s been playing many livestreamed shows during the past few months. When shows ultimately return he thinks he will likely play solo gigs. That matches the sound of his next album, which is nearly completely written. This record is more acoustic and features just him and a harmonica. He sees himself moving back and forth between full band albums and solo ones. The approach will depend on his mood and what’s available to him at the time. Sounds like something an artist with a plan might say.