Neal Casal of Circles Around the Sun and Chris Robinson Brotherhood let us into his magical world of music and beyond. Read this incredibly inspiring interview and prepare to get down with him on November 23, Thanksgiving Eve at Brooklyn Bowl!
Brooklyn Bowl: So you’re asked to write the interlude music for Fare Thee Well, the last time the core four members of the Grateful Dead will play onstage together, what did you do from there?
Neal Casal: I called my favorite musicians and got straight to work. All of the music was written and recorded in two days, live in a studio. No overdubs, and very little mixing. It was all done in the spirit of GD style improvisation. Having played with Phil for a few years, I tried to apply everything I’ve learned from him and pay back the debt that I owe him for all of the decades of beautiful and influential music. We just tried to imagine the kind of sounds that Dead fans would wanna dance and trip to, and let the music lead us from there.
BB: Well we can all say we’re eternally grateful, no pun intended. Did you ever think that you’d take this music into the live setting?
NC: No, not at all. We never thought it would go any further than the Fare Thee Well shows. The music wasn’t made with the intention of being released, and we weren’t thinking of it in terms of being a band. It was just an incredible opportunity for us to make a small contribution to a legacy that means a lot to all of us. But people reacted so positively to the music, that now we’re starting to do live shows and are really enjoying it.
BB: Absolutely. Which brings us to our next question… As the MVP of Lockn’, could you touch on how it was playing this music live for the first time?
NC: We weren’t sure if the Circles music would translate to a live setting, so there was a bit of apprehension there. But once we started playing the doubts evaporated instantly and we fell right into it. Some of the songs are over 20 minutes long, and it’s very patient, slow moving music. We decided not to shorten any of the songs and to stay faithful to the spirit of the recordings. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and we certainly did. Our idea is simply to be the soundtrack for a party, with less emphasis on the musicians personally, and all of the emphasis on the music. We just want to fade into the background and let the music lead you wherever it will.
BB: It definitely was one of the highlights of the festival. With the success of that set, do you have any plans to write and record more music with Circles Around the Sun?
NC: We’re definitely going to record more music at some point in the future. We’re all really excited about the possibilities ahead of us for records and more touring.
BB: Great to hear! Now, you’ve played the Bowl several times over the years, what do you look forward to each time you’re in Brooklyn?
NC: It’s the home base for our scene, the center of the jam universe, if you like. We always feel welcome there, the vibes and sound are always right. At all of the Brooklyn Bowl clubs, so much attention is paid to getting the details right, and that’s something that’s never lost on us. We’re really excited for our show there.
BB: Center of the jam universe, love that, and thank you! Now tell us, which musician or genre opened your eyes to the world of music as a musician?
NC: My two favorite bands growing up were The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead. Those groups opened my eyes and ears to the best music, literature, film, and art of all kinds. Those groups were led by deeply intelligent and creative people, so I bought every record and book that they ever spoke about in their interviews and tried to follow their instructions on how to dig in and do good work.
BB: That’s extremely inspiring. True dedication, man. Can you name the exact moment when you realized it would change your life forever?
NC: I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 12. The first time I opened that case was like stepping into a diamond mine in deep space. Just seeing that guitar made my head spin, and it’s still spinning yet. I knew right there and then what I wanted to do with my life, and it’s all I’ve ever done. It’s never once crossed my mind to do anything else.
BB: I guess it’s true when they say, when you know, you just know. Do you have any advice for up and coming musicians?
NC: If being a musician is what you want to do with your life, then just go for it and don’t look back. Don’t have a back up plan. Put every bit of your time, effort, and soul into it, you won’t regret it. Music is a beautiful way to live a life, don’t let anyone tell you differently. It unites people, doesn’t destroy the earth, and will bring you life long friends. I highly recommend it, it’s a healthy path.
BB: That’s some deeply beautiful advice, and we couldn’t agree more. Are there any up and coming artists right now you’d recommend to our readers?
NC: There are so many talented musicians around at the moment. We’re in a great era for music, despite reports and complaints to the contrary. The Lemon Twigs, Kacy And Clayton, Mapache, Heron Oblivion, Dori Freeman, William Tyler, Ryley Walker, Jessica Pratt, The Allah Las, are all fantastic artists and worth your investigation. The list of great young talent is very long but I’ll stop there for now.
BB: Definitely recognize a few of those artists! Good to know. Now to switch gears a bit… in addition to your guitar playing you’re also a very talented photographer, whats your favorite subject to shoot?
NC: I love making photos of the musicians I work with, and I love street photography. Those are my two passions when it comes to image making. Getting lost in the streets with my camera is one of the most calming and restorative things I can think of to do.
BB: That’s awesome. We love your work. Out of curiosity, what’re the odds that the Cardinals will ever get back together?
NC: The Cardinals were such a great band, it’s hard to put into words what it meant to me on so many levels. Ryan is a very rare talent and it was beyond incredible to work with him. But it seems like everyone is busy doing other things at the moment, so it’s hard to say what the future holds.
BB: No worries! We just had to know! Lastly, do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with our readers?
NC: Nah not really, just gotta go with the flow bro.
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