Australian pianist Casey Golden talks to TBS about his musical upbringing, The Casey Golden Trio, their new EP and the strange process of creating jazz.
What was it like growing up in a family of jazz musicians?
Pretty normal I would say. I had a great childhood. I started playing piano when I was five and played in bands at school, but music didn’t become that important to me until I was a teenager. I remember thinking it was cool going to see my uncles and grandfather play and I probably went to more gigs than your average kid but I think the best thing about my situation was hearing a lot of different music at home. Classical music and jazz were always playing in the house and that’s my strongest musical memory from when I was growing up.
You went to London in your teens to study and play music with other jazz musicians. Has that experienced influenced the way you write your music?
I wouldn’t say that it has directly influenced the way I write music, but it definitely made a huge impact on me. It was from being in London and hearing a lot of eye-opening music that I started obsessively buying albums and checking out as much music as I could. I’m still like that in regards to listening to new music and I think that this side of things has been really important in my growth as a musician and composer.
How did the Casey Golden Trio come about?
It all happened pretty naturally. Essentially we love playing together and we learn a lot from each other so we’ve continued to do so for over six years now. Bill and Ed (bassist Bill Williams and drummer Ed Rodrigues) have known each other for a long time. They studied together in Canberra and had done a lot of playing together and developed a real chemistry before we crossed paths. I met Bill by chance when we were both in New York and ended up sitting next to each other at a gig. So when Bill and Ed moved to Sydney we got together to play some music. I can’t speak for the guys but I certainly loved it right away. We started playing a lot and working on concepts together and eventually we started playing my original music. Over time we played my tunes more and more and things evolved as they do.
Can you describe to us what you feel when you play, and does the atmosphere you’re playing in drive the way you play the song?
That’s a tough one. The main thing we’re all trying to do is listen to each other and find our own space in the music where we can complement each other best. The atmosphere plays a huge part in the way we might play a song so we could be feeling any number of different things when we play, but as long as we’re feeling focused and connected to the music and each other then we’re all good regardless of anything else we might be feeling.
How do you construct a track? And is there one particular thing that inspires you to discover a new sound?
There are two sides to putting together a tune with this band. Writing it by myself at home and then playing it with the trio to let it become whatever it is going to become.
We’re improvising musicians so I try and write music that will be a good vehicle for us to improvise over. I also know Bill and Ed’s playing well so I’ll write with them in mind and they know me well so they tend to get where I’m coming from right away.
If the tune is strong enough and has its own internal logic then I like to let everyone do their own thing without giving too much direction. With this band, I’ve found it’s best to not be too attached to your original conception of a piece because what it eventually becomes with the trio is better than your original idea anyway. And no, there is no one thing that inspires me. It can come from anywhere.
How much do you think about the sequence, or do you play by instinct alone? If so, do you fear losing it?
The goal is to play alone by instinct, yeah. That’s not to say that we can all stay in the moment 100 percent of the time, but it’s something I continue to work on. That being said, I probably would be thinking about it when practising, just not on a gig.
I wouldn’t say that I fear losing it at this point, but I have spent a good deal of my life in fear about suddenly losing this or that aspect of my playing. I think that’s natural, though. As musicians, we spend so much of our time working on things that are intangible and it can take a while to be confident that you’ve really internalised certain things.
It seems a jazz player’s soul shines through whilst playing, every note catered to how you’re feeling in that moment. Going off that notion, to an audience, would hearing the sound of a song you play one-night change somewhat for the listener if hearing it again another night?
Definitely. In fact, we actively try to bring something new to each song each time we play. We’re improvising musicians, so it’s the most satisfying and fun if we can inspire each other (and ourselves) to play something that we haven’t heard before. Obviously, we’re still working within the basic framework of each song, but aside from that we try and stay pretty open.
Tell us about the direction, or theme in which you’ve taken us on your new EP.
The EP consists entirely of a single piece of music in four parts. This is the first time we’ve played an extended piece of music. We also added guitar in parts (played by our friend Daniel Walsh) and some extra keyboards. The direction that we’re trying take people is not so much based around a theme but rather to show our progression as a band. The extended composition and extra instruments are both new territories for us, but the way our playing evolved since our last recording was just as important in shaping the music into what it became on the EP.
We realise you can’t define jazz, but if there was one thing that would start the uneducated on the right path, what would you tell them?
The one thing I would tell someone unfamiliar with jazz is that it is very social music. It’s about people improvising together and you should listen to it with that in mind.
The Casey Golden Trio’s new EP, Miniature, will be released on July 15, but before then, TBS are giving away a handful of copies, selected at random from our newsletter subscribers.
The trio will be playing the following gigs in support of the release:
July 12, 2016 The Underground for NIMA, Newcastle
July 14, 2016 Smiths Alt Bookshop, Canberra
July 17, 2016 Uptown Jazz Cafe, Melbourne
July 20, 2016 Lazybones, Sydney
More information can be found at www.caseygolden.com.au.