Saturday, July 15, 2006

South Dakota Dark sits down with Casey Dienel

You may not have heard of Casey Dienel yet but, as I've mentioned before, that is something that should be rectified right away! Sweetheart that she is, Casey took a few minutes of her tour time to answer some questions for us here at SDD.

SDD: Being as relatively young as you are, would you say
that making the decision to take part in the music
business was a recent choice, or something you've always
wanted to do?

Casey: I think I kind of fell into music. For as
long as I can remember I tried to branch out and do
other things. I never felt very precious about my
musicianship, it was just a part of how I digest the
world. I had other ambitions. I dreamt that one day
I'd end up working for some non-profit humanitarian
foundation, and then I thought that maybe I'd be an
animator, a novelist, or a lawyer. When I finally put
all my pens and ink down, it felt like someone had
slapped me upside the head and said "see, Casey, this
is what you should have been doing all along!" It just
wasn't all that obvious to me, growing up. I had a
fantasy of being sensible and practical and wearing a

SDD: At what age did you start playing the piano?

Casey: I was about four when I started to take lessons, which
was something I begged for. As soon as I understood
what lessons were, I wanted in. It was like trying to
be a member of the secret Skulls society. I wanted to
be in the upper eschelon of pianists. I wanted to play
Heart & Soul like it had never been played before. I
wanted to decode Chopin and Debussy.

SDD: Do you remember your very first show? What was the
reception like?

Casey: Oh! It was awful!!! I was so nervous, and I was 18,
so I couldn't drink or do anything to wash the nerves
down. I had a band that I had assembled that week to
play the songs with me, and it was in this divey bar.
I was told I wouldn't be able to play because I was
underage, but I convinced them to let me stay long
enough to finish my set. There were maybe 4 people
there, and my songs had knobby knees back then. They
were gawky little ditties. I don't know how anyone
else felt about the show, because I had my eyes closed
the entire time. I was mortified. I didn't play out
again for another 6 months after that show.

SDD: As an artist, does it bother you being compared to
other artists?

Casey: I don't think anyone appreciates lazy
comparison--I hope I sound like myself, and that most
people are just trying to relate me to something they
like. The only time it gets under my skin is when I'm
compared to female musicians and our gender is the
most we have in common. It's certainly not just a
gender thing, and everyone seems to be victim to it. I
read about how Margot & The So & So's get compared to
Arcade Fire recently. It's silly, isn't it? I want to
believe that we're all trying to be ourselves and get
something true off of our chests, and when artists are
clearly confused about their own authenticity it's
usually very obvious. Everyone deserves their own
picket-fenced plot to some degree, right? Or at least
a shot at it. I don't know...I just really feel turned
off by the "singer-songwriter face-off" attitude. It's
stupid. and counter-productive. As writers and
musicians and truth-seekers, I feel there's a great
strength in numbers. It shouldn't be a profundity
contest at all. That's missing the point.

SDD: When you first sit down to write a song, are you
primarily focused on lyrical content or do you focus
more on the musical aspect first? Or does it vary?

Casey: I mostly am concerned with making sure whatever
I'm making feels or sounds like what I'm feeling or
trying to work through. It's like a pottery wheel, and
sometimes I'm more desperate to make something out of
nothing than others. Once in awhile the words make
this clearer to me, sometimes it's a melody or a
chord. I try not to be too strict with my methods, for
fear of completely fencing myself into
paint-by-numbers-songwriting. That would be like death
to me!

SDD: Is there a particular song of yours that is more
personal or dear to your heart than the others? If so,
why is that?

Casey: Even though I've played it too many times to count, I
never seem to tire of the La La Song. I think I like
it because it's a song that takes on new meaning every
time I get to play it. It absorbs the qualities of the
room, the personalities of the people singing
along...I also think that I enjoy the song in part
because whenever I play it, it's not just my song
anymore. It's a song that other people can take on to
mean whatever it is they want. I wish I could write
more songs like that.

SDD: I see that you're a big Pavement fan. How exactly
would you say that Pavement, or even just Steve, has
influenced you as a musician?

Casey: The melodies! The hooks! What else? I like how the
lyrics feel when I sing them. I like how the words are
strung together. I like how casual the approach is on
Pavement records, too...sometimes they seem so huge,
and other times they're just as if they're living in
your ear. I haven't given it too much thought, but I
think lyrically I felt influenced by Malkmus. I think
I like that underneath all of that wry humor are songs
about how ridiculous our culture is, how we're all
kind of wired to be broken and put back together
again. I think that's what humor is all about. We tend
to laugh about the things that, out of context, would
probably make us curl up in the fetal position and
cry. It's complex.

SDD: Any particular reason you chose to cover "Cut Your
Hair" as opposed to another song? Is it your favorite?

Casey: I like singing the "woo hoo" part. It's fun to
play. I think that the jist of the song still holds
true today. It's easy for musicians to forget why they
picked up their instruments in the first place,
although I've never been a part of that lifestyle,
really. I can just imagine people listening to me
covering this song and thinking I can truly
relate...but I can only do that on a small scale. My
friends and I all played house shows, you know? No one
ever came knocking on our doors with option deals and
a pair of shears. I think we were lucky for that.

SDD: What was the music scene like in the particular area
where you first came up?

Casey: If you weren't a rock band with 10 amps, you were
probably playing house shows in Boston. My friends in
The Specific Heats put on shows in their dingy
basement, lit only by strings of colored holiday
lights. It wasn't just local--besides Ponies In The
Surf and Tiger Saw and Jason Anderson, we also had a
lot of other K folks roll through (Mirah, the Blow,
etc.) and it was a great time. House shows are always
an attractive alternative. It's not about club profits
or drink profits or some bald guy in a tight crew-neck
quoting your draw at the door. It was easier, as
someone starting out, to play house shows in Boston
because the last thing you need as a newbie is someone
speaking to you in numbers and nonsense. It's more
important that you play and have fun. I think it's
still more important to do those things than work with

SDD: Are you discovering that you are more embraced in your
current surroundings as opposed to your Boston days
(NYC being a bit of a haven for the "indie" scene)?

Casey: If I am, I'm unaware of it. In New York, it's
easier for me to put on shows. I am still new here and
haven't really found a community for myself--which is
one of those things that I tend to really thrive on,
but I have enjoyed taking a break from constant
self-examination. In New York, the pool is so large
that I don't really see much point in trying to
determine what kind of fish I am. Instead, I'm more
interested in just swimming, er, writing.

SDD: As your album starts circulating more and more, and
more people realize how wonderful it is--is the curse
that "hype" sometimes turns out to be a worry of

Casey: I don't worry about that too much. Don't you have
to play some obscure instrument or own a loop station?
I wish I could explain how uncool I feel without
sounding obnoxiously self-deprecating. I feel too
transparently bookish to be apart of some sort of hype
machine. I am on a small independent label, so any
good words go a long way. We are diligent worker-bees
at Hush Records. At the end of the day, I would like
people to draw something from the songs for
themselves. I don't feel that mine is a venture of
self-indulgence. I hope that's the case.

SDD: Your dream tour partner(s)? A working band/artist.
First name that pops into your head! Go!

Casey: Andrew Bird or The Magnetic Fields.

*Visit Casey's myspace page to hear some tracks or to
view upcoming tour dates.

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