CASSIA (from l-r): Jake Leff (drums), Rob Ellis (vocals/guitar), Lou Cotterill (bass)
INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
PHOTO by CAMILLA JORDAN
For young Cheshire three-piece Cassia, 2017 has so far been very fruitful.
The band have burst onto the emerging music scene with an infectious feel-good sound that has been described as “calypso afro-rock”, resulting in them being championed by BBC Introducing, and attracting a sizable, and growing, following on social media.
The Macclesfield trio had a busy August Bank Holiday weekend, playing at Reading and Leeds, releasing a new single, and kicking it off by playing an intimate headline set in Hanley, where I spoke to them.
How did the band get together?
LOU COTTERILL (bass): Myself and Rob, we were doing little bits in a studio, just trying to make music, really. We’d both just come out of school, and we wanted to start gigging.
However, our sound wasn’t working with just the two of us, so we went on a quest for a drummer. We found Jake in a Wetherspoon’s, with the help of my girlfriend Camilla. She introduced us to each other, and we actually said to him: “Do you know any drummers?“, because we thought he was going to be too busy or whatever.
He asked us if he could give it a go at all, and it all went from there. We haven’t looked back since.
How did the name Cassia come about?
LOU: It was just a word, really, with not much meaning behind it, when we first plucked it out of the air. We were just trying to find stuff that could go hand-in-hand with our sound. I think cassia is a tropical word for cinnamon or bark, from a tropical tree or something.
JAKE: Interestingly enough, about a year down the line, we found a djembe drum, and it has definitely changed what I have been doing with the drums and stuff. The djembe is actually made out of cassia wood, so that was quite cool. I thought to myself at the time: “It was meant to be!”
You define your sound as “calypso afro-rock“. For those who have no idea, what is that exactly?
JAKE: Feel-good dancing music, I reckon. Lots of percussion.
LOU: Plenty of rhythm.
JAKE: I don’t really know how to explain it, if someone doesn’t know what it is.
LOU: Happy rhythms and melodies. Not many minor chords in there.
JAKE: How would you describe it, Rob?
ROB: Well, I suppose it’s a culmination of ideas. I don’t know, it’s just a phrase we use to describe ourselves.
JAKE: I think it was actually our manager who came up with that.
Which bands/artists are you all influenced by the most?
LOU (quietly): We all like Vampire Weekend. (All laugh) We say that all the time. We do like a bit of Paul Simon…
ROB: The Police?
JAKE: Yeah, them.
ROB: I dunno. It sort of depends, really, on what we’re listening to at the time.
JAKE: The Beach Boys, they’re pretty cool.
ROB: Everyone’s got a nice thing going on, haven’t they?
LOU: Yeah, it’s all about piecing it all together, something that’s a bit different.
ROB: We’ve got a bit of Paul Simon in there, not too much, though, because no-one likes that.
LOU: You also can’t have too much Vampire Weekend.
JAKE: Yeah, it fucking does your head in, doesn’t it?
LOU: Yeah, just some African vibes mixed in with some accessible sounds.
JAKE: An accessible twist!
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
JAKE: We play together for three hours and pray! (All laugh)
ROB: As of recent, yeah. It’s pretty much that, isn’t it?
JAKE: Our songs usually come with a staple idea, some core ingredients, and that can come in the form of anything, really. We then just jam around it.
LOU: Rob will come in and go: “I’ve got the riffs!”
JAKE: Big, fatty riffs.
LOU: We then add some grooves.
JAKE: There’s also a cheeky harmony thrown in there, and we’re good to go.
ROB: It’s hard, though. You can get a good idea, but then it can become a terrible song. It’s about turning a good idea into a good song. We do have a lot of stuff on the go, we always have a lot of tunes, but it just gets narrowed down to a couple.
JAKE: We usually something called ‘The Morning After Test’, where it’s like: “Fucking yeah, this song is sick!“, but then we will listen to it the next morning, and we will go: “What the fuck is this?”
ROB: Normally, that can be because of extreme fatigue, which can cloud our judgement somewhat. That tends to happen sometimes.
What inspires the band lyrically?
ROB: I don’t know, really. We’ve actually never been asked this before. It’s just kind of happy stuff, to be honest. It’s like, all of that first person based stuff, not as if it’s about me, but about someone else or something like that.
The way we’re playing now, the way we write, it’s kind of easier to come up with stuff while you’re making sounds and things, and you try and form it all into lyrics, whereas we used to spend quite a bit of time writing them, now, we just change them as we go along.
LOU: Writing and changing.
2017 has so far been a remarkable year for the band. One of your singles, ‘100 Times Over’, received airplay on BBC Radio 1, there’s been an European tour, as well as numerous festivals played. How have you been dealing with all that? You must be pinching yourselves.
JAKE: It’s been ridiculous.
LOU: It’s been crazy.
JAKE: Luckily, where we come from, no-one really gives a shit, so that’s kept us grounded.
ROB: It’s been good.
JAKE: It’s awesome to be able to play music with your friends, and to get to travel as well. I mean, Germany, I’d never been before we played there, that was cool.
You haven’t quite got to the stage yet where you are all making ludicrous demands, then?
JAKE: No, we could never do that, could we? We were lucky to do this Apple Music thing recently, and there was an artist, I won’t say who it is, let’s just say they’re bigger than us, and apparently, they were demanding Nando’s to be brought to their dressing room.
LOU: I don’t think we’ll ever get like that, to be honest. It doesn’t feel like we have moved forward, even though a lot of things have happened or are happening. We’re still at that stage where we practice in a shitty little practice room on Mondays. I guess that’s kept us grounded as well.
ROB: I like that, though, because we would be sort of kidding ourselves if we got all this fancy gear and stuff. It’s good to come back to a place where it all started.
LOU: It’s just happy days, innit?
You’re headlining here in Hanley tonight, but this weekend, you are going to be playing Reading and Leeds. How are you feeling towards that? Excited? Nervous?
LOU: We’re really excited, actually.
JAKE: Fucking buzzing!
ROB: I’m really, really nervous. (laughs) No, actually, I’m fine. I think it will be a good laugh.
LOU: I think this will be our last festival set of the summer. The ones we have been playing have all been building up to this, this will be the big one, so we’re excited, but there’s some nerves as well.
JAKE: I haven’t taken it in yet. I still can’t really think about it, to be honest.
ROB: It was good when we got our guest passes delivered to us the other day, all access areas and that. We would like to use them to meet Eminem, maybe have a coffee with him.
You’re also going to be on tour in October to promote your forthcoming EP, ‘Movers & Shapers’. How is the experience of playing live and touring?
ROB: It’s tiring, but I like it. There’s a lot of waiting around, you have to get used to that, and the driving to and from the venues is pretty intense.
JAKE: Lou’s the band driver, but this weekend will be the first time he doesn’t have to drive all of us around.
ROB: Last week, we played Nottingham and London, and I think in between, we only got two hours sleep. It gave me a gum infection!
(Lou and Jake laugh)
LOU: Yeah, Rob sent me a text saying: “I can’t come to practice today, I’ve got to go to the dentist’s instead.” We’re not quite rock n’ roll yet.
I have to say the live stuff is the most exciting thing about being in a band.
ROB: Yeah, definitely.
LOU: For me, there’s no better feeling than playing to a venue full of people singing along to the songs you have written.
When will the EP be released?
JAKE: It will probably be in the next few months.
ROB: More like over the next ten years.
JAKE: Our new single, ‘Sink’, has just come out.
ROB: Yeah, we’re planning to do a few versions of that track, along with other stuff. That will be quite cool, I reckon. There’s going to be a lot of releases for the rest of this year.
What is the band’s long-term aim?
ROB: We’re well on our way to Wembley, I’d say.
JAKE: To be fair, any band that says they don’t want to play a stadium are lying. If we could get to play somewhere like Wembley or the Castlefield Bowl, that would be great. We would have done pretty well.
‘SINK’, CASSIA’S NEW SINGLE, IS NOW AVAILABLE TO LISTEN TO ON SPOTIFY & APPLE MUSIC, AND TO BUY ON iTunes.
THE BAND WILL ALSO BE GOING ON TOUR IN OCTOBER. FURTHER DETAILS BELOW:
MORE INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND AT THESE SITES:
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.wearecassia.com