Cast first appeared on the scene in the mid-90s during the Britpop era with a string of top ten singles and the classic ‘All Change’ album. It became the highest selling debut album in the history of the Polydor label. Cast released 3 more albums before going their separate ways just after the release of their experimental album ‘Beetroot’. They reconvened in 2012 and released the acclaimed ‘Troubled Times’ album, and have begun recording their next record which can be pre-ordered through Pledgemusic and is due for release in 2016.
Cast is now in the middle of an extensive UK tour and played an amazing show to a packed out and sweaty crowd at the Limelight in Belfast on Friday 9th October. Mark Millar had a chat with John Power and Drummer Keith O’Neill over a Guinness before the show.
How is the tour going?
JP: It’s been great it’s been quite revealing and a chance for us all to hang out together. It’s been quite a long time since we have done so many gigs in 6 months or a year. We have been pretty much together and playing for the last 6 months. It’s been great we are all in a good place as a band; we have been very creative and accommodating with a lot of love. We have realised that we dig spending time together and we are very fond of each other and there is no better place to cement that than being on stage and singing the songs and celebrating the songs, the classics and the new stuff we are doing in the studio, it’s been a great year I must say, so far.
Is it good to be back playing in Ireland again?
JP: Yeah it’s been too long for Cast not to have come across the Irish Sea to play in Belfast and Dublin for whatever reasons it’s been hard for us to get together and make serious plans, strangely out of adversity that is what has happened this year. We have been really tight as thieves, we have been really close but it’ great to be back the Guinness is great and we are going to have a great show. The gigs have been great wherever we have been and we have been playing a lot of places we haven’t been for a while. Most of the gigs we are playing are places we haven’t been for 20 years since the ‘Finetime’ tour, that’s what it was like 20 years ago when we first started.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since you released your classic album ‘All Change’.
JP: Time flies it does seem like yesterday but then again that’s maybe too much of a cliché because a lot has gone on in my life and the rest of the bands lives. It still sounds fresh though, the songs still go down amazingly and we are singing and playing them better with as much verve as we ever did if not more because we are a little bit cooler in ourselves as individuals. We have got nothing to prove to ourselves apart from being a conduit for the music and the performing.
Do you have a highlight from back in those days?
JP: A lot of it passed me by in a weird way, the highlight was what we accomplished and how big we were, and I sometimes have to be reminded of that. It’s always an ongoing journey; I’m right in the moment now. I don’t ever really think back “ Oh we were massive then”, it’s all about tonight’s performance, it’s always about the present and when I’m singing and the band are playing you can bet your bottom dollar that’s where we are at. It’s about being respectful and energised enough to give the song. You can’t parody it and when you do it wouldn’t happen and that’s probably why we split up for a certain amount of time because for me personally I can’t speak for the others, I was losing my edge and I didn’t feel it as much for whatever reasons but I’m feeling it more now as much as I’ve ever felt it. I can’t remember feeling it this much but I must have looking at footage and what we achieved, you can’t do that without being true to the cause.
You were very lucky, you released ‘All Change’ and had a string of top ten hits immediately; there isn’t a guitar band that could do that nowadays.
JP: No, it was the last gung-ho! of British guitar music. The industry was still set up for that very grand massive push; it came from all different levels and different directions. There was a whole eclectic mix of music, not everyone was doing the same sort of thing but the whole nation was buying records and watching the TV and following their bands and putting them high in the charts and I don’t think that will happen again because the music industry has changed, the public don’t buy records or CD’s like they used to do and there’s only one or two TV shows that show music. Everything has changed and rightly so. You have got a good point I don’t know how young kids do it these days but there’s a lot of big bands still knocking around doing their thing and they are doing it in a different way than we did it. It carries on its generational, people fall in love people find a way to express themselves it may change but the core element of someone singing and performing is still being appreciated and people, in general, will still need that in their life and will flock to it en masse for the ceremony or whatever it is.
Cast are doing shows with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra playing ‘All Change’. There are a lot of Cast songs that will work really well; a track like ‘Alien’ will sound brilliant with a full orchestra.
JP: I think we will be doing that track, we have played with strings but we have never played with a big symphonic orchestra so it’s going to be an interesting and a novel thing for the entire band and for the audience too. We don’t know quite what to expect but I’m not too worried about it because I imagine the ocean of sound is going to wash it all right over the shore and over the audience, ourselves included will probably end up on the shore with our legs in the air.
K: We have only ever done it with keyboards before; we have played those songs but in a different way but this is going to be a totally different kettle of fish.
JP: I was saying to Keith earlier that I have a couple of songs to learn that we haven’t played for ages. We are going to rehearse with the orchestra in a couple of week’s time, I suppose I need to do some homework, I can’t turn up and say “What are the lyrics?” I’m not expecting the string arrangements to be exactly like the album because they have been re-scored but we’ll see. We are looking forward but we are going into it blind as well. When we go into the rehearsal it will be the first time that we have heard the string arrangements, I have never been one to be too planned or premeditated. I am better reacting to things than if you tell me that I’ve got to do something then ill over think it, whereas if we have just got to do it then ill tend to run with it and find my way.
Will you be recording the shows?
K: Yes there is a recording planned.
I was listening to the last album the band recorded before the split ‘Beetroot’, it still stands up.
JP: It’s funny because a lot of people I talk too really dig it but maybe that style should have been more of a solo thing. I think I just wanted to do something completely different, ‘Desert Drought’ still sounds amazing, it was ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it represents for some of the band a time where we were kind of starting to get at each other and the band was beginning to split on Beetroot’s call. Personally, I think there are some songs we could still do such as ‘Giving it all Away’, ‘Desert Drought’ and a few others. I would love to record them in the way we are now because I think there are some astounding songs on there that we have let slip. We don’t really champion that era among ourselves because it was the beginning of the end.
K: I also think that it was the wrong type of production for it and we all agree on that, we went down a wacky route that maybe we shouldn’t have taken.
JP: We are kind of loosening up to a lot of things; we are in the studio now recording a new album in a completely different way to how we normally did it. In the past, we used to go into the studio with songs fully finished with lyrics. We are going in now with a looser creative mindset with a more open mind. I might have some ideas and put them down and Keith will work on a rhythm with a producer and the beats and the drops in the beat can be just as defining to the dynamics of the song as the melody and the chords, where in the past we would have played straight through it all. We are going at things with a bit more of a free mindset.
K: I think we are making it more interesting for ourselves as well, the way we are doing it is, in for a few days then out on the road and then back in for a few days setting up from scratch again, whereas the way we have always done it in the past we have everything already set up and ready to go.
JP: Because we are being open minded and a little less protective of the songs we are accomplishing some very good vibes. We have about 8 or 9 really good backing track songs, in a weird way I am quite intrigued and excited by what is going to come out because there’s that slight uncertainty of the way we are putting them down. I haven’t said, “Here are 12 songs they are finished this is how they are going to be and this is what we are going to do.” We are coming up with really good songs; I think we are coming up with something special; I don’t want to start blowing my own trumpet.
I have already heard ‘Baby Blue Eyes’, it’s a really good song.
Yeah, and I’m going to redo that again, just because I have got a little idea for it, but it’s a great song. That was the start of the album, me and Skin went into the studio for about 2 days and we nailed that track. Then we thought it would be great if we could get an album worth of songs like that. Cast will have done a new album and we have never seen it coming, we have never seen any of this coming this time last year, we had a tour in December booked and that was it. And now we have got 8 tracks down.
Is John Leckie producing this one?
K: No there’s a young lad called Al Groves who is based in a studio in Liverpool which we really enjoyed working at. It’s been a different way of working; he is very contemporary he has just done the ‘Bring Me the Horizon’ album. He is 26 and it’s really fresh and vibrant to listen to him, he has got great ideas.
JP: I think I have to cut myself some slack because I used to put the pressure on and finish an album before we have recorded it. The fact that we can go into the studio with some finished songs, some ideas and be creating things in there, then I can deal with that, it’s great.
So it’s a completely different process from what you have done before?
K: Yeah totally, it’s really inspiring to be honest.
Does the album have a title yet?
JP: No, I have got an idea where it’s going but I haven’t thought about a title. I’m still writing lyrics for it. We are going to put it out in March, fingers crossed.
K: I am so pleased with the reaction on social media, there are 30,000 people involved, it’s quite humbling to realise people are still into us.
JP: I’m made up, all these gigs we have been doing on the mainland in England and Scotland off the beaten track we have been getting full audiences every night, they are packed all over the country there’s something going on. We are not looking to reclaim lost ground we are just looking to do what we do best; we are a fucking good band.
K: It’s more like the early times we went out in a red Transit van, even before we got signed.
JP: It feels like the tour we did before ’Finetime’, before people knew us nationally. Before the ‘Finetime’ single came out we were doing venues like ‘The Limelight’ and smaller venues and they were rammed!
What have you been listening to?
K: for me if it wasn’t for ‘6 Music‘ there wouldn’t be anything to listen to, because I can’t listen to anything else on the radio, ‘6 Music’ is bringing through some incredible music at the moment, personally I find it very inspirational.
JP: I still listen to Howling Wolf (Laughs) but I do listen to ‘6 Music‘ as well, Keith listens to all the new stuff.
K: my playlist is everything from Wolf Alice to Kurt Vile and that new Wilco song ‘Random Name Generator‘ is fucking amazing! We revisited Bowie last night and it was great, I have also been getting into ‘The War on Drugs’. I can embrace all that as well as keeping in mind the people who originally influenced us.
John did a bit of producing recently with how was that?
I did I co-wrote some songs and it was a good experience, I was getting into a bit of songwriting with other people then all of a sudden Cast got back together, so that becomes my priority. There was a time when Skin was working with Robert Plant and Keith was tour managing Johnny Marr around the world and I was thinking “I better do something as well”, though I always did my solo stuff. But all roads have led to where we are now and we are making a real concerted effort to hang out together and it’s great, I didn’t see it coming and long may it continue. When we get the new album done it will create tours in the future and keep us bound together.