Bay city, MI

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

Tonight’s show was a good time. I played some songs I have not played in a long time. Here’s the set list.

1. Witches
2. Tears That Know Your Name
3. Phoenix
4. Inside Out
5. Beautiful Child (Fleetwood Mac cover)
6. Forces Beyond Your Fear
7. The Roads of Time
8. Opaline


Bizarre Bazaar

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

Despite the heat I had a great time playing at Bizarre Bazaar in Eastown, Grand Rapids, MI this afternoon. Bizarre Bazaar is a street fair where local artisans sell their creations. Here is the set list:

Casey Stratton
Grand Rapids, MI
June 23, 2012

The Bitter Truth
Burning the Bridge
For Reasons Unexplained
Wait By the Water
You Were My Religion
Purple Rain


The Guest List

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

Last night I had the privilege of being on The Guest List on WYCE here in Grand Rapids, MI. Each week someone from the community comes on and plays some of their favorite music. I have done a lot of radio in my time, but this was the first time I got to pick an entire playlist of music and not just perform or interview. The host, Michael Cunningham, was fun and friendly and we enjoyed plenty of banter on and off the air. I had a great time. Here is what I played:

That Voice Again – Peter Gabriel

Free Man In Paris – Joni Mitchell

Okay – KaiserCartel

Moon and Moon – Bat For Lashes

Hard to Breathe – Christopher Dallman

Beginning the World – The Innocence Mission

Feel So Different – Sinéad O’Connor

Back To You – Greg Laswell featuring Elizabeth Ziman

Beg Steal or Borrow – Ray LaMontagne

Rocket’s Tail – Kate Bush

The Old Ways – Loreena McKennitt

Mary – Patty Griffin

Pretty Good Year – Tori Amos

All This To Say – Sleeping At Last

Wait By the Water – Casey Stratton

Monopoly – Shawn Colvin

Please Forgive Me (Song of the Crow) – William Fitzsimmons

Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks – The National

Astronauts – One eskimO

Hoppipolla – Sigur Ros


A Dream I Don’t Want To Forget

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

I just woke up from a dream so intense, frightening and complicated that I don’t even know that I can explain it. I feel the need to try to write it down so I don’t forget it.

First of all it was completely multi-layered. It was happening to me in real life, but it was also a book I was reading, a film I was in and a commentary on a DVD that Jodie Foster was giving with transitional lenses on that she couldn’t stop talking about in the studio. There were parts I would read in the book and it would send shivers down my spine and then seeing it play out in real life/the movie was even scarier and at times I would beg for it to stop.

Anyhow- in the dream there was a murderer on the loose. Somehow I was accused of the murders and knew the only way to prove it wasn’t me was going to be very difficult. The victims were somehow turned to ashes and placed in boxes. I knew that somehow if you shone a certain light on the boxes they would reconstitute and the people would come back to life, but only I knew this.

At some point I put all of these boxes of ashes and evidence into these giant crates that I was having shipped to the police. At the same time they were after me so I was hoping they would get the evidence before they would catch me. I had already constituted a little boy back to life with the strange light – it was like a wand you would wave over the ashes. This was how I discovered the secret. Still – for some reason I had to freeze the boy and put him in a large box. I was then in a car, driving as fast as I could to the police station. I couldn’t see over the steering wheel or get any control over the car. I swerved off the road and had an accident. Moments like these were when I was most aware that this was also a movie I was in. I was suddenly at the premiere, watching the movie instead of being an actor in it. Even though this was something I was aware of, I was still very afraid and most of it felt like it was real life. I fear I am making no sense but I will continue…

After the car had the accident I was thrown very far from it. When I got back to the car I realized that the government had stolen the frozen boy and he was no longer in the crate I had sealed him in. I found the open crate in a tunnel under a mountain pass. I was racing to get to a courthouse where I knew my other evidence was shipped because I had the only light wand that would re-animate everyone the murderer had killed. I also knew that when the very last victim was re-animated, the murderer himself would turn to ashes. Suddenly, there was a flood. I knew this was not good.

I got to the courthouse and it was covered in water. I waded through it the best I could. Police officers found me and arrested me. I was trying to explain about the light wand but they thought I was crazy and locked me up. I was begging and pleading for them to believe me, crying hysterically. They would not. I knew that someone would figure it out. Instantly I was in a room with many people who were going through the crates I had had delivered there. There were cassette tapes and notebooks, all chronicling the murderer’s vicious crimes. I remembered this part from when I read the book and knew it was about to get scary.

I was in a panic to get to the actual boxes of ashes that were everywhere within the larger crates FULL of other things. I was pulling them out as fast as I could. I re-animated one person and everyone was stunned, but I explained there was no time for that – we needed to hurry! I told them to take the wand and keep going – I knew where the murderer was because I could read his mind and thoughts. I explained that most of the time I had to shut out his thoughts because they were so violent and evil that I could not handle it, but now I must tap in so we could find him. I advised that we were all still in great danger. We might find him but he could easily overtake us.

I went out onto the side of a desert mountain with officers in tow. There were dead, dry roots of trees everywhere that were hard to navigate. I could feel the murderer’s thoughts. He knew we were after him and he was scared. He couldn’t understand his own motivation to kill. I was also still aware that the boxes of ashes back at the courthouse were being re-animated as quickly as they could. I needed them to get to the last victim so that the murderer would turn to ashes. Suddenly he was close to me. I sensed it. The hairs on the back on my neck stood up and I was very afraid. I was begging not to see this part as I had already read the book and I was too scared to see him. There was no escaping it. There he was – looking unkempt and homeless. His eyes were dark and evil. But he was saying, over and over again “I am not bad! It is not me! I am not bad! Please! I am not bad!” I knew that even though he was desperately pleading with both the officers and himself, he could not help his instincts and would kill me if he got to me. He was pleading with me but he was also after me.

I ran. I was climbing over tree roots and going higher and higher up the mountain. He was gaining on me. I sensed the victims re-animating back at the courthouse one by one. I screamed loudly for the officers to get to us as soon as they could. I was in a panic! The murderer caught up to me and I looked in his eyes. This was it. No more running. He was crying and I felt a very intense wave of his sadness and self-hatred wash over me. I burst into tears and told him that I knew he did not want to be this way, he could not help it. He told me he still had to kill me because it was “the way it was destined.” He came closer and closer. My heart was racing. I screamed for the people to re-animate the last victim. I knew they could psychically hear me. The killer reached out for my neck and just as his fingers closed around it he turned to ashes right at my feet.

Thank goodness at this point I was simply at the premiere of the movie and the audience was clapping. The director, Jodie Foster and I all took a bow. I walked out into the lobby and saw posters everywhere for the film with me and Jodie on them. And then I woke up.

EDIT: All rights reserved on this one! © 2012 Casey Stratton


The Land of Dreams

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

All my life I have had very vivid dreams and nightmares that I can generally recall in great detail. I once read that the average adult has only one nightmare per year. I am lucky to only have 5 or 6 a week! I think there must be some sort of connection between my natural inclination to be creative and my dream world. I feel that the part of my brain where the composing comes from is the same part that creates these brilliant and often bizarre dream scenarios.

Just this morning I dreamed I was on a beach somewhere with a resort hotel behind me. I was setting up gear on a large stage. I was supposed to perform a 45 minute set, but I had been asked to extend that to 75 minutes and I was nervous. Everything was going fine in sound check and people started coming out and filling up the patio tables that were spread out in front of the stage. I remember seeing turquoise ribbons floating through the air that I knew were a new kind of salt-water taffy that you could simply pull from the air and eat and it tasted like passion fruit.

It was time for the show to begin. I launched into a very intricate piano intro in G flat Major, one of my favorite keys. When I went to start the track (which was in the keyboard and not my laptop) it was at measure 37 from sound check. Oops. Everything began to unravel. Suddenly the microphone was at a strange angle behind me and I could not reach the pedal. I was twisting all around, trying to find a way to play properly. I realized the only way to sing into the mic was to have my back to the audience. This would not do. I was feeling the flop sweat that performers know well.

All of this is fairly normal and as a performer I have dreams like this often. Not sure of what to do, I suddenly realized that my phone was buzzing and I looked and had a text from my sister. I told the audience that I had a surprise for them while they waited for us to deal with the logistical issues. My sister walked through the front door with a baby whale in her arms. I said “Ladies and gentlemen, meet Whale Joy Henderson!” Everyone was oohing and aahing over the little baby whale named Whale Joy Henderson. I was too busy moving my gear around to pay much attention but I knew I wanted to see the whale later.

That dream is not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my dreams. Even as a child I had very vivid dreams and I can still recall many of them. I had a recurring nightmare as a child of a very scary man who looked like Gene Shalit. Let’s face it, Gene Shalit in 1981 could be scary to a child. This man was very sinister and mean. He rode on a very loud motorcycle that scared the living daylights out of me. The biggest problem was that he could become invisible so you never knew where he might be. I would be walking around my front yard and he would suddenly materialize right next to me. Sometimes I would only feel his breath on my neck and turn and he’d be right behind me, staring at me with cold, dark eyes. Frightening to me even now as I type this!

The only defense against this evil man was to pretend you were a statue. There would be many of us in my yard, all pretending to be little cherub statues so this man would think we were not real. In one incarnation of this dream I walked into my yard to see the motorcycle. I noticed that the seat was flapping up and down and knew that meant he had just gotten off of it and must be invisible somewhere near. I tried to become a statue but just as I assumed a pose, his arm grabbed mine and he materialized again. Terrifying!

So yes, that was a dream I had 31 years ago and I can still see it clear as day in my mind. The dream world is an amazing place. I both relish and fear my own. I would not trade it for anything, even if the nightmares can be just as awful as the good dreams can be good.

Remind me to tell you about the “Rosanne Cash slot machines in a casino dream” sometime…


New Album Release Date

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

The next record, my first “regular” record since Myth & Stars, is called The Calling of the Crows. I have posted some details about it before, but I now have a release date scheduled.

It will be available digitally in my Bandcamp store on Wednesday May 16, 2012.

In the coming weeks I will be getting the photos and artwork together as well as doing the things that need to be done to set it up, including the final mixdown.

There is a personal angle to this release date in that it was my cat Henry’s observed birthday. I never knew when he was actually born, but I knew it had to be about mid-May so I chose the 16th since my birthday is the 16th of October. Much of this record is about my life after losing him, but of course as always I kept things universal enough that anyone can apply it to their own life in many ways. It is always my goal to make music that people can apply to themselves while still expressing myself in a fulfilling way. I think it has succeeded in that regard and I am very excited about releasing it!

Videos may also be happening for a few songs! Speaking of: here is the home-made video I recently made for The Blackest Crow which is from the album The Parting Glass. The Parting Glass is a collection of traditional folk songs, a follow-up to 2006′s The Sun is Burning. Please consider purchasing it if you haven’t already. The support of my listeners directly affects my ability to keep making music and keep myself fed! Thanks in advance.


Recording A Cover: A Live Webcast Event

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

This Thursday, March 29, 2012, I will finally be doing something that people have been asking me to do for years. I will be recording a cover live on UStream. It will just be a “fly on the wall” kind of thing where I’ll let my laptop webcam stream what is going on (it will also be recorded for those who can’t catch it live.). I will not plug in the pro audio or anything, just the internal mic picking up what is going on in the room.

Over the years, many people have asked me to do a podcast or webcast showing my recording process so I am finally going to do it.

I will be recording Gotye’s Save Me. I may get some of the elements of the track ready in advance so everyone doesn’t have to sit and watch the really boring early stages. You will be able to watch me putting the track together and then layering in the background vocals, etc. I think it will be a lot of fun.

So join me on my UStream channel this Thursday at 4 PM EDT (GMT -4).


The Parting Glass

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

I have been working on a new album of traditional folk songs, a follow-up to 2006′s The Sun is Burning.  I enjoy singing traditional folk music. It is a way to pay tribute to my heritage and also to the lineage of singer-songwriters. I chose songs this time with many factors in mind. I wanted to challenge myself and also acknowledge the last year of loss and grief I have experienced. I think I succeeded on both counts. In the end I ended up singing in English, French, Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic. It was quite fun and daunting at the same time! I also set an abridged version of Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven to music. Even abridged to 13 verses it comes in at 11:23!

So the record is called The Parting Glass and will be out Thursday or Friday. Here is the track listing:

Casey Stratton
The Parting Glass

1.  Has Sorrow Thy Young Days Shaded
2.  Scarborough Fair
3.  Au Clair De La Lune
4.  Wild Mountain Thyme
5.  ‪Siúil A Rúin‬
6.  Le Temps Des Cerises
7.  Raglan Road
8. Tha Caolas Eadar Mi ‘s Iain
9.  The Blackest Crow
10. The Raven
11. The Parting Glass


New Album Details

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

Over the past few weeks I have written and recorded a new album. I am not exactly sure when I will release it. It could be as soon as a few weeks or as late as the early summer. Logistics and planning are still in the beginning stages. However – I wanted to share some details now so here is the tracklisting:

Casey StrattonThe Calling of the Crows

1.   The Bitter Truth
2.   When the Fates Came
3.   Ghosts in the Walls
4.   Second Life
5.   Tears That Know Your Name
6.   Sacred Tattoo
7.   Waiting
8.   The Roads of Time
9.   Wait By the Water
10. Mile Markers
11. Elegy
12. Wanderlust

I will keep everyone posted as to when it is coming out!


Inhabiting A Composition

Originally published at The Casey Stratton Blog. You can comment here or there.

“I consider the first 20 performances just learning the piece. Think about it this way: If you think about a pianist who plays a Schubert sonata through his whole lifetime — if you listen to Rubenstein or Horowitz playing their repertoire later in their life, you understand the richness with which they play that music, and how differently they must have played it when they were younger. … I think it’s only after about 20 performances that we begin to understand what the dynamic structure of the piece is.”

Philip Glass on repetition

I read this quote on Tumblr this morning and it made a lot of sense to me. Phillip Glass turned 75 yesterday so the internet was abuzz with links, stories and quotes. This one in particular spoke to me in a specific way.

As a songwriter who now has a home studio (I bought mine in October 2002 so it has been nearly 10 years) I tend to record songs just as they are written. In the old days I’d have to wait weeks to months to get in a studio and record songs so I tended to have played them more often before the immortal recording was executed (yes, I am aware of the paradox of my word choice there.). Yet now it is more likely that the recording you hear is the very first rendering of the new song. You could argue for or against this for artistic reasons, but for the sake of this blog I will focus solely on this being ‘the way it is’ and how a song changes once you start playing it live.

I find that when I play live shows and start adding new songs in, they begin to take on a new shape. This begins in rehearsal so I know it is not merely the adrenaline rush of an audience influencing it. This is where Mr. Glass’ quote got my attention. I knew exactly what he meant. Dynamics tend to emerge that were not my original intent, per se. It will just feel like it wants to go where it goes. And generally once I find a particular phrasing or change to the original dynamic pleasing to me, I will play the song that way from then on. I can listen to early live recordings of songs only played a few times and the dynamics will be different every time as I am finding my way into it, but later recordings will almost always have the same dynamics. This is not to say that the performance is always the same or that I never stray in any way – part of the beauty of live performing is going where the musical wind takes you – but the gist will nearly always stay the same.  The songs seem to find their groove and finally nestle into their true structures. Again – I call it “what they really want.”

This is also the key to being a good producer. The songs “know what they want” if you pay attention. Your job is to try to make that happen. Using your tools properly will get you off the ground, but your instincts will kick in and tell you what is or is not working. If it feels off to you, it will most likely feel off to others. If you are not happy with it, you should change direction. You can adjust basically any song to any style preference or aesthetic, but it will know what it wants in each genre you choose.

Back to performing your own songs though, I find that there is a very fulfilling feeling when a song finds its groove. I have a song called Hollow that has seen many incarnations, but the piano/vocal live version has taken on a life of its own over the years, and it feels like an old friend now. I don’t play it a lot, but when I do it’s because I am really wanting the comfort of the space it’s in now.

I may sound silly personifying songs, but most composers feel that our compositions are an extension of ourselves as well as some sort of communion with whatever is out there in the universe or great beyond. I don’t need it to have a name, I just know it when I feel it. And I do personify them often because they are organic things, capable of growth. They breathe and change. They are fluid. You can speed them up and slow them down, make them lighter, make them darker. A subtle shift can change the way it’s heard dramatically. I find this to be very exciting!

In the end, it is quite the intimate journey to get to know your own work. How often have writers gone back to their words and thought “Oh so THAT’S what I was really talking about!” Lyrics do that to me all the time. I’ll read them years later and the light bulb comes on. The music can and does do the same thing. Sometimes I’ll hear something in the production that is so perfectly fitting to the lyric of a song, yet was completely unintentional when I did it. Of course, you can then regale your friends with the tales of your brilliance and they’ll never know it was a complete accident. Seriously though, we know the subconscious mind works in complex ways and it is interesting to see it in action in a composition, performance or production.

Playing other people’s work takes many attempts to work out, to find the subtleties. It is no different with our own. In some ways it can be even harder to be objective. People ask me for advice about writing and performing all the time, and I almost always say the same thing. I think it applies here as well: Get out of your own way.