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What I Learned at Bandcamp: Cassiopeia

The ambient tunes of Phoenix-based Cassiopeia are easy to get lost in. The music would have been perfect for my teenage years, when I’d lie under lamp posts in the summer rain, staring into the night sky. The falling raindrops made it look as though I were traveling through outer space.

The band, which consists of Nick Vega, Nathan Bolek, John Romero and Christopher Edward, recently released their first full-length album, available on Bandcamp.

The Spec interviewed three members of Cassiopeia, read what they have to say below about astronauts, the Greek queen of vanity and their new album…

How long have you been making music?
Nick Vega: Since I was 11 years old, so about 13 years.

Nathan Bolek: I have been playing the guitar for approximately seven years or so and have been in various bands throughout high school and afterwards. I have been making music with Nick Vega (drummer) for about four years and with John Romero (guitar) about two years. Cassiopeia has been making music with this lineup for a little over a year.

John Romero: A few years now, I started out as a bedroom guitarist and wrote some of the songs that would soon turn into full fledged Cassiopeia songs, but I’ve also taught myself some drums and piano.

Who or what are your influences?
Nick: I listen to a lot of different types of music. I take the time to search for true music with creative and innovative passion. Some of the bands that have inspired me the most would have to be Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Mars Volta, Russian Circles, Pink Floyd, and the great composer Frederic Chopin. Drummers besides the typical John Bonham answer that have inspired me, would have to be Jon Theodore. Theodore is an awesome writer and progressive jazz artist with off time signatures. I grew up listening to funk music and Chad Smith is a beast at taking it to the next level. He taught me how to “walk with your bass drum.” Others include: Dave Turncrantz, Tshepang Ramoba, Thomas Pridgen, The Rev and John Clardy.

Nathan: My influences range from other music (Boards of Canada, Mars Volta, Joy Division, Can), to film (2001: A Space Odyssey, Begotten, Holy Mountain, Blade Runner) to literature (Society Of the Spectacle, Ham On Rye, anything by Kurt Vonnegut) to politics and world events. However, growing up in a musical environment, thanks to my Dad, has lead me to picking up the guitar and making music, albeit a different kind of music compared to him. My Dad is probably my biggest influence on why I play.

John: Musically, it’s varied. Although I like to tell people that I try to sound like This Will Destroy You meets Rosetta, but there are others like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, ISIS and loads of other shit.

How did you come up with your name?
Nathan: I was reading the book Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard and came across the term “Cassiopeia” and figured it would fit our shoegaze/spacey sound as it was a name of a constellation based on the Greek queen of vanity.

John: Once, Nathan asked me about possibly calling ourselves Cassiopeia. I said, “Sure, sounds good enough to me.”

Upcoming projects, where do you want to go from here?
Nick: I’m working on my first solo album. I started by writing a story that I visualize as a movie. From there I have written about five instrumental songs that would fit the soundtrack for the concept. I will use short samples and effects to tell a really great story. Also, Nathan and I have been working on a surf/punk/math project just for fun. Cass has grown so much in our first year, with our first album done. This is my band, not a project. We plan on writing new material in the upcoming year and becoming more solid and create an evolving sound that is a little different from the first album, but still sounds like Cassiopeia. We plan on touring more, too!

Nathan: We have plans to release a physical version of our album, hopefully both on CD and LP, as well as scrapping some money together, hop in a van and take our sounds on the road.

John: Hopefully press an LP in this upcoming year as well as a CD. We’re trying to work out a split with this band from the Netherlands called All Shall Be Well, that’ll see the light of day at some point. But essentially, just tour, tour, write, and tour some more are my plans for 2012.

What inspires your music?
Nick: The album reflects on hard times that have happened in this world. Especially in today’s society that everyone is centered around war. Government’s economies are failing and people think the world is going to end… This album makes you reflect on your own self and then will give you a powerful feeling that says don’t lose “hope” its out there. Just like when Joseph Kittinger parachuted from space in 1969! He did something people did not think was possible because the world was too worried about blowing everyone up. Music gives hope! But to the listeners, the ambient, space music could mean something entirely different.

Nathan: It depends, I suppose, on what inspires our music for me personally at least. I was personally fascinated by the idea of solipsism and the zeitgeist of our world today, especially the alienating quality of our capitalist/consumer society and how isolated we are in the age of the internet and social networking from human interaction and how dangerously close we are to becoming a warped reality of both A Brave New World and 1984. I likened it to the astronaut (more specifically Joseph Kittinger and his role in the Excelsior project, the first man in space) and how miles above the earth they are encapsulated, isolated from the harsh environment against the blackness of the unknown. I tried to convey the isolation, the emptiness, and harshness of our world through my music, and probably failed spectacularly to do just that.

John: Everyday life experiences really.

Who are some of your favorite local musicians and why?
Nick: Marriage of The Decade, Call Me Old Fashioned, because who doesn’t like technical math rock??? They play in weird timing and play notes nobody has heard before. Of course Underground Cities and a band called Versions.

Nathan: The Phoenix scene is starting to become a much better scene with great noises coming from Marriage of The Decade, Underground Cities, Call Me Old Fashioned, Meaningless! Says The Teacher, Muddy Moneys, Whisperlights, Packrat, Naw Meen, Versions, Andrew Jackson Jihad.

John: I adore Underground Cities, Marriage of The Decade, Packrat, Meaningless! Says The Teacher, and Call Me Old Fashioned. Lots of talented bands that we want to have a working relationship with.

Can you tell us about your new album?
Nick: Its about reflecting on hard times and not losing hope in society.

Nathan: With the actual writing of the songs, John brought in a couple of songs he had written a few years and we all added our parts to it. The rest, one member would bring a riff or idea to the table and we’d all jam on it, adding more parts that we saw fit into the song. For recording, we created a Kickstarter page in order to raise about $800 to record the album at Pyramix Studio in North Phoenix, and for two days in July we recorded the entire album live in the studio. For me, the theme of the album was about isolation I discussed earlier.

John: Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be a theme to me. It’s loosely tied to Joseph Kittinger’s free fall to Earth from the edge of space, but when I wrote some of these songs a few years ago I was just trying to express myself.

Why do you make music?
Nick: I make music because it’s fun! When I play music its an expression of my soul. Music can be very powerful and change people’s moods.

Nathan: I make music to express myself when simple words and/or phrases have exhausted themselves entirely. It is a creative outlet that allows me to release my frustrations, my anger, my happiness, my sadness or whatever emotion I am feeling at the time.

John: Expression. Whether I’m happy or bummed out, a good riff always makes me feel better. I want to write songs that make people feel powerful when they hear them.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
John: We play a lot of shows, so come out and support your local scene!

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