When we decided to start a new magazine, we thought long and hard about the best way to introduce ourselves. Mission statements? Manifestos? Rambling paragraphs about what we stood for and how we were different? Nah. Not for us. Instead, we decided to catch up with some of our favourite bands. Not to try to group them together, or to make a new scene – just to say they’re great. That’s what Upset is about.
Alternative duos, eh. The White Stripes and Death From Above 1979 have both proven themselves adapt at making mesmerising noise with few instruments; a path continued in more recent times by the likes of Royal Blood and Slaves. Now a pair of young brothers from Chipping Norton, a quaint market town in Oxfordshire, are preparing to make their mark.
“[It’s] fairly intuitive and easy,” Cassels’ vocalist and guitarist Jim Beck offers as an insight into the dynamic of the two-piece he fronts alongside drummer Loz. “As we’ve been playing together for so long it never really takes us long to learn a song and we’re usually pretty in tune with each other. I guess being brothers helps,” he notes, before referencing the unavoidable, “though of course there are the occasional childish spats.”
Jim and Loz have been making music together since a very young age, influenced by their surroundings. “To be honest I think the biggest catalyst was probably boredom,” Jim reminisces. “We grew up in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fields. After we got bored of falling out playing football we turned to music, which was a far more harmonious activity.”
The rest was a product of logistics. Having seen other band members come and go, “it was a lot easier to practice with just two of us as we were always together,” Jim states.
Some eighteen miles from Oxford, the British countryside also left a lot to be desired in terms of live music. “I’ve come to the conclusion that not having any live music around really helped us, as we never went out and identified with any particular ‘scene’,” Jim analyses. “We didn’t consciously or subconsciously ever impose any rules on ourselves and we never had anyone telling us if what we were playing sounded awesome or shit. Also being able to play as loud as we wanted in our room for long periods of time helped a lot,” he muses.
That boundary-less existence flourishes throughout their debut EP, ‘Hating Is Easy’. Switching from minimalist instrumentation to hard-hitting walls of sound, It’s a welcome consequence of Cassels’ boundless isolation.
Music also offers Jim something beyond a means to pass the time. Although he dismisses the idea of a message in his music, he demonstrates a clear nod towards strong lyrical content. “I’m always banging on about how it irritates me when lyrics literally have no meaning and are just a collection of rhyming clichés,” he starts. “I don’t understand how it’s possible to sit down and write a song that isn’t about SOMETHING, be that an idea, emotion, event, story or whatever. I’ve heard people defend shit lyrics by saying ‘oh, it’s a metaphor’ which personally I think is bullshit – metaphors only work when it’s clear what the writer is inferring or referring to, otherwise it’s just random drivel. I definitely think there’s room for more directness and sincerity in music at the moment, and indeed a greater focus on lyricism in general.”
With such importance placed upon the lyrical content, Jim has learned to distance himself from listener’s interpretations. “If I started worrying about that then I’d be fucked,” he responds when asked about how the music is perceived, or read. “I’d never be able to write anything for fear of it being misinterpreted, which would be stupid.”
“I had a sort of epiphany when I was about 15 or 16 – I stopped thinking about what other people would think and began just writing songs as a way of expressing something, and once I did this I began liking the songs I was writing a hell of a lot more,” he continues cathartically. “For me now music is a pretty selfish thing in that it’s an outlet for anything I’m thinking or feeling strongly. Don’t get me wrong, I very much do hope that people like what we do, and I’d like to think that my lyrics are direct enough that any ambiguity is kept to a minimum, but I’m not going to let myself start worrying about how we are perceived or will be perceived.”
There’s a significant and overt level of control in the way Jim approaches Cassels. The decision to continue as a duo, their deliberate distance from a scene and the acknowledgement of his selfishness are all fundamental in creating the Cassels sound; a sound he is reluctant to compromise, yet one that has seen the band be picked up by independent label Big Scary Monsters and Oxford music collective, Idiot King.
“Just having people who really believe in what you’re doing and who are really helpful and supportive is massive for us,” Jim explains. “Working with those guys has already given us a lot of confidence and self-belief, not to mention more exposure than we’ve ever had before. Moving forward I think they’re going to help give us some direction and make smarter decisions as a band.”
“The more and more we’ve been playing, the further I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ll probably never make a full time living off of music which is what I always dreamed of as a kid. I’ve also realised that I wouldn’t necessarily want that now anyway,” continues Jim. “To me it seems that pretty much every band that has got ‘big’ has had to make major compromises and bend to another’s will somewhere along the line, usually to that of a record company, and in doing so have lost control of part of the vision they set out with when they started making music. I think many bands would be fine with doing that in exchange for money or fame, but I’ve now reached a point of such pig-headedness that I could never relinquish control of any creative aspect of Cassels.”
Photo: Emma Swann / Upset. Taken from the August issue of Upset – order a copy now.