Initially performing under her given name, Casey Dienel has been making music since 2006. Her 2010 release KAIROS is a hazy, dreamy, hypnagogic album that sucks the listener in to Dienel’s spontaneous output. Dienel along with her bandmate Shawn Creeden are currently on the road with Minneapolis experimental electronic sampler/percussionist Dosh. We caught up with Dienel and Creeden via e-mail before their show Sunday night at DC9 where we discussed their most recent album (out now on Dead Oceans), the tour and what’s on the radio in the touring van.
You’re on tour with Dosh. How’s it been so far and have you had any chance to collaborate with him?
We are talking about doing a few things. We’ve been writing a song around a sample of his. I think Casey is going to sing with them at some point on this tour. There’s also rumors of doing a cover song of some sort live.
Let’s talk about KAIROS which was released in March. How did it come to be? How does this album compare to your previous records?
CASEY: KAIROS came pretty naturally compared to other records I’ve worked on. Generally, I’ve come at recording with very clear sets of concepts mapped out beforehand. Each one was “about” something. I’ve written manifestos for them, rules, different rubrics. Subconsciously, I must have pushed myself to do things that way so I could get the muscle memory of self-discipline. With KAIROS, I spent more time trying to unlock my imagination instead of angling a thematic arc or cohesive concept. Some of that self-discipline must have stuck, so I didn’t have to labor over that as much. There was very little in the way of intellectualizing, it was more intuitive.
The melodies lit if off. They started coming around the time I was trying to restructure my voice, after a really rough couple of tours in 2008 where my voice had suffered from a lack of agility and strength. I was listening to a bunch of 14th century music and singing these loops for about 3 months just learning how to sing again. It had a lot to do with confidence. It felt like I was installing a spine vertebrae by vertebrae into my voice. The melodies definitely warranted beats early on, and I just went with it, kind of without thinking. Some of the demos were just me beat-boxing and singing in a loop over that.
How did the more electronic based sound end up happening? Was that a natural progression or a necessity?
CASEY: It was a culmination of the two. It was a very natural progression brought on by problem solving. We had to be imaginative this time. As there’s only two of us, we began experimenting with arrangements to make our sound more lush and full. I began drum programming and using loops very early on in the writing stage for the songs on KAIROS, and Shawn starting doing sound collages which acted in place of more traditional instrumentation. We used my voice as its own instrument, building walls of harmonies in place of piano or strings. Probably that combined with financial constraints required us to think outside of the box. It became a really fun process of discovery. How far can we push ourselves? How far can we bend the conventions of pop arranging?
The Internet breaks down that wall between the band/artist and its audience. With services like blogs and Twitter, what are some of your thoughts on how the Internet connects you with your audience?
CASEY: I think it’s nice on our end to break to hear how things are going on the opposite end on the stage. It’s actually pretty heart-warming how many people get in touch with us personally via internet.
We’re neck-deep in the internet for very practical reasons, too–it’s just more efficient in terms of self-sufficiency to use the internet to broadcast tours, new songs, videos, etc. We can manage ourselves better by being in direct contact with the audience/venues/etc.
I noticed you Shawn and you listed your favorite records of 2009 on your blog. This year has been full of great releases so what are you enjoying in 2010?
SHAWN: High Places VS Mankind, Liars’ Sisterworld and Explode Into Colors’ Quilts
CASEY: Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Pt. II: The Return of the Ankh, Toro Y Moi’s Causers of This, and Sam Buck Rosen’s Dominant Mind. [I’m] looking forward to the new Sleigh Bells record!
We are both really fealing the songs on Dosh’s Tommy, especially live. It really contextualizes the record in an amazing way.
What’s on the radio in the van? Is it driver’s choice or do you guys have a vote?
SHAWN: Driver’s choice, in general. NPR, Ipods. New Secretly Canadian, Jagjaguwar or Dead Oceans releases. We haven’t gotten to our books on tape yet, but we have Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
CASEY: Last tour we listened to Tim Robbins reading The Great Gatsby. I feel like when we don’t know what else to put on, it ends up being Aaliyah, Wu-Tang Clan, Gucci Mane.
What’s the best and worst food you guys have had on tour?
CASEY: The worst was Mexican food in Billings, MT. It was hard to find anything near the venue that was affordable ($26 for pork fried rice????), but the venue pointed us toward a place called Don Luis. The building was kind of sad to begin with, and all the food was covered in canned tomato sauce and sour cream. It was hard to find the enchiladas hidden beneath all that. The people in the restaurant seemed really depressed, joylessly eating giant pork tamales and tostadas covered in iceberg lettuce ribbons. There was no music playing, so you could eavesdrop too easily. You could hear everyone chewing. Food should be fun, this was a real bummer.
The best for me was Toronto. We had two days of gustatory bliss. The Drake Hotel fed us delicious shrimp cakes with dill sauce, a “sushi pizza” which was a rice cake topped with tuna and tobiko. The next day we ate at Fresh, a vegan restaurant down the street. I had a big bowl of tofu with tahini sauce and fresh greens. I had the most amazing, crystal clear bowl of pho at Pho Tien. Pho is my go-to meal on tour. It almost never fails me.
SHAWN: In Madison we had some bad sandwiches on soggy bread. The promoter was really awesome, but the food was like cafeteria fare.
In Toronto, the gold medal goes to Fresh for the white bean dosas and The Green Goddess bowl (steamed kale, broccoli, with great tahini sauce over brown rice), silver medal to Pho Tien (vegan pho!), and Bronze to the avocado sushi pizza at the Drake Hotel.
White Hinterland opens for Dosh at DC 9 Sunday night. Doors are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 day of the show.