Interview: Jake Cassman of Drunken Logic Gets Logical
Boston’s own Drunken Logic have been drawing quite a bit of attention lately…more so than usual. The steady mainstays of the Boston scene is sharing their new, politically enchanced song and video into the world, “What Beautiful Morning!” that has certainly been turing heads. Recently the group were also featured on 30 Days 30 Songs, which also included the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, El Vy, REM among others. I had the chance to catch up with Jake Cassman of Drunken Logic, as we talk music and politics, and everything in between.
Watch “What a Beautiful Morning!”
Recently the group has released the track “What a Beautiful Morning!” Did the group write the track as a collaborative effort, or did a specific songwriter in the band take the reigns?
Most of the writing starts with me, particularly the political stuff. But the seed for this one actually came from Austin, our guitarist — he pointed out that we hadn’t written a bouncy, dreamy 60’s pop song yet, and handed me what eventually became the bridge of “What A Beautiful Morning!” I wrote the rest of it around that idea, but I still think that’s the dark heart of the song.
Your latest single has been garnering attention from listeners and music critics alike. When it came to writing the song, how long did it take to put the pieces together and find the right sound? How did you set the tone for the track?
I finished writing the song back in the spring, but it didn’t occur to me that we should put it out until late August. Recording the track and making the video was a lot of work in a very short amount of time — we did it all in about seven weeks. But I’d trust my bandmates with my life, and I knew they could turn out something special in a short window. And Will at Chillhouse Studios and Mike from 41st Casanova Productions are real-life wizards. There were a lot of sleepless nights, but (speaking only for myself) they were worth it .
What was the driving inspiration behind the concept of the single, as there is most definitely a political angle?
I’ve had the idea for a song about American nostalgia for the 1950’s, and the revisionist history it promotes, since at least four years ago. I remember watching Mitt Romney’s convention speech — it was all about his idyllic childhood — and watching Jon Stewarts response and thinking, “There’s definitely a song in here somewhere.” I’ve also always wanted to use an unreliable narrator in a song. “What A Beautiful Morning” still blows my mind because it’s one of the least verbose songs I’ve ever written, and yet the music says so much and contradicts the words in a way that spelling out the meaning never could.
How did you get involved with the 30 Days 30 Songs project?
They put together such an amazing list of artists that I admire and have taught me about music through their work — Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Jim James, Josh Ritter… I could go on and on. I’ve always felt that the last decade of music has had a complacency to it, a lack of activism, maybe because we felt self-satisfied after electing our first black president. So when I heard that there was a movement out there to take a stand against something I really thought was a threat to our republic, I jumped at the chance to reach out to them. I’m glad I did.
With the current state of political affairs, how did you decide to not only make a think piece track, but video as well?
We’re in the early stages of writing our third album, which will deal with a lot of these themes and ideas. Our first idea was actually to record and release a different song. We debuted it live in late August, and it went well, but I could tell it still needed work and I wasn’t sure it was ready for the studio. That night when I was in bed, I suddenly had this vision for the “What A Beautiful Morning!” video. I stayed up through the morning writing and researching, coming with a concept and outline for it. I’d written this song back in the spring, and when I pitched the idea to Ryan and Austin, they loved it. I’d never gone completely sleepless because of artistic inspiration before, so I knew this was an idea worth chasing.
What can you tell us about the ideals behind the new video? And how did the song’s theme influence it?
We used entirely public domain clips, mostly old newsreels and PSAs, to paint that rosy picture of 1950’s America. And then we used those same sources to tear that picture apart with shots of the tragic reality that existed back then for so many people. The primary thrust of this video was to show that this bygone era wasn’t all people make it out to be, and how the issues we face today are strikingly similar to the ones we faced back then. But as we were making it, the video also became about the power of media — about how often you can see terrible, bigoted behavior on the news and then find it mimicked in cartoons for children. This video is not an easy watch, and there are a lot of disturbing images in it, but the one that sticks with me most is of Bugs Bunny in blackface. The idea that we taught an entire generation of children that that was OK really unsettled me, and I think we obviously still feel the impact of that today.
Coming from the Boston scene, what diversity for you find within the bands that play in the area? What sense of community is there currently?
We’re Berklee College of Music Alumni, so if you can name a type of music, we probably know someone who plays it or is influenced by it. Boston is a surprisingly good town to be a musician in too — you can definitely make a living playing around here. It’s a small but constantly changing community, with lots of venue turnover in the past couple of years. I think the whole artistic community is still adjusting to this new Trumpian reality, but we’ve been reaching out locally and online, and I definitely think there is a hunger out there to be louder than ever.
What artists not only influenced your sound, but made you want to create music, even early on in your life?
My first ever show was Flogging Molly, Jimmy Eat World and Green Day in San Francisco at AT&T Park with 47,000 other people. That was the night I decided to become a musician. We’ve since had the pleasure of performing at AT&T Park ourselves and having our music on the 30 Days 30 Songs project with Jimmy Eat World, so I’m forever gracious for the amazing opportunities we’ve had.
One of the greatest things about this band is how the different influences that each of us have come together to make something new and interesting (I hope). I grew up listening to the Who and Green Day, while Ryan takes after songwriters like Chris Thile and David Wilcox, and Austin channels the Beatles and Queen. But there’s lots of overlap between us too, so there’s always common ground to start from and ideas worth sharing that you wouldn’t have come up with by yourself.
What connection have you found in Drunken Logic that you may not have found in prior bands? What makes the group ‘click’?
I always tell people that even though we’re not playing sold-out stadiums (yet), scheduling for Drunken Logic is like trying to coordinate a supergroup. We all perform for a living in different bands, on our own, in studios, theaters, or even out on the street. The fact that three of us still find time to hang out is special in and of itself. But it constantly amazes me that the three of us still have creative energy that we save for this band. It means a lot to me and to all of us.
In your own words, how would you describe the Drunken Logic sound to new listeners?
I call it power-folk, as opposed to power-pop (though I love me some of that too). Folk-rock is probably the most recognizable label for us, but we have a lot of different influences on each album, and I think you can hear them all from song to song. In that regard, our next album is going to be a BEAST.
Thank you for you time and effort. It is graciously appreciated!
Thank you for having us! Stay awake out there — now more than ever.