NYS Music and Music Minds have teamed up to check in with musicians around the New York scene and see how they are holding up and how they are feeling about their craft. For this installment, we talked to James Casey, saxophone player of Trey Anastasio Band.
James Casey is an NY/LA-based multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer and composer, born in Washington, D.C. to a musical family, and raised in Phoenix, AZ, from where he left to pursue a Music Business degree at Berklee College of Music. After leaving Boston, Casey moved to New York to continue to develop his passion for making music.
Over the years, Casey has become one of the most in-demand sax players in New York and Los Angeles and has toured the world with multiple artists. When not on the road, Casey has found a niche in the studio, producing and performing for many different acts, including his own, Animus Rexx. Casey is also co-founder and owner of Aux Chord, an online live-streaming venue.
Adam Chase: What are the biggest issues facing musicians during this forced hiatus?
James Casey: I’d probably say: stagnation and complacency. We’re all in the same boat of not being able to have live, in-person concerts right now, and we have no idea on how long we Americans will be in this predicament. I think the worst thing any of us could do is to sit still and wait for things to get better. We don’t know what better looks like or when that will be. As of today, NY passed a law basically saying venues can’t pay for live music right now. And understandably so!
We definitely can’t be trusted to be smart about this pandemic…but we also can’t remain where we are. Live in-person concerts are only part of being a musician. We should use this time to shore up deficiencies in our playing/performing, begin (or finish) that project you’ve been putting off, expand your musical horizons, or even start a new, adjacent musical venture! There are very few times in life that you will have this much time as an adult, it would be a shame to waste this opportunity!
AC: Have you found and tricks to staying positive?
JC: Hah, well, fortunately I was able to make my way to Hawaii a bit before NYC shut down. Right now, being on Kaua’i, I’m able to go to the beach, enjoy the outdoors, and be in an environment where people take coronavirus seriously…but with no community spread. I don’t know how I would have been had I stayed in NYC, in my little apartment during this time.
As far as remaining positive is concerned, I try to continually touch base with family and friends…and I really don’t like talking on the phone or FaceTiming. I know that a lot of people are in a much more difficult situation than I am, so I try to listen to what they’re going through and respond positively without bragging too much.
AC: What effect do you think musicians can have on social change?
JC: Musicians are the amplifiers of ideas and feelings. Any ideas or feelings. If you say something in a chant or with a simple melody, it remains in the consciousness of the listener and will bubble up from time to time. If it’s a good melody, idea or feeling, the effect is exponential.
There’s a reason we still hear the songs from the civil rights era right now; not only were they great songs, but they all conveyed a great message, a great idea and enough emotion to keep them circulating forever. “What’s Going On,” “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” or even “Strange Fruit” (from before the Civil Rights era) are songs that have become timeless and will eventually be revered like “Amazing Grace.”
We as musicians have the ability to write these iconic songs and we have a duty to chronicle the era in which we are living. I urge everyone I’ve spoken to on this subject to “write that song,” “tell that tale,” and talk about the things that are bothering you because you never know who it will resonate with. It could be the next song to bolster the movement.
AC: How have you been using your time during the shutdown?
JC: Surfing! Hah, not really. I tried, but I can’t stand up on the board yet.
I saw this pandemic coming (to the US) pretty early. I live in NYC and there’s no way it wasn’t gonna get there and explode. So while I was trying to figure out a way to leave, I was also trying to figure out how musicians would be able to work while not being able to play shows.
The idea I came up with was an online venue…but I had no idea it would get as bad as it did. Cut to April, and I see everyone on my timeline doing livestreams on Facebook and Instagram. They were all asking for tips and basically busking. That’s when we put the idea into high gear and created a platform where musicians can do live stream shows of all production capabilities (living room to a huge theater or soundstage) behind a paywall. It’s called Aux Chord and you can find it at AuxChord.live. I’ve been spending most of my time cultivating and growing our platform.
AC: What do you want people to know about Aux Chord?
JC: Well, we put it together for musicians. Since its inception, we wanted to find a way to have high quality audio and video without gouging the artists. I’m an artist and I know how difficult it is to deal with venues, so we made the pricing structure as simple as possible so the artists get as much as possible. Also, I think every artist should do at least one livestream. It’s not as daunting as it seems before you attempt it. If I, a saxophone player, can do a whole show from a locked down island with no Guitar center and Amazon taking a month to deliver anything, I’m sure you can from the comfort of wherever you are! Plus, to all the bands out there, we have different venues and staging areas around the country and production capabilities from small venues to giant sound stages, so hit us up!
AC: What song or album would you nominate for the soundtrack to 2020?
JC: My initial thought was “Scream” by Michael and Janet Jackson…but honestly, if you just record someone falling down like four flights of stairs, then have them stop and stand up, only to fall down five more, that would be my nomination.