Thursday, February 16, 2006

Interview: Casiotone For The Painfully Alone

Calum Marsh

Owen Ashworth, the sole genius behind the infamously minimalistic Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, recently spoke with us about his forthcoming album, his movement away from keyboards, and James Murphy.

Mocking Music:You started out as a Film student but dropped that to pursue a musical career. Why the switch in mediums? Was this transition difficult, or did you always have an affinity for music?

Owen Ashworth: It feels like the same thing to me. I couldn't afford to make the films I wanted to make, and I just found it easier to work out my ideas with song writing after a while. Once I got good at it, I mean. I still think of my songs as movies.

MM:Your first two albums were recorded solely with battery-operated keyboard equipment and was very lo-fi. As your music has progressed, the sound quality has increased (your first two records having been recently remastered and rereleased, too) and the instrumentation has expanded to include more than just the keyboard. What is the reason for this shift toward higher production values, and why the movement away from the keyboard?

Ashworth: 'Twinkle Echo' was sort of meant as the end of a trilogy. I knew I wouldn't make another Casio album when I finished it. I was ready to try different things. Etiquette is a bit of an evolution. The fish crawled out of the bog and it's got legs now.

MM: Your most recent singles, Cold White Christmas and Young Shields,sound much different than your previous material. The tracks are considerably longer, the music is more rich and full, and the production values are much higher. Is this an indication of the direction your work has taken and will continue to take? Does your forthcoming LP, Etiquette, have a similar sound?

Ashworth: Etiquette is kind of all over the place. I was trying lots different things. I think it all sounds like me, though. Even the songs that I don't sing still sound like Casiotone songs to me.

MM: Some critics felt your decision to work exclusively with keyboard equipment was artistically limiting. What is your response or defense to this kind of attitude?

Ashworth: Well, limiting myself was sort of the whole idea.

MM: You have worked closely with Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu. What kind of impact has this relationship had on you artistically? Have you been influenced or inspired by the work of Xiu Xiu?

Ashworth: Jamie and I mixed Twinkle Echo together, and we had some big arguments over some of those songs. He really made me defend what would otherwise have been very easy decisions, and I'm really grateful for that. I had to rethink a lot of my aesthetic notions of pop music. Those arguments are still part of my process now. Jamie works really hard at what he does and I have loads of respect for that guy.

MM: You frequently write songs that seem directed to specific people, or write songs from the perspective of others. Are these characters fictional, or are the based on people you know?

Ashworth: The characters are almost always fictional, but the songs are often inspired by real people or events. I have no qualms with steal my friend's stories, but I don't feel any obligation to stick to the truth. I'd rather the songs be interesting and evocative than be real or true or whatever. They just have to feel honest. When I was a kid and I'd hear a song that really affected me, I never assumed that the song was a true story. I just assumed that the singer was a really great songwriter. It just never occurred to me that I had to tell true stories to write good songs.

MM: Your song 'Jeane, If You're Ever In Portland' was incredibly popular on internet blogs. Did you anticipate the success of this song as a kind of single?

Ashworth: Yeah, I figured that would be the favorite. That was the song that most of my friends liked. If I had made a lead-off single for the album, it would have been 'Jeane.' I always preferred 'Roberta C.' or 'Attic Room,' personally.

MM: Your music frequently deals with young, struggling students - do you intentionally aim your music toward this audience?

Ashworth: Well, I mostly write about people I know, so it's not surprising that the songs would reflect a certain character. Whether it's intentional or not, I really think I write songs for my friends. They are my audience. As i get older and the people around me get older, so will the characters in my songs, I imagine.

MM: Your music has infamously been compared by critics to Magnetic Fields, The Smiths, and Leonard Cohen. What are your musical influences?

Ashworth: I've been asked this so many times and I still don't know how to answer it. There is a ton of music that I love and I'm sure all of it has influenced me in a million tiny ways that I probably wouldn't even recognize. I like all of those dudes you mentioned. Sly & The Family Stone's 'There's a Riot Goin' On' LP was a direct aesthetic influence on the new album, as was Vince Guaraldi's 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' LP. Have you heard that Pet Shop Boys song called 'Flambouyant?' That song hit me really hard the first time I heard it. I probably wouldn't have written 'Scattered Pearls' without it.

MM: You've earned the attention of critics as large as Rolling Stone, James Murphy of the DFA said he was "blown away" by your music, and you've had the opportunity to tour with artists as big as The Rapture. What kind of effect has this wealth of positive attention had on your music?

Ashworth: I would hope the answer is none. Maybe I have a bigger ego. Or maybe the extra attention has meant more people have bought albums so I have more money to buy fancier drum machines. So, maybe every time James Murphy name checks me, my beats get just a little huger. Thanks, James.

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Oh Illinoise
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Cold White Christmas
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Attic Room
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Roberta C.
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Jeane, If You're Ever in Portland

Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Twinkle Echo
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - The First Two Albums Collection
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - Answering Machine Music

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