INTERVIEW: Casey Shea of Los Angeles folk rockers Grand Canyon

Pic by Amanda Rowan

Hey Casey, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great, thanks!  

Can you talk to us more about your song “Kansas City”?

I’ve never been to Kansas City, but neither had Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller when those two teenagers from Los Angeles wrote “Kansas City”. It was the Beatles version of their song that sort of inspired the idea of having a song where you’d get to shout “Oh Kansas City.” Kansas City is such an American staple, and it makes me think of the midwest and early rock and roll. Our song is just a simple battle cry to get out of this 24 hour news/social media/corruption/greed mess and return to simpler times.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

We were doing a photoshoot out in the desert and we had to wait for the sun to go down for a certain shot. I grabbed a Gibson, walked off and started strumming, staring out into the vast expanse of the desert. Was just sort of hamming it up, making a bunch of nonsense up and then hit the chorus, and I shouted “Kansas City, it’s been a while since I reached out I know.” After a couple minutes, I came back to put the guitar away and Joe asked what was that song? I said, nothing, just sort of making it up, and he said…remember it!

What was the process of making the music video for this song like?

The label had been harping on us to create some video content, cause for a while we had nothing from a visual perspective. They threw out an idea of a video with a bunch of road footage that we could get from royalty free site…just to have something easy and cheap that the band didn’t have to be in it etc.

I went home that night and grabbed a bunch of the road footage I’ve amassed over the years on various tours. Kansas City seemed like the perfect song to have playing under all these American landscapes. I just started dropping it all into final cut with no real plan, but it was feeling like it could be something. Then I started grabbing random footage I had from shows and hanging on the road and it all just sort of came together. I sent it off to the label a couple days later, and they loved it. I mean, hey, what’s cheaper than free!??

The single comes off your new album Le Grand Canon – what’s the story behind the title?

“Le Grand Cañon” came from a text conversation I had with Brendan Benson while he was finishing mixing the album. He was asking if we had a name for the album, and I threw out some ideas we had been tossing around. He didn’t really react to anything I said, but he said “I think it would be hilarious if you called the record something that’s almost self titled, but not. Like ‘The Grand Canyon’ by Grand Cañon. And spell your name like that. So people always have to write the n like that.” He followed it with “I’m not even high yet”. Ha!

About 10 minutes later he sent me a mix of what he was working on, followed by a picture. It was a plain white dry erase board, and written in black marker was:

Grand Canyon

“Le Grand Cañon”

It was a pretty easy decision at that point.

How was the recording and writing process?

When Joe and I were first trying to get the band off the ground, we set up a bunch of writing sessions with friends to get a batch of songs together quickly so we could start rehearsing. We had a general idea of what we were going for, and sometimes we hit the mark and sometimes we completely missed. We ended up writing a bunch of songs with a friend of ours, Steve Duchardt. We just hit a nice stride where we were working well together and it was a fun process. There were some that were done as a band, and then Joe and I started writing on our own. We found a really great chemistry together, and we’ve continued to write for the band just the two of us. In that early burst, there were probably about 30 songs written. We recorded 16 and kept 9.

The recording process started as an experiment. We had been rehearsing in the valley a few times a week, and the room was set up to record rehearsals. It’s a small room, but things were sounding decent enough, and we thought maybe we should give it a shot ourselves. We did two songs in there almost fully live, and they came out what one might call – listenable. So we continued on for about a year usually two songs at a time. We ended up giving up on the fully live thing, cause going for bass and drums and overdubbing most everything else gave us a lot more control over things. We started taking sessions home to our various home setups and continued building. Eventually we outsourced the mixing/mastering. It’s definitely a bit of a lo-fi thing, but it’s very unique. You’re not gonna find anyone who can get the sound of Le Cañon.

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are collaborating with someone else rather than in your own?

Definitely. I wouldn’t say either way is better or worse, but collaborating is a lot more freeing. You can just throw things at the wall and bounce things off others. Someone might come up with a line or phrase I’d never come up with or never want to sing, but that might inspire or open a door to a whole new world of thought. And sometimes that phrase that makes you recoil in horror, is exactly the thing that needs to be the first line of the chorus…cause it’s actually GREAT!

When I’m on my own, things generally take a lot longer, cause I’m much harder on myself. Trying to get THE perfect line or something. Or just going places lyrically that you might not go when you’re with others. It can really be a pain, but I think I generally reach more personal and emotional places when I’m writing on my own.

What role does Los Angeles play in your music?

Joe and I both moved out here from the east coast and shared a love for Southern California classic rock bands like The Byrds, CSNY, Petty, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, etc. Sonically we wanted to bring back the jangle – 12 strings, strummy electrics and acoustics, all that sunny weather stuff. I don’t know if we could have started a band like this anywhere else.

What aspect of your life did you get to explore on this record?

Starting over. When I came out here, I didn’t have a plan to start a new band in my 30s. I met Joe in the first month of being here, and our mutual love of similar bands and styles of music was very refreshing. The good thing about starting a band so late in life is that we both had lots of experience behind us. We were able to start fresh with a very strong vision of what we were going for. The process of starting the band from writing to making videos, to creating flyers has been a love letter to the music and bands that got us into this mess in the first place.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

The songs on this record came from all over. We wrote about relationships in the band, conspiracy theories, drug deals in the valley, Kansas City of all places, and there are of course the obligatory odes to LA. I’d say if there was any sort of glue that ties it all together, it’s Los Angeles.  There’s a lot of sun in these songs, but if you peel back that top layer, it’s a bit seedy just beneath.

Any plans to hit the road?

We’re heading to Nashville in a few weeks to do a couple gigs and then will hit SXSW. Hopefully we’ll find a proper tour later this year that makes sense to do.

What else is happening next in Grand Canyon’s world?

We’re currently finishing up an EP that will be out this Spring. Gonna keep recording after that and see what makes sense in terms of putting things out. Hopefully more and more touring will start happening. Just gotta keep chugging.

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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