As kids, we all had a crush on a boy band (or on one particular member. But Casey MQ also wanted to become them. A creative kid with an innate passion for music, he soon learnt that what society expected of him as ‘a man’ wasn’t precisely that… But after years struggling with his identity and queerness, he’s finally come to realise that he can pursue any goal he sets for himself. His upcoming album, Babycasey, out on August 14th via Halocline Trance, just proves that.
Based in Toronto, Casey studied classical music as a child, and he’d been releasing music for years before his upcoming debut LP. And these past months, you might’ve heard of him because of the project he co-founded with a group of friends, Club Quarantine, an online party on Zoom that aims to be a safe space for the LGBT+ community during lockdown – by the way, don’t miss his special presentation on Friday, where he’ll be debuting the album live. In today’s interview, Casey opens up about his childhood dreams, queerness, politics and putting together his first album.
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Casey, you’ve always loved music. You obsessed over boy bands as a child and received a musical education pretty early on – studying classical piano if I’m not wrong. What are some of your first musical memories?
I think during my childhood I often saw my musical interests intersecting. While I obsessed over NSYNC and S club 7, I was also steadily learning beginner classical pieces – and I enjoyed playing them. My siblings and I all grew up learning piano in the house, and I was generally happy to sit at the piano. I can also remember being ecstatic that I had the S Club album.
Are your parents/family ‘music people’ or was it something innate in you?
My Opa and Oma met at a Jewish folk choir, and my Opa was a bassist in the Canadian Opera Company, so music has definitely been carried through in my family.
As music plays such an important role for you, could you tell me one or two songs that changed your life forever? Those we could label as ‘era-defining’ to you personally?
Growing up, I’ve gone through phases of musical spurts where I discover an artist and want to completely immerse myself. In high school, I loved to imagine I was discovering musical gems that I thought I only knew, when in the reality they were being soundtracked on The O.C. One in particular was Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap. I would play that song on repeat. The harmonies, the texture, the restraint – it had a complete hold on me. My friends and I would make our own pretend music videos to that song. I also loved playing Für Elise – I think when I learned that song, I thought at the time, wow, I really do play piano.
You’re about to release your debut album, Babycasey, even though you’ve published some work before. What makes this LP different from previous releases? Why was it time to make an album?
I think with this album I really had a fully realized vision of the story I was looking to tell. Rather than collected works, this was an album where I was looking to interrogate ideas that had been permeating in my head. I wanted to get in touch with my inner childhood desires but considering them through a new lens. I started to become really fascinated with the question: where did my early desire for music stem from and how has that shaped me?
I imagine the title refers to the starting point of everything: yourself as a little kid. You explain that you’ve been watching tapes of yourself as a child these past months, which showed how obsessed you were with boy bands. Did you watch these tapes during lockdown/quarantine? How did you come across them?
About a year ago or so, my friend Mary Lou was transferring old home videos to the computer for her mother, and I thought that would be a really nice gesture to do as well for my mom. Once I started going through them, I came across all these videos of me using the video camera for hours making my own movies, concerts, etc. It was very eye-opening to see my childhood me, noticing the ways in which this child completely reflects who I am today. It was emotional to see that direct relation and to witness my childhood self in complete sincerity.
When talking about idolizing boy bands as a child, you say: “I wanted them and I wanted to be them, but hetero-normative expectations designate these as mutually exclusive possibilities. And so I attempted to give up my desire and become the desirable.” This is very hard, especially for a little kid trying to figure out his queer identity in a heteronormative world/society. So when did you start reconciling with yourself, your feelings and your desires? How has music helped along the process?
Yeah, at some point I definitely tried to rid myself of any urges or characteristics that would be deemed as gay. I went through a phase of repressing any idiosyncrasies that I attributed to gayness. This insecurity left me being perceived as awkward in my own body. I’m not sure I fully have reconciled with myself but I’m trying often to peel back the layers of self-understanding. I want to get in touch with my inner desires while recognising that those have also been formed through various societal structures. I think Babycasey in particular has been a way for me to reconcile with myself, who I’ve become and who I am becoming. It’s a way for me to draw connections or a narrative for myself to allow growth.
Let’s deepen into the album. The song Celebrity Crush reflects how we fetishize (and even weirdly sort of fall in love with) pop culture idols. Who were some of your first celebrity crushes? And your current ones?
I tried to sublimate my sexual desires at a young age. Instead of having a crush, I would obsess over  celebrity personalities (that I would make up), their success and their artistic achievements. Boy bands for a while, then I was really drawn to Leonardo Di Caprio and his entire film career, countless others really. I’m not sure I have celebrity crushes in the same way anymore, but Frank Ocean made a very important impact on who I am today. The night I listened to Channel Orange and read that beautiful letter I felt supported from afar.
Among all the songs, there’s one that stood out to me: The First Song I Ever Wrote. It’s a 19-second-long track… Could you tell us more a bit about it and how does it fit within the LP?
This song is one of many on the album that I wrote and recorded at a young age. I wrote this one in particular when I was 12. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking at the time when I wrote it, but I think I just wanted to write a ‘great song’ and that’s what came out. These samples have been the thread to the entire album and a way to directly connect with my childhood self. Each one I warp and manipulate to fit in this new context. My childhood self reverberates through these songs into the present.
As fun, upbeat and joyous as they may seem, your music and visuals are embedded with political messages. Being visibly queer, accepting yourself as you are, and turning gender roles and expectations upside down is always political. What role do politics play in your work and in your life?
I think in the past I’ve had a hard time understanding politics through art because I feared losing comfortability and I wasn’t secure in who I was. These days, I’m looking to unpack that through layers of what I was afraid to lose by engaging more in the intersections of art and politics. What kind of false security did that unconsciously provide me. I think I didn’t even understand what the word politics truly meant. It’s a broad word that can encompass so many things. As I continue to make new work though, I want to continue being more supportive to others and de-centering myself in ways that have distracted me in the past.
During lockdown, you co-founded one of the most famous online parties worldwide: Club Quarantine. It hosted the likes of Charli XCX, Pabllo Vittar, Tinashe, and more. You made it a safe space for the LGBT+ community and invited artists who’re part of it or are allies. Could you tell us a bit more about the project?
It’s funny because, at this point, it feels like Club Quarantine has been running for years, but it really has only been a few months. We had no idea about the undertaking that we were embarking on when we started, and it continually shocked us. The amount of emotions to keep it moving has ranged far and wide. I’m so grateful for the project and the community and the chance to work on something special like this with close friends <3.
Right now, there aren’t more parties planned as you stopped because of the BLM movement. But are there any news on the horizon? Maybe you could offer a live concert through Club Quarantine to present your album?
We’ve started running the parties every Friday, which has been a lot more manageable. We’re gonna celebrate the release of Babycasey on Club Q the day the album drops – August 14th. I’m super excited about it!
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