Memories are strange: they change over time despite whatever happened in the past remains the same. But if different people remember different things, was there ever a unique event? How does this malleability of the past affect the way the present and future are built? And what about our identities, which we largely base on the things we’ve lived and experienced over the years? These questions have been long preoccupied philosophers, thinkers, and artists. Among them, we find musician Casey MQ, who’s released a new album that speaks about how memory can be ever-changing, liquid, malleable. In Later that day, the day before, or the day before that, the LA-based singer and song-writer explores the subconscious and asks questions about the past, present, and future.
With an academic background in classical piano but a penchant for electronic music, Casey MQ proves in this new record that both can complement each other beautifully. “I knew I always wanted to interpret the piano with an electronic landscape, but it took time to find where the electronic element was best served on this album,” he explains in this interview. Showing us a softer, more vulnerable, even sadder side to him, the artist opens up about his dreams and traumatic past experiences like an “almost car crash.”
Hi Casey, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. First of all, how are you feeling today and where do you answer us from?
Hi Arnau, thanks for having me. I’m sitting on the patio at my friend’s house right now in Los Angeles. It’s pretty grey and cloudy this morning but not too cold, I’m enjoying it.
I first interviewed you in 2020 when lockdown was a thing—the main thing, actually. You had co-founded Club Quarantine, which was a massive success for those of us who missed clubbing, and were about to release your first album, babycasey. Four years later, where do you feel you stand now from where you were then, both personally and professionally?
A big change in my life was moving cities, which had a pretty strong effect on clarifying things I enjoy in daily life. I didn’t experientially understand that when you move to a new place with a new climate and new people, identifying what your core enjoyment is something that really comes to the fore. How I spend my mornings, my hobbies, going out—they all are uniquely challenged with new variables than what I was used to. Professionally, I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted a new place to make music as well, so being here felt like the right choice.
Ironically, babycasey, which was released mid pandemic, felt more club-oriented or dance-y. But in Later that day, the day before, or the day before that, we find a more intimate, even sadder side to Casey MQ. Could you give us some insight into the creative process of the album—the mood you were in, the setting you produced it in, etc.?
I think in art it’s natural to be in dialogue with yourself, so coming out of making club-adjacent music, sonically I was responding to myself spending so much time in that feeling and needing my own sense of quiet. I made half the album in Toronto before moving to Los Angeles and then finished it here.
Your academic background in classical music is very apparent in this album, especially in songs with a heavy piano presence like Is This Only Water or Tennisman9. Is this instrument your go-to when starting a song? Or does it depend?
The piano has always been my home and safety. Is This Only Water, for instance, was mostly written in 2018 before I even made babycasey. This side of my expression has always existed but it’s always been important for me to expand outside of that and explore. So I’ve definitely started songs in other ways—I’m always game to see what will result with a new starting point.
The classical piano is beautifully complemented with a rich electronic production. At first sight, one might think they’re opposites, but after listening to the album, it’s clear that they’re perfectly balanced and in fact enrich each other’s sounds and melodies. How do you strike that balance?
I knew I always wanted to interpret the piano with an electronic landscape, but it took time to find where the electronic element was best served on this album. I experimented with a lot of different plugins and effects to know where the piano’s aesthetic could be situated. I’m really happy with the sound that came out of that process and feel excited to continue towards that with other instruments in the future. Finding that interplay was one of the highlights of making the album for me.
The title of the LP alludes to the fact that memory is liquid, ever-changing, malleable. And the songs speak about that too. Christopher Nolan is shaking in her boots! What first got you interested in that subconscious exploration? And what techniques or processes have you followed to reach those deep, dark corners of your mind?
I spent a lot of time speaking to my ex about these sorts of things over the years because he was in school studying. I loved to listen to the ideas from his POV. And then, I would interpret where I could and do my own meandering research that felt applicable to my life. When I started to really investigate my dreams on my own, I found a rich unfolding of new ideas and symbols that would play a part in expressing this catharsis of memory. I watched Chris Markers’ Sans Soleil, read various essays and books, and so many other things.
Speaking of the record, you’ve said: “It’s a memory album, and it might be a breakup album, too… There are more questions than answers.” I’m curious, what were some of the questions that first sparked this work? And what are some other questions that have come up in the process?
I think some initial questions I had came from a distrust of my own memory. I was worried that my interpretations of the past were destabilizing my identity. Moments in my life that I couldn’t accurately depict in my head. It made me want to investigate the malleability itself and act as a resource of where the forgetting goes and how the remembrance occurs. Nothing was solved but also nothing needed to be. I wanted the music and lyrics to hold this ambiguity and ask questions throughout. I think some new questions I have are about the symbols… the objects that are important to us. We’ll see.
I adore Grey Gardens, which opens the album. It’s just so beautiful. I guess it has something to do with the famous documentary starring mother and daughter Edith Bouvier Beale and Edith Beale? Which speaks about memories (and losing them), the past, or the passage of time.
So I never actually saw Grey Gardens before writing this song. There’s a restaurant in Toronto of the same name and I was writing about this dream I had with that restaurant in it. Afterwards, I watched the film a few weeks later and loved it. What a fantastic documentary.
The song also has beautifully poignant lyrics. I fell in love with “Remembering is not opposite of forgetting,” which I think encapsulates very well the concept of the malleable memory. I’ve read you did subconscious-led writing sessions at the piano, could you tell me more about how does this work?
The dreams were a huge part for a period, and then also having these events in my life that I would try to organize and build some understanding and interpretation. Asleep At The Wheel is a song about an almost car crash that I had when I was about eighteen driving home from Toronto to my suburb city which is about a forty-five-minute drive. Something I’ve come to know about myself is that I tend to get really tired in the evening. I can basically fall asleep anywhere. I was driving home, fell asleep and woke up spinning out on a four-lane road. I braked right in front of a streetlight and then after a state of shock, reversed and returned to my side of the road and drove home as if nothing happened. I thought about that moment in particular because when it occurred, nobody was on that street and I was driving alone, so it almost feels like it didn’t happen because nobody was there to witness. So I wrote a song about that (laughs).
You’ve collaborated again with your friend Oklou. It’s magical to see you both! After working on other songs together, what else did The Make Believe bring to the table that you hadn’t done/presented before?
As I came closer to the end of the album, I realized that it needed another voice to appear to pull us out of a tunnel that we may embark on. Mary Lou has been one of the most important collaborators in my life and continually inspires me as a musical partner and friend. Without a doubt, it felt so special to have her join me on the closing track.
After releasing the album, I hope you’re embarking on a tour or at least some concerts. What are you planning in regards to that, and how are you training to perform these songs live?
I’ve been rehearsing everyday for this Los Angeles release show coming up in a few days. I absolutely plan to tour this album and perform in various cities. It’s been really fun to figure out how the intimacy of the album can be expressed on a live stage. I’m really looking forward to it.
Many artists share that living off of your art is complex, usually a struggle. It’s hard to stay focused and motivated. What fuels you to keep going?
I’ve done a lot of different music jobs over the years. There are so many things I would genuinely say I have not enjoyed making or working on and I’m perfectly okay with that. They were just jobs and a service so that I could continue to the next project. Amidst that work, I’ve also always prioritized my own art and other projects that are important to me. By keeping those ones as my pillars of pursuit, I’ve been able to continue moving forward. Without them, I probably would’ve stopped a long time ago.