Casey: Interview with Tom Weaver

Welsh five piece Casey are making their way to Australia next month on their first international tour. They’re supporting Belle Haven on their headline run for You, Me and Everything in Between, with Stateside along with them, as well as stellar local bands supporting in each city. In the lead-up to the tour, I had the opportunity to connect with Casey’s frontman/vocalist Tom Weaver and talk about the tour, as well as get some insight on what makes Tom and Casey tick. I’m not shy about the fact that I’m relatively new to Casey, though I’ve greatly appreciated the brief exposures I’d had of the band’s honest and emotionally hard-hitting music. Tom was on the side of the road in Germany when we got talking, joining Emmure on tour and helping them with merch.

Talking about the upcoming tour and how the band’s first international tour came about, Tom shared that it courtesy of ongoing discussion between Lachlan Monty of Friends Like Us and Ash Hull of Destroy All Lines/Greyscale Records. Though it has been in talks since last year, it hadn’t yet happened due to both finances and timing. Tom says “We’re just in a way more comfortable position and it felt like it was the right time.”

No stranger to touring with Aussie bands, Casey had Endless Heights join them in Europe for their Where I Go When I Am Sleeping tour, and became fond of the Sydney based five piece. “They were great, we got on super well with them. We’re looking forward to seeing them again when we come out. They’re all going to come out and hang out at shows, and their bass player is actually going to be driving us for the whole tour. We became really really good friends with them pretty much straight away and they’ve been sick ever since.”

On touring with Belle Haven, Tom says they’re “super grateful for it”, though seems to greatly underestimate just how much love Australians have for Casey. He says “It’s not a jump we would have been able to make on our own name. With our first time being out there we were never going to headline coming out”. So I just had to object a little.

Kel: “I don’t know about that…”

Tom: “No.”

Kel: “You guys are pretty popular here!”

Tom: “Hopefully.”

Kel: “Yeah, definitely!”

Tom: “It’s an expensive trip, we need to be!”

Kel: “For sure, it makes sense. But yeah, don’t be surprised when you get all this love from the audience.”

Tom: “Hopefully, yeah that would be cool.”

Tom shares that by way of shows, they’re not very often nervous, due to generally being along with bands of a similar sound or genre, but the upcoming tour feels like a leap in many ways. “We always got a decent reaction because the majority of the audience were already there for the kind of music we were making, which was cool. But at the same time the expenses were always low being so close to home. But obviously with it being such a huge jump, and Stateside don’t really sound like us, and Belle Haven do to a degree but are kind of a little bit heavier than us. So we were like ‘How are we going to go down?’. But it’ll be cool to play so far from home.”

 

In my research about Casey, I’d come across a quote that Tom had shared in relation to creativity, courtesy of the Finnish composer Rautavaara: “I am a midwife, not the mother”. I wanted to know more about this intriguing outlook on making music and how Tom experienced this. He confessed that he came across the quote from Julien Baker originally, and he laughed saying that he ‘plagiarised’ it from an interview with her. “It was something that really resonated with me quite a lot, and the way that she explained it was quite cool. It kind of just stuck with me and I kind of read into it a bit more and applied it.”

By way of applying the creative ‘midwifery’ to Casey, Tom expands on the topic by saying, “It’s difficult for us to say that we are all the reason for us making the music that we make, because we are the product of circumstances outside of our control and stimulus that we don’t directly or consciously expose ourselves to. So it’s difficult to say that ‘I’ve made this piece of music because I am the creative force behind it’, and it becomes less about the ‘I’ and more about the ‘we’ and more about the situation surrounding us. It just seemed like a much more apt description of the way our creative process works.”

“We’re a product of everything around us at all times

“A question we get quite a lot is ‘What are your influences?’ and people expect us to say ‘Oh you know, it’s Pianos Become The Teeth and it’s Being As An Ocean, it’s Lydia, it’s this and that and X and Y’. It can be as simple as a background noise in an advert that I hear, or like a word that I happen to skim through in a newspaper. It’s not like ‘I’m inspired by this particular thing’, it’s that we’re a product of everything around us at all times. It’s not a conscious thing. It’s not ‘I am gonna go out today and I’m gonna write a song about this topic’. It’s more being in the moment and channeling whatever kind of stimulus we’re exposed to.”

Sharing my own experience of inspiration coming while in the shower or while driving, I agreed wholeheartedly, and Tom mentions that his phone is chock full of notes because of this. “Going into the studio to do the second record I had a note in my phone that was just a list of stupid words [laughs] that I’d found interesting or I’d heard other songwriters use or found in books or I found on a Buzzfeed article or something. It was just like ‘Maybe one day I’ll come back through this list and a word will jump out to me and will apply to a situation I’m currently thinking about and aptly describe something that I’m failing to put into words myself’.”

As a word person, I told Tom that I was intrigued to see this list of words. Turns out that we can find most of them on Where I Go When I Am Sleeping, such as in “Phosphenes”:

“I am bereft of the ineffable affections I feel I am owed
My vacancy and apathy are all that I have left to show
For years I spent in isolation, for chemicals that took the place
Of fleeting moments in which I found reprieve from misery”
– Phosphenes, Where I Go When I Am Sleeping

Not everyone has appreciated this wordy expression though, with it seeming to be the number one complaint people have about the band: “We’re very very fortunate online that we don’t run into a great deal of harsh criticism. But one of the things that has cropped up a few times recently is people complaining about the complexity of the language on it.”

Kel: “What?!”

Tom: “Yeah. It’s a bit strange for me because the way that I learn new words is with me creatively using them or discovering them by random. So for someone to say ‘Oh I don’t understand this’, it’s like ‘Well, Google it. Learn it. And then you can know it and use it’, you know?”

Kel: “Hmm! But I love that! Have you listened to the band Hellions?”

Tom: “Yeah yeah, I’m a big fan. We’ve played some shows over here. The first time I ever drove in Australia was from Wob’s [Matt Gravolin] house actually! [laughs]”

Kel: “The reason why I mention those guys is because their lyrics are really dense and wordy and I love it. You can enjoy the song because you like how it sounds and the riffs and whatever else, or you can choose to take the time to read the lyrics and think about them, like ‘Yeah wow, this is saying something significant’.”

Tom: “Yeah and really learn it.”

Tom says the first time they had the complaint was relating to the song “Ceremony” which included the term Pulmonary Oedema. “Someone was saying ‘What’s this? This is rubbish. I want you to go back to writing lyrics like “Teeth”.’ And I was like, in the song “Teeth” I used the word ‘crazy’ which makes me cringe to this day, that I couldn’t think of a better word to use. I don’t know…”

 

The conversation starts to meander into Tom’s childhood and his learning of language as part of the motivation behind his current day lyricism. He makes it clear that English classes were not his academic forte, “by an absolute mile”. Instead he excelled in maths, science, and IT. “Anything language based I just kind of sucked at.”  To the point where his English teacher gave him a thesaurus, in an attempt to break Tom of his repeated use of the adjective ‘nice’: “He said ‘If I see the word ‘nice’ in any more work from you, I’m going to fail you, regardless of how good the rest of it is.’ So I really took it upon myself to broaden my vocabulary and really work on my phrasing and syntax and actively try to improve. And now it’s become a kind of academic insecurity where if I’m writing a piece of music or trying to write something creatively, I’ll go out of my way to use impressive language to an extent.”

Kel: “And write to your teacher, saying ‘Are you happy now?'”

Tom: “[laughs] Yeah. I should. I should send him a copy of the books and be like ‘Is this nice enough for you?’.

Given that writing lyrics is a world away from a kid who sucked at everything language based, I had to know how Tom ended up where he is now, creating brilliant emotionally hard hitting music. Punctuated by a call drop out as Emmure’s touring van went out of mobile range, Tom shared his progression into music. Growing up in a very isolated village, the options were to either get into sport or to get into music. Born with brittle bones, sport wasn’t an ideal option for Tom, so music it had to be.

Influenced by friends, his early introduction to music came via a burned copy of The Used‘s album being handed to him. He thought it was ‘rubbish’ at first, but gradually worn down by the peer pressure of all his friends being into it. Around that time, Welsh bands were emerging and the scene was thriving and seemed accessible and easy to get into. He and his friends decided they wanted to start a band.

They were encouraged onward by the local youth centre that was conveniently looking to expand their presence in the area of music, already operating day trips to football games, but not having a strong presence by way of music in the club. They ended up building a rudimentary practice room that Tom and his friends could use really cheaply, a few times a week. Music was where Tom found himself, “because that’s all there was to do. It was either that or hang around by some auspicious building doing nothing all evening.”

 

Casey’s guitarist and vocalist Liam Torrance was in Tom’s first band with him. Tom is quick to dismiss the entire thing, especially the lyrical content. He says “I didn’t really have anything to say for myself” and that the songs were “vapid, A Day To Remember rip off songs and ‘I hate my hometown’ songs”.  The band disintegrated when everyone turned their focus toward study or work, and Tom’s path saw him head to university.

While at university he was invited to start something new with someone he’d known from another local band. Tom refused the prospect of being a vocalist again though, reiterating that he didn’t feel like he had anything of substance to say. It was at this point that he was taught guitar and the band Continents formed, which he stayed with for a couple of years’. Despite the fact that the band signed with Victory Records, and toured outside of the UK, ending up going to Japan with The Ghost Inside, he downplays his musical prowess, saying “I’ve never been a particularly promising musician. [laughs] I can never play with any real level of skill. But it was fine.”

It was at this point that Tom’s personal life and health went swiftly downhill. He didn’t feel like writing guitar was fulfilling him personally and called it quits, with the intention to step away from music. But Liam was back in the picture again, due to the band that he was with breaking up around the same time. Tom described the moment as going something like this:

Liam: “Do you want to start a new band?”

Tom: “To be honest, not really, mate. I’m kind of done with it”

Liam: “Do you want to just do a studio project then? Just me and you will do some stuff.”

Tom: “Oh okay, that’s a lot less hassle and we can kind of pick that up and put it down when we want to. “

The two started writing music together, with Tom taking it away to write the lyrics. He says it was the first time he’d put pen to paper in awhile, but that it felt good. “We wrote three or four songs, including some that ended up being Casey songs”, and the project just seemed to work.  It was then that the duo decided to invite some friends in, opening up the project to people they respected as musicians to jam in a practice room. “Like not make anything of it, just that it would be cool to hear it out loud.”

The experience worked well, with Max Nicolai, Toby Evans, and previous bassist Scott Edwards being “literally the first people we contacted and knew loosely through friends through other bands.” From the first time together in the practice room, Tom says it felt surprisingly great, and after two or three practices felt ready to book a show. “We ended up playing two shows under the name Well Wisher.”

At this early point of the new band, it was the Northlane audition process on their search for a new vocalist after the departure of Adrian Fitipaldes that hit pause for Well Wisher band. Liam encouraged Tom to ‘enter for a laugh’.

Tom: “I don’t really want to. There’s no point. I won’t get it, so I don’t want to try.”

Liam: “Go on, it’ll be funny.”

With the help of his friend Tim who owned a studio, Tom got a good quality recording for the audition and entered it. He ended up impressively coming through to the final eleven vocalists which put things on hold. At that point, Tom said to the guys, ‘There’s a chance I might get this so I don’t really want to push ahead with what we’re doing, just in case in three months’ time I might move to Australia.”

 

We know how this ends, with Marcus Bridge getting the coveted position of vocalist, and Tom returning his focus to his own project. During the Northlane pause, a UK band called Well Wisher expressed their unhappiness with the use of the same band name. “They weren’t like a big band but they’d been really shitty about us using the name and tried hacking our gmail and stuff. We were like fine, whatever.”

[Side note: In researching whether it was ‘Wellwisher’ or ‘Well Wisher’, I stumbled across a very amusing Facebook post from the band, saying “Wonder if that shit Welsh band with our name are still going? Their singer was dreamy but thick.”]

With Northlane out of the picture, and the band name in dispute, Tom considered it as a moment of ‘starting from scratch’, saying “I want to make one good run at this. I intend for this to be my last band. I intend to do it properly from the go. And that’s how Casey came about.”

Continuing the discussion on lyrics and writing, even a brief listen to Casey highlights the intense content that’s expressed. Tom says that he writes retrospectively, that he’s already processed what he’s writing about and considers it to be a creative exercise versus an emotional one, specifically so he can put things into ‘best fitting words’.

He’s also experienced the impact of perspective changes when it comes to his songs; acknowledging that in the past he’s written things ‘in the moment’ and when looking at the same issue three or four months later, he feels a completely different way. He’s uncomfortable in the way that the song then seems impersonal and doesn’t enjoy performing it. He’s learned that it’s a longer period of time, in between the experience and the song, that has it easier to verbalise.

 

Tom’s creativity is also impacted by the fact that being a frontman isn’t just writing and singing the songs on stage, that the role requires him to be able to talk about the songs in interviews, like this one. He seeks to make himself comfortable with an experience before bringing it to a public arena, whether that’s talking about it or sharing it on stage. Even though he’s at peace with what he’s sharing, there’ll be nights when he feels things more than others, but he says he’s decided to protect his mental health both short term and long term by not ‘reopening wounds again and again on stage’.

I kind of felt disturbed by hearing this and thinking about it; the way that the process of creativity has been affected/hijacked/disrupted by the way we’re interacting with it. I wanted to talk about it and it flowed into a conversation about the fact that music is art that you can hear, created by real people. I said: “It’s kind of like, should the art be that really raw and real, or should it be protecting the creator who’s being asked to keep experiencing it. I don’t even have a question with that, but you’re making me think about how musicians are put into a really tough position where they’re inspired to express something quite vulnerable because of what they’re called to, and it means they’re put into a mentally risky position sometimes”

Tom refered to the topic of creativity hijacks through the lens of expectation. He shared: “When we went onto the second record, and people started finding out about the topics I was discussing and that I was moving away from the sort of relationship focused topics of the previous record, “Oh why don’t you keep writing about that?”. A more poignant example is that every time I get into a relationship now, people are like “Oh you’re going to start writing happy songs now”. And it’s like ‘Do you want me to be depressed forever?’. It’s easy for an audience to say ‘He’s going to write songs that I can’t relate to!’, like ‘Yeah, but I’m writing songs that make me happy. So it’s either you want me to suffer [laughs] or you want me to be happy’.”

Kel: “It’s weird.”

Tom: “It’s something that I never experienced until being in Casey but like it makes perfect sense. Thinking back about it, it’d be like if Touche Amore for example went on from Stage Four to write about something different and something more positive and people complained about it ‘Oh I wish you went back to the topics of Stage Four’ and Jeremy Bolm turned around and said ‘You want me to keep writing about my dead mother. Like.. do you keep wanting me to live that? Over and over and over again’.”

Kel: “I think they forget that it’s human beings creating art.”

Tom: “Exactly, yeah.”

Kel: “It’s not an actor.”

Tom: “It’s not fiction. It’s not a character I’m playing. It’s what’s actually happened in my life. Once I’ve said my piece on it, because I do get myself into a stable mental stage before I kind of write about something, it’s a lot easier for me to exercise self-preservation, and not detach myself from what I’m saying but, as I said, write about it as a kind of memory as opposed to an experience. But for a lot of musicians, that’s not the case. They will write about things that are happening at the very moment and are incredibly personal and raw to them and then you have fans like ‘Why don’t you keep singing that song?’ ‘Why won’t you play that song anymore?’ and like you said, people are so detached from the art, like ‘I just want to hear what I want to hear’. ‘Yeah but the person that’s singing it doesn’t want to sing it anymore’.”

Kel: “Yeah and if they do it they’re going to suffer in some way. It’s kind of a respect thing isn’t it.”

Tom: “On the tour that I’m on at the moment with Emmure. In Cologne two nights ago, on the show with Thy Art Is Murder, somebody kept chanting asking for the song “Whore To A Chainsaw” from the first Thy Art Is Murder EP. And CJ took the time out to say ‘Actually I’m going to make a statement about that now. The reason we don’t play that song anymore is because it was written by someone other than myself’ it was written by the previous singer who had completely derogatory opinions on women. He was like ‘I’ve got nieces, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a mother, I’ve got a grandmother. And that’s not how I feel about women. It’s not how I feel women should be portrayed, and I’m not prepared to stand up here for entertainment and sing it for you just because you want to hear it, because it really doesn’t align itself with my opinions and values.’ And after that people were respectful, but in their minds it’s like ‘Oh it’s just a song, sing it’. But that’s not the case.”

I mused that it must be tough to have this compulsion to create via music/songs yet have it laid out so uncomfortably public at times, that it’s ‘for the brave’.

 

Fans of Casey will know that Tom has gone through a very long list of health issues (brittle bones, ulcerative colitis, manic depression, heart attack, stroke, car accident). I had to assume that these experiences would change one’s outlook on life, and asked that question of Tom. It turns out that seeing this bigger picture of how much has happened to him is relatively new. “Until this current record and the writing of it, I’d never retrospectively put the pieces altogether.”

It was ‘just how it was’, just things that happened, and things that he went through. He shared that he was fortunate with his mildness of brittle bones in comparison to some who merely ‘turn their head too quick and break their neck’. “Moreso if I fell over I was likely to break my arm”. But he seemed to refuse to be held back from what other kids were doing and was an ‘incredibly clumsy kid’ who climbed trees along with his friends. The mother in me wondered if it didn’t drive his mother crazy with worry, and Tom shared a sweet anecdote. His mother had watched him through the window and videoed him climbing a tree. She also captured his return to the house on video, along with his expression when asking him “Did you climb the tree?”, and his eight year old self saying “Absolutely not”, soon realising with horror that he’d been caught out.

More troubling was when Tom was in the throes of mock SAT exams in his teens and stress-triggered ulcerative colitis began. With embarrassing symptoms and also uncertainty if the symptoms were some weird part of puberty that he just didn’t know about, the experience went on and on for Tom before one day when his mother found him on the bathroom floor, laying in his own blood. The doctor that treated him said if it had have been left for another week or two, Tom would be dead, “And I was like ‘sick!'”

While it is hereditary, and he shares the condition with family members, the trigger of stress meant that Tom was forced to adopt the mantra of not worrying about anything. Easier said than done, but the threat of what it meant to his body was enough for him to try. He was seeming to swiftly get to a point of just accepting that weird things happen to his body. Having a stroke at lunch with his family was further icing on top of the metaphorical weird body cake.

“I was coming down to Sunday lunch at my parents house and I couldn’t pick a fork up with my left arm. I thought I just slept weird on my left side and my arm was numb or something. Then when I sat down at the table, mum looked at me and was like “What’s wrong with your face?”. And I was like “Wow. That’s rude, but you know, whatever. You’re my mother, you can say what you want.” and I was like “Nothing” and she said “No, go look in the mirror”.”

With the whole left side of his face having collapsed, Tom was rushed to hospital where he was told that he had had an acute cerebral aneurism, a mild stroke. Given that it had happened and he was otherwise fine aside from the drooping face, “They were like ‘Just kind of deal with it’. It’s always the same, just ‘Deal with it, it’ll be fine’.”

 

All of these things had gone on, and still weren’t necessarily a focal point for Tom. They were just something that had happened.  The creation of Where I Go When I Am Sleeping and a conversation with Capsize’s vocalist Daniel Wand changed that though. Capsize were playing in Cardiff with Stray From The Path near where Casey were recording, and Tom was mulling over what he should bring to the second record, lyrically speaking.

Tom: “There are kind of easy targets that I could go for that I know I can write about but I kind of want to push myself a little, and I’m going to make sure it’s something that I’m creatively fulfilled by.”

Daniel: “What’s been important in your life?”

Tom: “The relationship side of things is one thing but I already covered that quite extensively on the previous record.”

Daniel: “What else has happened?”

Tom: [shares the long list of medical things that he’s been through.]

Daniel: “You have ten years worth of material there.”

Tom: “Yeah, what if people don’t want to hear about it?”

Daniel: “Who gives a shit! We’ve just done a Drake cover. None of that’s personal to me. It’s just funny. Something that I enjoyed delivering and something that I enjoy talking about.”

Tom: “Yeah, that’s completely right. It should be entirely for me.”

Casey then went back to the studio and Tom says it came naturally.

 

It’s hard not to notice this near-death theme that’s all over Tom’s life as well as shows up in the band’s music videos, whether almost drowning in a bathtub or a smoke-filled car. To Tom it’s ‘not a conscious thing’, but that they simply try to think of things outside a standard lens and wanted to push the envelope with Casey. They’d watch rap and pop videos and notice what they liked about them and lifted ideas, definitely not just playing instruments in a room. “I want to make something interesting and for some reason it always became near death experiences. It wasn’t a direct translation of things.”

Thinking toward the upcoming shows, and the fact that we’d been talking for some time at this point and should probably wrap it up, I asked Tom what we might expect by way of the setlist for the band. Tom was clear in saying that Casey don’t do setlists, and that it can annoy fans who are keen to snaffle one after the show, but hinted that they’ll be playing more of the new record here. “We kind of decide what we want to play on the day. We’ll come to Australia, we’ll play some songs, it’ll be cool.”

Talking about expectations and shows, we got onto the subject of stage banter. Casey’s first tour was with Capsize and ’68, which thrust them in front of a lot of people very quickly, uncomfortably quickly. “So I just didn’t say anything. I don’t even think I said our name. The whole set I stood completely still, draped my face in my hair and that was it”. After the show Josh Scogin came up to me..

Josh: “That was great.”

Tom: “Shut up man, that was terrible.”

Josh: “No no, seriously. That whole saying nothing thing? That completely adds to the intrigue of the band. You should carry on doing that. The one thing that you need to avoid if you want this to remain as authentic as possible, you want to shy away from the easy claps.”

Tom: “What do you mean?”

Josh: “We’ve got merch at the back” “We’ve been on tour for three weeks” “This is our favourite show” “Thanks for being such a great crowd”. They’re things that people expect you to say, that are just an instant clap, regardless of who you are or where you are. Shy away from that. If you need to talk between songs, make sure it’s specific to that show.”

Tom says he’d never thought about it before, having never been a frontman and never really needed to address an audience of people on any sort of immediate level, kind of spontaneous level. The same thoughts by way of authenticity have stayed with him, and he’s admired seeing it in others also, such as CJ McMahon of Thy Art Is Murder.

“CJ touched on something at one of the Thy Art shows. “Look, we’ve been touring for ten years. We all know how this goes. We’re going to finish one song short, walk off stage, you shout ‘one more song’, we come back on and play “Reign Of Darkness”. He’s like ‘We’re not going to do it. It’s stupid. Encores are crap. We’re just going to play these songs, and then we’re going to hang out afterwards, and you can come and say ‘Hi”. And I was like ‘that’s perfect, that’s genius!’ because like it’s so awkward. We just did our headline tour. The first couple of nights we tried doing that, and three or four people were going ‘one more song’. and we were like ‘There’s no way we’re going back out there now’. And obviously there’s that awkward three or four minutes and then the house lights come back up and the PA comes back on. So we’re like, “We’re just going to play the whole thing and then that’ll be it, and if they do really want another song, we’ll play another random song that we haven’t played. We’ll choose it back stage and we’ll go and do that”. If they want one more, we’ll play a literal extra, as opposed to leaving one out.”

Tom says recognises how easy it is to get into the habit of saying the things you say each night, that it can mean that people can fall through the cracks, even though the tour wouldn’t happen without them. “People deserve a mention and I want to go out of my way to make sure they get the recognition they deserve.”

From my chat with Tom it seems clear we need to be open to the unexpected when it comes to Casey next month with Belle Haven and Stateside! Tickets here: https://greyscalerecords.oztix.com.au/Default.aspx?Event=87433

Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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