Alpha Rev, Case.e Sessions Volume 1, 2019.
Tracks: Changeling (6:35), My Evolution (6:47), I’m A Refugee (4:02), White Matter Recess (4:24), Everyone’s Charade (5:19). You are the Peacemakers (4:33), Song of Aleppo (10:08), Silence (4:58), Write Your Name (4:22), Help Me (4:21), Silence For Humans (14:26)
Casey McPherson’s latest Alpha Rev album, Cas.e Sessions Volume 1, sees the extremely talented singer and multi-instrumentalist tackling music-making in a unique way. Modeled loosely off Neal Morse’s groundbreaking Inner Circle concept, the Cas.e Sessions membership program finds Casey making one song per month, creating a mini documentary about its creation, and presenting it to the members. After receiving positive feedback and seeing that the songs meshed together fairly well, he decided to release season 1 (2016) of the Cas.e Sessions music as a new Alpha Rev album.
Some might call this album pop, but I see it as prog in the vein of a band like Muse. There are a lot of similarities between this and Muse, such as the melodies and vocal lines, but this is a unique album that clearly comes from the heart. One might call this group of songs eclectic, but they work really well together, even though they were all written separately as a single project per month.
“My Evolution” has a strong pop/prog flow to it, with a great vocal performance by Casey. “Help Me” has a laid back approach, with Casey softly singing over smooth piano. This song reminds me a lot of “Colder Months,” which Casey performed beautifully on the last Flying Colors tour as an intro to “Peaceful Harbor.” This song highlights Casey’s immense talent as a songwriter and a vocalist. His music comes straight from the heart, and I think that’s why he has quickly developed such a good rapport with progressive rock fans. He is altogether sincere, and you can see that in the interview with him below.
None of the music on Cas.e Sessions Volume 1 feels forced. The musical influences feel very natural, and the pop influences work well. Much like Steven Wilson’s To The Bone, this album will connect with prog fans. Casey demonstrates how it is possible to create great music in an independent way.
You can listen to my interview with Casey, or you can read a lightly edited (for readability) but uncensored transcript below… or you can do both. The interview covers the new album, including Alan Parsons’ involvement producing one of the songs, Casey’s upcoming solo prog album, his work with The Sea Within, and updates on the upcoming Flying Colors album. The interview was conducted by phone on Wednesday, January 23, 2019.
Bryan: Hello? This is Bryan Morey.
Casey: Hey Bryan. This is Casey.
Bryan: Hey Casey. How you doing?
Casey: Good man. I got the right number, right day, right time?
Bryan: Yup, all good. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with Progarchy today. I really appreciate it.
Casey: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Bryan: Congratulations on the new album. It’s really good. I really enjoyed it. I’ve been listening to it for the last week or so, and it’s fantastic.
Casey: Oh, thanks. Well it’s, you know, I was never planning on really doing a public release with it, but all of the, you know, listeners were like “oh I really like this,” so I think other people should hear it, so I decided to let her… let her into the world.
Bryan: I’m glad you did. Can you tell me a little bit more about the background and where these songs came from and the kind of unique way you went about making them?
Casey: Yeah, um, so, you know, this really was spurred on from… when I, when I joined Flying Colors it became a, it was kind of a fork in the road for me. Do I keep doing pop music or do I stop caring about radio and start just really enjoying music and letting it be whatever it’ll be? And the guys in, you know, all the guys in Flying Colors have been like mentors to me in a lot of ways, in watching their careers and how they handle their creativity. So, you know, I know Neal had done Inner Circle and had some success and loved kind of having that family of fans, and I thought, you know, I would love to be able to make music every month without it needing to be a record every two years. You know, cuz typically when you’re on a label they do a two year cycle. They give you an advance, you make a whole record, and then you tour it, and then you know you do that again two years later and then, so being able to really create and release things to people during that cycle is really hard because it sometimes will violate the stipulations of your label. Business-wise, they don’t really understand it, so not being on a label at the moment gave me the ability to start kind of a membership program where I immerse myself in a topic that month and I videotape things around it with my camera, video camera and GoPros and stuff, and then I write a song around that. So I document that whole process from the initial exploration to the songwriting process to the recording process in my studio. And then I release that song and the video to those members every month, and as well as give them like a live online show so they can request songs and we can hang out and I’ll play whatever they want. So I started that I guess in 2016, and so this record is the first season of that, and you know it was all paid for by fans and every song has a unique story behind it directly written from something that I had experienced that month, and so it was really cool to kinda put them all together and say “oh shit, this sounds like a record.” You know.
Bryan: So, you said that… you talked a little bit about the record label aspect of it, how being kind of free from that, being able to produce music in that way… Did that, was that… did you notice if the writing process was a bit different than writing without those kind of constraints?
Casey: Well yeah, I mean, you know, when I first came into prog, I was like “wait, you mean we can write a fifteen minute long song? That’s okay?” And they said “yeah, in fact, you know, the fans love it, and the labels love it.” And so that, that’s a different, because being in that genre, you know, the labels kind of have an expectation that you would have some epic stuff going on, but for me from the standpoint of, you know… I have a meditation track at the end. There’s no way anybody would ever allow that to be on a record, you know. And that particular month, I had never meditated before, so I had a guy that came and, a violin player that meditates 8 hours a week, and he taught me how to meditate and we went in the studio and played fifteen minutes of music while we meditated, and that was a single take with him and I playing.
Bryan: Oh wow.
Casey: And then I overdubbed him kind of leading that meditation through there. So it’s really unique experience creatively. Some of the fans have been pissed because they thought it was an epic prog piece, and it uh, you know, it’s one note the whole time, so, you know, a little bummed about it. But other fans found it really refreshing to be able to have some music and participate in maybe an experience they had never done before, you know, which in a lot of ways that’s what I really think the heart of prog is – experimentation with your social norms and your expected um… uh kind of boxes that we create.
Bryan: Oh yeah, definitely.
Casey: And uh, so yeah, it’s given me a lot more freedom, and to kind of not think about what other people think when I’m writing, or what this company is gonna, how they’re gonna package it, or any of that stuff, you know. It’s uh, you get to say “fuck all that shit, and I’m just gunna make some music,” you know.
Bryan: Right. Did you find anything particularly challenging about writing songs this way? Like keeping yourself to a strict, like the month schedule?
Casey: Yes, I did. The month schedule was hard, and staying on topic was hard. What I found was that like, there’s a song called “Refugee,” and that I spent some time with some illegal immigrants that I found at Home Depot, and interviewed them about their experience, you know, coming to America, and what they’re, they’re trying to get their green card, and their fear of getting deported and all of that. So, I really had to feel something in order to really write the song, and so part of my challenge after I experienced something was, you know, how does this make me feel? How do I relate to this? And once I could kinda connect in that, the song came very easily after that, you know. The other thing was on a lot of these songs I played every single instrument. I played the drums, the bass, the keys, the guitar, and that’s the first time I’ve ever done that on a record, you know. So that was a little scary. I have a nice studio that has a control room and a tracking room, so I would set up my iPad to control Pro Tools so I could sit at the drums or the keys and press record and check my levels and overdub and do all that. But it was pretty interesting, you know. Typically you usually have an engineer sitting there, you know, and for some of the time I did. Matt Parmenter engineered some of it, and that made it a lot easier, but when he didn’t it was kind of a new way of recording.
Bryan: Well it’s really cool because it’s got this, you know, it’s got that kind of raw live feeling to it, but it still sounds polished enough, and it comes together really well.
Casey: Yeah so every single one of these songs was recorded in a period of one day.
Bryan: One day, wow.
Casey: Yeah, and so I would get up early in the morning, or I would set the studio up the night before, and come in sometimes with a half written song or 75% done, and then I would start with a scratch track, drums and bass, and then do keys and guitar, and then vocal at the end, you know. So, I did hire a cello player every now and then, obviously Brian [Batch] the violin player. There’s a drummer [who] played on one or two of the songs, and a guitar player played on one or two of the songs, so you know, sometimes I’d bring in some guys that day to collaborate, but it was every song was done in a day.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s really cool. It felt like on, was it on “Help Me,” that it felt like you were just sitting at the piano. I don’t know if you recorded the music separately from your, um, from the vocals, but it just felt like you were sitting there singing as your were playing, and it felt really natural and really had that same kind of tender live feeling that “Colder Months” did on the, that last Flying Colors tour.
Casey: Oh yeah. Yeah that I actually did, I did that song at my house, baby grand, and I just set up a vocal Pro Tools rig, aerial mic’ed the piano, and then mic’ed my vocals, and then tried to get the best take. So I did I did play those two together.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s really cool. It’s a great song.
Casey: Well I’d love to do that one again with a string arrangement, you know. With a little bit more of a production, I think it’d be really, really cool. That song was originally written for… I spent a day with this 11 year old boy who had anxiety disorder and some anger issues, went and got therapy, and an organization I’m on the board of, Austin Child Guidance Center, they gave him some free therapy, and his life really turned around. So I spent the day with him, played basketball, learned about his story, and then I wrote that song. So that was, you know, another cool kind of bizarre adventure to coming up with with something creative again.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s awesome. So this is mainly all, just kinda, sounds like it was just you, but I saw on one of them that you worked with Alan Parsons. Was it on “White Matter Recess?”
Casey: Yeah, so Alan was doing a master class, and I was kind of getting into the brain that month… white matter and how, gray matter, and how that affects our brains and how it participates in kind of our creative process, and my buddy Matt from Blue October runs a studio called Orb, and so they were hosting Alan’s master class for production, for producers, and so they asked Alan if one, he was looking for an artist to produce, and they mentioned me, and he said “yeah that sounds great.” So I said, “well I’m doing this monthly thing, here’s the idea, here’s half the song,” and he said “cool let’s do it.” So, that song was done in a day as well.
Bryan: Oh wow.
Casey: And we went in in the morning, and Alan and I went through the process of kind of trimming the song up and looking at the different parts, and we had a full band set up there that day for that song. We did all the live tracking, and then some overdubs, and then I did the vocal at the end of the day. Yeah, it was, it was cool. It was great to work with Alan.
Bryan: Yeah, that had to be a bucket list thing, I can imagine.
Casey: Oh, for sure. Yeah, for sure.
Bryan: That’s really cool. So what’s your favorite track on the album? Do you have one?
Casey: Um, I mean, I gotta say that it’s probably… I don’t know, I mean, I really like “Write Your Name” and uh… and “My Evolution.” I think I like “My Evolution” just because it’s such a… uh… um, like kind of a mirror. It’s a very… those are very real lyrics for me of all the work on myself I’ve done over the last, you know, fifteen years, and continue to. And so there’s a very cathartic part about that song, the idea of, you know, any of us who have experienced any kind of tragedy, or just big, big potholes in life, the idea that you can get crushed and you get back up again, you get crushed and get back up again is, you know, the hope in that, is really, I thrive on that stuff, so.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s awesome. That song had a, kind of reminded me a little bit of Muse throughout, just the music and the way you were singing and stuff. It was a great song.
Casey: Well I mean, you know, Queen and Muse are a couple of my favorite bands, so that’s definitely gonna ooze out and so forth, you know.
Bryan: Well that’s, yeah, definitely a good thing. I could kind of pick that up throughout, like I could, that felt like a lyrical, lyrically and thematically the, even though this was made over the course, you know, one song a month, there was a lot of connections throughout everything, and that was one of the musical things that I was picking up on.
Casey: Yeah, which was, which was strange, you know, I honestly expected the songs to be a little weirder. You know, and I thought it, I still just… I love melody, you know, I really do. I love what melody does. I love the drama of a good melody with with, you know, good highs and lows in a song. Still does it for me.
Bryan: Is the track listing on the album that you’ve released, is that in order that they were created, or is there another… did you move them around later, or…?
Casey: I moved them around later so that it was a little bit more of an enjoyable experience. You know, the prog community is one of the few communities that will listen to a record from top to bottom, you know, and so I wanted it to feel more like a journey musically. I certainly didn’t want the fifteen minute meditation song to be in the middle of the record, you know. So that, you know, I did move some things around, but I think I’m probably gonna release the original, you know, the videos soon of each song and maybe some sort of package that people can really dive into the progression of that season, you know.
Bryan: That’d be really cool.
Bryan: Do you have plans to keep making Alpha Rev music in this same way?
Casey: Yeah, so I mean I’m starting on season three right now. I just finished season 2. I’ll probably release season 2 next year or the end of this year, and, you know, the Cas.e Session fans continue to support me to make it, so I’m gonna keep doing it. Um, and uh, you know, I am working on a all out prog record that hopefully will be done this year, just under my own name, cuz I need an excuse to play for everybody, now that I’ve got the bug, you know. So, it’s been a cool learning experience to try to design my own fifteen minute epic pieces. [Laughs] And one of the constraints of two and a half to three minutes for half of my musical life, so.
Bryan: So are there any special guests that you can tell us about on that upcoming album?
Casey: Um, there will be a lot of special guest. I can’t… I can’t say any of them yet, but it will be a smorgasbord of some really cool artists for sure.
Bryan: That’s awesome. Well you’re, you’re in a lot of supergroups now. You’ve done stuff with The Sea Within, and that’s got, what, Roine Stolt and some other fantastic players.
Casey: Yeah Marco Minnemann…
Casey: Um, Jonas [Reingold], obviously I love playing with Jonas, and then Tom Brislin, who I guess now he’s with, is he with Yes now?
Bryan: Um, I’m not sure.
Casey: I think, yeah, the keyboard player, I think now he’s touring with Yes. And I know Jonas is doing, is it Hackett? Steve Hackett. And then I got to play with Marillion’s bass player [Pete Trawavas] first Sea Within show because Jonas was touring with Hackett.
Bryan: Oh, okay.
Casey: So now we’re gonna do our second Sea Within show on the Cruise to the Edge this year, so that’ll be fun.
Bryan: That’ll be cool. And that’s, Jon Anderson sang one of the songs on that too, from Yes, so that’s uh, you’re in good company on that album.
Casey: Oh yeah, yeah. That’s uh, that’s been a lot of fun, you know, getting to play with those guys. It’s a very visceral record, so emotionally it’s very easy for me to get into it.
Bryan: That’s great. So you got a new, there’s talk about, you know, the new Flying Colors album coming up. I saw on social media recently that both Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse have recorded their parts. I’m not sure about anyone else. Is there anything you can tell us about what’s going on with that record and when we can expect that?
Casey: Yeah, I mean, so Dave [LaRue] and Neal and Mike are done with theirs. I’m so busy getting prepared for The Sea Within shows that after the cruise I’ll be able to dive into lyrics and my parts, but I’m also kinda, you know, I love Steve’s [Morse] playing so much, and I’m… vocally I get so inspired by him, so I really don’t like to touch the tracks until Steve has a really good idea what he wants to do guitar-wise. Just because I’m such a fan of that guy. He’s like a, he composes with his guitar, you know.
Casey: So, you know, I’ve got some loose lyrical concepts and stuff that I’m working on now, and Neal and I will go back and forth in Google docs and argue about metaphors for a couple months, and then I should be doing vocals, probably the end of… I would imagine the end of February. So we should be able to submit the record to the label by March or April at the latest, depending on when it gets mixed. I think we’re hoping for a late 2019 release. I think that’s what we’re hoping for.
Bryan: Oh, that would be awesome.
Bryan: I know that’s… I first found out about Flying Colors with the last album, and I remember I heard an advanced copy, and I’m like “this band is amazing, I have to go to the show.” And I went to the show in Illinois, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. It was amazing, so.
Casey: Oh that’s, that’s when my guitar like crapped out, and I, I think that was the first show in my life that I’ve ever had to sing that many songs without an instrument in my hand.
Bryan: Yeah, you were having amp troubles right?
Casey: Yes. Yeah, and I was, I was mortified because I’m like, “What the fuck do I do with my hands now?” You know? And, but it was good for me. I needed to be pushed out like that. But now I don’t play on every single song of the bands that I’m in, so I can run around and act like a crazy person.
Bryan: [Laughs] It was still, it was a great show. That was my first time seeing any of you guys in the band live, and it was fantastic, so.
Casey: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun, man. It’s a special unique thing when we’re all together, that, you know, I think people can hear it. I think people can feel it. It’s, you know, you can’t manipulate that kind of thing. It either works or it doesn’t. You know, it becomes whatever it is based on each person’s kind of secret sauce that they’re pouring into the pot, you know. And it’s been, that band is something that we all really enjoy doing together, you know. It’s not work.
Bryan: That comes off so clearly in the live shows and in like the live albums you guys have released. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a band that was just so cohesive together, and especially for one that, you know, that tour was what, ten shows? That last tour you guys did.
Casey: Yeah, every record we’ve done less than fifteen shows for each record. [Laughs]
Bryan: And so the fact that you guys can play that well together is a testament to you guys, and it’s… it’s amazing.
Casey: Well… they can play that well. I’m just trying to keep up.
Bryan: Oh, don’t sell yourself short. You do a great job.
Casey: Well thanks bro, but yeah, it’s… for every hour they practice I probably put in about three. But that’s good for me, you know. It’s uh, it’s a good challenge.
Bryan: Well you’re the young guy in the group too, right?
Casey: Yeah. I’m about twenty years younger than everybody.
Bryan: Yeah, so… they’ve got, they’ve got time on their side.
Casey: Yeah, they do, they do.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s all really exciting. That’s all the questions I had. Is there anything else you want the fans to know?
Casey: No man, just you know, I’d love some new Cas.e Session members. You know, people check out alpharev.com, and get the record and if they like it become a member cuz then they’ll get the songs every month. And I’d love to grow that family because that’s, I’m getting a lot of joy out of making that music, you know.
Bryan: Yeah, that’s great man. Thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Casey: Well thanks for the interview brother. I appreciate it too.
Bryan: Best of luck.
Casey: Alright, same to you. See you down the road.
Casey: Alright, bye.
Check out his other projects and bands as well:
Special thanks to Roie Avin for setting up this interview.