CASEY BLACK stands in the yard of his gorgeously tumbledown Tennessee farmhouse, luxuriating in the silence. “You can come out here and scream and nobody will hear you,” he chuckles in a tone that suggests shouting at the vast western skies is something he contemplates on a weekly – possibly daily – basis.
“Me and my wife moved here from Brooklyn,” he continues. “We initially thought about going to Nashville proper. She wasn’t too impressed with that. We found this place: she really loved it. After about a week living in a house where you don’t have any neighbours, it occurred to us that we liked not having any neighbours.”
The sensitive troubadour is a Nashville native, though is open about having a conflicted relationship with his hometown and its musical heritage. His father, Charlie, is a hugely respected country songwriter. Casey assumed he would follow his father into the family business and that he would work on Music Row, Nashville’s famed neighborhood of songwriting ‘factories’ where the hits of tomorrow are assembled with forensic precision. He quickly discovered he wasn’t that sort of musician – and soon left Nashville, half suspecting he’d never return. He studied at Columbia University in New York, living in the city for over a decade.
“Of all the artists I know, I would say I am the most painstaking in terms of writing a song. There’s a piece I’m working on now that I’ve been at for probably six months. I need everything to be in the correct place: nothing can seem too clever. I agonise over everything – while the work is very meaningful, I would never say songwriting is fun exactly.”
He contrasts his approach with Nashville’s tradition of knocking out tunes to order. “The majority of people on Music Row, they’ll say something like ‘Let’s meet up at 11 and knock one out before lunch’. Great songs have come out of that method – I’m not saying my way of doing things is superior. However, I do take offence at the idea of ‘knocking’ a song out: there are already enough tracks out there that have not been well thought out. The world doesn’t need another one.”
He sighs, as if getting something off his chest. “If you go down to Music Row there are businesses with names such as ‘Song Factory’. This is absolutely not a stereotype. People are banging them out day after day. That’s not my style. If I was to apply my style to that situation, we’d be in a room for weeks, no songs would be forthcoming and everyone would lose their jobs.”
Black is proud of his father; however, he also feels that, as the son of a famous songsmith, doors have opened to him that might otherwise have stayed shut. He isn’t sure how he feels about that: perhaps he would have fared better standing entirely on his own two feet.
That said, it isn’t as if his career is about to burst through the stratosphere. Breaking through as a confessional songwriter can be a challenge. He is both moved and amused that a great deal of his success has come in Europe, Ireland specifically.
“Audiences there really pay attention to what you are doing,” he says. “I’ve toured several times now and I know Mick Flannery from Cork. I feel we’re on the same page in some ways. Going to Ireland has been a fantastic surprise for me: you cross an ocean and discover that an audience is receptive to what you are doing. I never imagined that happening. It has been the most wonderful thrill for me.”
Casey Black tours Ireland in December, including DeBarra’s Clonakilty, December 3; Coughlan’s Live Cork, December 4; Dolan’s Limerick, December 5; Whelan’s Dublin December 7.
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