Casinos are hard not to like. Whether you go for the big melodies or the fuzz-dripping guitars, the rich character studies or the muscular musical chops, there’s something for everyone.
Since releasing their self-titled EP in 2014, the Abbotsford pop-rock favourites have kept a low profile, playing a smattering of shows and quietly developing a repertoire of new music. Raspberry is thrilled to share Casinos’ welcome return..
“Sean” is the long-awaited first volley of the band’s rebirth. The pace is slower than much of their previous material, which is often characterized by an almost manic, sugar-rush energy. Here, Casinos deliberately savour the intricacies of the musical interplay, dwelling in the groove established by new drummer Ken Ditomaso, who joined the band in late 2015. The guitars are heavier and crackling with swagger, underpinning Kier Junos’ incisive and melodic vocals that tell the tale of a friendship gone sour.
I caught up with Kier and guitarist Zack Keely to discuss the band’s long history, Frank Ocean, and Kier’s approach to storytelling.
“Sean” is your first release in nearly three years. What’s changed in that time?
Kier: I think we’ve all just become more discerning musicians, naturally, with age. We’re writing material that’s a lot more becoming of us. Not like we didn’t wear our last release on our sleeve or anything like that. I wrote on our Bandcamp page myself that [2014’s Casinos EP] was our final push of songs from our teen years. “Sean” is very much something of this era, which is why we’re really pushing to get it out there so we can kind of redefine ourselves in the public eye.
You’ve been in a band together since high school, right?
Kier: Since we were 13, 14. That’s when we all started playing music together.
Zack: It’s come in many different incarnations. I’d say we started playing music together in grade seven. And you were writing songs earlier than that.
Kier: My sister Faye got a guitar for her 16th birthday, but never played it as much as I did.
That’s a very long time to be in a band together.
Kier: It is a long time. In fact, I’m kind of surprised we’ve kept going this long with largely the same group of members since 2010. We had another guitarist for a while that we played shows with. Mitch [Trainor] also went to SJB [St. John Brebeuf Regional Secondary], and he joined us in 2010.
Zack: I’ve since switched roles. I joined the band as bass player and I’ve switched to guitar.
As far as what interests you as a writer… I feel like Casinos always have had this sense of detail of interpersonal drama reflected in the lyrics.
Kier: I’d have to agree with you. I write all the lyrics and it’s kind of on me to create the narrative of those stories. I’ve been a journalist for a while now, it’s kind of my other passion, and by virtue of that, I like storytelling. I’ve always liked writing about people. Maybe once upon a time it was just girls I was in love with. Now it’s just people, people I’ve interacted with, other relationships I’ve had with people, be that friendships or just acquaintances. I guess I’m inclined to write about people. I’ve even written roasts.
Zack: “Sean” is a roast.
Kier: In a way, it really is. It’s about what we want from friendships and a friendship that I’ve been trying to escape. I’ve been trying to ghost someone for a while now and … you’ll get the picture.
Has your approach to how you write about people as characters in your songs changed over the course of Casinos?
Kier: I think it has changed. When I was a teenager and I was writing about people, it was a lot more natural, it was a lot more free-writing about my thoughts and feelings and that was it. Whereas now, I try to weave a narrative around the thing, and use concrete language to explain this person’s existence or their story. I don’t even shy away from experimenting with fiction.
On the third track of Channel Orange, “Sierra Leone”, Frank Ocean writes about himself as an alternate person who’s a little bit looser and ends up fathering a child with another woman, which never happened. But I thought that was interesting and I thought why not? You’re a storyteller, why can’t you write fiction that way? So I decided to experiment with that.
We have this song called “Café Racer” and it’s about a man I met in London who had a Café Racer. He was in his late forties, in Honor Oak Park in East London, and I just weaved this narrative in my head where he’s incredibly disappointed with himself and his family situation and all he’s got is this Café Racer and all he wants to do is ride it through perennials and ruin people’s gardens.
It’s like, “Don’t do that!” But it’s all he has.
Zack: Kier seems to have this great way of reimagining the lives of people that he doesn’t really know. And he uses songwriting as a place to experiment with that.
It’s almost like this elaborate exercise in people watching where you take what you know and ask what does this tell me?
Kier: You can characterize my songwriting for a lot of songs like that. Sometimes, I just spill. But other times, I’m really having a lot of fun with it.
Zack: One thing that always seems to be in songs that Kier brings to practices where we learn the parts is an idea of a story, sometimes in the form of guitar parts.
Could you elaborate on that?
Zack: I don’t know if I could give you a particular example, because it’s everywhere. “Café Racer” for instance. The lead part that I play at the very beginning sets the mood for this guy pitter-pattering around on this Café Racer. Then comes this brash 90s rock kind of chorus: “I’m riding through an English garden!” and you kind of get a sense of the man there, this guy that just says “fuck it,” you know?
You can catch Casinos live this summer around the Fraser Valley and find more of their music online at casinos.bandcamp.com