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A band driven by their passion for music and the thrill of collaboration, Casino Rockets never stick to the constraints of genres and often push the boundaries of rock and electronica. Not merely emulating their favourites such as Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode, but capturing their own ingenious sound.
The Halifax-based band consists of Tiv Whitaker (vocals and synths), Rick Anderson (guitars and vocals), Dan Lea (bass, synths, and vocals), and Chris (drums).
It’s no wonder they’re each in harmony with each other. The band worked towards their recently released debut, Reality Distortion Field (2021), after playing together for the last 13 years and have recorded music on and off since 2002. Heralded by the release of their track ‘Black & Red’ (2017), their new material confirms what existing fans already knew – from thunderous riffs to uplifting melodies, the band has it all within their grasp, and their only limit is themselves.
Their debut album, Reality Distortion Field, was produced by Steve Whitfield, who has previously worked with the likes of The Cure, The Mission, and Jane Weaver. It was mastered by Dez Ford, known for working with Scenius, The Fossil Collective, and Klammer. The band has noted that their album is about “persistence and perspective, a journey from the bleakness of the mundane to the exhilaration of elevation; an adventure between the rock bottom and the summit”.
The tracklist is as follows: ‘Impala’, ‘People Like You’, ‘Only Light Can Save You’, ‘Simpatico Thieves’, ‘Fonzerelli’, ‘The Maker’, ‘Black & Red’, ‘Drive Me to the Dusk’, ‘Feel Me Now’, and ‘Kachumber’.
aAh! Magazine caught up with Tiv Whitaker and Dan Lea over Zoom to find out more their favourite lyrics, what’s on their bucket list, and first concerts.
Your new album has just come out and you actually wrote 17 singles over four years, but you kept, ‘Black and Red’. What was your reason for keeping it?
Dan Lea: “All the songs that we dismissed, didn’t fit with what we were doing and the direction we ended up going in. There was a journey of discovery along the way, but ‘Black and Red’ just felt right.”
Tiv Whitaker: “It felt like a benchmark in tune for us in terms of the style, the darkness, the variety, the power. It was something that I’d latched onto because it was written such a long time ago. It was developed in recent years and after all this time, it still managed to keep us fulfilled with our love for the sound.”
I like how with the album there are themes of darkness and struggle but also a feeling of hope and perseverance as well. When you were creating this album, were there particular moments of struggle or obstacles that you had to overcome?
Lea: “Constant. Getting anything done took such a long time because it was always very difficult to get all four of us in a room together and get something in the diary. We all had all sorts of things going on, so the main thing really was logistics.”
Whitaker: “I think that there’s a holistic way of describing the struggle to get to this point with the album. I think, especially in my own head, how are we going to make all our musical differences work together or disparities work together. Because Dan [Lea] is into Chilli Peppers, another is into Sasha, who’s an electronic DJ. We kept testing the water and we’d enjoy it for a couple of weeks. You look back on it and think it’s not what we’re after really. But eventually, we got there somehow and we’ve all said that we all must agree that we like each of the tracks. It’s like our own musical democracy.”
It’s really good how you put creative collaboration first. On a moment of reflection, do you have any favourite moments of creating this album?
Lea: “I’ve got one. When we were recording ‘People Like You’, there was a bell lying about in the studio. It was like what the teacher used to use to call people into school. I just thought I’m going to go with this and it ended up on the track. Somehow it just sounded perfect, like it was always supposed to be there. So, happy accidents like that.”
Whitaker: “That was a good moment. For me, because the first place we recorded was at The Chairworks in Castleford. I’d looked it up on a map, but that was it. It was on this backstreet on red brick, a tiny little road. When we got there, I was like, ‘Wow, look there’s a pool table there for us and massive mixing desks. There is a room over there full of pianos including the grand piano. There’s a room there that’s locked off. It’s full of guitars and it was just like a haven for musicians.’ It was beautiful, we wanted to spend the week there. It was a good moment.”
Lea: “Exploring for the first time and feeling like a kid in a sweet shop.”
Do you have a favourite location, drink, and instrument for when you write?
Whitaker: “We all like Craft Ale, so one of us might bring a four-pack to the band. We enjoy that. The practice room where we play is our guitarist’s place of work. He teaches the guitar there. It’s not ideal in any way but it suits our budget.”
Lea: “I think the last one ‘Kachumber’ is a bit of a labour of love. A lot went into it. I don’t know what anybody else thinks but we think it’s a bit of a masterpiece. We’d liken it to things like ‘Paranoid Android’ and proper epics.”
Whitaker: “I agree with ‘Kachumber’. I want people to tell me that it’s their favourite as well when we’re talking about the album and they don’t. That worries me a little bit in my comments or my love for it. Maybe they’re tired of the album by that point and they can’t be bothered listening to the last song. I don’t know. Maybe it’s one for the purists.”
Lea: “Looking down the list of how many plays each track has had, which we can see on Spotify and stuff, it does get fewer as you go down the tracklisting. A lot of people just listen to the first one and think that’s quite good, or maybe not and think, ‘Nah, not for me.’ “
Did you have any reasoning behind the order?
Whitaker: “It was a case of where can it not go? So, you can’t put ‘Kachumber’ at number three and you can’t put it at number two, we ummed and ahhed about putting it at number one at one point because of its epicness. So, it was more a case of that definitely can’t go there. That one definitely can’t go, ‘People Like Us’ is more of a pop song. It’s under four minutes, so it probably shouldn’t be at the beginning. You can’t put something epic after something beautiful, so let’s continue the trail of melancholic, slow-moving types, etc. And then, we’ll pop it out at the end. That’s my description of how we came to do the tracklisting.”
Lea: “We thought we needed a banger at the start. That’s why I picked ‘Impala’. None of the tracks really fit anywhere other than where they are.”
You mostly worked with Steve Whitfield on the album, did he bring anything unexpected to the album?
Lea: On a song called ‘Close Your Eyes’, which we haven’t released yet, as it didn’t seem to fit after we recorded it, he did a great keys part.”
Whitaker: “Going into working with Steve Whitfield, I thought he was gonna start like, ‘Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that.’ But he just let us do our own thing and he could seem to work out where he could step in or not. I think on ‘River’, he actually encouraged Richard [Anderson] to go and get the acoustic guitar and play the same riff acoustically as he did on electric as well. There are things that Steve’s done on the album that I’m sure he’ll tell you, that the band has not even recognised yet. I know that because he told me that he’d done that to other bands and said, ‘Please don’t touch it, because I like it the way it is’. I emailed him a couple of times, saying, ‘Steve, I really liked the vocal treatment you did on song X. Can you do it on song B?’ I recognised a few production things that were done. We actually put Hi-Hats on a beat that didn’t have a heartbeat Hi-Hat. So, it sounded a bit like dance music. It was on ‘Kachumber’, where there’s a constant there, which Chris doesn’t play but approved of in the end.”
I really liked how it all flowed together. He’s previously worked with The Cure. Did they or any other bands inspire you while creating this album?
Whitaker: “Myself and Dan have talked about The Cure’s songs, as well as Richard.”
Lea: “We did a reworking of ‘Close To Me’ once, in your flat about 15 years ago. We’re sort of into that sort of stuff and everyone loves The Cure. A lot of the really dreamy stuff is what we like to emulate. I wouldn’t say it’s a direct influence, but you definitely think that’s exactly what we were trying to do. I think it’s changed across the recording of the album because it’s taken such a long time. The things that I’m listening to and influencing me at the moment, aren’t necessarily the same things that I was listening to four years ago. Working Men’s Club is a band that I really like. I hope that we’ll head in that sort of direction next, and Snapped Ankles are really similar to them. Everything, Everything, and Alt-J are just really clever and everything is so interesting about their music. That’s one thing when we’re in the rehearsal room writing, the ideas that stick around are always the ones that take you slightly by surprise or are a little bit more like trying to be clever.”
Whitaker: “It’s trying to show that you understand your Alt-J, your Everything Everything, and Jungle. It’s trying to show that you understand that by portraying it in your own music, striving for it, and aspiring to it.”
Has there been a moment where something unexpected has come together for you either in the studio or at home?
Whitaker: “‘Kachumber’ is the perfect example for that. At the start of last year, we were listening to the entire album tracks, including ‘Kachumber’. I emailed some of the guys saying, ‘Is there something missing from this track, why don’t we try something else?’ Dan agreed and said that he’d get his wife, who is a singer to have a go. But bearing in mind that both of them just had a baby and it was a difficult time for them. They sent a sample over for us to listen to and we thought it was really good. We were like, ‘Can we expand on the idea?’ They didn’t have time to do it in the end. Dan just sent me all the vocal takes that he’d done with Jess over on Dropbox. I put them into a sampler, and I just did a simple beat and found the frequency I needed. I moved Jess’ voice up an entire 12 notes and then I sent it to the guys. Dan joined the mix and we spent two or three weeks just perfecting the ideas. We ended up with the vocal that has been processed through synthesis. That was a really enjoyable moment because we got something epic from a tune that we thought was epic.”
Lea: “That song has been around for so long and has been developed for so long. We did three mixes after recording it and we still didn’t have anything like that. All the electronic sort of feel to it was only added at the 11th hour after it was all finished completely. It was taken in a completely different direction and made it miles better.”
I feel like part of the reason why the vocals are so powerful, is that the lyrics themselves are so intricate too. Does either of you have any favourite lyrics on the album?
Lea: “A couple of lines here and there. When you’re playing, you’re listening and concentrating on what you’re doing. I play bass and synth. I certainly don’t know all the lyrics. There’s a couple of lines that stand out for me, ‘Birds in the trees, polyphonic’. It’s one you [Whitaker] said I wrote but I don’t…”
Whitaker: “I don’t think I did it. So, this is on ‘Kachumber’ again. When we were in the studio, Richard played a couple of lines into the song, and then it was like, ‘What am I meant to sing here? What am I going to write?’ Then, Dan said to me, ‘What do you think about that lead that you just tripped over there?’”
Lea: “I don’t remember this at all.”
Whitaker: “You did. You said, ‘Write about that lead there’, or whatever it was. There’s a loose connection there, so he’s like, ‘I tripped on the lead where you left it’. That’s the first line of the song etc. And then Dan said to me, What about birds in the trees polyphonic?’ That somehow made its way into there. Even though I’ve written the entire lyrics to some of the tunes, it was very much a collection of ideas that were built up over weeks and weeks. They ended up being part of something better. For me, ‘Impala’ was a style I had in my head for years. Not about an Impala and a lion, I don’t know where that came from. On a Friday night, when Richard sent me a guitar idea, there was the premise about the battle between the lions and the lesser powerful impalas. The idea of the lions respecting the impala comes from growing up and the ideas about how I see my inferiority against other people, depending on where you are in life.”
Lea: “Against the alpha males.”
Whitaker: “Not just the alpha males but people may be more competent than me at that particular point and competence doesn’t mean tyranny does it. It just means that they’re better than me in some way.”
I think that’s actually really interesting how you managed to capture that. You previously mentioned performing covers earlier, did you have a favourite?
Lea: “We used to play covers and gig around the pubs. We played a function at a working men’s club where we used to rehearse. We’ve got it on video, we were playing like all these mod-rock songs and stuff. And then, we played ‘All Around The World’ by Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It’s a bit heavier and at the end of the song, there was just silence in the audience. And then Tiv said the line from Back To The Future, when they just played ‘Johnny B Goode’, like years before it had been written. He said, ‘Your kids are going to love it’. It was pretty funny, so that was a favourite cover moment.”
Whitaker: “I used to enjoy playing Kings of Leon tracks. There’s a point to make about this, which is that I realised that each musician or me as the singer, would love songs which they were best at in that cover. So, Dan used to like playing Red Hot Chilli Peppers stuff, like ‘Aeroplane’, because the baseline was so Dan Lea. I like singing Kings of Leon because I thought I was quite close to Caleb’s portrayal of what he was doing. I think that’s somewhat true for each of the musicians in the band. Chris used to love playing Blink-182. It’s whatever made the musician shine, which used to be their favourite cover track.”
Do you have any musical heroes that you’ve always looked up to or perhaps got you into music?
Whitaker: “I was certainly influenced and I’ll say this quite a lot, but it’s Depeche Mode that got me into the style of music I guess. I love the fact that they were just using synthesisers and a drumbeat and singing along to it. It’s simple stuff but it hit me so hard when I heard it, especially when they were probably on their sixth or seventh album, Violator. I just loved that and Alan Wilder. He created their sound, like the Violator sound and I’m forever looking him up and I mean, I’ve got like a crush on him because of the way he talked about synthesisers and what he did to ‘Enjoy The Silence’, which were meant to be a slow ballad, and he turned it into the big hit. So, I’m always researching those guys. I like the story of Pink Floyd. I love watching documentaries about those guys and stuff.”
Lea: “When I was about seven, I was on holiday. My mum gave me and my sister some pesetas to get a cassette from the corner shop where they sold the English papers and stuff. There was a bootleg Eric Clapton tape and he just looked a bit like my dad on the cover, so I got it. It’s the only cassette but I’ve still got it. That got me interested in guitars because it was awesome. It had ‘Ramblin’, ‘On My Mind’ on E.C. Was Here. It’s just amazing. Through Clapton, I got into Cream and then that got me into bass because Jack Bruce is awesome. Then, from that genre into Hendrix. Nothing has really influenced the band but that love of guitars and guitar music is what got me into it the first place.”
Did you ever regularly go to gigs?
Whitaker: “We went to LCD Soundsystem together didn’t we, Dan? That was probably one of our last big concerts. It was awesome. I’d never been to see those guys before. My first concert was Depeche Mode at Wembley. It’s a bit of an epic but it just landed right. I was 16 and I was lucky to get there.”
Lea: “I got to see The Kinks because my mum’s fella at the time had all the Beatles albums on CD’s and The Kinks. I loved it and got taken to see The Kinks when I was a teenager. I’ve not been to the gigs recently because they’re a bit out of fashion at the moment, obviously.”
So, what can we expect next from Casino Rockets?
Lea: “We haven’t been booking gigs because of the current situation. So, now the album’s out and people are starting to talk about it a bit, and then, that’s kind of the time we’ve allocated to get some gigs in. We really want to start writing again and we’ve been focused on his album for so long that we’ve not really done any writing for ages. That’s what excites us really. That’s what you’ve got to do to be in a band.”
Whitaker: “It’s really exciting to think that we’ve done a body of work now, which we’re being told people like, respect and they think that we’re good musicians. That gives us a card to think that we should keep doing it rather than give up. But that’s exciting to know what we might be capable of in the future because we’ve touched upon electronica on the album and some synthetic-ness about it. I’ve certainly got a few ideas in the pipeline of all the collections of pieces of loops that we have been doing over the years, and minute songs that just aren’t finished. We’ve got some ideas that are just brilliant but they never got finished, because we were never capable of finishing the tune back in the day. But with the help of Steve in the studio and those guys, mean that as a four we do finish songs. I’m excited to bring some of those ideas that we’ve had in the past back to the table.”
Is there anything which you’ve never been asked but you wish that you had?
Whitaker: “It’s probably a joke one but, ‘How did you get to write such a brilliant album like that? You must be brilliant.’ That’s not been asked.”
Lea: “More of a statement disguised as a question.”
Whitaker: “I guess so.”
Lea: “Would you like to open and be our support on tour?”
Whitaker: “I’d love The Piece Hall to approach us and say, ‘Would you like this slot?’ In case you didn’t know, The Piece Hall is Halifax’s greatest asset in recent years. It’s a lovely European-style square from the 1700s. It’s an absolute gem of the hub of the place and they hold concerts there. More and more big artists are going to play there. Now, if they asked us, I’d absolutely love it because one of my bucket lists is to have one of our songs played on the radio and to play in The Piece Hall. I’d be completely satisfied with our band if that had happened. That would be brilliant.”
Their latest album, Reality Distortion Field, is available on all major streaming services. You can purchase a vinyl copy here.
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