Interview: Cassia

With influences ranging from afrobeat and indie pop to American folk music, Cassia have achieved a uniquely upbeat sound which creates infectious positivity and resulted in an expanding cult following. They may have started out with no expectations of making it big, but the Macclesfield trio have been coined 'one of the most exciting bands to come out of the area in years' by BBC Introducing, have had a jam-packed summer of festivals followed by a European tour and are now about to embark on their UK tour. I caught up with Jacob Leff (drums, vocals) on the phone whilst they were somewhere in the middle of Austria to discuss their recent tour, debut album and a strange experience in Warsaw…

How are you? You must be tired now that you’re coming to the end of your European tour…

'A little bit tired yeah. We’re currently somewhere between Dornbirn and Vienna. It’s like a six or seven hour drive so it’s quite a large area that we could be in right now.'

Has any city particularly stood out to you so far in Europe?

'In terms of shows, Rotterdam was nuts because we’ve played there once before, two and a half years ago in a hostel. There were like five people there and I don’t know why the fuck we were there, but we were. And then we went back and there were like 250 people there, it was nuts. Austria’s been pretty crazy too because I’ve never been before and I half-expected it to be really dead but there were tonnes of people, so that was nice. And as cities go, we don’t have much time to see many places because you end up just getting to the venues, doing your thing and then going back to the hotel and then up early again the next day. We saw Warsaw but it was a bit strange. I went out with my tour manager after our show and literally I reckon five or six times in the space of 10 minutes we had different blokes try and get us to go to strip bars. I was just trying to get a beer! They were very persistent, so kind of annoying. But it was alright!'

"We wore swimming trunks in all our photos as well, which was a shit idea. I look back on that like: what was I doing?"

Haha, I wouldn’t have expected that of Warsaw, but I’ll keep that in mind if I ever visit.

'I know neither did I. But yeah, beware!'

So this tour has followed on from your busy festival season - how was that for you? I feel like I saw you on practically all the line-ups...

'Haha, yeah the festivals were kinda crazy to be honest. We were buzzing with how many we got, it was awesome. Then we started actually seeing the slots and stages we got, and it was just nuts. For some reason at festivals we always seem to get really good crowds and I don’t know why, because you never really know whether people are gonna show up or not, but it always turns out really well.'

So do you think you prefer playing at festivals or your own headline gigs?

'I really like certain things about each one of them and they are quite different. Festivals are sick because it’s always like 'What’s gonna happen? You could play the biggest stage and have no-one turn up or a tiny one and have loads of people, so that’s quite fun. Also, you meet some crazy people; you end up seeing people backstage and then realising who they are and being like ‘Oh god!’ But then with headline shows they’re cool because everyone knows your stuff so they tend to be a bit crazier. So yeah I couldn’t really pick to be honest.

Have you ever bumped into anyone at a festival then that you’ve been a massive fan of and been a bit starstruck?

'So my dad raised me on the Beach Boys religiously, he just loves them. And last year we played at Victorious Festival in Portsmouth and it turned out that The Beach Boys, with quite a lot of the original dudes, were playing there. So I was able to get him AAA passes and he got to meet them all. I remember seeing the main dude, Brian Wilson, and I was like ‘Holy shit, that’s the guy’. My dad had a chat with a few of them, one on one, just about music and it’s nice because I haven’t got loads of money to buy presents or nice things for my dad so to be able to do that for him, it was just an amazing day.'

Image courtesy of Niall Lea

So, these festivals and the tour you’re on now is obviously to help promote your recent debut album. How was it recording a full album for the first time?

'It was kind of interesting because we started it around the beginning of 2018 and we had a few weeks here and there to do bits and they were really relaxed; we’d do a bit, then go play a bit of football outside and just muck around a little bit. And then it got toward the end of the year when people started asking 'When’s it gonna be finished?' And we had about six weeks straight in the studio, which were very, very intense because we were behind because of all the football!'

Was it difficult to decide on a tracklist for the album given that you had already released quite a few previous EPs? For example, I love the song Weekender which wasn’t included so I wanted to ask how you decided which songs didn’t make the cut!

'Well, I remember we wanted to make it completely new, so we only wanted maybe one or two tracks that would have already been released. But also we literally just didn’t have any time so I think we had like nine tracks and then we just had a chat about what vibes were lacking. I think it was between Weekender, Sink, Out of Her Mind and Moana that we were choosing between and we just wanted the more upbeat stuff in there. I think we probably could have put them all on there but we didn’t really have time to record them.'

Also, what made you choose Replica as the track to be the title of the album?

'So I can’t remember when the deadline was but we’d finished the album, we had the tracklisting, I can’t remember if we had the artwork, but they needed to do something with it and were like we need a name'. We honestly spent about five days just thinking of names and we came up with all kinds of shit and a lot of it was probably awful, so it just kind of came back to that.'

"There’s a fine line between positive and cheesy I think, and it’s very easy to go cheesy, so we just tried to stay on the right side of that line."

Haha, well I think it’s a good fit even if it was a last minute decision!

'Well that’s good, I can never tell. Also a lot of the themes in Replica generally match the album. I don’t know, it’s just groovy! And as long as you like it.'

My friends and I think the album has a very summery and nostalgic feel to it, was that your aim when making it at all?

'Yeah, I think that’s kind of what happened but our aim was more for it to be very positive. There’s a fine line between positive and cheesy I think, and it’s very easy to go cheesy, so we just tried to stay on the right side of that line.'

I think you definitely achieved that!

'Oh well that’s good. It’s always difficult to listen to your own music objectively so I’m glad you like it. The summery feel just kind of comes along with it. Maybe it’s because we wore swimming trunks in all our photos as well, which was a shit idea. I look back on that like 'what was I doing?' So many interesting decisions.'

What made you choose the artwork for the album?

'Well, me and my girlfriend made it out of clay, so it took a long time and we had a lot of revisions. We went on holiday just after we recorded the album and we were trying to think of something that could really inspire us and which also reflected a lot of the themes within the album. We thought making it out of clay really reflected our image of not using loads of electronics and learning how to play things properly and all that kind of stuff. It turned out well but it was a massive ball-ache. The problem with clay is that you can’t make any mistakes otherwise you have to start again, so there were quite a lot of revisions. I think it took about four weeks but I’m happy with how it turned out! And I guess we wanted a symbol that was very universal but quite obvious that it was ours and bold.'

I saw that you recently performed at Radio 1’s Maida Vale studios, how was that?

'Yeah, it was cool. When we actually got down to it, it was fine. It was very crazy being in that room - it kind of felt like you’d been there before. Before a gig I don’t really get nervous much, but for that I was completely shitting myself all day. We found out about it while we were in Berlin writing and had a day to prepare and had to fly back to Berlin the next morning so we didn’t get much sleep but it turned out alright I think. People seemed to like it and it was great fun.'

Having been a fan of yours for a while it’s really cool to have seen you progress to bigger and bigger venues as well as airplay on Radio 1…

'It’s kind of strange isn’t it. We’re very normal, and we only ever really wanted to just jam with our mates, so all of this stuff is like ‘What’s going on?’

So when you return from Europe you’re heading off on your UK tour - do you reckon there’ll be any differences between the crowds?

'I think so, they’re both great in their own way but the UK is definitely crazier. In Europe, it’s difficult to explain but they’re really good with new bands. Like everybody turns up for the first support even if they have no idea who they are; there’ll be a full venue. It’s really nice, but I can’t wait to get back to the UK because the shows are bigger and they’re starting to sell out now which is cool. I think we’re gonna try and get some cool-ass stuff for the bigger shows as well to make it a bit of a spectacle.'

Cassia will be playing in Rescue Rooms in Nottingham on 29th October. Tickets are on sale now here.