Cas Haley is a young singer/songwriter and musician on a mission. His mission: provide exhibition to those who cross his musical path that we as humans are more connected than we are separate.
In Haley’s effort to accomplish this, he is broadcasting his unique brand of reggae through a door open to all. With a new album out in Connection, Haley is demonstrating that he is far more than a former cast member on America’s Got Talent.
Cas Took time from his current tour with Toubab Krewe to talk about his album, his life, and what he sees as reggae’s place in the world of jam.
Honest Tune: First things first – you have a new album out, Connection. How do you feel that this album differs from previous work?
Cas Haley: I think that it shows a higher level of maturity. My goal with the album was to do something that was completely honest. I came by the title honestly as well, through realizing a common theme in the material and also by a personal realization that we are far more connected than we are separate.
HT: "Counting Stars" is a particularly emotion filled cut on the album. What was your inspiration, or is there a particular meaning behind it?
CH: That song came about right as my daughter Nolah was born. It was definitely inspired by her. It just came to me that I will never be able to show her how much I love her though I can try in a million different ways. So I found myself in awe of a type and level of love that I had never felt, and that I only have for my children.
HT: The love theme runs through much of your music. Is this something that you feel translates well into the live experience?
CH: I hope so. You know, there is so much more that can be accomplished through love than through hate.
HT: When audiences leave your show, what do you hope that they leave with?
CH: A piece of me. I try and put it all out there every night. I want the audience to feel connected to each other and to me. I want them to feel the similarity between us all. We all have similar experiences that connect us and that is what I want for people to see, hear, and feel – to have people feel more connected to the guy beside them.
HT: What is the live music setting like for you? Is there a lot of preparation and planning or is it something that you just go out and do?
CH: I do a lot of different set ups live. For example, right now I am on tour with Toubab Krewe and am doing a sit down acoustic guitar and upright bass set. But when I have the bigger group, there is more preparation to be sure that everyone knows and stays in line with their parts. But it is always pretty natural and unforced. We have a lot of open-ended songs with a good portion of the songs left up to the universe to decide.
HT: Though there are many similarities in ideals and somewhat in composition, it is interesting that the "jam" genre and reggae do not intermingle as much as one would suspect from a crowd standpoint. Outside of acts like Damien Marley, John Brown’s Body, or even Michael Franti or Matisyahu, there is not a lot of reggae representation in the "jam scene." Do you have any insight on this?
CH: There are so many different scenes within the reggae community itself. For example, you have the California Sublime skate/gangsta reggae, that falls in what I consider to be a sort of unconscious "get as high as you can and screw girls" type of scene and comes with the whole party vibe. Then you have the roots chant down Babylon music and crowd. So between these subsections of reggae itself, there seems to be a divide between reggae and jam if you will.
It is odd because there are many things about it that totally fit, and with some of the new movement of conscious reggae music that fits more with the improvised vibe that the jam scene prides itself on and the community that supports that aspect of being completely music driven rather than anything thematic. What I am trying to do is find a path in with that type of crowd because that is what I am about and what I personally love about the jam scene- 100% about music.
HT: So keeping with that, many of the "big name" reggae artists such as Distant Relatives (Damien Marley & Nas) do come complete with politically provocative music. In your opinion does that add to the rift?
CH: Possibly. Many people who are not of Jamaican or Rastafarian heritage do not get the perspective. That does not mean that they do not get the music from a music perspective. The beats and the grooves are completely universal, but the anti-government and political stuff, though, it is what comes to mind when many think of reggae, is not truly where reggae came from. Reggae is lover’s rock. It is about love and was inspired by all of the 50’s and 60’s soul, R&B, Sam Cooke. That is more where I come from – sticking with songs that are more about life versus politics.
HT: It certainly makes for an easier translation and easier to discern for the common demographic within the jam and overall live music landscape.
CH: For sure. I think that you can have a movement without having to sing explicitly about it. You can sing about things within it and within human experience in general. This is what I try to do by focusing on just an honest expression of what I am going through, and hoping that it stirs something within the people who hear it.
HT: That is more of the direction that Michael Franti has taken of late. Elementally they have significant reggae and even dub type sound. However his and Spearhead’s general recent message has been one of overall "feel good." Not to compare you to another artist, but that message seems to carry more weight and be more universally accepted than the flip side of virtually the same message.
CH: I am definitely a fan. It seems like the older he gets, the more that he is tending to stay away from the negative stuff that was somewhat of a theme in his earlier stuff. I think that the direction that he has taken now by singing about the good that is in life versus pointing out what is wrong. By bringing that out, people begin to see that there is far more good in the world than what is shown on the news. In writing from a similar place, I hope that people will stop taking the good for granted.
HT: An interesting fact about you is that you were the runner-up on America’s Got Talent and blew people away with your rendition of Sting’s "Walking on the Moon." It thrust you onto the national stage. Even more interesting is that you basically told them "thanks but no thanks" in regards to career directives and contracts. Is that a decision that you remain to be glad that you made?
CH: Well that is exactly how it went down. The whole thing really happened by chance. Even entering was completely random. I knew going into it that it was going to help me but that it could also curse me to the point that it could put a stamp on me that says "invalid" to art lovers. The art validation can be ripped away by going on a television show. So even in the middle of the show, I realized that I wanted to go in a different direction but since I was there, I wanted to get as much exposure as I could because a boost was necessary for me to take care of my family. So when it was over, I threw all of it away except for the exposure part and started right back where I was because those that I really want to prove myself to have probably never watched the show.
HT: So there were positive aspects of being on the show as well though, right?
CH: Definitely. It was all positive. Like anything else, it is what you make it. They had a whole career planned out for me but the reason why I started playing music was for me to plan out my own career. I did this to not have a boss. I want to be in control of my destiny. I do not want to feel like if I do not do this show then this guy is going to lose all of this money and be accountable to this guy over here for some other reason. I want to be accountable to myself and I have to be able to express myself honestly by writing and playing songs that I feel are in line with who I am and I just was not going to have that kind of control.
HT: Had you won, would the decision have been as easy?
CH: I doubt it because I would have felt more responsible to the people with the show by living up to what I agreed to do in the first place. So I am actually glad that I didn’t win because I still have so much to strive for. I still have to go out there and make the money to pay my bills. That is what I need. Not having to do that can ruin a man. His purpose for getting out there and busting his ass is taken away. I need to not have next month’s money in the bank.
HT: It speaks volumes not only about you as an artist but about you as a person.
CH: Well, I have always been taken care of. God has always taken care of me as long as I have gone out and done my best. So I have no reason to not have trust or faith in that.
For more on Cas Haley, visit CasHaley.net