If anything about life is predictable, it’s that it isn't. Not that he needed it, but Casey Hess was reminded of this pandemic-enhanced rule this week. Even though the musician’s excellent debut solo album, Goddess Built
, was released in May, and the celebratory release show this coming Saturday has been on the Three Links schedule since June, things are, out of nowhere, falling apart.
He has five days until the big show, and Hess is missing a rhythm section.
Known to many fans of North Texas rock as the leader of ‘90s Deep Ellum powerhouse group Doosu, as guitar player for the Burden Brothers and lead singer and guitarist for hard-rock band Descender, Hess has spent the last few hours performing a mix of musical chairs and logistical gymnastics. Scheduling conflicts and COVID concerns that have came up over the last 12 hours have left the 46-year old musician scrambling — but, it's important to note, not panicking.
“The original plan,” Hess says, “was to have a bombastic, versatile rock show, but I’m navigating options right now.”
An album many years in the making, Goddess Built
is a cohesive yet varied mix of rock styles. More so than any other project of which Hess has been part, the new record is perfect for a show that might change sonic directions a number of times before its downbeat. As far back as 2012, when Descender was still active, Hess began splitting his creative energy between his band and a then undefined solo effort. His bandmates were becoming busier in their family lives, and Hess, living only with his dog, needed an outlet for songs that didn’t fit into Descender’s majestic, pounding, hard-driving rock.
He took his time writing and recording solo material, and as the years went by, he began to see the form of an album take shape. The feedback he got from those who heard the new songs led him to put together something real.
“At my age now, I can look back and see that I’ve devoted so much of my life to Doosu, Burden Brothers and Descender,” he says. “So many of my friends have encouraged me to record a solo project, so I figured now was the time to explore the versatility of what those experiences have given me up until this point.”
With the recording, production and mixing help of Taylor Tatsch as well as other North Texas musical luminaries such as Jordan Richardson (Son of Stan) and Todd Pipes (Deep Blue Something), Hess set off to explore a wide breadth of sounds his longtime listeners wouldn't usually connect to him.
“I always look at music as a type of terrain where I can do whatever the hell I want,” he says. “It’s like being in the wild, in the woods. I’m intrigued with each step and what it might reveal as long as I’m paying attention to it.”
Dream pop and Doosu have never been in the same sentence until now, thanks to the album’s third track, “Island Girls,” which Hess says, with a laugh, is the result of “what it would be like if I were listening to The Cure on a boat.” The Goth-ish vibes continue with what Hess describes as “dark lonerism” in “Us Wolves.”
He experimented with lower tuning that wouldn’t have flown well in his early days with the arena-ready “Somedays,” but the biggest artistic left turn can be heard in the woozy, dreamy “Favorite Color,” featuring a baritone croon that certainly wouldn’t have soared above the mighty thunder claps of his previous bands. Hess says trying out new things with his voice, guitar and writing is his way of roaming the space occupied by heroes such as Leonard Cohen, Richard Hawley, old jazz greats and even Echo and the Bunnymen.
“I love going into sonic battle with a band, and being part of a gang like that,” he says. “But I also love becoming a part of the room and the light and the shade of it where I don’t have to make the vocals cut through so much intense frequency. I love thick, loud, heavy guitar, but I kept asking myself why haven’t I jumped on to all these other things I love so much yet.”
“I always look at music as a type of terrain where I can do whatever the hell I want.” –Casey Hess
It’s not that Goddess Built
isn’t a rock record, because it most certainly is, but it's just a different sort of rock record from him. And for Hess, it’s more than a record.
“This album is my boot on the street, and my stake in the group," he says. "Like, this is where it is starting, where I’m finally doing these things I’ve been wanting to do.”
On Saturday night, Hess will indeed rock to finally celebrate Goddess Built
’s arrival. Whether the rock will be amp-blasting or ethereally atmospheric is yet to be determined. If Hess has learned anything over the past year and a half, it’s that life is wasted if one can’t find a way to reinvent and to find the good when things seem bad.
“With the album, we tried to make something powerful and unique during a crippling, global pandemic,” he says. “So changing things up for the release show is also about turning adversity into strength. I don’t mean that in a ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ way. I mean I have to adapt. Just like nature, it adapts. This is a curveball and a challenge and it's up to me to work with it. I got to practice what I preach and turn this adversity into something great.”