The music career of The Black Cassettes is best described as nascent. All three members reached legal drinking age within the last five months, so they’re cloaked in enviable youth. They formed three years ago but have yet to record a full body of music or go on an extensive live tour.
Casey Christian, lead vocals and guitar, founded the band, and her boyfriend, Blake White, is the drummer. A month ago, after conducting a brief search, Christian and White added bassist Blaine Smith as a permanent member.
Since certain accomplishments are missing from their resume, one might say they don’t warrant media attention yet. In most cases, that would be a valid point, but the characteristics people typically cite as flaws are why you should take notice of The Black Cassettes now. They’re in the process of recording their debut EP, tentatively titled Pardon The Mess, which is scheduled for release this summer.
For the sake of genre cataloging, they are essentially a punk/hard rock band, but that description does not illustrate the wide range of their music. The Black Cassettes are one of the most versatile bands in Dallas. On a Sunday evening at Universal Rehearsal Studios in North Dallas, Christian grants access to the band's recording and practice space.
Seated in a swivel chair surrounded by racks of studio equipment and a couple of guitars, The Black Cassettes frontwoman shares details about the origin of the band and the DNA of its music. Christian grew up in Coppell and started playing guitar when she was 12. There were limitations to beginning a music career in her old neighborhood.
“I always wanted to make a band happen, but the town that I lived in [didn’t have] many people there who were trying to do that," she says. "It was hard to find people to jam with."
Christian met White when they were both 17 through what she now believes was a covert matchmaking effort by mutual friends.
“Blake and I met right before my senior year in high school," she recalls. "He came over to my place, brought his Squier guitar, and he was just banging out power chords. I would throw leads over them, and we were like, holy shit, this works."
They assumed their roles within the band out of necessity. The initial plan was to add a drummer to the group. Christian, who also plays drums, already owned a kit, so after their search stagnated, White decided to fill the vacancy. The two started out playing as a duo, often busking on Elm Street in Deep Ellum. Later, friend and former bass player Garrett Buckley joined them and stayed in the band until the end of 2017.
When it comes to their creative process, Christian is the soul of The Black Cassettes, and White is the heartbeat. Christian is the primary songwriter and constructs the melodies. They co-write the bass lines, and White, who started out making electronic music, creates the drum portions and handes most of the engineering and postproduction work.
“It’s been really cool watching him flourish as a producer because he has such an incredible ear, and he’s like a human drum machine,” Christian says. “His internal tempo is perfect, and I lack that. Our strengths and weaknesses balance each other out.”
Like many artists, Christian has experienced depression and anxiety. She speaks candidly about how difficult life experiences have helped and harmed her career.
“My state of mind is what produces a lot of my music, so it’s ironic that it hinders me as well," she says. "But I think that music has pushed me out of boxes that I was putting myself in. I had a lot of inhibition about being myself and just being looked at by large groups of people. Being onstage has forced me to get comfortable with that.
"Depression sucks, but I think I’m crawling out of it. I don’t want to let my anxiety hold me back anymore. I think everything is working out the way it is for a reason. I’m ready now, and I wasn’t before, both musically and mentally. If I had just run off to go on tour a couple of years ago, I think that I would have been a total mess."
Christian says she does not want to let personal hardships define the band's music, but she intends to open up more about painful experiences on its next album as a way of paying it forward.
“I want [my story to help others]," she says. "I’m not all that open when it comes to sharing things like that. But I plan on going into more detail about what I’ve been through, so it can be a sense of hope for our fans. Life can be harsh. I just want to bring positivity into the world because so many musicians have done that for me."
There is a pronounced and visceral blues element to Christian's guitar-playing style. You would think her parents played Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton on an endless loop instead of soft lullabies when she was a baby. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to her musical influences.
“Growing up I liked a lot of pop punk," she says. "I was into early Paramore and Green Day. Nirvana [was also a big influence]. I play guitar very ‘bluesy,’ and I didn’t listen to blues much at all. Nowadays, I’ve been listening to a lot of reggae lately. Obviously, we don’t sound much like that, but I’d like to incorporate that kind of vibe into our sound. I would never want for us to be tied down to one specific genre.”
On Saturday, The Black Cassettes headlined a show at Three Links in Deep Ellum. On display during their set was the actualization of a young band’s potential in real time. Not lost in all of this was the presence of its new addition, Smith. The charismatic long-haired, bandanna-wearing bass player is many things, but an afterthought is not one of them. Smith is the X-factor that will help take The Black Cassettes' live shows to new heights. He appears to be the ideal rhythmic partner for White as they provide the foundation for Christian’s chords and vocals.
If drums are White’s second language, Saturday night’s show proved that he is now certifiably fluent. Christian says that when White was learning the drums, he struggle with consistent patterns, which at times was noticeable during the band's early shows. As a drummer, White has taken what used to be spirited improvisation skills and transformed them into animalistic precision. His craft has been honed.
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As for Christian, whatever challenges or insecurities she may battle in life seem to evaporate once she takes the stage. She uses her long red hair as a visual instrument, menacingly whipping it all possible directions during and between chord progressions and riffs. None of her showmanship seemed premeditated. Whether leaping in the air or playing the guitar from her knees, over her head or with one hand, she seemed guided by the shared energy between the band and the audience.
The Black Cassettes presented a collection of songs that cut across genres and styles. They performed “Lather, Rinse, Repeat,” a sinister, hardcore track and staple of most of their live shows. Christian’s vocals oscillate from a violent roar during the verses to hauntingly melodic on the chorus. A new song, title unannounced, had a distinct ska, reggae-infused feel. Christian was all smiles, seemingly satisfied that she was able to include her recent love for the genre into the band's music.
Another new song slated to be released on their EP, “Fuck The Government,” is just as rebellious as it is joyful — a definite ode to the pop punk music Christian grew up on. Despite any comparisons to other artists or genres, The Black Cassettes do not succumb to imitation by any means. They’ve come up with a formula that allows them to use elements from a wide variety of music and still make songs undoubtedly their own.
The Black Cassettes will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Division Brewing in Arlington.