Jazz Chords, Caffeine Addiction, & Long Mountain Drives - An Interview with Cascadent
On a rainy Wednesday night I sat down with cascadent, a beloved local act who describe themselves as a “proggy, indie math-rock” band, at their practice space off US-41 in Marietta, GA. It might seem like a cramped spot, with guitar pedals, amplifiers, lamps, and empty boxes strewn about the concrete floor, the room enclosed by corrugated, metal walls adorned with sound-absorbing carpets. Yet it doesn’t feel cluttered. There’s an energy in the room - a positive, creative energy that expands the space we’re in. I arrived before they started playing, though I could feel echoes of phased out guitar solos, bright stinging jazz chords, and bluesy wails emanating from the walls. Perhaps it’s my imagination, or perhaps there’s actually a tangible quality to the music these guys create that sticks around long after the last drumstick drops to the floor. Everyone took a seat as I lifted an extra drum throne out from behind an unused kit in the corner, sat down, and pressed record on my phone.
Sam Freeman plays drums, Jonah Volk plays guitar, Jonathan Lee plays guitar, John “Jam” Mecum plays bass, and Johnny Hendrix sings for cascadent.
Up until recently, everyone knew you as "Aoshi". Why the name change to cascadent? What was the impetus behind this shift?
Jam: There were a lot of reasons that ended up making us decide to come into a new form with a new title. One of the biggest ones was we feel like a new entity. For some of us, this band originated over two years ago. It’ll be two years for me in a couple months, and I know a lot of these guys have been working at this for a really long time. It’s evolved in that time period immensely [even though] it doesn’t feel like it. That’s the craziest thing. When you’re involved in something meaningful, time can go by just like that. Now that we really feel prepared to show it to the world, I think it deserves a new sort of title.
So you don’t foresee any issues re-branding yourselves?
Johnny: There may be some sorts of difficulties that come with it, but those sorts of growing pains - at least we’re doing it now while we’re -
Jam: - before anyone knows who we really are.
Johnny: Especially from a local standpoint with our being in pretty much the baby steps of the long novel of the band.
Jam: We’ve been very particular about how much of ourselves we’ve allowed to come to light until recently.
Sam: I know without actually having a physical manifestation in the form of a record release, it’s kind of - for the local market it’ll be tough because we’re known as one thing, but as we branch out, we’re still so unknown it gives us the time to do it before anything solidifies.
So the new name is "cascadent", written with all lowercase. What does that mean to everyone?
Jam: It’s technically not really a word. A cascade is another word for waterfall, and in making it “cascadent” it’s like the idea of being like a waterfall, or an outpouring of some kind whether it be artistic, emotional, or something else, which we do as a group. It really seems like these past two years have been building up to something. We’ve been preparing with the roughness of what we had, and it really feels that was an appropriate way to look at it.
Sam: When we were in the name-changing process, we were thinking of different imagery. We all resonated with water, something very natural and flowy. We feel like the music in general has a really strong flow to it, between everything we have written now and then stuff to come, too. It has that nature to it, so water felt very fitting.
Johnny: It was also a play on my region, too. [I’m from] Toccoa Falls, and it made me feel like I was bringing a piece of that somewhere else.
You’ll be releasing your first EP soon, so tell me about that. What were some of the highlights of making it?
Sam: Goodness gracious.
Johnny: Vocal tracking out of my range. [laughter]
Jam: It challenged each of us as musicians more than anyone had ever expected.
You tracked the EP at AP Audio with Aaron Pace, right? I’m familiar with him. How did that work out for the band?
Jam: Working with Aaron Pace has been such an insane experience. I think more than anything, at least to us and people who’ve worked with him, that experience will come through on the record. Seeing how these songs have evolved with his help has been life-changing as a musician in showing the contributions that the right kind of ears can make.
You mean like the right kind of guidance a producer can give?
Sam: I know from my end it’s a little unique because we did a different route. Normally Aaron doesn’t deal with live-tracking drums, so it was a challenge for Aaron too. That experience of tracking with him really showed who he is, in my mind, as a producer, and how talented he is in bringing out the best in all of us. Once those drums are tracked, there’s no changing them, although there was one thing he changed with the magic of sampling - from sampling my kit - but that will forever remain a secret, and no one will know.
Jonathan: What I got from working with Aaron is he kind of became a brother to all of us. Aside from all the stuff that we had to work on, it was really just kind of a hangout day. It was just bros hanging out, talking about life, with some distractions here and there. He became such a good person for us. He helped with this album more than we could have imagined, so we owe a lot to him.
Sam: It’s nice to have a producer that’s also a major caffeine addict.
Jonathan: Every time I go to Aaron I’m hopped up on caffeine.
What are some of your favorite songs on the record? Or at least some of your favorite parts of songs, because I know how that goes, as a musician myself.
Jam: To me, anything where these guys [points to both guitarists, Jonathan and Jonah] are showing off their crazy meticulousness - I think one of the craziest things is the live atmosphere that we try to present at every show we have, and a big part of translating that over to the record is the guitar playing and composition. They do such a good job of bringing that to life during that transition.
What are some bands you’d say you’re similar to? Your listeners can determine that for themselves, but I want to know what you’re bringing to the table as far as inspiration.
Jonathan: As a metalhead originally, I kind of start from there, and then growing up as a kid I was also into jazzier sounding music. I think that’s what started my guitar playing in general. As far as this music goes, indie-math-rocky, the first band that made me really want to make this kind of music was The Mars Volta.
I’ve actually had “Cotopaxi” stuck in my head all day.
Jonathan: Haha nice! Yeah I friggin’ love that song. The psychedelic bluesy rock, incorporating really good composition and movements - if you listen to our songs we have different types of parts. We don’t try to be crazy like a lot of math-rock bands do, but we like to make movements in our music, and you can see that in our live shows. There are really hard moments, there are soft moments, and there are funky moments, but then we try to let a couple things breathe so that people can really listen to the part for what it is. Another band that we can all agree on is The Fall of Troy. Any Japanese rock band is kind of a huge thing for me, kind of like the Japanese underground rock that they have in that area, bands like Lite or Ling tosite sigure. Even the poppier J-pop kind of music influences a lot of our music.
Jonah: Babymetal. [Laughter]
Jonathan: We’re just a really big ripoff of Babymetal.
I know that y’all have been a band for a while, and then you were looking for a singer for a while longer. You landed on Johnny Hendrix over here. What are some of the challenges you faced with coming in after the songs were basically already written and recorded? Everything was pretty much laid down before you came in, right?
Johnny: It actually came along a lot quicker than I thought it would. After getting the instrumentals Sam sent, I just indulged myself. When I was writing my parts, I wanted it to have a pop-minded vocal melody and cadence, and then I wanted to bring in the proggy, nerdy stuff that we love, like the rock bands I was inspired by while I was coming up with lyrics and melodies.
My girlfriend and I went hiking, and we went on a 2.5 hour drive to Toccoa Falls. As we were driving she pointed out to me, “Oh, this is where Johnny lives.” Where you live was vacation-distance for us. How do you manage the commute? How do you deal with that as far as rehearsals and shows?
Johnny: The toughest thing about being a part of the band is being so far away from them. We usually have a pretty good timetable of when I’m supposed to come down. I’ll meet with these guys every other week and practice on my own at home. My friend has a home studio where I do all my rehearsing. As far as the drive, as long as it’s not raining like crazy, it’s not a bad drive. I’ll throw on an album and by the time I’m done with that particular album I’m there.
Do you guys ever use Skype or Facebook Messenger?
Sam: We have a group chat, so when we can’t get everybody in we’ll just use that. We’ll also whip out Google Drive to bounce song ideas and different things like that.
What are some of your upcoming tour plans?
Sam: We have three shows booked so far. We have June 19th in the Atlanta Room at Smith's Olde Bar with The Canines and a couple of others. On June 29th we’re playing at Featured Players Cabaret in Dothan, Alabama with our dear friends The Superelevators. I’m really excited about that just to see David [Waller - guitar and vocals] and Jacob [Long - drummer] play and all that. I just love those guys so much. That’s a one-off. We’re going down there on a Friday night then coming back the same day. Then we’re playing July 29th at The Masquerade with Birmingham, Alabama’s Mend.
Jam: That’s going to be a big deal. I’m not sure we have any real lengthy tour plans.
Sam: Probably fall or winter. I’m starting to message around to get dates. We have a season range that we’re aiming for, and we’ll probably do a week or 10-day stint and start looking at some weekenders to get out of state and play in the mountains.
What are some local bands you’re looking forward to playing with other than the ones you just mentioned?
Jam: world's greatest dad!
Jonathan: Sarah & the Safe Word!
Jonah: Satyr is always cool.
Jonathan: I love the cats in Kid Macho, all of them. They’re pretty awesome.
Sam: Microwave. [Laughter]
Jonathan: I think that’s what everyone in Georgia wants.
Jonah: They’re not local, but Florida’s Cat Company.
Jonathan: Those guys are pretty cool.
Your first single as cascadent is coming out soon, right? It’s called “Aces Over Kings”?
Sam: Yep. We have a 10-second teaser up on Facebook with a weird little filter on it to keep it mysterious.
Jam: We’re going to announce the date here soon. It might sneak up on you.
What are you most excited about when you play that song live?
Sam: I think it’s a really good image for what the band is in terms of all the different elements we can bring. It’s a song that always gets people dancing a little bit. Not in a moshy kind of way -
Johnny: That is a lie.
Sam: OK, well a little bit.
Jam: It’s linear. That’s why it’s a good representation of us. It has the parts where it’s very dancey and funky, but then you’ve got parts where it’s really smooth and shows off our jazzier style. Then there’s where it gets really crunchy and really heavy, where we just break shit. It’s a great representation.
Johnny: It was the most fun song to write lyrically. It was the first one that really hit me, that I listened to, thank God, because it just starts out really funky [Mimics guitar riff]. Being a former blues musician, being inspired by soul and Fall Out Boy, it just felt right up my avenue. Whenever I felt without a melody, I would just think “What would Michael Jackson do?”
Jonathan: Plus that song is actually the first thing that Jonah and I worked on. We were just in my living room. He came up with a cool funky riff in the beginning, and I was like, “I could totally add to that.” Little did we know that we would have such a big family after all that, so it’s kind of surreal for us.
Sam: It’s indicative that we actually went out and got through all the obstacles.
Jonathan: It was definitely not an easy journey.
Awesome. Well guys, thanks so much, again. Best of luck!
Photo credit: Shaun Ramkumar