This article was originally published by Stereokill on April 19, 2009
Earlier this year, prolific singer-songwriter Ryan Adams announced that he was taking a step back from music, and that his loyal backing band, The Cardinals, were to dissolve in March following a final US tour. Adams’ post-Cardinals life has been relatively well documented (his subsequent marriage to actress Mandy Moore, and the books he’s churning out like it’s 2005), but what about the other Cardinals' plans?
I sent some questions over to Ryan’s right-hand man, guitarist Neal Casal, to discuss his new solo album, Roots and Wings, and his time spent within the band.
Casal (a prolific singer-songwriter himself, having released nine albums of his own) has been an essential element of the Cardinals’ sound over the past four years. His glorious harmonies and distinct guitar stylings have flavoured the band’s studio releases and live shows, while his new solo album, Roots and Wings, is a fresh and full acoustic offering, for those with a penchant for melodic songs layered with lyrical introspection.
In your own wrds, how would you describe Roots and Wings?
I would describe it as the best record I’ve ever made beyond any doubt. I’ve combined twenty years of songwriting, playing, singing, and producing into a record that I’m really proud of.
Why did you decide to record another solo album?
I’ve been working on solo songs since I was eighteen years old, and have been making solo records for fifteen years now. It’s a huge part of who I am, and there’s no reason to stop now. It’s something I’ve always done, and will always do.
Can you discuss what Roots and Wings is about? What was going through your mind as you wrote these songs?
This album is about making peace with the past, and it’s about the ocean.
I think the album’s artwork is incredible. What can you tell our readers about [artist] Sadie R Starnes‘ involvement?
Sadie Starnes is a brilliant, twenty-two year-old painter from Boone, North Carolina, currently living in New York City. She’s been spending time in Mexico lately, and is thinking of moving there. She is unbelievably talented and, in my opinion, heading for really big things.
Are there plans to tour behind Roots and Wings?
Yes; I’m leaving for a three week tour of Japan in three days. I will also do some solo acoustic shows on the west coast this summer.
You’ve recorded many albums over the course of your career. Are there any you’re particularly proud of?
There are good songs scattered across all of my records, and I’m proud of them all, if only for the effort that I took to make them. My favourites are Basement Dreams, No Wish to Reminisce and Roots and Wings.
Would say your songwriting has changed or developed over the years?
It’s gotten melodically deeper, more concise, and more mature in a good way. I dunno, I think it’s just gotten much better in general.
Who are your key influences?
There are so many that it would be impossible to list them all. The Rolling Stones were the first band that I really loved as a kid, and they provided my most important musical education. They taught me about blues, folk, R n’ B, Jamaican music, country music. All of the things I still love today.
Would you say that your experiences with the Cardinals and Hazy Malaze have influenced your solo material?
Definitely. The more experiences I have with other bands the more confidence and diversity I bring to my solo music.
What moments do consider high-points in your career thus far?
Making my first record in California was a huge thrill and a high point, and making my latest record was even higher than that. Playing on a top ten record, [Ryan Adams'] Easy Tiger, was a big moment for me. Also, the Cardinals played Madison Square Garden last year and that was the highlight of my live career.
Can you tell our readers how you came to join the Cardinals?
I’ve known Ryan since 1997, and we’d always talked about playing in a band together. After not seeing him for a long time, I ran into him on the street in New York in 2005, and we just knew, at that instant, that the time was right to finally play together.
Prior to joining the band, did you have a favourite Ryan Adams release?
I’ve been a huge Ryan fan from way back in his Whiskeytown days. As for his solo work, Love Is Hell is a big favorite. I also love 29, and Jacksonville City Nights is probably his best record ever.
Did the collaboration process within the Cardinals change throughout your tenure?
Yeah, over time the band developed an almost telepathic way of communicating with each other that was just amazing. We almost never talked about making the music, we just did it and it all seemed to come naturally.
Was it frustrating that Lost Highway released Easy Tiger, your Cardinals debut, as an album solely attributed to Adams?
That never bothered me at all. I don’t really care what a record is called as long as the music is good.
The liner notes for Easy Tiger note that former bassist Catherine Popper appears on the album. Do you recall what tracks she contributed to?
I can’t really remember. I think she plays on “Rip Off” and maybe “Two Hearts”. She was still in the band when we started the record, and left during the process. It’s difficult to remember, but [Chris] Feinstein plays on almost every song on Easy Tiger.
Why did [Easy Tiger producer and subsequent live member of the Cardinals] Jamie Candiloro leave the band following the Easy Tiger tour?
Jamie is primarily a producer, and it was time for him to get back to doing more of that. It was never intended that Jamie would be a full time member of the Cardinals.
How was it working with producer Tom Schick on Cardinology?
I really loved working with Tom Schick; he’s an incredible producer and engineer. He’d already worked with the band on Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights, so he knew how things had to be.
Do you have any fond memories from the recording process of that album?
I loved working on Cardinology. My best memory is “Cobwebs”; it was the very first thing we played for the sessions. First take, first song – and it was magic.
Was there an agreement within the band that only Ryan would write the songs and sing lead vocals?
No not at all. It was very much a collaborative process the entire time.
Do you forsee a time when the Cardinals can get back together, or will Cardinology, and the recent tour, be the last that fans hear from the band?
I have absolutely no idea what the future holds. The Cardinals were the best band I’ve ever been in, and I would love to play with them again. Only time will tell what’s going to happen. Great band though; I’ll certainly miss it a lot.
[Cardinals peal steel player] Jon Graboff appears on the tracks, “The Losing End Again” and “Chasing Her Ghost”, from your new album, Roots and Wings. Can you see yourself collaborating with the other Cardinals in the future?
I welcome any chance to play with those guys, and imagine something will happen at some point – even if it’s just for fun. They’re all incredible musicians, and they’ve become like family to me.
Do you have any idea what will become of Dear Impossible, the album written prior to Ryan’s decision to take a break?
I have absolutely no idea – you’d have to ask Ryan about that.
What songs were your favourites to play at Cardinals live shows?
“Nightbirds”, “Blue Sky Blues”, “Dear John”, “Cobwebs”, “Sink Ships”, “Sun Also Sets”, “Fix It”, “Crossed Out Name”. The list goes on and on.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Go to Japan and do a great solo tour. Spend some time in my new home in California. Take more photos during my travels. Write more songs, surf, and stay open to whatever is coming next.
What’s your take on the current state of the music industry?
Despite what everyone says, I think it’s in great shape. Bands can make and release their own records so easily. Record labels don’t have the power they once had; which I think is fuckin’ awesome and really exciting. There are so many good bands around now, and I think we’re heading for a great time over the next few years.
Are there any artists out there that our readers should be listening to?
Lots of them, but here’s a few: Vetiver, Tim Bluhm, Chad Van Gaalen, Sera Cahoone, J Tillman, The Acorn, The Papercuts. Great new artists.
What are your favourite albums of all time?
Furry Lewis – Shake ‘Em On Down, Fairport Convention – What We Did On Our Holidays, The Tyde – Once, Relatively Clean Rivers, Tim Bluhm – California Way, The Byrds – Notorious Byrd Brothers, Beachwood Sparks – Beachwood Sparks, Giant Sand – Glum, The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour, Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind, The Rolling Stones – Brussels Affair, Lilys – The Three Way, Sun Kil Moon – Ghosts of the Great Highway, Sonic Youth – Washing Machine, Robbie Basho – Venus In Cancer, M. Ward – Transfiguration of Vincent, JJ Cale –Okie, Bob Martin – Midwest Farm Disaster, The La’s – The La’s, Curtis Mayfield – Curtis Live.
You recently spent some time in New Zealand. What can you tell our readers about the experience?
I was totally alone in a small car with my cameras, and a surfboard that I bought from a local guy on the side of the road. I stayed in Raglan, in a bungalow, high on a hillside, and it was amazing. I wrote a lot, read a lot, surfed twice a day, and spoke to almost no one for a week. Not very exciting for most people, I guess, but for me it was perfect. I worked on some song ideas up there and took a couple of cool photos.
Oh, and finally, a fan wants to know how many vests you own?
I’ve lost track. I have an entire closet full of them, and it’s getting out of control. One can never have enough vests; that’s my theory.
Andrew Lindsay, April 2009