They say it’s a long way to the top, if you want to rock ’n’ roll. It’s a sentiment Marty Casey will surely attest. Through the years, this seasoned singer/songwriter endured his fair share of dizzying highs and heartbreaking lows but, most importantly, has never lost sight of a passion for music. In fact, his hard work and dedication to his craft are unparalleled.
For those unfamiliar, his story begins simply. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in finance, he began working in real estate while also recording and touring with his band the Lovehammers, which he formed as a teenager. The Lovehammers’ fanbase grew steadily and several recordings quickly followed. The band’s second EP, “How We Live,” was produced by the legendary Steve Albini (Nirvana, PJ Harvey, The Pixies). The Lovehammers DVD, “Live/Raw,” debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Musical DVD chart, while their album “Set Fire,” cracked the Top 15 of both the Billboard New Artist and Heatseekers charts, at #13, respectively, and was also the #1 Midwest Heatseekers Regional entry at Billboard.
In 2006, Casey was asked to join the show “Rock Star: INXS,” where he quickly became a fan favorite and achieved international fame on the wildly popular reality show. His performance of his own song “Trees” became an instant hit debuting as a #1 download. Even though he finished as a runner-up in the competition, Marty Casey & Lovehammers were immediately offered a contract with Epic Records, as well as a spot as the opening band for INXS’ Switched On tour. Casey continued to blaze new trails with his powerfully electrifying performances: first, with the Lovehammers; then, as the lead singer of L.A. Guns, most legendary bands to spring up from Los Angeles’ notorious Sunset Strip.
Through the “Rockstar: INXS” experience, Casey met Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue) and they began writing songs.
Through the years, they remained connected and Frederiksen continued to mentor Casey and helped him further develop his songwriting style. In 2015, the duo commenced work on what would become Casey’s first solo album — “The Ground You Walk On.” The powerful album was recorded at Quadrophonic Sound Studios (Quad Studios) in Nashville, where such luminaries as Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Jimmy Buffet, Taylor Swift have also recorded. Released in 2017, “The Ground You Walk On” beautifully showcases his growth as songwriter and serves as the launchpad for the next exciting era of his illustrious career.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Marty Casey to discuss his longevity in the ever-turbulent waters of the music industry, the creation of his first solo album and what the future holds for him as an artist!
How did music first come into your life and what went into finding your creative voice?
I come from a big family where I have five brothers and sisters and my parents were piano players. Everybody just did this for fun and no one took it seriously as a career. Everyone had instruments and got instruments for school and the holidays. In the end, they were all handed down to the youngest child — me! I was always messing with them and trying to make music. I was also listening to all of their bands like AC/DC, early Van Halen and early metal like Accept. My sisters listened to Pop. The collection of all of those things became my early musical knowledge. I kept crying about not having an electric guitar even though I had an acoustic guitar, piano, recorder and a violin. I really wanted an electric guitar because I was watching all of the MTV videos and everyone in the late ‘80s was looking so rockstar-ish and had great guitars! I thought, “I need an electric guitar too!” I was always telling my one friend that I had one and he said, “No way!” Finally, he came over and asked where it was, and my dad was there. I said, “Well, actually, I don’t have one.” My dad was like, “We need to get this kid an electric guitar!” [laughs] My brother actually bought it for me. It was a Sears guitar with an amp built right into the body of the guitar. It was the wackiest kind of guitar, but I started playing it. That was in eighth grade. I started playing on my own with this artist named Dan Darrah, who is still active. We would play in the clubhouse and learn portions of songs. In the sophomore year of high school, I met all of the guys from the Lovehammers. I already knew them from playing baseball when I was 9 but we really connected in our sophomore year. Bob [Kourelis] had a drum set and I had a guitar and an amp, so we had a half day of school and we just started jamming! We were really trying to be Motley Crue, Van Halen, AD/DC and Led Zeppelin. That’s who we were trying to be by learning what portions of songs we could. We were The Swinging Lovehammers from day one in 1988. Bob said, “Why don’t we be The Swinging Lovehammers … “ and drew up a little piece of paper and put it on his bass drum! We were forever The Swinging Lovehammers. Eventually, we just changed it to Lovehammers to get a little bit of the ridiculousness of it straightened out! [laughs] From that day on, it’s always remained, and I’ve been a Lovehammer!
We’ve seen you do it all through the years from Lovehammers frontman to reality series performer to solo artist. No matter what stage you take, you make it look easy. When did you come into your own as a performer?
Ya know, when the Lovehammers started, we were really bad. We were all learning together, and we were terrible. After a few years of playing, I was on guitar, I realized that I really wasn’t that great of a lead guitarist. I wanted to focus on singing. We had a singer, but he went on to do art in Minnesota. I said, “I want to sing.” So, I sang and played guitar for a little bit but then I realized that if I jump around, try to go crazy on stage and try to go ballistic, it seems that the crowd likes us. They were watching us play cover songs and weren’t that engaged but if I put the guitar down and did a backflip, ran around the crowd or hung from something, the whole crowd paid attention! Early on, I realized that by going crazy up there, we had a lot more people watching us. We were affecting a lot more people. As we were learning, I started taking on more of the role of “If I do something here, then we will get through that part of ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ where there is a really difficult time signature change. If I do something crazy, they won’t notice that we’re gonna totally mess it up!” [laughs] That’s where it really built from; covering for myself. I wasn’t a really great singer at that point and the band was just learning. I just figured if I was really entertaining than we would get a lot further at that early point. I got such a rush out of it! With that said, I wasn’t really controlling of the audience off the stage and I was very timid. I learned that when I go onstage I get to be this character and do this crazy stuff and be aggressive. I loved it! I took that role on and it really was a role. Right when I stepped on stage, I could be that guy. Off the stage, people were like, “Wow. You’re really not that crazy guy we see on stage.” It was a total Jekyll and Hyde thing! Discovering that dynamic really helped me come into my own.
What are the keys to longevity to a music career?
I think it’s all about taking chances. Somebody asked me recently about the missteps I have taken in my career and what I would do to change them. I thought, “For all the missteps and all the rights steps, it really gave me the ambition to keep following the route.” It’s made it exciting because you don’t know if everything is going to work and you’ve got to be willing to take your lumps when they don’t. People definitely let you know instantaneously if they are liking what you are doing or if they’re not. Either way, it gives you a stronger backbone. I’ve made some decisions like trying out for “Rockstar: INXS” and the band hated the idea. Some of our fans hated that idea as well but it got us signed to Epic. Then we were on Epic and were running through the typical scenario of a baby band on Epic and Epic not doing much. We found ourselves dead in the water but then I got the opportunity for LA Guns. They said, “Hey, we lost our singer. Do you want to sing this album and tour for a year?” I said, “Ya know what? Yeah!” I wouldn’t say all of these steps were the right ones, but they led me to say, “I want to make a solo album.” It was something I had never done, and I have been in this industry for about 30 years. I just wanted to say something independently. You get your great reaction to it from the people who dig it and a push back from people who want to see you doing something else. All along the way, it’s the only thing that has kept me going because it doesn’t get boring if you are always pushing yourself and taking chances. You might fall flat on your face or it might raise you to the next level and land you a deal with the major label! You can’t be afraid to take chances but, when you do, you run the risk of pissing off some people. As with life and music, you’ve just gotta keep pushing and be relentless! You have to take the path you think is the right one for you at the moment and the one you hope will keep it all together!
You released your first solo album, ‘The Ground You Walk On,’ last year. Share your headspace going into the project and how the final product differed from what you envisioned.
I had written a bunch of songs, probably 40 or 50. Some of them had passed through the Lovehammers and they weren’t right for them and some just were never offered to the Lovehammers because I didn’t think they were in the right vein. I presented them to a guy who has been my mentor, Marti Frederiksen. He’s a great producer and a great writer. He said, “These are some killer tracks and I dig some of the songs. I think you definitely have an album in here, if we could pair this down to 10 songs but it’s not really reflective of who you are now. Those songs have been written over the course of 10 or 12 years. I don’t know if it is reflective of something you want to say now. As your own exercise in being an artist, why don’t you strip it all back and not take any of those songs? Start over right now knowing you’re doing a solo record!” It was a challenge of “What’s a different statement?” I knew I didn’t want to do a Lovehammers type of record because the Lovehammers do a great thing. They have a great energy and sound. I didn’t want to step on that, so I took it in an entirely different direction. I wrote on the acoustic guitar. I flew out to Maui to write with Marti, who has a studio there. I spent a few weeks there. I also got to write in Nashville a lot. He just kept pushing by saying, “Write stuff that you could go put a band around or just play acoustically and get away with it. See what you can come up with!” It was that challenge of, “Try to write the best songs you can for the situation you are in right now and make a statement. After that, you do your next record however you want to but are you up for a challenge of trying something you didn’t expect for your solo record?” I was like, “Yeah!” It set me back and it took me a lot more time to do it because, originally, I was going to track the original songs, release it and be right back in Lovehammers six months later. It was the most amazing kind of Zen journey to step outside of my comfort zone and dedicate my entire mind and focus to it. It also came along at the same time I was getting married and eventually having a kid. It was a completely different me than the me who wrote these modern rock songs 10 years ago that I loved and wanted to release. I thought, “This is a great challenge and I’m going to take it!”
What might become of the songs you had in mind for a solo record? Hopefully, we will hear them at some point.
Yeah! I really do want to release them because I took all of those to the final demo and they are ready to be released after a final mastering. There are so many of them. There was a period of my life where I was pretty dark. The Lovehammers were doing good but we weren’t doing great. Epic didn’t really want to continue us but owned us. We were really trying to figure out what to do. I had also done the LA Guns thing and had a great experience but didn’t want to continue that either. I wrote some pretty dark songs during that period because I was lost. I always wanted those to be released because, from the fan base we developed, those really dark songs with a little bit of hope in them, along with the really aggressive ones, are the songs that people connect to more than anything else I write. I have those there and they really do need to be heard. I don’t know the method for releasing them at the moment. I think it would be something that would just be released and not something I would wrap a big pledge campaign around. I think it would be something I just released so they would eventually just get to be heard.
As you mentioned, the past few years have been a whirlwind. Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to writing music?
Working on this record and it being such a songwriter-oriented record. For a while, it was leading up to having our first child and that was really the focus of life. You would think I would just want to write songs about that experience. However, after being so calm and awaiting this beautiful thing that was about to happen for so long with having a kid, especially in my 40s, there is this great up-tempo energy that I’ve been writing around now. I think I just really want to get to be that performer on stage that is really manic and over-the-top like Iggy Pop. There is this really manic energy that I don’t really have a release for right now! That’s kind of what I’m looking at and what I’m writing now is pretty aggressive. I’m taking what I’ve learned in terms of songwriter-ship and putting it in a really up-tempo and aggressive vein. If I can get all the stars to align and do another Lovehammers record, I think we are all looking to do that sort of thing again and I think it would be a really aggressive record.
You worked with some insanely talented people through the years. Who had the biggest impact on you creatively and what did you learn from those experiences?
Getting to work with someone like Marti Frederiksen, who has had such unbelievable success with pop, rock, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, P!nk, Carrie Underwood and Eminem, has been amazing. You really give him the final say when you are working with him because you assume what he is doing because he’s had such tremendous success. The cool thing was that he threw a lot of it back on me and said things like, “How do you want to take song” or “How do you want to complete it?” He really gave me a lot of power too, which is something great to realize. What I take away from it and tell other songwriters is that the only unique part of yourself that you get to share with people when you are trying to affect them with music are the intricacies that make you who you are. They might not make you the best songwriter and it might not be something that can be a number one and affect the world but those unique things about yourself and that unique voice you have is the thing you need to keep pushing forward. Over the course of albums, you want to try and make it better and better. Getting to work with Marti, getting that pushback and having him say, “It’s all in your hands … ,” is something that has had a huge impact on me. Also, working with Ben Margulies, who worked with Mariah Carey on her first record, was an amazing moment. He’s originally a funk guy! Getting to write with him and seeing what he does with a hook and how he twists it to make it so infectious in your brain was an amazing opportunity. You take away something special from every guy you work with. You can pick up little tricks of the trade from all of these guys and how to make something stick in your brain. That’s an amazing talent to have but when you go to write the song, you kind of have to wash that all away. It’s not all “Moon In June” or “If you can beat it, repeat it.” If you do, then it gets too typical and you take away all the heart of what the actual songwriter is. Learn some tricks of the trade from these amazing songwriters and then, in the end, go through your own journal and tell it like it is! That’s what is going to affect people!
You created an incredible body of work. How have you evolved as an artist?
In a broad, macro sense, it started out being just about performing. It wasn’t about trying to blow people away with the music but more about trying to blow them away with this character onstage that could stop them in their tracks and have them talk about it the next day. It was very important to me to let people know that I was an amazing performer. I really wanted them to know that and that’s why I was willing to crawl 40 feet to the top of the outdoor stage at Memphis In May and hang upside-down while singing the verse, which was really stupid! [laughs] It was really pushing the envelope of being one slip away from a disaster. I did it so many times, but I couldn’t not do it because I couldn’t walk away from that show not being the guy they remembered after a whole day of great music. I wanted them to remember me for at least five seconds. It started at just being a performer and then “Rockstar: INXS” made me think, “Maybe I can sing. Maybe it’s not just the performance. Maybe there is something about my voice that connects.” I was trying to take that back into Lovehammers and have a little duo of both; being the performer and the frontman. I wanted to be David Lee Roth in 1982 at the US Festival with absolute bravado! It’s like blowing yourself up like a puffer fish and pretending to be this larger than life figure in order to not walk across the stage but float! Then, as you try to learn to become a better songwriter, you realize that’s the only long-standing memory people will have of you. It’s not the hanging upside down because they do only remember that for 15 seconds; it’s the songs that eventually get into people’s minds and makes you a part of the soundtrack of their lives. That’s when you matter 19 years down the line. Someone might listen to “Trees” or “Clouds” and play it at their wedding because it was a part of their relationship. There were these kids graduating from grammar school and they wrote their own version of “It’s Our Time” of my new record and that was really cool to see it mean something beyond the cool factor. They really took it to heart! As an artist, you kind of start out thinking it’s about being the coolest guy in the room or getting the girl but, in the end, you realize, “Man, I just want to have something in my catalog that me remembered and a piece of the music community!”
What is your focus when it comes to what you are working on today? What’s on your radar?
From my radar, it’s really working on a lot of new music. Like I said, I really hope to get the stars to align and do another Lovehammers record. It’s coming up into summer, so I’ll be playing shows in Chicago. I’m trying to do a lot of solo acoustic stuff to work on the new stuff because I’ve always realized, with the Lovehammers, in order to get the songs to the best degree you can and bring them into the studio, you’ve gotta have some reaction from a crowd, fans or friends. Now, doing it full band-wise, is difficult because it ends up on the internet and becomes an old song. I think if you keep it confined to a small-scale venue and sing it solo acoustic, you keep the newness and integrity of the song for being released like it’s a new tune, as opposed to a song that’s already been out there. I’m really focusing on creating the next sound that would be the net stop for me, which would be something pretty aggressive and full band. I’d like to design a show around that and tie it together with videos because I’m having a blast making these old school videos like people used to do in the ‘80s. They are over-the-top, big production! So, I think for me now, it’s about writing, finding the next angle, feeling and level and bringing that to the next record and I’m hoping I can make the stars align and make that a Lovehammers record!
You have a ton of old fans but are also picking up new ones. What are the top three songs for people to get a taste of all your sides?
I think the taste of all sides would start with “Eyes Can’t See,” which is the aggressive side of the Lovehammers that turned out so well for us. I think it gives a look at what the band is like on the edgier side. Bringing them back, I can never step away from “Trees.” As an artist, you have these things along the way that give you a breath of life and keep you relevant. That song gave a big relevant stamp to the Lovehammers in the form of a worldwide tour and a label deal from that one song, so it’s very foundational for the band. Finally, I’d say the song, “It’s Our Time.” To me, it represents a new time in life for me. After a long challenge of finding my own place in life, finding someone to spend it with and having our first child are some of the most beautiful things that have ever happened to me. “It’s Our Time” stems from all of those things. I wrote that song when I had taken my girlfriend at the time, who I had only known for a month and is now my wife, on an adventure to Maui. I wrote it in Maui and the song is about what I felt that relationship meant even early on. I think those three songs are pretty good and encapsulation of me in an overall light from acoustic to aggressive to everything in the middle!
Music fans can often lose sight of what it takes to keep a career going. As a guy out there on the front lines, what is the best way to support you as an artist?
The best way to keep things rolling and to keep the music alive is to continue to share with people. By doing that, you widen the circle. On our end, our responsibility as a band or me as a performer, we have to keep performing and have people come check it out. It’s a blending of the two. However, sharing it with the next-generation and letting people know about the band is always huge. As much as we look at social media as a great platform, there’s nothing like word-of-mouth when it comes to sharing music! Put the songs you love on mixtape with the other artists that you dig and then it falls into people’s lives and means something to them! That’s what it’s all about!
What’s the best lesson we can take away from your journey?
Don’t stop! Always take chances. Don’t look back too long because reminiscing is almost a speed bump in your career. Keep pushing forward and trying to figure it out as you go along. If the industry changes, that’s fine, you just keep following the path you see fit. If that’s the case, you’re always going to have a music career. It might not have as big of a reach as some other artists we love and respect might have. Their umbrella might cover a hell of a lot more people but that doesn’t mean that the song you wrote doesn’t mean the world to one single person! So, keep doing your own thing!
Thanks for your time today, Marty! I can’t believe it took us so long to reconnect but it’s been a pleasure watching you over the course of your career.
I really appreciate that, Jason! In working through the generations of music and doing it for so long, it’s really understood that the people like you, who dedicate the time and energy into spreading the word on new artists, old artists and classic artists that are back on track. It’s imperative. It means the world to me that you’re doing what you’re doing!
Wow! Thank you so much, Marty! I wish you continued success and I will continue to spread the word!
Thanks, Jason! Take care!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.