She started like all the others—grabbed an acoustic guitar, printed out guitar tabs of simple pop songs from the Internet and played mostly covers in small venues across Los Angeles and New York City. But Stephanie Casey wasn't satisfied with falling into the pretty-girl-with-guitar-playing-in-coffeehouses category.
Instead, the 31-year-old songstress behind the solo project Fall of Snow went electric, taught herself how to use effects, samples and pedals and started looping and layering sounds. The shift made her music more full-bodied, ambient and, with a little practice, a lot more interesting.
Casey's now on her fifth tour (first nationwide), but she still yanks a surprised response out of her audiences every time she busts out her Fender Telecaster Deluxe and starts the process of looping.
“I thought you were just gonna play love songs,” some random dude in the audience will yell. “Nope,” Casey will answer, an innocent smile stretching across her cute, youthful face.
Casey traded in sweet love songs for somewhat demented, sparse, thoughtful and, at times, deeply sad songs. In “End of the World,” the last track on her new, self-released debut album Right, Casey, in her angelic voice, curses and softly, yet angrily, tells listeners to “drop all the bullshit and every religion.”
“I like that,” she says about busting the old chick-music formula. “I've always been one to just try things and challenge myself—it's definitely nice to not be what people expect.”
Casey started out as a film editor—she worked on various PBS projects and films like The Wedding Planner, Moonlight Mile and a few others—and bought a house in the Hollywood Hills, all before age 30. She admits she still has a long way to go before she can call herself a successful musician, though. She says she's eager to wrap up her tour, get back to her Portland garage and continue her self-education, which involves experimenting in electronics, sampling beats and playing with reverb (she loves reverb). Portland, she says, is the perfect place to learn a thing or two about music.
“It's very creative,” Casey says of her adopted home. “It's much more experimental; there's a lot of ideas, and I think where I am musically, it's great for me. I love seeing all the ideas people come up with.”Casey is enthusiastic about improving her music, but she isn't necessarily motivated by the allure of fame or a recording contract. She says her success in the film industry, along with proceeds from selling her Hollywood home, will help finance her music career for at least the next few years.
That independence seems to affect her music. Almost everything that's ever been written about Fall of Snow (which isn't much just yet) makes mention of Casey's authenticity and the rawness of her lyrics, inviting comparisons to Julie Doiron, Neko Case and Frou Frou.
“Music is such a great means of communication,” says Casey, “and I've always been working in media, so sharing ideas is obviously something that's a part of me. I definitely don't want to sugarcoat things.”And she doesn't. Right is almost completely sugar-free. Perhaps there's a bit of Splenda sprinkled in here and there—when she unleashes her woeful wail in “Kate's Song,” for instance—but the rest is pure toughness.
On “Switchback,” what might be considered Fall of Snow's single if mainstream radio ever caught on, Casey laments the reality she finds in small towns across America during her tours (“It's a one-way kind of town/And we're all going down/It's a one-way sort of sound/You'll hear it when you hit the ground”) behind a rush of dark, slowly building riffs. She isn't trying to be ironic or particularly clever with her lyrics, either. She's genuinely serious and seriously genuine. “This record is a lot of sort of world-view things,” Casey explains. “It's me realizing what the state of the country is. I have a really big beef with conglomerations. We've just gone so corporate, you know? Some of these towns don't have alternative media at all, it's just very controlled and the only things they hear or know come from the few channels they get on TV and radio. This record is a lot about that.”
Those small towns Casey worries about, though, are also the same towns she's come to embrace the most. “I loved Chattanooga, Tennessee,” she says, “and Evansville, Indiana, was great. The audience was feeling it, and so was I.”When Casey's really feeling it, she pulls the audience even further into her wistful sounds by drawing her songs out, making up new lyrics and adding new parts that go on and on until she decides to stop.“I could play for hours if someone wanted me to,” she says.
If her musical learning curve continues its ascent, we all just might want her to. Fall of Snow plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, with 8mm at Beauty Bar, 4746 El Cajon Blvd. in City Heights. 619-516-4746. www.fallofsnow.com.