Finding Optimism In Earth's Inevitable Demise: An Interview With Cassels

Whilst we may be within an era of history where ceaseless cynicism has replaced optimism, our nation’s current grim sociopolitical landscape has been the catalyst for some fantastic art and music. One such band who have are using their output to detail our ever deteriorating siltation and dying planet are the Oxford duo Cassels.

Ever since their respective origins, the sibling two piece have shunned conventional genre conformity to create punk tinged odes to cynicism. Sardonic and occasionally misanthropic, the collective present youthful innovation and authentic originality, with their respective sound borrowing traits from a plethora of genres without ever adhering to the sound of a particular style. Marring such traits with lyricism that serves as brash, harrowing and occasionally humorous contemporary poetry, Cassels are truly the voice of a jilted alternative generation. It’s a fact they demonstrated on their string of EP’s, one they prove on their full length debut Epithet and one they made inescapable on their recent phenomenal sophomore offering The Perfect Ending.

As the group prepare to disembark on a co headline run with the brilliant The St Pierre Snake Invasion, we got in touch with the brothers Beck to discuss the inspiration behind The Perfect Ending, the respective reception, controversy surrounding the some subject matters, the upcoming aforementioned tour and more.

The Perfect Ending has been out for a number of weeks now, what's the reception to the record been like?

A lot better than we expected. The amount of people who seem to have taken the time to properly listen and engage with it has been amazing. After putting so much time and thought into this album, I can't begin to explain how gratifying that is. I also think peoples' reactions and reviews - including the more negative ones - have helped me get a better sense of where we sit and how we're perceived, and as a result I feel a lot more comfortable with everything. It seems we're very much a marmite band; 70% of people who hear us will probably think we're utter shit, but the 30% who do like it seem to really invest, which is nice. We're never going to be the biggest band in the world, but as long as we can play to a few people who really seem to give a shit - who really seem to 'get it' - I'm cool with that.

Could you give our readers an overview about the concept, and themes, that surround The Perfect Ending?

The first half of the record is a collection of unrelated songs dealing with subjects ranging from the failure of wishy washy millennial liberalism ('A Snowflake In Winter'), narcissism and self-pity ('All The St John's Wort In The World'), a fear of intimacy ('Mink Skin Coat') and sexual assault and victim blaming ('In The Zoo They Feed Him Nuts'). The second half of the record deals with the impeding environmental catastrophe we're currently facing. I guess you could almost think of it as a double EP.

The title 'The Perfect Ending' is my attempt at putting a positive spin on the fact climate change is going to kill us all. I thought it would be interesting to try and write about environmental issues in a way that wasn't didactic or preachy, and didn't consist of me singing lines like 'Mother Earth is dying, ooh yeah, we need to save the rainforests, man' while mournfully strumming a lute. All of the tracks on the second half of the record are an attempt to approach the subject from various oblique and surreal angles, and hopefully with a bit of dark humour thrown in. It's a laugh or cry situation, and despite initial appearances, this album is in fact a laugh.

As many may know, the record's music videos and artwork are all interconnected. Could you tell us about the story behind that?

I've always really enjoyed simplicity and continuity when it comes to the visual stuff, hence why all of our covers thus far have just featured an image of our logo (itself a simple, if relatively meaningless, arrangement of 3 straight lines). The album and EP covers have also always had a connection to the songs featured (apart from maybe our first EP, but we were still finding our feet then so give us a break), and given the climate emergency slant of the latter half of this record a funeral wreath seemed appropriate. A very nice lady called Sharon at Demmerys Flowers made it for us, and we should hopefully be bringing it out on tour once we've figured out a way to transport it without it getting completely ruined.

As for the videos, again there's an element of wanting to create a continuity across everything and keep things simple, however we also really resent how much importance seems to be put on them, especially when they cost so much, so we've always leant more towards the 'anti-video' thing. I heard YouTube is actually the most popular platform for music streaming though, so maybe we should try a bit harder next time.

Were there any particular real life events or topics that influenced the themes of the album?

Yeah, all of the songs are pretty much a documentation of me processing real-life events and issues. For example, 'A Snowflake In Winter' was written after Trump got elected, which caused me to reflect on how I'd been watching lots of erudite takedowns by late night television hosts in the lead up to the election which had stupidly made me believe there wasn't a cat in hell's chance he'd ever get elected. When you take a second to think about it, it's clear the echo chamber effect of sharing news articles with friends and only engaging with opinions you agree with will only breed complacency. And mindlessly attacking those who's opinions you don't agree with, with the aim of shouting down those opinions, will also achieve nothing. Except maybe make you feel a bit smug, but only after you've pissed away a considerable number of hours of your life arguing with strangers on Twitter. Which is fucking sad and pointless.

'All The St John's Wort In The World' was written in a period of (likely/self-diagnosed) depression, in which I tried to gain some perspective on my troubles and realised most of them were stemming from either solipsism or perfectly reasonable sources i.e. things it was totally natural to feel upset about; and 'Mink Skin Coat' is me worrying my girlfriend must hate me even after 5 years of relatively happy monogamy.

One of the tracks on the record, 'In The Zoo They Feed Him Nuts' has proven to be controversial with some due to its graphic description of sexual assault. Could you give us a bit more information about the track, and your response to any controversy?

This song was written in response to hearing countless personal stories from close female friends about how they'd been sexual assaulted and raped. I can completely understand why some people feel it's a song which shouldn't have been written, let alone recorded and released, and to be honest I'm still unsure whether writing and releasing it was the right thing to do. My general response to any trauma now is to write about it, and inevitably this writing finds its way into our songs if I feel it's worth sharing. And I do still feel the subjects of sexual assault, predatory male behaviour and victim blaming are all valid and important things to address, however I do now worry that maybe the way I went about it was insensitive and wrong. At the time it felt disingenuous to try and talk around or gloss over the issue though; I wanted to try and reflect some of the unbelievable sadness and horror I had experienced when hearing similarly graphic stories.

There have been some people on social media who've challenged us about this track, and I've been happy to discuss it and take their opinions on board. A few people have also come out in support though and said they felt that, even though the track could be triggering for survivors, opening up conversation around this issue is important. We have a friend who works at a rape helpline, and she told us a lot of people can't even stand to hear the word 'rape', which isn't helpful for establishing awareness or discourse. This was something I definitely had this in mind when writing this song.

We tried to add a trigger warning on streaming platforms, but at the moment apparently 'explicit content' is the best they can do. I'm looking into what we can do to change this.

You're heading out with The St Pierre Snake Invasion later this month. What are your expectations for this tour?

Lots of merch sales. I expect people to buy lots of merch. Touring is expensive, and Loz smokes a lot of fags when he's driving. Thanks in advance.

Finally, what do you want people to take away from listening to The Perfect Ending?

I don't know... To be honest making music in this band has always been a pretty selfish endeavour, in the best way possible. We've only ever tried to make music which we like, and never given much thought to whether other people are going to like it. That said, I do hope people like it. Which is a complete contradiction, but we're all full of contradictions and hypocrisies. Many of these songs are, in a sense, me (metaphorically) holding a (metaphorical) mirror up to a lot of the worst parts of myself, as I think it's important to be aware of them. It pisses me off how many pricks I see walking around thinking they're wonderful people while convincing themselves that they're in no way responsible for any of the problems in the world. We're all responsible for the current state we find ourselves in, and I think we could do with a lot more humility, self-awareness and empathy. Doubt people are going to take that away that from this album though. So maybe just an enjoyable listen I guess.

The Perfect Ending is out now via Big Scary Monsters. Cassels are currently on tour with The St Pierre Snake Invasion. Dates below.


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