20 Questions: Casey Driessen

Casey Driessen
Sugar Hill

Casy Driessen is a rather funky fellow. He wears red shoes. He eats headphones at art museums. Music-wise, you might call him the heir to Vassar Clements in that he too, straddles the line between roots and jazz. If you’ve ever seen Driessen perform live you’ll swear his violin plays him. He’s a favorite at PopMatters and this time his violin let him do the talking to PopMatters 20 Questions to give you some clue, convoluted though it may be, as to why.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I’m not an avid book reader or movie watcher. I’ve been very busy recording and traveling recently and find much of my free time is spent working on music or catching up on other parts of my life. If I take the time to read or watch a flick, I want it to be time-tested and highly recommended. Otherwise, I feel like I wasted some hours of my life.

Some people are criers, some aren’t. At this time of my life, I’d put myself into the latter category. (However. back in those socially awkward and difficult grade school and junior high years, I was more prone to tears).

I usually carry around the latest National Geographic and a book by or about a visual artist for my reading moments. Those materials will inspire, frustrate, anger, and awe me – but not to the point of tears.

But, I am also carrying around a 17-minute movie that made me cry just two weeks ago. This flick is the ultrasound of my soon to be baby girl. We had the first ultrasound at 20 weeks, and while the pregnancy is obviously real and exciting before then, the first glimpse of her perfect little shape and heartbeat, and learning that it was a girl, gave me a rush of joy that I wasn’t prepared for. Tuesday, October 14, is easily one of the happiest days of my life.

Newsflash. I joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson and cried, too, when Barak Obama gave his acceptance speech.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Inspector Gadget. I’m a fan of technology. I’m a fan of efficiency. I’m a fan of those whose trains of thought go places and imagine things I might not otherwise have considered.

In college, my buddies and I would sit around and brainstorm inventions with each other. Today, I carry around a backpack full of gadgets to help me with daily road activities. I don’t buy they newest gadget out there if my current one still gets the job done. However, when it’s past its prime I will get the latest and greatest.

I once imagined that if I were to lose a hand, I’d walk around wearing around a black trench coat … like a guy on the street trying to sell a bunch of toothbrushes. Only inside my jacket, I’d have all sorts of hand attachments for every activity, including but not limited to a toothbrush, a paintbrush, electric screw driver, QWERTY fingers, flashlight, cup holder, and of course I’d have a hook. Go go gadget bow-hold!

3. The greatest album, ever?

Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder. An old band buddy introduced me to it when I was a senior in high school. My life hasn’t been the same since. One of the tunes from that record, As, was performed at my wedding by some of my closest friends from college and post college years.

I had a moving night last winter when I saw Stevie Wonder give a truly amazing concert in Nashville. He is an wonderful musician, of course, but I came away feeling that he is also a beautiful human being.

I used to say the best money I ever spent was skydiving. Now I’d say it was the price of the ticket for that show. We all have that one person who we dream about making music with. For me, it’s Stevie Wonder.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek: The Next Generation. From 6-7pm, my family would eat dinner to correspond with the show. One night, my dad pointed out one of my fiddling heroes, Byron Berline, making a cameo appearance … making him even more my hero. When we started to see the episodes more than once, the dinner/TV practice died down.

Deep Space Nine just wasn’t the same, though I gave it a good try. I’ve never really been into the Star Trek movies. Now I’m trying out Battlestar Galactica (old and new).

5. Your ideal brain food?

Lately I’ve been eating headphones at art museums. I love to walk around artwork for hours while listening to music. I have no standby records for my strolls. I base my choices by my mood, the vibe of the environment I’m in, and what art I’m about to experience.

It’s ultra personal time that makes me forget others are there … almost. I feel like my soul is being nourished. But, I also hear that bananas are good for you.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

See question #11.

7. You want to be remembered for…?

I’d like to be remembered for simply being myself. I imagine someone remarking, “Man, that Casey guy … he sure was comfortable just doing his own thang.” Easy to say, difficult to do.

Public life, self as commodity, and ego can pry at your sense of worth and mess with your emotions. At times I have struggles with what I am not instead of embracing that which I am. Ultimately, I try hard to trust my gut feelings. I believe that being true to yourself and creating that which you want is the best recipe for happiness and longevity. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy road.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

(In no particular order): Sonny Rollins. Stuff Smith. Vassar Clements. Abraham Lincoln. Salvador Dali. M.C. Escher. Picasso. Van Gogh. James Brown. Stevie Wonder. Ray Charles. Doc Watson. Hank Williams Sr. John Hartford. Leonardo da Vinci.

All those with distinct personality and individuality that have taken their field to new heights but with a genuine respect for what has come before.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

It’s a tossup between Surrealist Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory and the Absent Minded Professor Ned Brainard’s “Flubber”. Similarities are shared…

10. Your hidden talents…?

I have a rare (and as far as I know, undiagnosed) talent for untangling rats nets of yarn, tomato vines, pathos houseplants, microphone cables, etc. (Honestly, I rather enjoy it).

I also have the reciprocal talent for wrapping a ball of yarn, training plants, and tidying mic cables, etc. Wait, perhaps there is a name for this talent, OCD, which goes along with my ability to adequately hand wash silverware.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Let’s call it advice hidden within a bribe. Sometime in junior high my parents offered me a deal: No drugs, including tobacco and alcohol but not including caffeine, until I was 21-years-old and I would receive $1,000.

As soon as it turned midnight from December 5 to December 6, I had my first sip of beer, a Negra Modello given to me by my roomie, Carrie Rodriguez. I was a senior at Berklee College of music. People would ask me, “How would they know?” I’d just reply “Could you take $1,000 from your parents?” which usually settled the question.

When I would inquire about interest on the $1,000, my parents would just ask me if I wanted the deal or not. I definitely went through some personal struggles during my challenge but I persevered.

Parts of life I didn’t begin to understand until later, but others I understood sooner. I was able to keep my act together all through school. I even was healthy enough to run the Boston Marathon three times as a bandit without training … well, I always took the stairs.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

Over five years ago, I “borrowed” Chris Thile’s Trinome. This was when he and I were both living in Nashville and hanging out quite often. He went on the road for the better part of a year so I asked him if I could borrow it.

At some point, he ended up moving to San Francisco, and then New York, and without realizing it, I ended up with the Trinome. I’ve been practicing with it ever since. What’s so special about a Trinome you may say. Or for starters, you may ask, what is a Trinome?

I think it’s about the coolest metronome ever invented. At about 5″ x 5″ x 10″ it’s rather large — large enough to have to plug in. This wonder of time keepers is a polyrhythmic masterpiece that runs on AC current as its pulse. It can keep up to three different beats (or subdivisions of set space of time) going simultaneously with three distinct bell sounds by using sprockets and gears spun by the AC current.

The sound is much more pleasing and easy to hear than the digital beep of many whimpy digital metronomes out there. The Trinome has greatly helped me understand and feel odd meters and subdivisions. I sing the praises of the Trinome to all my musician friends. A few have even found their own. In fact, I have now found my own, but I still have Chris’ sitting in my studio.

He knows I have it, but I have trouble sending it back. What’s to stop me? Well, the only thing better than three beats dinging simultaneously is four, five, or six! (I’m keeping my eyes out for a third Trinome as we speak…)

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

I’ve never felt a pair of Armani’s, nor do I even know where to buy them. Truth be told, I don’t have any Levis, either. Oh wait, I take that back, I have some Levis cords that I wear, though only on the road because they’re black and seem to attract every stray white cat hair in the house, even if I don’t lean on anything.

This reminds me that one of my future tours will be, “Casey Driessen & the Colorfols, Pants Optional Tour.” It’s undecided if I’ll wear pants or not — it will be a surprise from night to night. More importantly, I want the audience to have the freedom to choose if they wear pants or not.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

The only Ritz I know is the cracker. The answer should be obvious. I would go to my local grocer and clear out isle 11 of every box of Ritz that they have in stock – that’s right, the Low Sodium (yuk), Reduced Fat (yuk yuk), Roasted Vegetable (never tried), Whole Wheat (why?), and the new Honey Butter (I bet these are great with more honey and butter) as well as Original. I’d take them home, lock myself in my studio for a few days with cheese and peanut butter and water for occasional snacking, meanwhile constructing the most amazing life size Ritz-Person the world has ever seen. And how would I make the crackers stick together you ask? I’m sorry, but that’s a trade secret.

Once finished, I would drive to my nearest Ritz (whatever that is) and get a table for two. We would dine as I gaze into the buttery eyes and complexion of my companion. Oh yes, people would stare, but in amazement of the golden beauty and my comfortable nature in public with a fully realized Ritz being. And if you thought they were staring before, oh how they’ll stare when for desert, for my final act, I get all praying mantis style and devour my Ritzy beauty right there at the table.

In the end, I’ll call the whole thing ‘Art’, whatever that means. (Just in case you’re concerned, the Ritz adhesive will be non-toxic).

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Hill Valley, Clifornia on November 12, 1955 because that’s when Marty McFly went “Back to the Future”. Sorry, let me be more serious about time travel.

I would go back to the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York City in 1936. I’d dress up in the finest purple pinstripe suit and hat I could find, complete with red tie and red shoes, and spend long nights experiencing the most powerful swing the violin has ever known in the hands of Hezekiah Leroy Gordon “Stuff” Smith.

The recordings of Stuff and his Onyx Club Band during this era floor me every time I listen to them. The effect on me is akin to the feeling I get from certain R&B that’s so laid back it hurts, only this time it’s the swing that hurts. “Yeah!” “Damn!” “[email protected]****#!” “Woohoo!” I’d holler unable to contain myself.

I’d grab the closest woman to me and dance with her until the sun comes up. I want to feel the hot thick vibrating lifestyle that is responsible for that incredible swing. I want to swing like that. On a side note, Stuff often performed in a tattered top hat and had a stuffed parrot on his shoulder – making him even more my hero.

Photo by Scott Simontacchi

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

There are defiantly times that I’ve wanted to hit someone, usually when they’ve affected my loved ones directly or if they’re just being an ignorant idiot. But, to this point in life, I’ve never been in fisticuffs before.

The closest I’ve gotten was in junior high when I was taunted, through making fun of my sister, by the neighbor kids across the street from their ‘safe’ perch on their roof. Hmm, they got up there somehow, and so did I. Better judgment ruined my only fight by revealing the insight that someone might actually fall off the roof, and then we’d have real trouble. I just tossed his glasses and climbed down.

In the end, I think Darwin and karma will sort things out. Damn, now where did my glasses go…

This question is also reminiscent of the time that I was detained at the Canadian border trying to go to the Edmonton folk festival. During our past times of “random” searches at airports, I believe that I fit the “random” look as I was chosen quite often. Thorough examination of every nook and cranny of my luggage (thankfully not the body cavity search — not because anything was hidden) took about 45-minutes.

I was asked what drugs I had done with the assurance that if I didn’t have anything on me, I wouldn’t get in trouble. Then, I was asked what drug was my favorite and why! I’ll only tell you it wasn’t Prozac.

In the end I had an enjoyable conversation with border security and asked if I could see my fiddle under the x-ray machine. He happily agreed and instructed me greens are synthetics, blues are metals, and browns are organics.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?

Internet and access. The Internet is awesome. The Internet is all knowing. The Internet is all connecting. The Internet enriches my daily life. The Internet makes some things harder, but it also makes some things easier. The Internet is addicting. Nothing beats a strong full signal of wi-fi and free access at any time of the day.

Sorry, Encyclopedia Britannica guy, I can’t take those 24 volumes in my backpack. See you later cumbersome indexes, I can search one word in .000023453534 seconds and yield gogglepatillions of results. The Internet will even correct my spelling and show me what I meant to search for. The Internet makes time vanish.

But you know what really makes time vanish? The Internet and caffeine.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Yes. I choose to go all places I’ve never been. (This does not include the USA, Canada, Belize, Honduras, Cozumel, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Ireland, England, Scotland, Holland, or China).

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

(Written during the Bush Administration). Goodbye. You’ve certainly led this country somewhere. Yes, the history will be the ultimate judge. Take your place among us common citizens and try a vacation out of the country without security. Yes, I imagine being president must be difficult. I’m glad I’m not you. N-u-c-l-e-a-r. One of your loyal party members stole my Obama yard sign. Hopefully I won’t have to say I’m Canadian anymore. And finally, a sincere thanks for making me care about politics.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I’ve recently finished my second solo album, Oog, for Red Shoe Records, to be released in the Spring of 2009. My trusty sidekick, 5-String Fiddle, and I did our best to sum up the last two years of life experience and soul searching in under an hour of mostly original music.

I was joined by the ridiculous talents of Matt Chamberlain (drums & electronic mangulation), Viktor Krauss (bass), Darrell Scott (electric guitars & pedal steel), Fognode (lap steel, synth, field recordings), and Jason Lehning (engineering & co-production). Title and cover art inspired by M.C. Escher.