After coming across the brilliant album GENESIS by singer/producer CASS, we got in touch with the New Zealand based artist to find out more about the journey of creating the record.
Do you want to start by introducing yourself?
CASS: My name is CASS, I’m 22 years old and I’m just a girl who’s trying to do something great for God. I believe God’s put this awesome call on my life, and it’s an honour being able to do this, and he’s opened awesome doors so far. The goal really is to spread the message of Christ through methods of creativity. I’ve grown up in a Christian home going to church, so I know the bible, I know what it’s like to meet with God and have that opportunity that a lot of people don’t actually have. But I think we live in a time where forms of creativity - music, film, dance, all that - people can connect and relate to those art forms and so I want to use creativity to spread the message of Christ.
I really love that vision. I saw some of that shared on your website where you explain it briefly. Would you say for yourself, that music has always been your main outlet of creativity?
CASS: Yeah, definitely.
Because you produced the whole of GENESIS, yourself didn’t you?
CASS: Yeah that's right.
Amazing work, I’m loving the album it’s awesome! So, is CASS your first music project or have you done previous work but under a different name?
CASS: So I had done a few things for other people, I did a music degree and so I’m very fortunate enough to have worked with different local musicians, but really the most recognisable thing I’ve done before is my church ARISE recently released an album called Road To You. I had the amazing privilege of writing a few songs for that, and co-producing the album with a few others. That’s probably the most recognizable thing I’ve done, but this is the first solo, go-on-my-own kind of project.
We spoke on Facebook before this interview and you briefly mentioned the main reason you did this project is because you felt like it was something you needed to do, something that God was calling you to do. How would you say that call started, how did God start giving you the nudge to do this?
CASS: That’s a really funny story actually, I’m glad you asked. So I did my music degree, and then after that, last year, I did the internship at my church, which is a three year course but you can do one or two years and just opt out early. So I started that with the mentality that I was gonna do three years and I was convinced that I was going to do the whole course. Then halfway through that first year I really felt God speak to me saying “make an EP, make music”. That was a really weird moment for me though because I was like “this is not the plan, I’m doing a three year course”. So it was this weird journey of eventually saying “OK, I’m gonna give it a go” even though the course was full time and so I had to use my days off to work on the project.
At first though I really wasn’t 100% sure about it even though I knew God was telling meto do it, but I was so reluctant and felt I needed confirmation from God because it was a huge step if I was to do it. Then about a month after that asking for confirmation, we had an intern retreat. On that retreat this lady I’d never met before came and gave me a very, very specific prophecy regarding what I’m now doing, she said “God’s called you to do this...”. And I knew it was from God because if it was someone I knew I would have been like “yeah OK God, my friends know I make music...” but it was this random lady who didn’t know me at all. So it was then that I had the confirmation that God was calling me to do it - he confirmed what I had asked. That’s how it happened, I gave it a go and my church has been so supportive which is really awesome.
So what was the reception like after you released your first music [an EP on soundcloud called Season 1], clearly it resulted in you going on to make GENESIS and officially releasing it. But how did things progress, how did it unfold after you first started this solo project?
CASS: So the first project, Season 1, was kind of a trial for me. The songs I had done for my church [on Road To You] are very similar to that first EP I did. They’re quite obviously praise and worship but they vary from Urban to pop stuff. And someone said to me “maybe you should just try and work on a song or two, make a little EP that you can really push those styles more” - a project where I could really feel free to experiment. And it’s funny because I hate the mixes on that first EP, I can’t even listen to it anymore. But this second project, GENESIS, came from that time that God was speaking to me. So I put more work into it, I definitely spent a lot more time on the lyrics, on the mixing, I really put a lot into it. Regarding the journey of that though, it was really about trying to make a project that Christians can listen to but even non-Christians can listen to it as well and not feel threatened by it. One thing I found from writing for my church was that it was such a struggle to get my non-Christian friends to listen to the ‘Road To You’ album. Not because the music wasn’t good but because they were like “ugh, an album about God?” because [when it’s overtly] worshipful music, it freaks them out. So the vision was whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you believe in God or not you can still listen to it and engage and connect with it even though it’s still about God.
Yeah I love what you’re saying, because I definitely agree that worship music can be very hard to engage with if you’re not coming to it from a church background where you're familiar with Christian culture. But I think you balance the line really well on GENESIS of making it accessible and relevant for everyone but without being so vague it’s not clear what the songs are about. What would you say your musical influences are behind this project?
CASS: Thinking about it, I’d say that Justin Beiber’s album Purpose was an album I loved, not the whole thing, but I loved how it’s a whole mix of different genres between pop and R&B and EDM. Like Where R U Now? is just a banging record, and then Sorry had like this awesome dancehall vibe. And I’m not a massive Justin Bieber fan but for me the album was still a great representation and mix of the kind of music I do listen to, from R&B, to Hip-Hop to even some MIchael Jackson feels, this whole wide range of genres. Beyonce’s recent album I really loved, not Lemonade, the one before that. I’m also a huge Kanye West fan, so I guess bits and pieces of different albums and genres that I listen to. But I think that each song has a real story behind it in terms of influences and how it was written. I’m planning on putting them all up on my blog. But yeah there’s definitely a mix of musical influences.
So what’s the plan moving forward? What’s next? I know that GENESIS only just came out, but are we going to see music videos, concerts? Is there going to be stuff on the back of this album?
CASS: Yeah, actually in relation to what I was saying about God calling me to make GENESIS, whilst I was working on it I felt like I should make a dance film for it. There’s these dancers I met in my church who are ridiculously talented and after we met I felt God say, “make a dance film” and so as soon as I finished GENESIS I put it all together, and met with these dancers, and this film company at church also said “hey let’s do this!”. I mean really it’s all God’s timing and God’s grace. So every song on the record apart from the last two ‘Long Time and RYTA’ will have a dance video. The reason those tracks don’t is because I only added them a week before the record was released, but 8 of the 10 songs will have a video. I’m hoping to put that out in the coming weeks. I’m really excited about that, it’s really cool. I guess that’s the next big thing. Apart from that there’s a whole load of different gigs and performances and then going to different churches and youth groups around New Zealand. I’m also working on my next EP which I’m really excited about, it’s really good stuff. Also I’m going to be collaborating with different people, but really I’m just taking it week by week because things seem to be happening every day at the moment. So yeah, these dance videos are next and hopefully an EP soon.
Amazing. I love that. I love coming across artists like yourself who are just grinding, just doing stuff and moving forward putting stuff out constantly. That’s really cool. So what would you say is the big vision for this? Where do you want to take it?
CASS: I’m still trying to figure that out, but I think I know what I want to do for now - really it’s a little bit of everything but I’m not sure how that will work. I know that God has called me to go to different churches around the world and share my testimony. It’s not just “oh I make music and I want to do that as a living” it’s a case of having this testimony that I need to share. As I continue to make albums more of that journey and testimony will be shared, so that’s definitely something I believe I’m called to do. But also I definitely want to collaborate with different artists, both secular and Christian. I think my biggest dream is to start a record label eventually, I’m hoping sooner rather than later - God willing - but I’m not sure where or how but it’d be a label for not just music but for dance, film and other creative forms. A company that really facilitates creativity for people that are doing what they do well, and doing it for God. I think at the moment though the next step is to just play more, travel more, collaborate, make more music. Touring, I really pray that God will open up a way for that but I think I’m still figuring out how it works. I definitely feel called to facilitate the local church though and also the secular at the same time. So I’m just seeing how that works and seeing what God is saying on that.
Lastly, what would your advice be to anyone out there wanting to make music?
I’d say a few things. Firstly, If you’re a Christian then make sure it's from God. Make sure you involve him 100%. Secondly, once you have that confirmation, don’t let anyone stop you or limit you or tell you can’t do it. I had every single odd against me - I didn’t even have money for studio time. I had people around me who cared about me and out of that genuine care would say “hey maybe you shouldn’t do this, maybe now isn’t the right time” and this was often from leaders or parents who want the best for you but it isn’t necessarily what God is wanting for you, so don’t listen to the voices. Lastly, work, work, work. Put in the work. Basically for the last 6 months of 2016 I didn’t go to anyone hangouts or see any friends. I mean I had my good friends who are very mature and they understood it and supported me. But I was just putting in work, mixing, writing and recording. But yeah, pray, read the bible and make sure it’s from God, don’t listen to the voices because they will come, and then just work, work, work.