Photo: Sean Robinson
Cassian Talks Debut LP 'Laps,' Attending His First GRAMMYs & Staying Calm In Quarantine
Sydney-born, L.A.-based mixer/producer/DJ Cassian has an impressive musical resume, dating all the way back to learning piano and guitar as a kid and playing in several bands in high school. Well before he was old enough to hit the clubs, Cassian was DJing and making electronic music. He was inspired by the rich alt-electro scene that exploded in his hometown in the '00s—particularly Modular Recordings, which launched powerhouse Aussie acts like Cut Copy, Tame Impala, Bag Raiders and Van She.
Since then, the triple threat has been sharpening his production skills and refining his upbeat brand of electro/house/techno with DJ sets, major remixes, sprinklings of singles and behind-the-scenes roles mixing and producing for his fellow Aussie electronic acts. With his work mixing RÜFÜS DU SOL's fan-favorite Solace cut "Underwater," Cassian earned his first GRAMMY nomination at the 2020 GRAMMY Awards.
Now, with his debut album Laps (due out June 26 on RÜFÜS' Rose Ave Records), Cassian is finally ready to step into the spotlight. Ahead of the gorgeous LP's release, and right before the title track dropped on April 24, the Recording Academy caught up with the "Magical" artist to dive deep into the project and his musical path. He also talks about how it was attending his very first GRAMMYs, his friendship with RÜFÜS, the first rave he attended and how he's been keeping calm in quarantine.
When did you move out to L.A.?
It's been a strange move because it's been this drawn-out process. When I first moved here, I didn't truly move. One of my buddies had an Airbnb house he was renting and I took it over and didn't leave for a few years. But it wasn't my place, it didn't have my name on the bills or my furniture there or anything like that. That was, I think, the end of 2015 when I first came out here. I was going back and forth to Australia a lot. Now, with this lockdown I'm going to be in the States for who knows how long. But I just moved into my own place and set it all up, and I've got a little home studio here. So it took me like four years to get set up, but now I'm being forced to really settle in.
I bet it's nice that you have space to make music. I can imagine that that's an essential thing for you right now?
Oh, it's so lucky. It's just a small apartment, but it has an extra little room that I've got a home studio set up in. And I was working at another studio Downtown for the last three years and I just moved out of there. I didn't even know where I was going to have my next studio, but this little home studio is providing a good little interim setup until I can get into the next proper spot.
Wow, that's wild. Do you feel like you live in L.A. now?
It was weird because I was still spending so much time in Australia the last few years. Last year, I was in Australia for more than six months. I had so many shows out there. And every time I go back to Oz it's like I never left, and then every time I'm here it's like I live here. So it was this weird type of double life I felt like I was living. Now, I think this is the longest I've been in L.A. without going anywhere is the last month. I probably haven't been in one place without going anywhere for a month in at least four or five years. So it feels good, it feels nice to have so much more energy. My energy for workouts and everything is so much better, and I just generally feel pretty good.
A project that's a long time coming, your debut album Laps, is due out in about two months. What does it mean to you to share this body of work with the world, and what did it feel like when you finished it?
Well, I'm still working on it. We had some last-minute issues with one of the songs and we had to cut a new vocal from another artist. But we found someone really quickly, and we're still in the process of smoothing that out right now, but it's really exciting. It's so funny, I've worked on so many albums and projects for other people, and there's never that moment like, I don't know, you see in a movie, where you finish the album and press send on the email or hit the export button, and your like, "We're done, all right!" And you have this moment of relief.
It's always, you finish mixing, then you start the mastering, and then there's a couple mastering changes, and then you have to go back and change the mix. It just drags on for a long time so you never really get that moment. It's just lots of little moments—figuring out what the artwork's going to be, figuring out what songs are going to be on the album.
And yeah, it has been such a long time coming. I've been playing most of the songs that are on the album in my live show for about a year and a half now. I've been living with these songs. I've had the book of what my project is all about, and I've been reading it over and over, and I know what it is all about, but no one else does yet.
So I think that's what's most exciting about it, is just giving people the full picture of what the project is about, and also the full picture of what the songs I've been releasing mean in the context of it. The songs were never, "Oh, I have a single and let's just release that," it was all these songs that have been existing for years before we decided to do an album. Then it was forming and bending them, changing them to fit the story that I wanted to tell on the album.
How would you describe what is the album is about?
The album is about the cycles and loops that everyone experiences in relationships—that's why it's called Laps. It's the concept of doing laps, and the album is meant to explore that full spectrum of what a relationship is from the start, even before a relationship has started with someone. It's from that moment of being open to going through it all the way to that moment when it's over and it's completely gone, and you're just starting again.
You've released a handful of tracks ahead of it over the last year and a half, and the title track, which closes the album, is the latest. How do you feel "Laps" speaks to the project as a whole? And where does that song fall in the creative timeline of the album?
I never thought that it would be released on its own as single. I started working on it after I had the concept for the album, and from the start it always fit the story, it was the end of the album. The idea behind that track is that it's a linear journey. It's the [final] phase of forgetting and moving on. By the end of the song, the feeling I was trying to go for is that it's a clean slate and you're back to the start, you're back to a neutral place. The track doesn't really have a chorus or a main moment to it, it just starts and goes on like a journey. It has some moments, but it's not like anything else I've released or done before. I guess that's also why it's so long, I wanted to cram a lot into it to where it starts and ends in different places, and going through a range of moments in the song.
That's super cool. Is it one of the last songs you wrote for the album?
Yeah. The original demo started maybe three years ago, I think it was 2017 when I started. And it's been a constant change. The version that is coming out was only finished a couple months ago, and there were some big things that were changed over the last month before it was done. There's a bunch of songs on the album that are like that. Because I just want to keep working on things, and I'm never like, "Yep, this is done." If you give me more time I'll just keep messing with it.
So yeah, the concept for "Laps" has stayed the same, it just changes with how I've been feeling over the last few years. It's had so many different forms, and the version that is being released is just the most recent way that I felt to express the story of the song.
It would be super-interesting to see the evolution of it.
Yeah. There's some funny demos of all of these songs. There's one on the album called "Open Up," which the original version of that song had my friend singing this really soulful vocal and was very soothing. Then somewhere along the way it just completely changed to be this more aggressive track. It's been a cool journey with all these songs. There's probably a couple on there that the demos are close to how the final version sounds, but for a lot of them they've really been through so many totally different versions.
So when you've been performing them live, were there earlier versions that you played? Did you have any Frank Ocean moments like that?
Totally. "Together" has changed a bunch as I've been performing it. The version on the album I played at CRSSD, but in the last two years since I've been doing the live show there's been three main versions, where the main instruments or sections are all different. That's one of the oldest songs on the album actually. I wrote that song with one of my friends about four years ago; everything was completely different to how it is now. That old demo, there's nothing in common with the most recent one, not a single sound, not a single melody. Apart from the vocal, everything changed.
Would you say that you're a bit of a perfectionist?
Oh, for sure. I'm always very self-critical of my work, on my own music and work I do for others. I'm always trying to get closer and closer to this sound I have in my head for whatever project it is. I think that's part of the reason why this album has come together now. I finally decided I was at a place where I could actually execute the sound I wanted to a level that I was happy with.
It feels like some external perfection is definitely my own thing. And, at least for the last few years, I've been confident in what I could do, but now, with the album especially, I really found the sound and everything else I wanted to do, something that I would be proud to push people to listen to.
I want to talk about one of the other songs you've released, "Magical" featuring ZOLLY of Crooked Colours. You've worked with them before—you mixed Vera, correct?
Yeah, I mixed that album and co-produced "Perfect Run," the last track on that album. Yeah, as soon as we started working on that it was a vibe, and I just basically said to Phil [Slabber, a.k.a. ZOLLY], "Dude, please sing on a track for me. Let's write a song together."
So, the journey of "Magical"—I initially had this repetitive, almost techno but really slow, instrumental track that I wrote. I was mixing it with one of my friends, his name's Jack Glass, he's from Bag Raiders, another Australian guy. We were messing around in his studio and I didn't think, "Oh, this should have a vocal", it was just instrumental.
Anyways, Phil and I were both in Sydney and he had a little time. We could finally work on the song we'd been talking about doing for a few years. So we went in the studio and he was like, "What have you been working on?" I played him some stuff, including that slow techno thing, and he was like, "Oh this is sick, we should write to this."
At first, I was like, "No"—there wasn't even any chord changes, it was just very repetitive on its own. But we just started writing chord changes to it and working on the vocal, and it came together really quickly, mainly in just that first session. We kind of brought it together. Also, by that time I already had the concept of the album, so we wrote it with that in mind.
It's funny, because that original beat doesn't sound anything like what the final thing is now, but when he heard it, it inspired him. He was like, "Oh, here's what we should work on." There's something about the energy of that initial idea is still there, but everything changed.
Does it feel different bringing some of the people you've mixed and produced for onto your own project?
Well, it feels really good. Because even with the music that I work on, most of the time is with friends and artists that I like. I don't want to sound like I'm saying no to people all the time, but I am careful to pick and choose to work on stuff that I really like. Especially because I have to balance my time between that behind-the-scenes work and my artist work. In the past, I definitely got caught working on projects I wasn't passionate about, and so for the last few years it's been only things that I'm passionate about it.
Most of those are also things I would love to work on with my artist project, and most of the people I work with behind the scenes, eventually there's going to be a collab together as well. And this is just the first one. When you work on an album together, you get to know each other pretty well, and you get in touch with their singing, you get to know their voice. I like being that familiar. I've always leaned into familiarity, like friendships, and even just with places. I'm not going into any cafes at the moment, but there's one café that I always go to with my friends. I try to collaborate with all my friends really quite a bit.
That's awesome. And based on everyone you've worked with before, if that was your pool of people to collaborate in the future, that's pretty dope.
Yeah. I'm very, very lucky with Running Touch and Hayden James, with RÜFÜS DU SOL. There are so many great artists that I get to work with. All those relationships started with a friendship. If I can help them on their project, I love doing it, and it's also nice to get to work on and hear music before anyone else does. And then not only hear it but get to influence how it sounds, and have your input into music that you really enjoy.
Speaking of friendships, you got your first GRAMMY nomination this year with RÜFÜS for "Underwater." Do you have any good stories from the show? What was the experience like for you?
Well, I was actually kind of sick. I was feeling a little sketchy a few days before, and then that night I started really feeling sick. But no, it was awesome. It was the people that worked on that song, and on that album [2018's SOLACE], we were all there. It was just a nice day to spend it together and just take a moment to appreciate that album and song.
That day was really crazy because Kobe passed away. We went into the Microsoft Theater [for the GRAMMY Premiere Ceremony], we sat down, they came up to our category and we didn't win, so we were a little bit bummed down. But obviously we were also still really happy, congratulating each other and stuff. We decided to get some lunch, and we walk outside and there's thousands of people. My phone starts going off, and my friends are texting me telling me what happened. It was so surreal. In general, it was a very surreal day. And even just to be at Staples. I'm a huge NBA fan. I go to games all the time there, and to be there on the day Kobe passed away, in a familiar place, but it was set up so differently.
Everyone who performed, like seeing Lizzo, it just didn't feel real. I was also in this haze of feeling like I was coming down with the flu. It was a very strange but memorable day. It was one of those experience that, especially with the red carpet, it's one of those things you just feel super lucky to have the chance to do. Going down any red carpet is a lot, but the GRAMMY red carpet is so much.
The RÜFÜS guys and I spoke about that lot, especially in regards to being on stage, it's just slowing it down and taking things in, taking that extra second to let things hit you and sink in, and feel what's happening in the moment. So that was really cool. It's one of those things like, "Who knows if I'm ever going to get the chance to do this again?" So you really try to enjoy it for what it is, and take it all in, but it's also incredibly inspiring, you're like, "Oh, I want to work my ass off to try and be back here."
Hell yeah! I always say, you got to put that energy out there into the world.
I joke around with my friends about getting gold records and stuff like that, but I've never made the joke of, "We should get a GRAMMY for this." It's crazy.
Your track, "Lafayette," another album cut, was the first release from RÜFÜS' Rose Ave Records back in 2018. What did that inaugural label release mean to you, and what does it feel like to be a part of their label family?
With that song especially, for me, it was like, "That had to be their first song on there that they release ever" because I've been working so copiously with them since like 2012, '13. I've done so many shows with them, and been mixing their records, and remixing them. They're also all my closest friends. And that track in particular, I made the initial idea on tour with them in a Sprinter van years ago.
I think we were on the way to Chicago or somewhere in the Midwest. I was just sitting in the front seat of the van. It's crazy, because now when they tour they're on a bus. But yeah, we would just all make music in the van and then play it to each other when we got to our next stop. It only feels right to me that they started a label and it comes out on their label. Again, it's one of those things you would never speak. Like, "Hey, why don't you guys start a label and we put out this record?" It's just a thing that's happened, and it feels right.
I would love to learn a bit more about your musical journey, as you've been putting out tracks and remixes for the better part of the decade. When did you first start learning to make music, and then when did you get into DJing and producing?
So from when I was really young I was learning music. I always had a piano in my house—I started when I was about five. The piano that I was learning on was my great-grandma's piano, and that whole side of the family was super musical, there's a ton of musicians and an orchestra conductor. My parents aren't musical, but my mom definitely kept that family tradition alive. I learned piano from when I was really young and I started learning guitar when I was 11 or 12. I was always in a band in high school.
When I was 15 or 16, I was in a band with some family friends who were a bit older, and we were doing gigs in the city, at bars and clubs and stuff. My mom and dad would have to come to supervise me because I was underage. The lead singer's older brother ran a nightclub, and so we would do shows at his club and DJs would come in afterwards. I'm like 17, 18, seeing electronic music. And Sydney back then, there were so many good bands as well. With Modular Recordings, all those acts were just killing it in Sydney.
I remember one time we supported the band Van She. I never heard stuff like that before and I was so stoked. I went and bought their single the next day. I was just immersed in that world from when I was pretty young, and I just wanted to do it. I had no idea what I was doing, there wasn't YouTube [tutorials] and stuff back then. I started making friends with people who were making that kind of music, and slowing figuring it out. I think my first record I put out, when I was 18 or 19, was on Bang Gang Records, which was a Modular subsidiary label.
I look at things so different now. Back then I didn't have a plan, I wasn't trying to say anything, I was just making music and messing around, releasing it with no thought. Slowly, over 10 years, like I was saying before, I've been figuring out what I can do better, and how to move forward closer to whatever the sound I hear in my head.
I've stayed on that journey for that last 10 years, and it's funny because I say all that but also I feel like I'm really just starting my career as an artist right now. It took me that time to learn what an artist was, and what I wanted to say and do as an artist. And to have infrastructure around me as a label that supports me, and management that is helping me execute what I want to as an artist. So I've been doing things a long time, but I really feel like I'm just starting with this album, the first thing for me as an artist.
Did you DJ college parties or make music when you were in school?
No. Well, it's so different in Australia, most people just go to school in their hometown. I grew up in Sydney, one of the biggest cities in Australia, and there's a bunch of schools there. So I went to a school that was 20 minutes from my house where I grew up and I never really got into it. I was never involved on campus. I would just go to my lectures, go to my tutorials and go home. That was it. Eventually I just stopped going; I started touring and was like, "Cool, I'm done with this."
What was the first concert you attended when you were younger? What about the first electronic music show or rave you went to?
That line is so blurred because when I was 16 I would go and play those shows and stay after and see bands. One of the first I can remember is, around 18, I was going to see Bloc Party at the Horton Pavilion in Sydney, which is this big almost-warehouse venue. One of the first raves I guess I went to was the Daft Punk Alive tour [in 2007]. It was really good.
We did so many things like that. They played in Sydney and me and a bunch of friends went. I think I might already have been making music a little bit when this happened, because the Bang Gang guys were DJing before Daft Punk, and I knew them, and I remember they were playing songs and I was texting them going, "What's this song? You got send me this." But yeah, that was definitely one of the first big ones I went to.
There were a few really good ones. There was Park Life Festival, in 2007 or 2008, seeing Digitalism and Justice—they were crazy. It was lucky, it was all pretty good stuff that I got to see when I was first getting started. And it's crazy with what electronic music festivals and shows look like now, when that Daft Punk show came along, there was nothing like that, not even close. Now, nothing is still really on that level, but everything is in that vein of crazy lighting and video. That show was like the template.
When you're 18, and it's Daft Punk, it's all their songs and their remixes, and the pyramid just started out with lights and colors, and then by the end of the show the pyramid was a full video screen with lights all over that lit up at the end. Every song there was a new surprise that would blow your mind. It was a crazy show.
At CRSSD, you had your first main stage live show. What did that set feel like for you, and what are you most looking forward to about eventually getting back on stage?
I think it was the first time I had done my full live show at a U.S. festival, definitely the first time on a main stage doing the live show. That show was really special because the album was more or less finished, so I played "Laps" for the first time there. That's the first live show where everything I played was the final album versions, so that felt really cool. It was also the first show that we had visuals. My whole team was there. There's three people on my management team, and they were all down there, and my girlfriend was there.
Also, I played CRSSD years ago, and I'm close with the whole FNGRS CRSSD team, and they've become fans over the years. It felt the start of the next chapter, and to start it with them felt really cool. And you know what I was saying before about familiar places, CRSSD is so familiar to me. I was there when RÜFÜS DU SOL played two years ago [they returned this year], Hayden James has played there as well. I played there three of four years ago. I just feel so comfortable there.
I was a little worried about playing so early in the day, but a bunch of people came down. I was super inspired after that show, and looking forward to—because we had the whole year planned out—a bunch of the summer festivals and headline shows later in the year. I guess when things get started again, I'm trying not to have any expectations.
When you're releasing an album, everyone, like my managers and agents, has been working so hard to put together this year of touring, release schedules and everything that compliments the album and what you're trying to do as an artist. Then, within a week, it's all gone. There's nothing you can do about it. I'm not bummed out about it, but everything is gone so quickly. I'm going to try to take it in stride and, I don't know, just roll.
A bunch of my friends always tease me about this, but generally I never get excited about things until they're done, really. Even when I was driving into CRSSD, or going out to Coachella with my girlfriend or with one my managers, they're like, "So are you pumped?" I'm like, "Not really. We'll see what happens when it's together." So that's my attitude with this. Who knows when things are going to get started again and what things will be like, but I'm not going anywhere.
What has helped you stay grounded during quarantine?
Honestly, I'm still figuring it out. Everywhere I go really, I'm such a creature of routine; whether I'm in L.A. or when I'm in touring in Australia, I still get to have my routine more or less because my family's out there. So it's been hard to figure out what that new quarantine routine is like. I'm trying to stay focused on figuring it out, which is what's helping me stay grounded.
I used to go to the same café every day, and eat out lot and get takeout from a bunch of my favorite spots. Now all of that's changed, so it's like, okay, my routine is going to the shops once every two or three weeks. Nothing exciting, just trying to ration out my pasta and figuring out how much Himalayan rock salt I can use every day.
Are there any things you think are going to stick in the quarantine routine? You mentioned working out, or anything else that has felt good?
For my workouts, I used to get up super early and go to the gym every day at the same time, same gym. Now, I've been exploring the neighborhood I live in, and walking around more. I'm definitely going to be doing more of that, definitely going to be cooking for myself more. My old routine I would just get up, workout, go to the studio. I would just be in the studio all day, have dinner at the studio, then come home and just sleep.
Now I'm realizing I didn't need to do that, and I've set up a little studio at home, so now I can just work from home when I don't feel like going to the studio. Also, I traveled so much and I didn't question it, and took it for granted. And [now] it's been a conversation I've been having with my team.