Grand Casual may reside deep within the sandy trenches of Esperance, but the band has captured the attention of one of the nation’s best by supporting Karnivool in their tour across Western Australia in October. Such was the reward for delivering an eclectic mix drawn from the mashup personalities of the trio, varying from the hip hop influences in Western Border to the alternative mix in Go and the earlier tracks, percolated into a twisted DNA that triggered mosh pit shenanigans in sold out shows across the state.
Their latest release New Calm delivers the motivational punch needed in the present climate. Never mind Anthony Robbins. Exploring the inner courage of oneself, the lyrical sincerity entwines superfluously with the riff and drums, matching the vocal escapade of Kyron “Kyza” Smithson. At the intro, the listener can boot scoot (with some serious energised drink) which then kicks into the hair weaving, head banging crunch, drawing the feel-good Superman-like adrenaline that shuns the need for any love drug.
The eclectic styles in their catalogue means they can be classified as surf rock, blues rock, alternative jam, and even hip hop – so call it what you want, but 2020 is a decent year for Grand Casual and we can’t wait for their next releases, while Kyron speaks with Sheldon Ang about their latest single, live tours and Kyza Presents – his passionately driven management company which has orchestrated for hundreds of shows and events in and around Esperance.
Sheldon: When I think of Esperance, I think of white beaches, sharks and solo artists in straw hats playing their acoustics and maybe a banjo. Not the kind of music that you guys play – rock, indie rock, rock and roll…and even hip hop?
Kyza: Yeah, we have a single release called Western Border, and there’s a strong hip-hop element present in that. We have a real blend of musical styles that we’re able to draw from. It all started with Matt Cooper – he’s our guitarist and we wrote together for a while before our drummer, Joe Franzone, joined Grand Casual. Joe also plays the bass synthesiser – he’s exceptionally talented and an absolute freak. Initially, Grand Casual’s sound was based on blues and rock ‘n roll. When Joe joined the band, we started mixing it up a bit more and so now there’s this element of surf rock too. Joe’s a big fan of Sticky Fingers and reggae tunes…and I’m also a big hip hop fan which is certainly reflected in my lyricism, as well as the drum and bass grooves that you can hear filtering through in Grand Casual’s sound.
Sheldon: Not just musically, but it seems that you guys have different personalities.
Kyza: Yeah for sure, and it seems to add a lot. Our understanding on other bands is that many of them are based on the front man….and the rest of them blend into the background. But if any of us leave the band it’d be the end of Grand Casual. I guess it’s all about finding each band members creative individuality and what they contribute to the band, as a whole.
Sheldon: And do you feel that the individual characteristics of each member bring the eclectic variation into the band?
Kyza: Absolutely – I think that is part of Grand Casual’s strength. We have equal input into the song writing. Initially, we might start off with Joe’s drumbeat and it would be influenced by him, but, sometimes it would start from a vocal arrangement that I’ve come up with and, again, it might draw from a unique guitar riff that Cooper has been working on…ultimately we all bring something unique to each song that we write. So, definitely, you’ll hear the underlying tone and influence of each band member and it’ll take off on a life of its own.
Sheldon: And that brings us to New Calm – the Grand Casual’s latest single. Tell us the meaning behind the lyrics.
Kyza: The lyrics have a lot to do with life; throughout life, you might face a wall or threshold…or you get to the edge of your comfort zone and having that self-confidence and the people around you to help you to smash through those barriers and continue to grow is important. It’s about resilience and we try to reflect that in our lyrics. I guess, for me, there are influences about how we continue to grow as people, artists and musicians…but anyone can take whatever they want from the lyrics. It’s about facing those thresholds and just enjoying what you’re doing regardless of any difficulties you may face because it’s worth it in the end. I believe that whatever artistic medium you explore, you shouldn’t doubt your ability. Instead, you should have confidence in yourself and your creative ideas and keep moving forward with you work.
Sheldon: You sound like my shrink (Interviewer’s afternote – he doesn’t see a shrink, but maybe he should).
Kyza: (Chuckles) That is really the goal my man! Contextually, a lot of the lyrics that I write are drawn from experiences and topics related to mental health. New Calm is a rock and roll track…so it also has the element of having fun with what you’re doing and enjoying live music.
Sheldon: When musicians play a live gig, they want the next gig to be better than their previous gig. And you want to make sure the next single is better than your last one too. So how do you feel about New Calm in that respect?
Kyza: That’s an interesting one, and I might struggle in answering this question because we’re in the process of recording another single and this track is going to be quite mellow. We tend to jump from genre to genre and in that respect, I believe there’s value in each of our songs. From a technical perspective – yes – in reference to the mixing and mastering or where it was recorded and mastered, we are definitely always conscious of something we could do better the next time around. For New Calm, we worked with Andy Lawson from Debaser Studio in Perth and we feel like it’s our strongest release so far…it’s such a nicely polished track. I think from a song writing perspective, New Calm is not at the same standards our previous single, Western Border, but this is only the second time that we’ve recorded with Andy, and it’s not a reflection on his skills at all but rather a matter of how much time we’ve spent in a studio environment. I’m sure other bands will agree, when you’re recording, it’s a very personal experience and the more familiar you are in a particular space makes a huge difference to the end result.
Sheldon: And the band has released another single at the start of the year, Go – are these songs and your 2019 tracks teasers to an EP?
Kyza: Yeah, We’ll have two more singles landing soon. At the start of 2020, our goal was to record six tracks – but then Covid happened. Joe was over east playing for Michael Dunstan and their tour plans got shut down. He required some funds to return to Perth so we dug into our pockets (the band’s bank account) and we were able to get him a ticket home. So, we’ve only recorded three songs of the six we had planned to record this year. Our plan was to release an EP that featured all of the tracks but we obviously we couldn’t so we still have another two more songs to release and we have these ready to record with Andy in March 2021. We are also going to be featured in the lineup for Nannup Festival…which runs in the last weekend in February to the first weekend in March and so it’s worked out nicely really as we’ll have a brand new Grand Casual single released just in time for Nannup Festival.
Sheldon: Hey my mate Paige Valentine will be playing at Nannup as well.
Kyza: Yes! Do you know Paige well? (Sheldon: Yeah, of course!). Paige has a massive following in Esperance and she’s playing here tomorrow night. You might not know this, but Kyza Presents is my management company. I do a lot of event management and coordination in Esperance as well as many of the surrounding areas. We just did Balmy Nights here two weeks ago and were really pleased with the turnout. Balmy Nights was a sold-out show, featuring Your Girl Pho, BEXX, Dr Tasty, Laura Petrie and Ruby May. The next big show is on the 19th of December and The Southern River Band will be headlining that. We’ve got some amazing support acts on the bill too. The first show that I did after Covid was with Paige Valentine at the eco-resort on Woody Island in Esperance.
Sheldon: So Kyza Presents is more than a promoter?
Kyza: Yes, Kyza Presents does place me in the “Promoter” category but we cater for many different levels of event management. We have grown from being an idea to being the go-to event management company in five years. Kyza Presents is an avid supporter of local music, creating an ongoing presence of live music WA’s southwest region. My purpose is to nurture a culture of live music that fosters inclusion and diversity. Kyza Presents creates opportunities for local musicians so showcase and develop their talents. Since its inception, the company has orchestrated for hundreds of live acts and we host events that range from smaller, intimate open mic nights to larger scaled ticketed events and festivals that feature multiple bands in their lineup and provide opportunities for other local businesses to be involved too.
Sheldon: That’s fantastic…and I also heard Grand Casual is one of the great live acts in WA, even supporting Karnivool recently.
Kyza: Yeah, October was amazing – hectic – but amazing. We played at Rodney’s Bait and Tackle and then the next day we played a solo show at the Indi Bar. After this we headed to Esperance for a sold out show with The Floors and Little Lord Street Band, and we were about to play at 6 Degrees in Albany followed by Clancy’s in Dunsborough, but I got an email from Karnivool’s manager. He is based over eased and asked if Grand Casual would feature as the support act for Karnivool in Kalgoorlie. So, that was absolutely a high point in our career.
Sheldon: But do you feel being based in the Great Southern region has its disadvantages as well as its advantages?
Kyza: Yeah it is a double-edged sword. I mean, we’ve got really great local bands in the Great Southern Region. One of the interesting things is that because we write our songs from outside of the metro area, we don’t have any of the massive influences of other creatives impacting our song writing or lyrical arrangements. The biggest challenge for us was that promoters would like to have bands from this region in their lineups, but, because we are based in Esperance, we wouldn’t get featured because it is a 14-hour drive – so we do get overlooked a bit. I feel like we’ve established a reputation for producing epic live performances and hopefully, promoters will start adopting the mindset that it’s worth it for them to pay for our travel and accommodation costs in Perth – that’s a difficult sell in the 2020 climate though…so, we’ve just been hitting the road on our own backing. Obviously my work within the music industry is beneficial for Grand Casual but it doesn’t mean any favoritism is necessarily applied.
Sheldon: I’m friends with Frank Ferrer – the drummer of Guns N’ Roses…maybe I can get him to include Grand Casual as part of their support act in Perth (Interviewer’s afternote: despite becoming friends with Frank after a video interview, the interviewer reckons he’s not that influential to pursue the drummer! So don’t hold your breath!). (Editor’s afternote: Sheldon underestimates his industry influence)
Kyza: Well, that’d be great! How good would that be to play at Optus!?
Sheldon: Anyway…I’m going to admit that I’ve not heard of Grand Casual a week ago, but I’m glad I took this call. Because I’ve just discovered some awesome music for myself. I see big things coming the band’s way.
Kyza: Thank you so much, I really appreciate all of the positive feedback. I guess our goal is to play in the arena setting one day and I can honestly say that our live performance is quite a unique performance.