Alex Caso Talks Burning Hand of Friendship
Alex Caso has been a man of different names in South Florida's music and DJ scenes. Alternately known as DJ Cookieheadz and/or Sad Tiger, he was the synth/keys player in the Waterford Landing and one of the early figures of Pop Life's success. A man with an enviable collection of music and an even larger and rather insatiable thirst for music, he's also an eternal tinkerer. After some legal troubles with his old podcast, the Burning Hand of Friendship, that forced a shutdown of the airwaves, he has since rebranded as a record label for the numerous compositions that have "sat around" since the mid-'90s.
Releasing a pair of full-length cassette compilations this coming Tuesday, She Is a Galaxy and Mujeres Infieles, Caso, or ALX CZO, as he's currently billing himself, explores his experimental and ambient proclivities on the former and the saccharine depths of dark synth-pop on the latter. Disparate on paper and miles apart in execution and envisioning, the tapes are a good symbiosis of where he currently stands as a DJ and musician.
Tell us about the Burning Hand of Friendship and what your intentions are with the label.
Alex Caso: Burning Hand of Friendship actually started as a podcast that I did back in 2009 through 2012. It was a pseudo-pirate radio show that was very much freeform and psychedelic. It hailed itself as a music cult. It consisted mostly of random DJ mixes of all genres, weird personalities, and a story line on how there was a conspiracy by the radio and the music industry to kill rock 'n' roll. When I got a cease-and-desist order for a couple of the shows I made, I decided to transform it to something else. Unfortunately, I can't illustrate anymore on that.
At that time, I was also frustrated with trying to find a label to release stuff that friends and myself had hidden away. The first release was supposed to be the last Waterford Landing album on vinyl, but when the band imploded, I put the label on the back burner and decided to resurrect it this year. The intention is really to have an outlet to release my weirdo side projects and hopefully release stuff for other like-minded people.
As a longtime musician and DJ of South Florida, what do you find was most informative to you in the composition of these tracks?
When I work on songs, it's mostly based on feelings and musical fetishes rather than overthinking composition. All the songs I've written have always had an emotional back story to it, and I like to let intuition guide me. The songs are also coming from a frustrated film student, so I work hard on atmosphere and textures. My environment (or places I was living) also played a key influence to their form. The first tape that I am releasing, She Is a Galaxy, which is mostly experimental, ambient, and drone-ish, was mostly written when I was living in the sprawling suburbs of Kendall, feeling isolated from the rest of Miami. The second tape, Mujeres Infieles, which is a lo-fi '80s/'90s nostalgic trip, was written when I was living downtown and going through city life drama.
If you listen to the releases back to back, you can hear the contrast between the suburbs and the city.
There's a familiarity in the intent of these tracks that I find are similar to your work in the Waterford Landing; what were you unable to explore as a musician in that band that you could do on your own?
Both have their own merits. I loved being in TWL, especially with Ed Matus, which I am proud to say is my BFF. I have always had good musical chemistry with him, and it was just very easy to write songs with the band. The music almost wrote itself. It also comes out faster since you have three guys crafting a song. For me, that is the advantage of a band: Music gets written and recorded faster. I like solo stuff, because you are calling all the shots and it is a bit more personal. The only problem is that it's a slower process. I have to come up with all the elements, and it takes time, as I am very critical with what I do. At least in a band, if I had a doubt about something, someone would voice their opinion -- problem solved.
Now, I just put things away when I get stuck and revisit until I think it's ready. Till this day, I still call Ed to show him my work, as I like having someone I can bounce ideas with. As a matter of fact, I even get him to play guitar on some tracks.
Were these ideas you had before Waterford Landing that didn't work in that platform?
Yes and no. "She Is a Galaxy" was written between 1997 and 2007, so some of the music is pre-Waterford Landing. The songs started off as sketches and experimentations that I would create late at night in my bedroom with my guitar and synths. Most of what I learned about sound and recording through those experiments filtered itself into TWL, but the ideas were definitely more abstract. On the other hand, Mujeres Infieles, which was recorded between 2012 and 2013, post-TWL, is much closer to what we were doing in the band. It has more of a synth-pop sensibility, and it actually has a track that almost was a TWL song. At the end, all the things that I do usually overlap, so everything really influences each other.
These compositions span a decade, between 1997 and 2007; are there any more defined to the beginning/end of the time period, or were they all tracks that you tinkered with for that length of time?
Those tracks, which are specifically on She Is a Galaxy, were written within that space of time. Some took a few days; others took months as I kept on layering sounds and restructuring them on my crappy PC. I actually have 30 more tracks from that period that I may or may not release, so I cherry-picked the best and created the compilation.
As I've noticed in the work of your musical BFF Ed Matus, there is something inherently cinematic in these songs. They are night and day different than his work, but you seem to share an ear for creating mood and atmosphere that could very easily go along with a film. How influential are visuals in these compositions?
As stated earlier, I am frustrated film student. I graduated film school at UM in 1997, back when they were still showing students the dead art of cutting celluloid. They were stuck in the analog world when the whole industry was going digital. I had a very hard time getting film work, and that passion ended up showing itself in the music. In my mind, they really are little movies, and that is how I approached them when I started recording the tracks, especially for She Is a Galaxy. Ed and I have had countless conversations on how movies have influenced our music, like Blade Runner or films by David Lynch, John Carpenter, and even Michael Mann.
There also seems to be some kind of inside joke relating to your personal moods/feelings concerning the titles of these songs; any explanation there?
You are right, the titles are somewhat of an inside joke or a wink and a nudge on both releases. They all have personal back stories, but I rather let the listener create their own narrative. That's the fun thing about music. The music conveys a mood, but it's up to the listener to interpret them. Luckily, Mujeres Infieles has lyrics, so the listener has less work to do.
You are a huge vinyl junkie; what prompted this release as a cassette, and how many were pressed?
I pressed 50 of each release. The main reason for choosing cassette was the price. Vinyl is so expensive. It's also a great alternative since tapes are having their own resurgence in the market. I also have a nostalgic obsession on how tapes sound. They really give life to some songs that were recorded straight to a computer. It also takes me back full circle, since a lot of the songs from She Is a Galaxy were recorded on a Tascam four-track tape.
ALX CZO with Ed Matus at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 28, at Radio-Active Records, 845 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-763-9488, or visit www.radio-active-records.com.
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