Six Questions for Lee Casement – In The Guestroom
Self-taught musician Lee Casement has worked with literally dozens of Kingston musicians on the three albums he has recorded as In The Guestroom. While he has played in various “traditional” bands – focusing on a certain sound – his desire to explore other genres has led him to create his own unique albums that vary in style as well as the musicians who play on them. In The Guestroom is about to release their third album, Part 3: Redemption in Disguise this Friday, March 28th at 7:30pm at Next Church at 89 Colborne Street. The album and the show will be full of collaborations by local musicians of all styles and walks of life, providing something for everyone. Admission is pay what you can.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your musical background.
I have no formal musical training. I took one guitar class in high school, but that’s it. I play by ear, and always have. The older I’ve gotten, the more of a homebody I’ve become. It gets harder and harder to get out and play until 2am, and still get up at 6am with the kids, but I just LOVE music too much to ever quit!
2. Many know you as the bassist for Telefoto and Ianspotting. How did these and other musical endeavors bring you to your current project, In The Guestroom? Can you tell us a bit about its evolution?
I played bass for 10 years with Flood, and when that ended, I started with Brad Smith and Tim Forbes with Telefoto. This is when I really started contributing ideas to songs, and even wrote some chord progressions that blossomed into (in my opinion) some pretty rad Telefoto songs. Writing with Brad inspired me to keep at it. I ended up having way more song ideas than Telefoto could work on. I decided that I should start this little side project and write songs with a bunch of different singer/songwriters. I’m not a singer by any stretch, and the “melody” part of songwriting has always eluded me. I figured I would try something like Slash, or Neverending White Lights…their projects are filled with different “guest” vocalists.
The first In The Guestroom album started as just an excuse to collaborate with different people. I wrote songs with my cousins (Ryan Bresee and Lisa Menard), musicians I had played with in the past (Doug van der Horden and Rob McDougall), and I took a shot in the dark and asked one of my favourite artists to do a song (Chris Koster). When he said yes, I was stoked! It’s amazing what you can get by just asking!
I did a couple of gigs to promote the album, figuring it was likely a one-off sort of thing. Around this time, Telefoto ended, and I had a number of other musicians/singers/songwriters approach me saying that they wished I had asked them to be a part of it. So, with nothing else on tap, I naturally launched into recording a second album. In The Guestroom Part 2: By Design or By Desire took a long time to record because I tried to include as many musicians as possible. Not just guest vocalists, but musicians of all types. To give you an idea, that album has 9 songs and 6 drummers. I thought it would be great to just include as many of my friends/acquaintances as possible. In the end, I have no regrets, but I will say that it was difficult to try to coordinate recording time with everyone’s schedules, etc.
Part 3 came along after I started playing bass with Ianspotting. I spent some time in Shaun Weima’s studio just learning Ianspotting songs, and struck up a deal with Shaun to record an album there. This time around, I wanted to record a lot of the “music” by myself. Shaun collaborated with all the writing this time around. When you’re in a room with someone as mutli-talented as him, and he grabs a guitar because he’s got an idea to contribute to a song, you turn him loose! I developed a really good writing partnership with him, and thoroughly enjoyed recording with him.
3. In The Guestroom is your baby. You do all the writing but you collaborate with a wide variety of Kingston musicians. How do these collaborations come to be, and how much input do the guest performers have in the development and outcome of the final product?
Guest performers have a great amount of input in the development and outcome of the final product. I like people to be happy, and if someone has been kind enough to put time and energy into writing and recording a song with me, I definitely want them to be pleased with it and proud of it! That being said, Shaun has empowered me with this recording. He’s been in my ear the whole time, reminding me that it is my project, and ultimately I have to make the tough calls, and I have to be the one who is happy with the final outcome.While working with so many people, I run the risk of not liking absolutely everything that others contribute to the songs. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve loved everything that has come across the table. It’s actually shocking to me how many great vocal hooks have been written for these songs! It’s awesome!
As far as how the collaborations come to be, every single one is different. Looking specifically at this album, I had worked with Chris Murphy (of Crooked Wood) on a previous album, and I wanted to do songs with Steve Kennedy and Jon McLurg – the other members of Crooked Wood. That came about as simple as me just texting them and asking. I ran into Jake Deodato at Kingston Soundworks. “Hey man, wanna do a song?” Simple.
My cousin Lisa told me that if I were to do a third album, I should ask Madyson Doseger to be a part of it. Her voice is insanely original and cool!
Tom Martinek and Jamie Young are both friends of Shaun, and I got to know them through playing with Ianspotting. They were more than happy to contribute!
Every time I had done some radio promo for any of my albums, I did it with Sideshow at K-Rock. He casually mentioned to me a few times that if I should ever write something new, he’d like a crack at collaborating. That one was a no-brainer!
Bill Cassidy contacted me awhile back about working on some new Suns of Static material. I declined as I was already deep into writing new In The Guestroom material, but I gave Bill one of my tracks and he totally knocked it out of the park! We cut a video for our song Blood and Faith. I also put it as track 1 on the album, because I thought it set a great tone.
Just like Bill, Josh Peck comes from a place of harder rock and roll. He and I have had a lot of casual back and forth conversations about music, and even though our influences are way different, we thought we’d give it a go. I really think I took him out of his comfort zone, but I’m totally in love with what he did! His song is called Places We Call Home, and I really connected with his lyric! One line says “We’re terrible liars, so I don’t even try.” That’s me. That’s totally me.
My favourite collaboration on this album is by far with my uncle, Grant Bresee! He was one of the people in my life who introduced me to music. He always had a guitar at family gatherings, singing silly kids’ songs, or playing in church. I thought it would be rad to do a song with him. It took a lot of convincing, and he didn’t want to do any writing, but he finally agreed to give it a go. Shaun wrote the vocal to the song called No Movement, and Grant came in and recorded it in less than an hour. I think the rest of the family thinks it’s pretty cool, too. It’s the only recording he’s ever done!
4. What comes first, the musicians or the songs? Do you choose the performers based on the songs you’ve written or have you ever written a song based on who will be collaborating?
In general, I craft and record all the songs first. When I’m happy with them, I pass them along to the collaborators. As you could probably assume, this leaves little-to-no wiggle room for my co-writers. Some have loved the constraints of writing that way, some have enjoyed the challenge of writing this way, and some have struggled with it. Over the course of 3 albums, I’ve had a number of collaborations that haven’t worked out for one reason or another. I’ve been lucky though that in every one of those situations, there’s been someone else more than happy to take the ball and run with it. Almost no songs have gone unused.
At the beginning of each album, I’ve been able to give a few songwriters a choice of which track they want. On the odd occasion, I will sit down with someone and write a song from scratch. This is how No Movement and Dining With Bears came about for this album. Shaun and I would sit in his studio and just write.
The absolute best part of the project for me though, is when I hear each vocal track for the very first time. If a collaborator sends me a track, or if they come into the studio to record – the first time I hear what they’ve done with the song I’ve given them makes me giddy!!!
5. You obviously have a deep appreciation for and loyalty to the Kingston music scene. What would you say is the best part of making and listening to music here?
For being a “smaller” city, there is an overabundance of talent here. Some of my favourite artists have come out of Kingston – Chris Koster, Betablokka, Bedouin Soundclash – to name a few. I’ve had the privilege of working with so many unique talents from the area, and everyone has been super-cool and accommodating. I’m amazed at how much time and energy people have given towards this project…doing it for the love of music, and not so much just for the bottom line, if you know what I mean.
6. You said you decided to create Redemption in Disguise to complete a trilogy. Does this mean this album signifies the end of In The Guestroom or do you anticipate more collaboration in your future?
Yes, this album is the end of recording In The Guestroom material. I feel like it’s time to move on to a new project. Something with a little more consistency. I’m not ruling out putting together a show with In The Guestroom here or there, but doing so requires coordinating 15-plus people. I’d like to scale things back considerably.
I’m constantly writing now. I feel like I’m addicted to creativity. I’ve already written 3 demos that I’ve passed along to my cousin, Lisa. She and I have talked for years about starting something up, and it feels like that time is upon us. I’ve been listening to a lot more folk-infused music like Evening Hymns and Bon Iver. I love how you can strip down their songs to their most basic elements and they still sound amazing! That’s what I would like to aim for next – focusing on just guitar and vocals.