Sunday, 3 November 2013

Casino: Fourteen years of one step forward, two steps back.

A revised and expanded version of this post 
is included in the new Radio To Go ebook, Survivors 

Casino are still swinging. Their number might be coming up. At last. 

Photo from Jo Ostermeyer
For someone who has taken way too many false turns, who has run into endless broken promises, who’s gone back to square one far too often, Adam Zindani is remarkably chipper. Casino, one of the two bands he plays in, command great local loyalty. They deserve it, they're a fine rock band. But their story brutally illustrates just how much the record industry has changed around them during their fourteen years. From mega-deals to fighting to hold on to artistic control and self-production – it’s all there.

In many ways Casino are carrying on the great Birmingham rock tradition, even if the band members weren't even born when the original 70s metal monsters roamed the land. Strong songs, good players, they look the part: all this has attracted regular interest from big music biz players … who then, regularly, don't follow through.

I’m interested in their durability. When the record industry was imploding in the face of web competition, they threw a lot of bands overboard, destroying careers at random. They did that to Casino, several times. In response, the band has been jumping hurdles just to stand still, for a long, long time. 

Hurdle number one: big US labels, big promises

Adam: I started Casino in 1999 with Sam, the drummer. We had been part of another band, North Star Head, great band, led by Ray Lovelock – great guy, still around – and we were signed to Geffen records. We did a record in the US for Geffen, just at the time when things were starting to change. Lot of cuts in the business; the record we made, it didn’t have a chance, really. So that kind of died, and the band split up. 
I’d never sung before. I couldn’t find a singer, so I sang. We started recording stuff in a garage, with one mike. We had a manager, and we were still signed to BMG publishing, so we had that input and those contacts. Within two years, we had all these massive labels coming over to see us at the Railway.
The old Railway Inn, on Curzon Street was a huge part of Birmingham’s rock history. Now swept away by the massive Eastside college expansion, it was a home from home for much of Birmingham’s rock scene for decades.

That sounds like old-school music industry excess to me – amazing that it was still going on in this century… 
Yeah – we were nowhere near ready. We were rough, no real chance. But they flew us out to America. We spend a week in LA living it up, it was crazy. This was off the back of the demo that we sent out. There was Interscope, Capital, RCA, and Def Jam America – all of them interested in us. 
If you weren’t ready, what do you think those guys saw in you? 
I think we had some good little songs. I was going hell for leather. They liked the voice. Big sound. 

Hurdle number two: the stuff you can't control

Still, bands have been signed on less promise and potential than that. So what happened to you?
Adam: Well, nothing. Nobody followed through. We were back in the UK, and getting ready to fly back over to New York to do a massive showcase. We were getting on the plane, in Birmingham Airport – on the day of 9/11. We were in the airport lounge, and my partner rang me and said ‘I think you’d better look at the TV'. 
I used to take that flight a lot – Continental into Newark from Brum, daily flights. It took off around 9am UK time, when the World Trade Center damage had already been done. I had friends who were in the air when it happened – they got sidetracked to Gander and all sorts. So your flight was cancelled? 
Yes. For us, it was a huge deal. Obviously, the showcase gig was called off.  It affected me, and we lost momentum after that.
So we went back to rehearsals. I’d say that the real start for Casino was when we recruited Neil Irving on bass. And we found our stride. We added keyboards. We moved to Muthers studios in Digbeth, to rehearse. It’s now quite a hip place, but at the time it was run-down and dead rough. It focussed us. It gave us a vibe, an edge. We became better at delivering songs. Lot of drinking – too much drinking, really - in the Railway and the fabulous Jug of Ale, which the bastards have closed. We got out there and played. We were never fashionable. 

Hurdle number three: search engines and band names 

You say you were never fashionable, but all that stuff you did back then was very slick, very well put together, very radio-friendly – Kerrang Radio went out on a limb for you. But you didn’t stay as Casino. Why?
Adam: Polydor records signed us in 2006. The problem was: when you put Casino into a search engine, you get gambling sites. I didn’t mind; they obviously did. I’d been in a band called Spider Simpson, and very kindly the guy who ran the band let me use the name. I never liked that band name. It didn’t catch. 
Fact is, this is another way that 21st century events have impacted, badly, on Adam and crew. Search for Casino online, and you get dozens of gambling sits, Search on YouTube, and your screen is swamped by dozens of vids from bands with 'Casino' in their name... who aren't our Casino. It's a problem; it won't go away; but I don't think anyone would suggest another name change. Not now.
Adam: We had an amazing deal. Colin Barlow, who ran it then, loved us, and got us involved with Nick Raskulinecz, who’d done the last two Foo Fighters albums. He was hot stuff. We went to LA, and recorded at Dave Grohl’s Studio 606. In fairness, the record was in no way representative of what we were doing. 
How many times has that happened? 
Right! I blame myself for that. We had a really strong idea on sound and the attack, and how it was mean to be. And we went to America, and I kind of let Nick take control. 
Fighting your own ground on foreign territory can be difficult. 
Especially when you’re in the environment you’re in – The Foo Fighters studio, with a big producer, and you’re some kid from Birmingham. Do I really want to argue with this producer who’s just done two massive records? 
We spent three months in LA. The guys went home after six weeks, and I was left, on my own, to finish up a record I had no interest in. Soul-destroying, really. 
The mixes came back. It wasn’t there. We remixed again over here in UB40’s studio. But it didn’t work. And then Polydor dropped us. I can’t blame them. A real shame. 
Given that that record could have been the one to propel you to megastar status, you’re remarkably calm about all this. 
You know what? I do think about it occasionally… but it happened. 

Hurdle number four: split loyalties and split bands

So you came back, went back to being Casino…. 
We recorded the album again. Had it mixed and mastered properly, and put it out ourselves. It’s a great record. It’s everything that the band should sound like. 
And then came the Stereophonics 
I’d been mates with them for ever. Kelly (Jones) had asked me to join the band several times, but I’d always refused. But I had to make a choice: carry on with Casino, after having had a big bite of that apple… and rock music at the time was tough. To be honest, I didn’t have the energy. 
Lots of people have done that sort of thing, though. Look at Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene going off to play with Paul Weller. It hasn’t stopped OCS coming back strong when it suited them. But when you decided to go off to the Stereophonics, how did you explain that to the rest of Casino? 
The lads must have been gutted. It was tough for them, and tough for me. We were a gang. In fairness, they all wished me luck. They were great about it. 
So you actually folded Casino before bringing it back? 
Kind of, yes. It had to change. I came back after two years with the Stereos, and got myself a little studio at Madhouse Rehearsals in Hockley. I recorded a load of stuff. And whatever I was writing was in the vein of a band. I played this stuff to Roy Davies there. He helped us, got us a publishing deal: Notting Hill Music, who had heard our re-recorded album. And they wanted to sign a band. 
So step forward, again, Casino....? 
Adam: Yeah! 

And now...

So we're up to date. Now, Adam plays in both Stereophonics and Casino. And all that work, those false dawns and wrong turnings have not gone to waste. After 14 years, Casino, while currently managerless, are, again, contenders. With lessons learned. 
Adam: All of a sudden, we’ve got a life as a band. We’ve got a trickle of new stuff coming out. Maybe next year we’ll get the album out. Maybe get some supports.
If you could single out one mistake that you made, that you would urge others not to make, what would it be? 
Adam: Stick to your guns. If you have a vision of something, stick to it no matter what. If you don’t, you end up watering it down, and it becomes something you don’t love anymore.

And just last month, this extraordinary video was released by One Day In My Life Productions, featuring aerial dronecam shots of Birmingham, cut to Casino's 'Lose Myself'.

Casino's Facebook and Reverbnation pages

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