By Emily J. Weitz
Gene Casey gets a lot of love for his live performances, where he and The Lone Sharks have a reputation for getting people on the dance floor. But his most recent album, “Untrained,” which came out last year, had a different vision than the ones that came before.
“This record was designed to feature the songs, rather than the band, this time around,” says Casey. “I’ve been writing songs since I first tried to play the guitar and sing. It was a simultaneous discovery. There’s no distinction between playing and writing.”
While his collaborations with the Lone Sharks and their performing prowess have brought them into the ranks of Long Island’s staple live bands, this record wasn’t about that.
“I had had a reaction from songs I had written being played on TV [and in films],” he says, “so I figured I should do an album featuring the songs and not worry if it sounds like the band live. I let myself go.”
What resulted, Casey says, didn’t end up so far from the other albums. It was just the approach that was different.
“My songs are bluesy, rootsy, dancing, drinking music, which I love,” he says. “It’s how I am whether or not I have the focus or intention. But I think I’ve gotten deep into it, and I know what I’m doing now. I think this album is the best I’ve done.”
When Gene Casey sits down to write a song, he’s not looking for catharsis.
“I don’t want to come across as one of these overly sensitive confessional guys,” he says. “The songs are personal, but I write them so they’re universal, so anyone can relate to them. Anyone that’s lived can relate to the blues, to heartbreak. I’ve been around the block, but I don’t get into specifics, because I want anyone to be able to relate to it.”
For that style of songwriting, Casey looks way back in music history, to “classic songwriting.”
“You can listen to an Irving Berlin song,” he says, “that seems like it had been written for you. It may have come from something very personal to him, but by the time it came to the sheet music, it was meant for the whole world. That tradition is my model, both stylistically and thematically.”
He’s more often compared to artists from the 60s and 70s, and he gives a nod to the Beatles, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer and Willie Nelson as influences in his singing and songwriting career.
Gene Casey’s songs seem to belong forever on an old-fashioned juke box in a barroom late at night. And that’s where they’ve made their way into movies and television, not surprisingly. His songs have been featured in the TV show “Justified” and recent films like “The Tall Man” starring Jessica Biel and the upcoming film “The Killing Season” starring Robert DeNiro.
“I’ll get notes from a producer requesting a type of song,” he says. “I don’t write for order. So I have a good backlog of songs, and I pick one that might fit. All I’ll get is ‘Justified wants a twangy upbeat song.’ That’s all I get, and I send in something that I think will fit.”
He doesn’t read the screenplay, he doesn’t watch the scene. He just sends off his song, gets a tub of popcorn, and watches the show with the rest of the world.
“In almost every case, my song is in a barroom scene. I can’t seem to get out of the bars.”
All twelve of the tracks on the latest album are written by Casey. The second song, “We Don’t Mind if it Rains,” is the one he says he’s most proud of.
“It wouldn’t have been on a typical Lone Sharks record,” he says. “You can really hear my 60s influence. I just went with it, and I didn’t worry about anything else.”
Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks have been making records for 15 years, but they only make a new one when they’re good and ready.
“I put a lot of time and effort into making something that is not disposable, something that will stick around for a few years,” he says. “’Untrained’ is as singer-songwritery as I am going to get, but I think it still rocks.”
Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks will be playing at Stephen Talkhouse this weekend, following other local favorite Nancy Atlas.