July, 2001: Casey Spindler and Nicholas Webber are sitting at the kitchen table of a tiny first-floor Edinburgh apartment strumming guitars. One suggests a possible lyric and the other shakes his head. The table is covered with handwritten lyrics and bowls of candle wax. The sink is full of dishes and broken glass from when a local kid put a soccer ball through the window. Stacks of CD cases and a small boom box are on the floor.
These two young men are in a band, a duo called NICKCASEY. They also study acting and are classmates at Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They are in Scotland for the summer, acting in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is an extraordinary opportunity for any aspiring actor to see a whole lot of theater from around the world. By the end of the festival they will not have seen a single play. Not one. “Well,” explains Nicholas, bespectacled, with a shock of red hair, “we spent most of that summer at that kitchen table.”
As Casey, straight-faced and clean-shaven, will tell you, “one of the thrills of studying theater was being introduced to writers like Tennessee Williams and August Wilson. The way the characters talk in those plays is somewhere between everyday speech and heightened language. We want to take a similar approach when it comes to songwriting, just with more rhyming words.”
As the name implies, NICKCASEY is a musical partnership. Spindler states, “We spent years practicing and playing but we spent just as much time listening to albums together. We’d re-listen to a verse for the unexpected rhyme at the end of a line, or the guitar lick that made the lyric hit that much harder.” Webber adds, “We were writing as some kind of a response to the songs we found moving. And it was a collaborative response.”
Bona fide front-men capable of intense, stirring performances, they are also formidable instrumentalists in their own right: Casey on lead guitar and Nick on rhythm guitar and piano. Since relocating to Brooklyn in 2005, their strengths as players have made them sought-after hired guns for an eclectic list of NYC-based acts: Casey Shea at Highline Ballroom, Gramercy Theater, and Bowery Ballroom; national tours with Lowry; international tours with The Bowmans as well as appearing on their studio album with GRAMMY winning producer Malcolm Burn.
After years of gigging and compiling an exhaustive catalogue of home recordings, they decide it’s time to make a proper studio album of their material with a full band. “One of our favorite albums is Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft,” says Webber. “It’s a band playing live in a room, improvising within the structure of the song. It has mood and momentum. How do we get that?” The answer came partly in the form of GRAMMY winner Chris Shaw, the mixer/engineer on Dylan’s Love and Theft.
“In terms of rhythm sections, I’d heard about Dan and Tim, but it wasn’t until we all got in a room together that I understood,” says Casey of bassist Tim Luntzel (Bright Eyes, Rosanne Cash) and drummer Dan Rieser (Norah Jones, Marcy Playground). Dan and Tim have been backing up songwriters for as long as NICKCASEY has been writing songs, and the respect is mutual. When asked about NICKCASEY, Luntzel offers, “They sing great together. These dudes come up with rockin’ tunes that get better with each listen.” Rieser adds, “Motherfuckers can write a song.” Recorded by Chris Shaw and backed by their favorite rhythm section, NICKCASEY cut their debut album at Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
They booked two twelve-hour days. They went in with thirteen songs. They kept a total of eleven. “And I don’t think any of the takes were from the second day,” recalls Chris Shaw. “I’ve never seen a band work that fast.” An album of cryptic lyrics and sturdy groove, Can’t Reason Through Love is a portrait of heartache and dissatisfaction. “We scoured the lyrics of the record for a title and this phrase seemed to fit the best,” says Casey. “And I think we believe it, too. So that’s nice,” says Nick. “Because you can’t really, can you?”