Originally wanting to become a Country Singer, frontwoman Cassie Gaffaney of LA band Santa Barbara obviously had a different notion in mind musically. Hailing from New Zealand, Gaffaney never considered music as a career choice, but once the idea seeped in, the alternative singer wanted to pursue a more “Americana,” dusty sound. Yet, with the meeting and fusing of influences from friend and bandmate Geoff Maddock, and husband Nick Gaffaney, the trio fell into the realms of alt-rock. Swimming through their own wide palate of sounds in the ever changing musical current of Los Angeles, the trio continues to provide their take on genres and create music for all to digest as they please.
In between the midst of their recent single and video release for “Reptile Lover,” Gaffaney graciously took time to speak to me about anything I presented. She welcomed me with an inviting and eager tone, a rarity at times to capture during a planned conservation. Without any lull the conservation sparked and we trailed onwards to the inspiration and collaboration between Jeffrey Holgate for “Reptile Lover.”
“Jeff is a graphic designer and we naturally bonded over the love of music. He passed over an old poem that he wrote in the ’80s, and one was ‘Reptile Lover’ on a thrown piece of paper,” expressed Gaffaney. Taking the concept and interpreting as her own, the fast-paced track developed that Santa Barbara flavor. Not really dissecting on what a ‘reptile lover’ is, Gaffaney’s simplicity and notion to make something her own exuded in her response, but I had to ask, what is a reptile lover?
“I don’t know,” said Gaffaney, “I think it’s a person or a thing– to me, it seems like a tragic person getting what they want at whatever cost.”
“Oh man, poor Jeffrey,” I playfully responded.
“Yes,” laughed Gaffaney, “poor Jeffrey.”
At this point the abrasive demeanor and cut-throat persona displayed in “Reptile Lover” was dissolved.
“I still get nervous,” laughed Gaffaney at the idea of performing. With such a strong stage presence, and even stronger attitude in videos, it was a shock to hear her utter the words “freak out.” Gaffaney’s silvery tone was that of positivity though, using this in her favor where her own nerves fuel her performances; resulting as the intital chemical reaction received in the crowd, and finally explaining the blending of genres. “It’s the confidence of the tone. All the energy is anxiety; happy anxiety. It started with surf-rock and just became rocky,” explained Gaffaney.
Jumping from her nerves to upcoming shows, we briefly dove into the Los Angeles scene and it’s continuous favor to those in certain ‘cliques,’ mentioning Gaffaney’s husband and the roadblocks he faced. Despite this, there seemed to always be a light in Gaffaney’s voice, the same energetic tone that translates differently when onstage.
Mentioning the lack of Asian Pacific fronted bands, that being the reason of MoonRoom’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Showcase that ran all May, Gaffaney’s support for the showcase truly ran skin deep.
“It was great, it brought people together not for one show but for a whole month long. It wasn’t condensed, but was at a lot of venues– just felt safe to be myself.” As Gaffaney said “myself” there was a slight hesitation, almost weighing out a past thought. Gaffaney at one point was an actress, specifically for Asian Pacific roles, mimicking a variety of ethnicites that they thought she could play. I couldn’t see the initial problem, coming from a business aspect and fulfilling a job duty, yet for Gaffaney it was more. It wasn’t being true to herself and at the same time not doing justice for those of that ethnic background. One line came from Gaffaney that summed it all up: “I felt so uncomfortable.”
Picking up from the topic of a collective showcase, highlighting one group, the obvious would be towards women? The aged ‘ol question of seclusion and inclusion crept from my mouth and was thrown on Gaffaney, stemming from an idea of Rock Queen, Shirley Manson of Garbage, that if we “separate women on bills” we will continue to seclude instead of include. Without hesitation Gaffaney absorbed my question and point, while stripping down any “correct” answer and responded in raw honesty that created more respect for her, not only as a musician, but as a human.
“I love female musicians. This style really would’ve been a ‘normal’ band, but It’s a catch-22 really, and I completely agree. I’m all for supporting women, and this town is weird at times. And this is going to sound bad, if I’m trying to get into certain venues, thinking from a selfish point of view, like I would love to work with Play Like A Girl, but I will support each side. Like this show at The Hi Hat, I’m on the only female performing; it’s just a catch-22.”
With this carefree attitude and genuine love of who she is, Cassie Gaffaney’s aurora was that of blunt honesty in the most refined way.
Yet, there was still one thing that haunted me.
“Did you really want to be a country singer?”
“Yes,” Gaffaney laughed, “but I like to think I still write like a country artist…I just want someone to take what they feel.”
Catch Santa Barbara this Thursday in Los Angeles at The Satellite for Psychic Love’s Residency, alongside Pom Poms and Omniflux.