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Casey Neill's career has always walked the line between lyrical song craft and ferocious electric live shows. His new album, “Goodbye to the Rank and File” ups the ante, bringing the power of his stage performances into the studio like never before.
This is the first recording to feature the full Norway Rats lineup which includes members of the Decemberists, Lucinda Williams Band, The Eels and Minus 5 -- Little Sue (vocals, acoustic guitar), Chet Lyster (guitar), Ezra Holbrook (drums), Hanz Araki (vocals, flute), Jesse Emerson (bass), and Jenny Conlee (piano, accordion). “Goodbye to the Rank and File” was recorded throughout the fall of 2009 & the winter 2010 with help from friends like R.E.M. touring musician Scott McCaughey & Talkdemonic's Lisa Molinaro, and produced by Ezra Holbrook. The final result combines post-punk energy, narrative storytelling, haunting ballads, and whiskey-fueled rave-ups with clear-cut influences by Richard Thompson as well as Hüsker Dü and The Clash.
As a full-time musician, Casey Neill has released records on famed folk label Appleseed Recordings and Amy Ray's (of the Indigo Girls) Daemon Records. He's toured the world several times and befriended some of his biggest musical influences - Jello Biafra, Pete Seeger, and Steve Earle. Of this new chapter in his career , Portland Oregon-based Casey Neill says, “‘Goodbye to the Rank and File’ is an album made by a working band. We've performed these songs live for awhile and fleshed them out. Our shared history together in the Northwest music scene and the sheer number of gigs we've played has all been poured into these performances.”
This camaraderie as well as the Northwest environment has shaped and formed the record. “For me," Neill says, “The camaraderie is thematically built into these songs lyrically and musically. ‘Goodbye to the Rank and File’ is about resilience. It's about the endless drives up and down I-5 in the rain at 2am after a show with eighteen-wheelers blowing walls of rain onto the windshield. It's about watching some people fall away and others stay with you. There is a certain nostalgia in the music for a time when Seattle was a lot like Tacoma, and Portland was pretty rundown too. Things have gotten better in a million ways, but a certain feel has been lost.” Love, defiance, defeat, and life in the Northwest are also topics covered on “Goodbye to the Rank and File.” The twelve-track collection starts with “All Summer Glory,” a song about hot summer nights, girls and cheap beer, and delivered with a summertime pop feel, then turns rustic with a roots-rock kick, and ends by invoking the chiming carousel sounds of the 1970s Jersey shore. The album also features the power-pop-punk feel of “This Year Was a Blur” and the heavy riff-rock of “When The World Was Young,” about losing touch with people who you thought would be in the your life forever.
Just as the stories are diverse, but pulled together sonically so is the sound of the record. The band showcases their strong Americana roots on “Radio Montana," their dreamy indie-folk leanings on “Ouroboros” and “Idyll,” and the dark, Waits-ian ballad, “Guttered,” the thematic centerpiece of the album. “Guttered” offers an opposing view to the defiant “When the World Was Young.” “This character [in ‘Guttered’] is filled with defeat. How does this kid get on with his life even though there are no more $5 Fugazi shows?” Neill says. “He can't decide whether he has held true to some pure punk rock ideal or whether the world is leaving him behind. He's drunk and stoned in a graveyard and lamenting to his friend that at thirty his world has passed him by. Meanwhile his friend is stronger and she is so fucked off with the Bush years that she is headed for Central America to redefine herself.”
A huge fan of Joe Strummer and The Clash, Neill decided to write a song about Strummer's life, but also about other couples on “Nightowl and the Skylark.” “When Joe Strummer died, there was an interview with his wife Lucinda in a British paper. She talked about how she was a morning person and he stayed up at night. She said he was a nightowl and she was a skylark,” explains Neill. “The song has specific references to Strummer's life but it is about another couple also. In both cases the nightowl is a well-loved public icon and she is singing to him how the whole world loves you but no one knows you like I do.” Also a big fan of Hüsker Dü, Casey Neill & The Norway Rats decided to cover the Grant Hart-penned “She Floated Away.” “[It] has been a staple of our live shows for over three years. We included it for a few reasons,” recalls Neill. “Audiences really respond to it for one. We also needed something in triple time as the rest of the record is in four. But the main reason is that it echoes the themes of the record - not just the lyrics but Husker in general. “We made a very American record and any cover had to be an American band. I am a huge Bob Mould fan, but it felt good to work on a Grant Hart song as he wrote so many of their most timeless songs. This being one.” Now, with a new record ready for launch, the band’s new goal is to pack up, hit the road, and tour as much as they can to get these songs into people's hearts & minds.
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