From the first moment I heard Cassie Wieland’s incredible remix of Adrianne Munden-Dixon’s “Lung,” I wanted to hear more and know more. A few months later, her debut, Birthday Party, is out, and it’s a release that leaves a mark. I talked about this more in-depth on this edition of Foxy Digitalis Daily, but I still wanted to learn more about Wieland’s practice and how everything came together to create such a beautiful debut.
Birthday Party is OUT NOW.
Going back, what are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?
I’ve been interested in music as long as I can remember – my parents always tell me this story of when they bought me a little Fisher Price toy piano when I was a toddler, and allegedly they walked in on me transcribing nursery rhymes by myself in the living room a few times. I also remember teaching myself how to read music at church; out of boredom I would sit there and read the hymnals until they made sense. Before I had any sort of training I was very interested in figuring out how music worked.
Did you always want to be a musician or play music?
I’m not sure I always wanted to be a musician; I think until I was ten or so my goal career was “princess.” But music was always something I enjoyed, and thankfully nobody told me to stop, so it stayed in my life.
When did you start composing your own music? Was there a specific moment or experience that pushed you to begin?
I didn’t start composing music until college. I was in school for music education and my theory teacher Dr. Magnuson saw that I loved theory and ear training, so he persuaded me to join a group composition class. During that time everything sort of clicked. Dr. Magnuson became my mentor throughout undergrad, and I stuck with composing because it made sense to me and because I wanted to be more like him.
So, Birthday Party is just out. It’s a remarkable album in so many ways, but I’m so taken by the vulnerability and earnestness of it. I think it’s really powerful, and I can only imagine it’s a bit terrifying to put yourself out there like that. What was it like to put your personal feelings out there for the world to hear? Were there any moments where it almost felt like too much?
It was really scary! I’m very used to expressing myself through wordless music, so working with lyrics made everything twice as real. There were a lot of moments during making the album where I thought “Maybe this is too depressing to be relatable,” but I pushed myself to try it anyways.
A little more generally, what do you think is the importance of vulnerability in music and art?
I think vulnerability is super important if you’re trying to connect with people through art. The music I love the most is the stuff that expresses things that I’m too scared to say myself, so it makes sense to strive for that with my own music.
Can you talk a little about what was it like to break out of the composer-performer hierarchy, and why, at this moment, it was the approach you wanted to explore?
A lot of my experience is in classical music, where there is a big separation between writing music and performing. I would usually write music for another group of people to play, which is rewarding in its own right, but allowing myself to create without being asked to do so really changed things for me. With making this album I found a new agency over music-making, where I feel free to ask myself more truthfully what it is I want to put out in the world.
What was it like to work with Mike Tierney in the studio and build the pieces on the album in that way?
Working with Mike in the studio was amazing. It’s incredibly daunting to essentially make something from scratch in the studio, but working with a musician I’m on such a similar wavelength with made the whole process so exciting. I already can’t wait to make the next one.
What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome in making Birthday Party?
I think the biggest challenge was the overall process of producing a full album, which is something that was very new to me at the time. Having infinite options production-wise is overwhelming, but through the process, I learned not to be too precious about the music. Even if you take an hour creating a sound and you learn that it’s not actually what you want, that hour wasn’t wasted because it did get you closer to the answer.
Conversely, what surprised you about it?
Although there were challenges, it surprised me how easily the album came together overall. I think working with people that I knew and trusted made the making of the album generally seamless, to a point where I don’t know why I waited so long to do something like this.
Lastly, the collaborators on the record are fantastic – so many memorable performances. Can you talk a little about the collaborative process on this record and how you came to work with everyone?
Everyone on this album is a friend that I’ve worked with for years, so it felt natural to work with them on a project like this. The album was actually originally a more classical work I wrote for ~Nois saxophone quartet, and because we all worked so closely on this material we were definitely on the same wavelength when it came to creating the album. They and the other collaborators (Adrianne Munden-Dixon on violin, Adam Holmes on drums, and Andrew Rodriguez on the production of The World at Large) are musicians I’ve known and worked with for a long time, so working together was easy – I really just gave them all a general idea of what I was going for and let them take it from there.
And also, how important is collaboration to your creative practice and how does working with all these wonderful artists and musicians help push you?
Collaboration with people I trust is hugely important to me. Making music completely on your own really doesn’t compare to sharing the journey with people whose perspectives you trust and respect. My friends make me a better musician, and the creation process is just so much more fun with them.