Photo courtesy of Casee Allen
I can’t believe we’ve never interviewed Casee Allen before! That’s not the most professional introduction, but it’s me being truthful and everything else about this interview is all about honesty, so I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon too. My husband and I have known Casee Allen for a long time now. He was one of the first people we met when we moved to Nashville. It’s been so long, I don’t even really remember exactly where we first met him. I’m sure he was playing in some honky tonk downtown, but there are countless people doing that. What made Allen stand out probably wasn’t his singing (at least not back then, and you’ll hear all about that shortly), it was his personality. He was one of the good guys. No airs. What you saw was what you got. Months or a year could go by and when you ran into him again, there he was, the same guy. You know what? That still stands.
It was about a week ago I was watching a video for another artist about 3:00 AM on Facebook. Immediately after that video ended, Facebook did its thing and just jumped into another video, which happened to be a replay of a livestream that Casee Allen had done earlier. There he was looking all tanned and happy, surrounded by palm trees and water. Hmmm… did he make a move out of Nashville? I was curious. I hadn’t heard much from him in a while. I watched a little bit. I was reading the comments and someone said they loved his new EP. New EP? That got my attention. I stopped the video and opened my Spotify app. I had to check out this new music. Sure enough, there it was. Casee Allen’s new EP was called Hindsight 2020 and I started listening right away. For whatever reason, the app shuffled the songs, so I started off with the last song first. Not advisable to listen that way, but it threw me into the EP without a life preserver. That was an “interesting” way to kick it off. I was really intrigued. I listened to the whole thing on shuffle, then realized this was a project better heard in order. So, I did it the right way. Wow. Absolutely, blown away.
I knew at that moment, as the birds and just about nobody else were waking up (since this COVID-19 thing, not many people are up before dawn), I had to tell Allen this was an unbelievably good EP. I searched through the Think Country archives to see if anyone had ever interviewed him before. Nope. Not that I could see. Well, it was about time someone did, and here we are.
Did he move to the beach? No. It was a “Get out of Dodge” decision after the Middle Tennessee tornadoes and the COVID-19 crisis. For a little while anyway. He’ll be back in Nashville. In the meantime, he’s soaking up some sun with his son in Florida. A temporary respite from a lot of gloomy weather we were having a while back as well. I’m pleased to report that we’ve had a nice turnaround here. The sun and warm days are back.
Preliminaries are over. Let’s get into it, shall we? In typical Casee Allen fashion, he answered the phone, “Hey you!” Haven’t seen him in forever and he’s the same guy. We’ve never talked with him here at Think Country, so I went down the list. Allen was born and raised in Coshocton, Ohio and other than attending college in another Ohio city, he pretty much went from Coshocton to Nashville. That’s it.
Image courtesy of townmapsusa.com
I asked him to tell me a little bit about what it was like when he was young. He said, “When I was a little kid I loved listening to music and other than that, I was just an athlete. Everything I did revolved around sports. I loved athletics. It was my everything. My primary sports were wrestling and football. My favorite sport ended up being football. Then I graduated and I cage fought for a living and that’s how I paid for college. My grandmother always told me if I kept my grades up, she’d pay for half of my school, so yeah, I kept my end of the deal and I paid for my half with my hands and feet.” I remarked that I never knew about his cage fighting past and I was glad he escaped without too many concussions and any permanent injuries. He agreed and went on, “Yeah, so glad I got out of it. So grateful. People told me my brain wouldn’t be the same and my face wouldn’t look like this if I kept it up, so I took their advice. I wanted to have kids and grandkids and I didn’t want to be slobbering all over myself. They took me to meet some retired fighters that were legends and I got to talk to them, and I was like, you know, as much as I’d like to have that plaque on the wall or that trophy in the case because I want the title, it’s not worth it, because they don’t even know their grandkids’ names. It’s not worth it to me. That’s not a fair trade.”
Allen did mention he loved listening to music even though he wasn’t singing or playing it. Where was this music coming from and what kind? He seemed excited to talk about it. “Thankfully, it was very, very, very broad, usually everything but opera music. My dad was in love with blues, country and jazz. He’s a musician himself, so he got really into the artistic, articulate types of music. In my mom’s car, one minute it was Mariah Carey and the next minute it was Michael Jackson, then Patty Loveless, Shania Twain or The Dixie Chicks. Then Def Leppard. Then my stepdad was in a cover band. He did hair metal like KISS and AC/DC. I had an uncle that was into rap music and an aunt that listened to the oldies. My grandmother was all gospel. I was so blessed with being exposed to every type. Everything but opera music, literally, I listened to as a little kid. I still do.”
He continued, “I always said this, and my best friend thinks I’m crazy, but music does something to me internally. I’m not bragging or trying to compete with my friends, but it just does something to me. I just always felt like people I was around, it didn’t do to them what it did to me. Like, I was a firm believer that I could do anything better with music, or I heard it differently. I would hear things and the wheels just started turning. My emotions would flare up. I just heard it differently. I interpreted music, I think, differently than the people I was around at the time.” While I never really thought of it before, I found myself relating to those words. I don’t play music, but I have a profound appreciation for so many genres and an intense love of it. I have always done everything, whether it’s working, socializing or just thinking, much better when music is with me. It was good to know there are others that share this experience.
Obviously, since Allen gave up his cage fighting career, he needed a new one. How does a person go from that to music? He gave me the story. “I started pickin’ in my Uncle Tim’s backyard when I was about 20 or 21-years old at a bonfire. My little brother knew how to play pretty well, so I just started paying attention. I learned a few chords and I always had the ear for it. I could just turn on a song and play it. I never learned how to read music. Then I got dumped for the first time in my life. It really upset me. It really messed me up. I took that spare time that I had and I really dove into playing. Like, as soon as I got done working, I would just play, play, play, play, play, play and on Thanksgiving Eve 2011 I had my first show that actually paid.
So, I started playing weekend warrior stuff. Local stuff in Ohio, my city expanded to county, county to district, district to region. Finally, before you knew it, we were playing everywhere in Ohio. That was all of 2012. In the fall of 2012 was my first time in Nashville. That was because I did a show where I opened for Kip Moore. It was right when he had that hit song, ‘Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck’, so people were just finding out about him and he was just blowing up. It was my first opportunity to ask somebody, it was my first time opening up for somebody that was popular commercially. When I asked him for some advice, he told me he watched my set and he was super, super supportive and thought I was a great entertainer, but he thought I had a lot of work to do with other areas. He said, ‘If I were you, when it comes to being schooled in music and performances, it’s Nashville. So, I would drop everything to move to Nashville and start writing your ass off every day.’
Photo courtesy of Kip Moore
Not everybody takes good advice. Allen apparently does. Read on. “So, the next day, literally, after the show was over, I looked at my brother and said, ‘Let’s go to Nashville.’ He said, ‘When?’ ‘Tonight. Let’s just leave. Let’s go.’ He was like, ‘That’s the craziest thing I ever heard you say.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah man. Let’s just go! I don’t know, something just tells me we should go.’ So, for a short time, my day job was selling cars. I had actually discussed potentially going to a finance school in Nashville for it, specifically for auto sales. So, I told my boss, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna go check that out so I need a couple days off. I’ll be right back.’ I got back and I texted him and said, ‘Hey, I’m actually going to just move there.’ He’s like, ‘What?’ So, yeah. That was fall of 2012 and I went back and found an apartment and May 1, 2013 was my official first day in Nashville.”
Things definitely moved quickly for Allen once he made that split-second decision to give Nashville a shot. I told him I’ve heard a lot of “moving to Nashville” stories, but I think his was the fastest, to which he responded, “I didn’t even really have a year under my belt playing.” I could only say that maybe he did things better than a lot of other people. Others say they’re going to come here “someday” when “the time is right”, only to find themselves in their 40’s or 50’s and it never happens. In a town where youth is a huge factor, better to jump early and hone your craft with those that know it best. At least sometimes. Allen replied, “So far it’s worked out pretty good for me, thank God.”
Before making that giant leap to Music City, there was Ohio. It was, after all, the springboard that led Allen here, and I was interested in the venues that he feels were influential in helping him become the professional he is today. This was another area that he was so happy to talk about. “The Coshocton Moose Lodge was a huge factor because that was in my hometown. You know, we generally had a huge following, not because we were any good, but because I was a cage fighter. I was selling a lot of tickets. I sold a lot of stinkin’ tickets because I think people were just curious. I mean, they just paid for tickets six months ago to watch this guy punch somebody and now we’re gonna go watch him sing songs. A lot of people were just surprised, like, ‘I didn’t know you had a guitar. What do you mean play?’ So, the Coshocton Moose was huge because it was always just so packed.”
Photo courtesy of Coshocton Moose Lodge Facebook
“Clark’s Bar & Grill in Coshocton also. That was a huge confidence booster for me, and those clubs got us a lot of dates because word would just travel. We had a guy travel three and a half hours just to come watch us because he was looking for live entertainment and he was only pulling it out of Nashville. He had this brand new club and he drove three and a half hours just to watch us in some rinky dink town like Coshocton, Ohio, that he probably never heard of. He watched the show, we got done, he shook my hand and it became reality after talking those kind of numbers to play songs. That just didn’t register with me. It was like a fun thing to on the weekend, nothing serious. It was a hobby, but I guess a small, tiny, little piece of me, the more we did it, the more exciting it got, the more the crowds started to come, the more I realized, ‘Hey, maybe I do have something here. Something that should take me to at least a good living.’ You know? So, that was a humongous turning point for me.”
The list didn’t end there. Casee Allen is a grateful person and even though some of these places no longer exist he included them because they’re a part of his history. “T & J’s Smokehouse in Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Between that place, the Smiling Goat Saloon in Zanesville, Ohio and Screamin’ Willies in Columbus and the others mentioned, yeah, I’d say between those five venues, that definitely gave me the confidence to move to Nashville. Most definitely they’d be the ones. The people around, they were great too. The folks at the Smiling Goat Saloon, they would extend, not just a paycheck like most venues do, but they had seen, and continue to see, so many big performers come in there, and they would always tell me, ‘You’re right there man, you’re right there. You need to just take the lead.’ May 1st will be seven years in Nashville for me. It’s been really cool. Like, last year, I headlined that venue for the first time where I wasn’t opening up for someone as one of two or three opening acts. Then I’m the headliner with hundreds and hundreds of people there. It was really a cool thing for me to come back. ” I replied that it was probably really a cool thing for them too. Allen responded, “It is. We’ve had a really great relationship now for eight years.”
Image courtesy of Smiling Goat Saloon
It was time to talk about the new EP, Hindsight 2020. The very reason this interview came about. You have to hear this thing, especially if you’re into songwriter rounds and that type of stripped down, storytelling show. This EP is pretty much that, only it’s recorded. I had to start with asking Allen about his son Jace because when you listen to the EP, you’ll see that the bulk of the songs have something to do with his relationship with him.
Photo courtesy of Casee Allen
“Every song, except the song with the Swon’s (The Swon Brothers) is about him. Although he was born in Ohio. (The song with The Swon Brothers is called “Just Some Guy From Ohio”) Literally, every single song. You know, it’s just me and him. You know, a lot of people are single dads. They don’t live with their kid and they’re in a relationship with somebody else, or maybe that girl’s got kids or maybe you’re a couple or a single person, I don’t know, and your friends are your rock, you know? Jace is my rock. That’s the most important part of my life. I have full custody of him so we obviously do a lot together. I’m a single guy and in my line of work, as you know, we don’t have an hourly schedule. We might have a meeting, an interview, studio time, a writing session, the gym or a show, but there’s still a lot of time that’s not necessarily downtime, but you’re using it to your advantage. The time where you’re at home and you’re able to work, I call it my office, but every minute, unless he’s in school, not right now obviously (due to COVID-19), but other than that, outside of school, I’m with him. He’s just played such a large factor in my life. He’s taught me much more than I could ever teach him. He made me grow up. ”
In Allen’s song, “First Day in Nashville”, there’s a backstory of how Jace came to live with him. It’s a moving story within a song. I won’t ruin it for you, but I talked with him a bit about it and I thanked him for writing such a beautiful and authentic song. If you want to hear a true, country song that’s chock full of meaning, this is one. He appreciated hearing that and said, “That’s what I wanted. Coming off my last record, which was very rock, pop country and more commercial, I wasn’t trying to be like everybody else, but I was forcing myself to be commercial on the team I was with at the time. Not to put one-hundred percent of the blame on them, but they obviously played a big part in it. I didn’t hate the record, you know, I love to write and I wrote those songs, but moving forward, you can still have fun, flirty songs, quirky songs, you know, where I’m able to bring out my personality. Most people that are fans of mine, that’s why they liked it obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t have. It wasn’t very sentimental, so moving forward, I decided the next thing I did had to have meaning, real meaning. I was tired of every song being about a girl walking into a bar.”
My response was, “It’s just as if you laid your soul out on the table.” Allen answered, “I wanted to show my growth as a songwriter. No production. No auto-tune. I’ve got a song on there that was just done on my cell phone voice recorder. The very last song on the EP, ‘Dear Wife’. I was literally sitting on my back deck of my house and I wrote that song, I hit ‘record’, sent it to my little team and they all freaked out. One of them was like, ‘Why don’t you just put that on the record?'”
So, that was the song I listened to first when the magic of Spotify decided to shuffle the EP for me. It was “Dear Wife”. That super stripped down song that was recorded on a cell phone. I kind of thought it sounded like that may have been the case, but now I had solid proof in the songwriter’s own words. It’s another song that you just have to hear. This is some good stuff my friends. While “Dear Wife” is about as bare bones as you can get, the rest of the EP is heavily untreated as well. I was so curious to hear about the rest and Allen was eager to share the details.
“There are only two songs that have any percussion. One of them has electronic percussion and that’s ‘Sonshine’ because I just thought it sounded beautiful. The other is the song with The Swon Brothers. That one has a six-string, a twelve-string, a shaker and a cajon. We didn’t layer it. We didn’t do anything at all. It was super, super, super stripped down. I had this idea, in like, 2018, to drop a record. I remember just talking about hindsight. I don’t remember what the conversation was and what my thoughts on it were, but I remember saying how cool it would be when January 2020 rolled around (the record ended up releasing February 20, 2020), to have a record called Hindsight 2020 about my life in my 20’s, because this is my first year where I’m not in my 20’s. I just turned 30. I just thought of the whole thing and to do it in a hindsight sort of perspective, the more I started to think about it, I was wondering what would be different about it? At the time, I was listening to a lot of James Taylor, old Eric Church, old Garth Brooks and some Kenny Chesney records, his most broken down record which is my favorite of all time. I thought, ‘Man, this is what people need right now. What’s more honest, if you’re gonna be honest and use that word, what’s more honest than a guy on a guitar singing? No auto-tune, no big production. What’s more honest than that?'”
He went on, “People are used to this guy dancin’ around like a fool, big old shit eatin’ grin on his face, and now, he’s just telling his backstage view of his life, you know? So that was imporatant to me. Doing it every year or every other year, no matter what else is going on, a big production and those kinds of things, EPs or full albums or whatever the case ends up being. I’ve just gotten such a cool response, and it’s broadened, just in a short time already, it’s broadened my listeners. I think it’s really really hit home with a different demographic which has been really cool to see. My strongest demographic, percentage-wise, is probably 21-35-year old females, however, I’ve noticed a spike in older adults. That’s been really cool for me. That’s so special to me.
Photo courtesy of Casee Allen
Not to take anything away from Casee Allen, because I’ve been a fan of Allen as an artist and as a person for a long time anyway, but we do love The Swon Brothers at Think Country. We’ve been interviewing them for quite some time and I’ve reviewed their music and their shows. They’re great guys and I had to know how Allen ended up doing a song with them. The song is really awesome and I loved that these three cool people worked together.
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country
“Like, three years ago we were both on a festival opening for Blake Shelton. Blake obviously was the headliner, then it was a radio contest winner, me, The Swon Brothers, Joe Diffie and a couple of other guys. Colton Swon kind of hung out and watched my set. Zach Swon, for most of my set, was up on the bus. Colton and I talked, but we never exchanged numbers. Nothing like that. You know, we took a photo together and I never talked to him ever again. You know, a nice guy but we just didn’t exchange numbers, probably because everything was moving really fast. You don’t think about it sometimes. I always thought, ‘I really hit it off with Colton’, but I just never ran into him again.”
“Then right after my baptism, the very next week, I had just gotten baptized, one of my best friends at church said, ‘Hey, there’s this really nice guy at church named Colton, and he’s a singer/songwriter, so I want to link you guys up. I know you don’t come here to network and I’m sure he doesn’t either, but I want to link you guys up.’ So, I agreed and he walks me over there. We both had shades on and we were both dressed down big time, and at first we didn’t even recognize one another. Then we got to chattin’ for awhile and he’s like, ‘Man, I know you from somewhere’, and I’m like, ‘I know you from from somewhere too man. What’s your last name?’ He said, ‘Swon’, and I’m like, ‘Oh, dude!’ I told him my name and he goes, ‘Man, how many years has it been?’ I was like, ‘I think it’s been at least three.’ He asked what I was doing right now and I told him where I was at. I said I had my first cut coming up that no one knows about yet and he’s like, “Dude, so do I. Zach and I have our first cut coming up and we’re not allowed to tell anybody about it yet. Within the next 300 days.’ Both cuts are with major artists, heroes of ours. It was just a really cool thing. So, they ended up dropping their single with Vince Gill (“Travelin’ On”) and I’ll be dropping a single with my all-time hero. It’s supposed to be in the next few months, but everything’s changing because of everything that’s happened and it’s being pushed back.”
Continuing on, he said, “Then he was like, ‘What have you got going on now? Do you have anything coming out before that?’ I said, ‘Actually, yeah. I’m putting out an EP.’ He said, ‘Do you have all the songs done for it?’ ‘Actually, I started a song. It’s the only tempo song on the record. It’s really broken down. I had this idea but it doesn’t have a title yet.’ So, I brought it to their house and we sat down and started writing and we clicked. It happened really fast, but I think for the first 30 minutes we stared at the floor and the ceiling, all three of us wondering, ‘Why the heck did we do this? There’s no chemistry.’ Then all of a sudden, boom! Actually, to be honest with you, I went to the restroom and came back and started spitting out random lines. I sat down at the piano bench and said, ‘What the Hell do I know?’ Zach said, ‘Yeah, he’s just some guy from Ohio.’ I’m like, ‘Holy shit!’ Zach’s like, ‘What? What? What?’ I said, ‘That’s it! That’s it! That’s it!’ Now we’re all freakin’ out. So, the song was over like, 60 or 90 minutes later, and yeah, we just started bulldozing it.”
“On my way out, I said, ‘Hey, I know you guys aren’t from Ohio, but y’all love the song as much as I do, maybe not quite as much as I do, but you and I know that every line of that song is how a lot of people feel regardless of where they’re from. Would you guys mind cuttin’ that song? You don’t need to sing the 740 part or anything else, you guys just need to sing the chorus. They were like, ‘Hell yeah! Let’s do it!’ So, the next week, or it might have even been that week, we recorded it and here it is.” I mentioned how much we enjoyed The Swon Brothers at Think Country and Allen expressed his feelings about them. “Those are really, really good guys. I’m really glad I got to know them through church in a non-networking fashion. We were just sons of God and that just happened. All this happened boom, boom, boom, boom and here we are. It was a really cool way to get connected.”
When life returns to normal and Allen can get back to touring, is he looking forward to it? What are his plans? “Oh, I miss the road. I’ve always been a road dog ever since I started doing this. I’ve always been gone and you know, my son started kindergarten and I’m a baseball coach and I helped with basketball too, so that already started to tie my life down. Now I’m like, ‘Only if he doesn’t have a game’, because I’ve never missed a game, never missed a trip, never missed chaperoning anything he has. I just don’t want to miss anything he has, I just don’t want to miss a thing. So, it’s definitely restricted my touring schedule. I was already like, ‘I have to wait another week and a half before I’m on the road again’, because he has to go with me. It’s a half day at school Friday, check him out, we hop on a plane and go wherever we need to go, try to make it back Sunday for church and then back to school on Monday, you know? So, I was already super restricted, then this crap happened right before my tour schedule was about to be stupid busy. Now everything’s canceled through at least the month of June for me.” Will live streaming shows be the answer for Allen as they have been for so many other artists? “Yeah, but it’s still not the same.” Understood.
Photo courtesy of Casee Allen
I would be totally out of order if I didn’t ask about the UK. So many of our Think Country followers are from that part of the world. Has Casee Allen given any thought to playing in the UK? The short answer is he absolutely has. “Oh my God. I would love to. You know, before Jace came along, I took every gig. I took gigs just for the experience. It didn’t matter what it was. Really, as you know from listening to the song (“First Day in Nashville”), my first day in Nashville, I found out I was having a child. The first year I had three roommates, but once Jace came into the world, that was no longer an option because when he was with me I didn’t want three dudes in there and music playing and people getting drunk and girls coming in and out partying. For obvious reasons, if I wanted to eventually have him with me and teach him right from wrong, there was no way in Hell I could have lived that lifestyle. So, he was born in December of 2013 and in January 2014 I got back in Nashville and realized the days of just taking gigs to take them were over. This has got to be a good, solid living. It can’t be Ramen noodles. It’s got to be a really good living or you’ve got to go do something else. You better figure it out really fast.”
“Someone inquired about me going to the UK. I’ve had offers to go to Ireland in the last year. I think probably four or five different countries have contacted us, but so far none of them have really made sense. For me, to leave the country and take my kid with me, and a band, or even if it’s just an acoustic trio which is probably what I’d want to do, it just hasn’t made sense. By the time I’d cover my overhead, I still have to pay bills, you know? I would love to go though.” I told him I hoped once life got back to what we’re accustomed to, maybe in another year or two, he’ll be in a better position to consider a trip to Europe.
Casee Allen received some pretty direct advice from Kip Moore on what to do as an artist. Allen took it. Not everyone does. Now that he’s been out there doing this thing for quite a while, what kind of advice does he have to give someone in another part of the country (or the world) that’s trying to make it in country music? “Probably the same advice I’d give my little boy about the way you just do life. Be nice to everybody, no matter what the case is, and no matter how much you don’t like a personality. Be nice to everybody and work your ass off and God will take care of the rest.”
How about something he recommends people do when in Nashville that they likely won’t find on a touristy website? “Doc Holliday’s Saloon or Big Shotz! So many fun memories in those bars.” I made mention that those two places often have bands that aren’t your typical country cover bands. He completely agreed about that. “No, not at all. It’s like Mötley Crüe kind of cover bands in Big Shotz sometimes! Then it’s one of the best singer/guitar players I have ever seen in my life at Doc Holliday’s doing John Mayer covers and just destroying them!” There you have it. Get your metal and your pop right on 2nd Avenue downtown after you’ve had your fill of country. When things open back up eventually. Someday. Hopefully soon.
Photo courtesy of Casee Allen
A last blast of fun with, what else? Some “lasts”.
Last co-write with? The Swon Brothers
Last venue played at? Ole Red Nashville
Last time Allen signed an autograph? At Ole Red during his last gig
Last artist merch purchase other than his own? John Mayer show last fall
Last artist he saw play live other than himself? Jerry Jacobs at Nudie’s Honky Tonk
Finally, when Casee Allen “Thinks Country” what does he think? “When I think country, I think Patti.” I stopped him right there. I was takin’ it.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country
Photo courtesy of Casee Allen
Casee Allen Website: http://www.caseeallen.com/
*Featured image courtesy of Casee Allen