Casati: Canadian Independent Band Profiled

Updated on December 12, 2017
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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

Casati
Casati

Casati is a Winnipeg band headed by Grace Hrabi along with bass player Quintin Bart and guitarist Jesse Popeski. The band makes music that draws from a diverse range of influences, including a strong jazz component, as they originated as a jazz trio. I talked to Grace about the origins of the band, their creative process and how they find inspiration.

Grace first met Quintin Bart while they were studying jazz in university. They played private jazz gigs outside of school and discovered that they had a good musical chemistry. After Quintin moved to Hungary, Grace says, “I had a performance that was booked with another guitar player. A few days before the performance, he said he couldn’t do it and he gave us Jesse’s number so that was how I met Jesse. After playing with him, I felt this amazing chemistry between us.”

A month later, Grace says that all three of them played their first jazz gig together. She says, “After a couple of tunes, I just felt this immediate trust. I knew that these people were going to catch me, that they were really listening. There was an attentiveness there.”

They played together as the Grace Hrabi Trio until she was about to move to Ontario in 2013. Grace explains, “We wanted to make an album because I had a bunch of original stuff that had never been performed in public. We’d never tried anything other than jazz, but we thought we should give it a shot. We started playing the original stuff and it sounded really neat. It had all of these jazz influences even though it wasn’t jazz. It was kind of hard to categorize it.”

The first album was 11 tracks and only included three jazz standards. Going forward, they played more original music and concluded that it wasn’t appropriate to call themselves the Grace Hrabi Jazz Trio any more. At the same time, Grace was fascinated with Luisa Casati, an Italian artistic muse in the 1920s and ‘30s. She adds, “I was kind of obsessed with her for about a year before we decided to change the band name. We had looked at a couple of different options for our name, but Quintin just said, ‘I think it has to be Casati.’ She was the person we were really basing our artistic values around.”

Initially Grace was the main songwriter for the band, but Quintin and Jesse are starting to contribute. She talks specifically about her own process and says, “I want my music to be extremely honest, but that doesn’t mean it always has to be serious. For me, it always has to be genuine and you always have to mean what you say. My ideas come from the people around me and the situations that I find myself in.”

Grace adds, “I want to write songs about things that people are shy about, so that when people listen to the music they feel more like they can connect to the lyrics, connect to us and feel like it’s a safe place to listen. I feel like that comes from not only writing from an honest place, but trying to perform from an honest place every single time.”

In terms of the process of writing, she brings in a melody and some lyrics. Grace elaborates, “I usually have a chord progression that I’m not 100 percent tied to because I know that Jesse and Quintin will have fascinating ideas that I will want to hear. I always want to keep an open mind when they want to change something. I’ll be very tied to what I’m saying, but I like to work on how it comes across as a band. It’s harder for everybody to mean it if everybody didn’t have a say in how we’re going to get the message across.”

She concludes, “Once an idea is out there, some songs come together really quickly and some take over a year before we perform them. We don’t want to dismiss any ideas, so sometimes we give them a really big rest.”

Their last album Some of These Days was recorded in January 2017. Grace says, “We took a couple of months to really let that album shape itself. We had a list of songs that we were considering, but we knew we wouldn’t be able to add until a week before recording, if that felt like the time to record them. There were some songs we’d never recorded but we’ve playing them for years. Part of the reason we hadn’t recorded them is that we’re not really sure how to capture them in a recording. Making sure that the essence of a piece will come across in a recording is difficult to do.”

The entire album was recorded live off the floor with Grace doing her vocals while also playing instruments. She says, “There are so many cons when you do it that way, but the pros of getting that live performance energy outweigh them all. We went in to record the ten songs knowing we might not get ten songs. If they don’t feel like they’re working, you just have to be able to move on to the next one. On the first day, we got a good take on almost all of the songs. In order to do a live off the floor album in two days, you have to be able to perform all of the songs pretty seamlessly knowing that you are going to lose some of the takes.”

She adds, “We did a couple of solos afterwards because Quintin, Jesse and I just wanted to have that time to make sure that the solo was something that we loved.”

The producer of the album, Don Benedictson, was an integral part of the album’s success in Grace’s view. She explains, “We picked him because the albums he produces just sound so good. It was such a treat to have him there as an extra set of ears. He’d be willing to tell you if something was or wasn’t working.”

She has glowing comments about the Manitoba music scene. Grace says, “We’ve had people who come to our shows tell us that they haven’t listened to any of our music before they came, but they heard that we were from Winnipeg so they thought we’d be worth checking out. That’s such a compliment to the entire music industry in the province. The community here is very tight knit, but that’s just because of proximity. We’re not really close to anything. In the Winnipeg music scene, if you go to any concert, you’re going to see tons of musicians there checking out what other people are doing. There’s not really a sense of competition, just a sense of constantly being engaged with what’s new and what other people are trying out.”

The speed of change in the music industry means that Grace doesn’t want to look too far ahead in terms of the band’s future. She says, “The music industry is changing so quickly that trying to say where we’re going doesn’t seem like something worth putting a lot of energy into. We want to keep playing, we want to continue to widen our audience by going to new places and playing in front of new groups of people. Our real focus is on the music and making sure that we’re producing music that we are extremely proud of and happy to promote no matter where our career might take us next. I’m still so happy that the album is a success and that we’re booking tours that I’m not in a big rush to get to the next thing.”

The band’s eclectic mix of music styles means that they can take inspiration from almost anything. Grace elaborates, “We’re getting very good at taking other styles on and making them our own and trying to really find a way to bring the story to life no matter what style we’re trying out. If anything inspires me, I can follow it and try writing a song about anything. I think that the people around me and the stories you hear coming out of the news and social media inspire me. I never want to write anything that doesn’t need to be said. I have to make sure my music is always something people can connect with.”

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