Nine Songs: Casey MQ
It’s been a wild year all round and that’s no different when it comes to songwriter, producer and experimental pop artist Casey MQ
This summer he released his first full-length project babycasey while also shaping 2020 nightlife through co-founding the zeitgeist-shifting Club Quarantine - “the original queer online dance party” - hosting guests like Lady Gaga, Charli XCX, Pabllo Vitar and Caroline Polachek.
The Toronto-based pioneer combines his classical training, love of pop’s brightest stars and penchant for electronic experimentation to create his very own sound. Utterly intoxicating Casey still manages to share vulnerable moments through his high-sheen finished product.
On “Candyboy” the record’s latest single which is described as “the heart of the record,” he says “I wanted to hold space for a love that you can feel warm and safe in, one that reflects the sense of security a child needs while they face the world that they are discovering.”
Speaking to us on his birthday (4 December), it’s the perfect moment to reflect on the last 12 months. “I really thought a lot about what it means to put out this first album, what would be an album that speaks to my years thus far,” Casey explains. “It was important that I touched on my past and those formative years when you’re child.”
His highlights also include the release of Galore – the debut from close friend and collaborator Oklou, which followed a month after his own. “It was surprisingly busy,” he laughs, explaining that the inception of his online club night was also up there. “Something like that couldn’t have existed without the context of what’s happening in the world,” he explains, “it’s a fascinating thing all in all – even with the trials and tribulations of working on it – it’s so special.” Describing the first three months as “a total blur”, it's no wonder considering they were hosting the night eight times a week.
Aside from drop-ins from mega stars and some of the world’s most-adored LGBTQ+ allies, Casey fondly remembers a particular moment from the PC Music afterparty. “Everyone pulled out an instrument from their home and at one point every on the Zoom screen had a guitar or a drum and everyone was miming, it was so cute.”
A collaborative force both out in front and behind the scenes Casey MQ has been making music one way or another for what seems like forever. Distilling his musical beginnings into his Nine Songs selection, together we unravel coming of age landmarks and career-defining moments through the music of diverse, often evolving artists.
"It's such a beautiful song. Their career has fascinated me for a while now. I started listening to that back in 2011/2012 and came at it from an angle of [having] heard something completely not that style. They've released so many albums exploring so many genres, exploring their voice in such a particular way, and I became so fascinated by that.
"As a musician who cherishes that as well, it was really beautiful [to see] this exploration going on in their music. And then I heard that song, “Beautiful”, and it was like a jaw drop moment. It was a love song that felt so deeply authentic and connected and I could really feel that this was a song for somebody and that there was somebody right there. It had such an impact in that manner.
"I think maybe [I heard it] even before I’d come out, so I guess I was still understanding what love was. I had loved lots of people, but I think I connected to the idea of love even when I wasn’t letting my identity come through in its full capacity. I still found a way to connect with love because I could feel it from that point of view.
"[Songs like these] have at least come at times when I’ve really needed it. Maybe it didn’t totally work through the process with me, but for me it acted as a support system and I think that’s a beautiful thing that music can do. It can carry you through something, literally holding you up. Because I’ve become so into music making, that is intrinsically of such high value to me – what people do, what sounds people are creating, it becomes fascinating to me how people develop and explore things and bring this in, because of what’s happening in their lives."
"This is huge for me. I grew up as a classical musician and I grew up playing piano all my life, so at some point, just as I was finishing high school I was learning this piece. I think it was the first time that I was playing the song and [I thought] ‘Oh I’m a piano player, I can play this song.’
"Really that doesn’t mean anything, anybody can just play, but at the time I loved the song as well so being able to play it and hear it back… playing it was this really interesting conversation I was able to have with myself. I love the drama of the song, I love the dynamics of it, it’s just a beautiful piece and I still listen to it to this day. I try and play it too, but I’m not as good at it as I once was.
"As I got more and more into writing and making music myself it had such an impact. Because I grew up training and playing those pieces, I played them all a lot, especially in those early years. I played them and played them and read the music and really dissected them, so even if I was to do away with it all like ‘no more classical’ it still would have this power in my artistry.
"I feel like it’s an interesting thing in this conversation around music which has impacted you: once it’s there, it’s there. It’s a part of your psyche and in the zeitgeist of your mind or something like that. The thing for me is I continued liking classical music. I spent a few years getting away from it and then maybe in the last five years I had a revelation that I love this and miss this and how can I find a way to incorporate this in my music which still feels genuine.
"It’s still an ongoing conversation that I’m having with writing. I’ve gone back to practising piano again because I want to see it in the work a little bit more, or at least see how it could be in the work more.”
"I knew I had to pick something by a boyband. I didn’t want to make it an all boyband list, which would be true, but I thought of the one and that’s what babycasey spawned from as well. It’s really a childhood bedroom, full-on let’s live to the fullest [of your] imagination and I know that was the number one soundtrack.
"That one, “Larger Than Life” and even deep cuts like “90 Degrees” would hit and they all made appearances, but “I Want You Back”, *NSYNC and that whole moment was something I would have constantly on repeat in the house. I’d get my sister to film, I’d film myself, anything goes back then.
"It was what came on television, and here [in Canada] we have MuchMusic so if it came on MuchMusic I would be in front of the screen dancing my heart out literally trying to mimic them. It’s nothing different from doing it on YouTube today, but in that sense, you would be anticipating it. The anticipation of it coming would just build.
"I did find some interesting discoveries because of what the countdown would be, I’d hear new music which was always an interesting thing, then waiting for number three, number two and number one - it’s like I’ve finally got what I’ve been waiting for."
"I love that song. There was this workshop last night, on a Zoom call, with one of the writers James Fauntleroy and I just tuned in and it was great. They’ve written so much music, James Fauntleroy, when I was going through the credits I was like 'This is crazy.' All my huge impactful songs… he wrote “No Air” by Jordin Sparks and that is a great track.
"I’m a huge Rihanna fan, I love all her songs and I love all the hits, but for some reason I just couldn’t put that song down for months. I guess with the strings there’s a sort of classical quality to it in some way, there’s the beautiful melody, the harmonies and the duet quality.
"I don’t smoke weed anymore, but I used to and there’s this imagery of smoking weed and it just hit. It was beautiful and I think the smoking weed imagery was powerful, they kind of get away from it and it’s not so direct, but you can pull at it if you wanted to. I mean that’s the same with a lot of music.
"With Rihanna I just feel like she sounds so good on records, her charisma and her personality shows up sonically so well. Obviously, in person too she has her vibe, but I feel like I can really sense her spirit and energy in that vocal. It sounds so good. I’m so attracted to the quality and texture and it’s so natural for her. I guess that’s what really pulls me on and I always go back. I pray for a Rihanna album."
"This is more of a newer one for me. I was trying to reflect on the fact that the production has made an impact on my style and what I like to explore. I think specifically when I heard that song as well there’s so much exploration, and I really appreciate when people do that with their art.
"Withholding the beat was such a different thing to do, we’re a minute into this and there’s a kind of classical flavour too. It’s this build of dynamics and you’re just waiting and waiting, hypnotised and pulled in. It’s something I was playing over and over in the car, I’d be in Toronto, driving down Queen Street and I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved the whole album as well. I love the quality of it, that it has these lo-fi elements; I’m attracted to the texture of it.
"I hadn’t been a huge Playboi Carti listener and I liked Lil Uzi a lot, so when this came and they were doing the track together I was ready to listen. There are times when an artist comes out and you’re like ‘I’ll probably be into that, but not today, but maybe next week or next year’ and I feel like that’s a normal thing because you’re on something else at the time and that’s natural as a listener."
"Where do we begin… that song is so good, it’s so well written. The lyrics. The emotion. I’ve realised I like songs which have drama and that song is peak drama.
"I just had a full fanboy moment with My Chemical Romance. With that one I was really feeling angsty and I was happy to live in that. I was wanting to be My Chemical Romance and just take that on. I think it’s fascinating how music can affect your identity and in a way which is subtle. The impact of their music videos, their style, the lyrics, that one did play out at that time, I was a My Chemical Romance fanatic and “I’m Not Okay”… I’m there.
"I was in a cafeteria in my high school and somebody was like ‘I only listen to My Chemical Romance’ and I was like ‘Who’s that?’ So I think it was on the verge of that album [Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge] coming out and it wasn’t the only artist I listened to, but I was into that person being ‘I am My Chemical Romance.’
"I was totally into the Black Parade moment and then for whatever reason I shifted gear. I don’t really know what happened there. That’s kind of what happens to me with a lot of the artists that I listen to. They make these big impacts and then they go away and reappear in a way that’s like 'That was a crazy time and now I’m loving this, but I can still love that', it’s just different."
"I can remember listening to this in 2007. I was at high school and I think it was post-My Chemical Romance and it’s this classic like ‘I’m into music vibe’ and it’s so cheesy and corny, but I had heard that song and I could feel that nobody in my high school knew that song. [I remember] showing it to a friend and I had it in my headphones and I loved it and it was this special thing for me. It wasn’t on TV, there weren’t these conversations around music.
"I used to go to Rough Trade, the website, and in Toronto, Canada like that’s not relevant and, I don’t know how I ended up there, just being an internet kid I just started finding my way over. So I guess when [“Archangel”] came out it was a thing for me that felt personal even though I know the whole world was listening to it, no one in my high school was.
"I would go on that website to look for new music. [I found] St Vincent and Marry Me, that album and specifically “Paris Is Burning”, that was another one I was loving. It was a different time and I would start to do this thing where I was looking for what the artists’ liked, following people’s paths of what they listened to.
"I’ve always had a fascination for new music and people who are still discovering, I just love that. MySpace didn’t last long, but it was there for a minute and I would always be on the MySpace charts. iTunes used to have spotlight moments too and I would go through and there was so much new music."
"I could’ve picked any song from Channel Orange and I know we were talking about something that would carry you through a moment and this is the one. It’s so there for me. It really deeply resonated with me, I saw the letter, listened to the album and it was not out yet and I was like ‘Holy fuck’. I was alone in my bedroom, I used to sleep in the basement, and there was no light, just one light from the computer shining out and I was just mesmerised.
"What’s interesting is that “Pyramids” came out before the letter and I was obsessed with “Pyramids”, so the context of what was to come in terms of what the album meant and what the story was, I was already there. I was already a huge fan and I just needed it and a couple of months later I was able to come out and tell people that I like guys.
"At the time it was a big deal and I think that was a push. Seeing that and being able to feel that subconsciously it had an effect for sure, and it carried me. I was so obsessed with it that one day I told myself 'You’ve got to stop listening to this.' I’m so glad for it to be an influence, but I didn’t want it to take over my entire [life]. It was important and I’m able to now listen to other things.
"Frank is somebody that’s definitely stayed with me. I’ll be ready to listen to the next album when it comes and I will listen. He’s a great songwriter and I think what resonates is the exploration. That’s what connects me to someone like Meshell Ndegeocello and I know some people, once they put out an album, are 'That’s the formula, let’s keep that up.'
"I personally like seeing an artist take on an evolution in their music, it’s exciting to me to see that happen. It's a mark of staying engaged and not being afraid to take a risk, because there's always a chance that it might not resonate with people and it very well won't all the time, and you make a change and someone says 'That's not what I signed up for'."
"That song was something that I heard and I had a new love that has been a love for a while now, and I was listening to that at the time and I was very excited to share my experience of hearing Joni Mitchell. Her songwriting and poetry is something that I adore and I love playing it on the piano. It was relatively new to me and I hadn’t grown up with Joni, it came at a point when I was falling in love and I was like ‘are you listening to this too?’
"I wrote a song once called “Hysteria” and it’s out, it was when I was in a band called Unbuttoned and basically I sent that song to Joni Mitchell. She was in a coma at the time and she was pretty sick, I’m not sure why, but she was coming out of it and she was in recovery. I sent it because I was so inspired by [her] and this song is a reflection of that inspiration. I got a beautiful message back from her management saying Joni listened and loved it and really saw the inspiration. I was done. It was so special and magical to just hear a response and that she could see the influence and that she liked it as well.
"I was floored and the whole concept of the song “Hysteria” is that it’s an emotional love song. I did a performance of it on the piano on YouTube and it’s just classic songwriting, piano and voice. It’s something that I want to continue exploring within the work. I want to see how this evolution of what I’ve done now and what I wrote back then, like how can that start to intersect; I’m not sure if it will or if it can."