photo courtesy of Sam Kaseta
There’s no doubt that Sam Kaseta knows how to make a crowd take notice, whether they stride out on stage as a new music composer, a performing vocalist, their drag king persona Sam Bam Thankyoumaam, or any other of their other countless artistic personas.
“I think a lot of it has to do with my musical and performative philosophy, which is that you should always be trying to surprise the audience and keep them guessing what's going to happen next,” Kaseta explains.
If you can name a form of live performance, there’s a high chance that Kaseta has experienced it firsthand and blended each style into their own unique musical voice. The end result ends up not only as an intellectually stimulating work of art - it keeps you entertained the whole time through.
The highly-relatable themes of Kaseta’s work can entice any audience of any background. Their latest collaborative creation, I Was Unbecoming Then, had been the latest creation in their oeuvre and would have debuted this week, if not for the citywide shutdown of businesses.
“The play that I've been working on the music for is a play that was written a few years ago by Lyndsey Bourn… about what it's like to be a girl in high school choir, especially when that choir teacher is very demanding,” Kaseta said. “There is sort of a cult of personality going on, so I wrote a bunch of songs for twelve voices and there's like twelve women in this play who are singing all of the music acapella. Most of these people are actors rather than singers who were made to go through all of these steps of becoming a choral singer… I've honed my conducting and my choral writing, especially for treble voices and now that they've really gotten good at it, we were done.”
This show, which hopefully can see the light of day later this year, doesn’t solely define the sonic world that Kaseta inhabits. They have taken their experience of working with actors and found ways to give new autonomy to their performers.
“I see it as the performers are like actors,” Kaseta said. “You need someone to realize your work and you need them [to] contribute something of themselves to be able to have it fully fleshed-out, and so I see it as like I am the playwright and I am making up the words that we say.”
“Even in the things that are mostly written out… I had lots of aleatoric stuff,” Kaseta continued. “I want the performer to express themselves, and again, it comes back to this thing.. me not wanting to make all the decisions. I do think it is important to give the performer some autonomy. That won’t work for every performer. In that situation, even [with] aleatoric notation, people are still able to do that, and I really, really like that.”
Past works, ranging from the historical drag king rock musical Kings to their newest release, “Corrected Thinking” (performed by Cisum Percussion) all took great care in considering the performers, while also pushing the audience into exciting (and sometimes uncomfortable) territory.
“It's all about expectations and it's all about misdirection,” Kaseta said. “It's like you're doing a magic trick. So it's something that I've started doing in my pieces, actually, because I have a lot of pieces that are more gestural.”
“Pretty much anything I've written for percussion has some involved breaking or smashing something,” Kaseta continued. “If the audience is ahead of us, is waiting for us, is sitting there listening to this music, and not really listening, but instead just waiting for us to break this glass, they're not listening to my music. So we need to be convinced that the piece is about something else, and then when the magic trick finally happened, it’s part of the story rather than something we were sitting there waiting for!”
At the end of the day, Kaseta blends storytelling into all of their work and delivers a carefully crafted experience, no matter the style of performance.
“I am living in all these different genres,” Kaseta said. “I wish that they were more united… There is no reason why these things need to be that separate because it's really just about writing in different genres. It’s like, what tools are we using? Writing a musical likes a Kings, where it's emphatically a rock musical, there's just a different style of performing that you need as opposed to performing a German art song. But can we put together? I argue yes, and I argue they're not super different.
“And I am just making music that I like, but I think it's catchy and it has something important to say,” Kaseta continued.
“I like telling stories and like doing it with other people.”
Sam's latest release, Corrected Thinking, can be heard below. You can learn more about them and their music on their website.
Erich is a musician and writer living between Montreal and New York whose work appears on Best Life, Eat This, Not That!, MSN, and more and has represented artists for years as a PR rep. He likes weird music. If you want to find his music, it's over here.