Cassis B Staudt Week continues with of course more prying on our part. Maybe as you're reading, Cassis will be out running around Berlin, taking photographs of window reflections and... Delighting. Listen... That's the sound you hear when you ask too many questions...
Reflections in Berlin
OUTSIDELEFT: Bad habits. Of course we want to know about Bad Habits the most... What are yours, musically what do you do and have to pinch yourself to stop. Maybe an ago I'd heard Tom Waits talking about about sitting at the piano and his hands just falling onto the same keys at first... And how he broke out of that...
CASSIS B STAUDT: My bad habits are to fall back into songwriting. I need to constantly keep myself in check and push the compositions further and further. No repetition - unless necessary! I hear the voice of my great NYC teacher, David Finkelstein, who taught a very strict kind of improvisation through a type of Action Theater based on constantly burrowing deeper into ones own expressions.
A few years ago, it was a great exercise to write a symphony to visionary experimental films by Leighton Pierce, Phil Solomon and Paul Clipson, a symphony, which was performed by an orchestra in Berlin. Often, I start out writing too much and then the work is to strip away and strip away the unnecessary to get to the essence and to let the essence rise – focused - without any rambling – with having the images be the boss and not my ego. The director Catharina Deus taught me to write music that moves the audience but never seduces them too much so that they keep glued to the screen and the actors’ eyes.
OUTSIDELEFT: Where did you grow up? Was it a musical home? I always seem to ask that, what music was happening in your house?
CASSIS B STAUDT: My mother was singing in a choir that I joined at times and she often listened to popular musicals - My Fair Lady, etc. She loves classical music and a few times we would go to the opera together. She had learned to play diatonic accordion, which her father sold in his store during the war. My own father actually had ten accordion lessons but then tossed his instrument into a closet. The desire for the family was to rise in society – so, hide away the accordion and play your Chopin Etudes on the piano like every good little bourgeois girl. I monomaniacally practiced five hours of classical piano per day! I was quite lonely and my best friend was the grand piano. I started playing piano when I was six years old and continued through my university music studies. After that, I dropped music for a few film production years and, when my mom came to visit me in New York, I asked her to bring my father’s accordion, which I still have and still play. Once in my hand, it sparked a flood of sad songs that I started to perform behind a pool table at a bar called Mona’s in the East Village.
OUTSIDELEFT: What happened... How did you know music was important to you...
CASSIS B STAUDT: There was this inner voice always telling me that music was the most important for me to do in my life. At times, I got sidetracked by jobs or financial demands or other creative pursuits – photography, etc. - that I am good at but it was always clear that music was it! My grandmother was the one in the family who had the stellar voice and I was often told by my mom I, to put it diplomatically, did not have a stellar voice – at all. So, it is actually quite amazing for me that one of the things I do nowadays is to teach singing and I get humbling feedback by my students.
OUTSIDELEFT: Juilliard. Can't not mention it. You're like the Annie Albers of the piano accordion? Showing American's how it's done! But... what was that like arriving there...
CASSIS B STAUDT: I took specific focused courses at Juilliard. At the beginning, I learned only orchestration, which culminated in a composition that I wrote for a Juilliard ensemble. Then, film music for several semesters. Julliard was a dream come true and very inspiring. I learned a lot. I do think that one must never stop learning.
OUTSIDELEFT: Americans are the warmest and friendliest people I think. I was treated royally when I lived there and that was great until Princess Di died and they discovered that I just didn't love her like they did. I didn't not love her, I just didn't think about her. You made a lot of amazing musical and arts connections in New York, right? Can you talk about some of those people?
CASSIS B STAUDT: I do miss the American culture, especially in the film teams, the humor, the informality, not looking down at people seeing them only in their functions. I miss my friends there. Thankfully, several of them now live in Berlin.
OUTSIDELEFT: I think you mentioned working with J. Mascis... Did his dad look after your teeth (he's a dentist right) teeth are big deal in the US. That made my teeth a problem for me. Not as great as anyone's there.
CASSIS B STAUDT: Ha ha. J and his wife Luisa are good friends but since they lived far away from me, I went to the dentist that Jim Jarmusch’s accountant had recommended. I now see the best dentist in town who also treats many of my music colleagues. I constantly run into her at concerts! On top of being an amazing doctor, she is cool, hip and happening.
OUTSIDELEFT: What brought you back to Europe? You lived in the UK and worked again with some people I simply wouldn't be able to catch my breath if they walked in the room. Extent of my conversation with Herbie Flowers would amount to - -"You're Herbie Flowers"
CASSIS B STAUDT: Sweet. When I was hired for my first feature film soundtrack, I thought of my good friend Lars Schuy, who had recorded a few tracks of my first album heartcore in Brighton. His sweet and cozy music studio was located behind his sister’s shoe store. Upright bass? No problem, he said. Let’s call my friend Herbie. I did not know who he meant and was utterly surprised and walking on air and, yes, tongue-tied when the wonderful gentleman Herbie Flowers, who arrived in suit and tie, strolled in.
Herbie and I immediately hit if off. He put himself 100% into these recordings for the feature About a Girl and, afterward, put his own money into recording an album in which we took a few of the film tracks and expanded on them. We released the album with some additional tunes that hadn’t made it into the film. Right away, Herbie invited me to be a tutor at his Rockshop where I taught with him and amazing colleagues like Chris Spedding at Dartington College Summer School, as well as at the Brighton Dome and at the Orpheus Centre.
In retrospect, I see that it was a 2009 Easter Sunday phone call telling me of the sudden passing of my father, that started the long process of saying goodbye to New York City, my home for all together 24 years. I don’t have siblings and I realized that I did not want this to happen again. I didn’t want my mother to die and me not being able to spend the time with her that I had wanted to spend and not being able to say goodbye. The decision to leave NYC came pretty quickly but it still took me five more years until I could truly fully make the move to Berlin.
OUTSIDELEFT: Did you live in the Midlands, (where I am marooned...) But you don't live here now?
CASSIS B STAUDT: I actually never lived in England full time. I would come for the summer to teach and spent most of my time in and around Brighton. I love it there – the proximity to the sea, the open mindedness, the great music, my great friends there and could imagine moving there at some point.
OUTSIDELEFT: As an artist, how is your everyday life and work impacted by the current crisis? How do you shape it to fit you?
CASSIS B STAUDT: I know a few people in NYC who have passed away from Corona. So, I am working hard on not staying in grief and keeping my spirit up and moving forward. I am pulling unfinished projects out of my drawer and have been doing more collaborations. Once every day, I talk to friends in New York and am getting the newest latest news. One drama quickly follows another. Renée French, an actress in one of the Coffee and Cigarettes shorts I had produced, recently passed away, for example. She had become a nurse and was apparently on the front lines. One of my best friends is working daily on a Covid floor. Overall, it seems I am working harder than ever because all the hours spent at networking events and concerts have fallen off. In the light of everything that is going on, and the sense of more and more uncertainty, I am having a very hard time taking down time.
I answered a call of a Finnish animator who had found me on instagram and contributed to his film with a song I had: Can I take a day off? Yes please!!!
But there is also business as usual – after a short break I am back working on a soundtrack for a documentary by Marcel Kolvenbach, have written the new theme song for a Berlin storytelling show and am continuing to teach now via Zoom and again some face to face.
OUTSIDELEFT: Where you live today, what can you see from your window?
CASSIS B STAUDT: Today, I live with my American writer/performer husband and our two American black cats, who only speak English, in Berlin. My favorite view is onto our balcony where we grow black and red currant (since last year I have the fruit of cassis!), gooseberries, raspberries, tomatoes, potatoes and many herbs. I have a bush with marguerites and sunflowers and we have the prettiest bees that visit us. I grew up in the countryside – our house used to be the last before the forest – and I had sheep and wild cows roaming through our “yard.” I am glad I can treasure an itsy bitsy piece of garden high up over the roofs of Berlin.
somewhere here, Cassis' accordion...
Cassis B Staudt photo ©Sandra Buschow, website at sanstories.com
Reflection Image: ©Cassis