Casii Stephan and The Midnight Sun
Aside from completely digging her sound, connecting to Casii Stephan over our mutual adoration of the Foo Fighters was a fantastic way to start an interview. While talking to her, the lyrics from “Times Like These” kept echoing in my head. They just seem to fit with the themes she addresses in her music and everything she shared about her childhood, her musical journey and influences, her songwriting and what’s next on her horizon.
Casii grew up in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, but moved to Tulsa about five years ago. Her upbringing was not grounded in the soulful, bluesy, rock that she represents now, but more focused on Broadway Musicals and Disney Soundtracks. Her mother played the piano, her aunt sang, and her grandpa sang, was a trumpet player and wrote his own poetry and songs. She had traditional piano and voice lessons to follow in her family’s musical heritage. She described herself as a somewhat shy rule follower and musically sheltered until her younger brother started breaking the rules of her mostly conservative household, and introduced her to The White Stripes, Cake, Tool, and the Foo Fighters in her teens… that’s when she found her voice and started breaking the rules, too. She began composing her own music, and has a notebook full of songs from that time that represents who she was then and helped her grow to who she is now. Her influences are mostly genre based, rock, pop and Motown. She mentioned that she loved the Supremes for their harmonies, melodies and beats. She especially liked the way they put a twist on innocence in their songwriting. When I listen to Casii’s five recorded songs, I can hear how she takes that vibe and infuses it into her own writing as well...but her style is truly all her own!
Casii performs with her band: Casii Stephan and The Midnight Sun. When they play their live shows, they transition seamlessly from sultry beats to high energy grooves that rock the house! I wondered where the name of her band originated. Casii shared that she took it from the Bob Dylan song, “Dignity” where the lyric, “I went into the city, I went into the town, went into the land of the Midnight Sun,” just got stuck in her head. The band has formed over time and has lots of guest musicians who sit in, but permanent members include: Sean Ammons (bass), Ryan Graham (drums), Tye Slagle (guitar) and Amira Al-Jiboori (percussion and manager). When you see them perform their music together, you will be as much of a fan as I am!
“Ghostships” was written when Casii first moved to Tulsa. It was a huge change for her, as she left all of her childhood friends and family behind in Minneapolis/St. Paul. She had to transition emotionally very quickly in her brand new life. She had her first new adult friendships and all of the facets of growing up that go along with that which made her realize there was dissonance between expectation and reality. A self-proclaimed introvert, Casii became worn down and was struggling with the very public pace of life. So she got in her car, drove to a park in Arkansas and sat down to write. Pouring her heart on paper, she described the mental image of a ship that was worn out and tattered, with holes in the sails and the splintered wood of the hull… that’s how she felt at the time. The quiet beginning of the song echoes how many feel when relationships of all kinds don’t work out, “No one can fault us for disappointments, or hurts from yesterday… and when our arms are empty, broken, from people who ran away.” Then the tempo picks up and she rocks her visually vivid chorus, “So, see, the smiles that we bleed… circling, we’re just ghostships underneath. These scarred souls just want to go home, but all we got was pain.” Her lyrics evoked a visceral response from me, and I can feel why this single received an Honorable Mention Award by the USA Songwriting Competition in 2017.
“I Like the Way” is one that truly showcases Casii’s beautiful voice. It is a super sexy slow tempo tune that has an old school soul vibe. The melody came to her first, and then she penned what she said was just a simple love song to match. It wasn’t reflective of anything or anyone personal, just a deep down soulful grind. I love the imagery conjured when she croons, “Make me feel like a star falling down. Oh, baby you turn me around, and I’m lost, I’m lost in your ways. They say tomorrow will come with the sunrise, but I feel it so brightly in your eyes, and I’m lost, I’m lost in your gaze.” In 2016, this lovely storytelling helped this song win an accolade for “Best Love Song” at the 15th Annual Independent Music Awards
“Letters,” starts with her amazing vocals and strong backing rhythm, “I just keep writing you letters, tryin’ to see what you do...tryin’ to fig’ out your story, are you funk or you blues?” and transitions into a driving beat and keys that don’t let up the entire length of the song. This song is her commentary on the current state of finding human connections in a digital world, particularly when dating. The frustrations associated with the process in writing letters… which represent messaging and texting, but not talking or meeting to get to know the person, and then the eventual “ghosting.” When writing the song her focus was on the fault of the other person, but when shooting the video, Casii started to think about her role. She stated that in retrospect, it is a two sided conversation, and it is worth talking about with the greater community. How do we find someone who respects that openness and honest dialogue… how do we self-reflect, and doesn’t that lead to the healthiest relationships? The lesson she learned during this was that she now pays attention to her role and has a conversation with the person rather than “ghosting” them. It is an awful part of dating that many understand, and she won’t be responsible for doing that to someone else.
“Yo-yo” is a compelling song that reflects the emotions of many who have felt this type of pull in a relationship. When I first heard it, I told Casii that I audibled, “HELL YES” when she hit the notes for “See I want you, but I don’t want your lies posing as truth… wearing love like it’s just your power suit and I think I finally know... that you don’t care...” I think that is such a relatable situation in today’s world where some people simply lie to get what they want from others, treating them as disposable, and only coming back into their lives when they need or want something. It is meaningful and kind of heartbreaking, too, but a reality for many who have experienced this. The repeated bridge before the chorus gets more power behind it as Casii belts out her final thoughts, “So take me for a walk like I am just a dog in the park, and I will finally bite right back… I’m not your pretty little girl on a leash no more!” Casii said she LOVES singing that part of the song live.
“When Winter Comes” was released in early 2018 and was nominated for another Independent Music Award for “Best Acoustic Song.” A beautiful melody from the piano accompanies Casii’s voice as she addresses the issue of aging. Although Casii is quite young, she wanted to take a defiant stance on her fear of it. She wants people to embrace aging as a natural and beautiful part of life. The chorus provides an evocative visual, “What if the snow falls on the mountaintop in grey and white? What if the ice shows the cracks and the beauty of time? What if the wind takes way what I thought was mine? I’ll let it go… when winter comes.” Casii will be performing this song at a showcase at the Independent Music Awards Music Conference in New York on June 21st. I’m stoked she’ll get to share her talent with another appreciative audience!
So as Casii gears up for her New York trip, I’m thankful that she took the time to talk to me and share the awesome things she has coming up. I’d like to highlight her involvement with MisFEST. She and Amira Al-Jiboori are co-founders of this festival that provides a welcoming stage for female led acts across genres that are Oklahoma based. The goal is to empower female musicians, and as the event website states, “It’s still a ‘thing’ to have a female bass player or DJ or drummer, and until it is not a ‘thing’ events like MisFEST are needed.” It is fantastic that not only is Casii getting her music out there at festivals like SXSW and many others, but she is making sure that other female led groups get their turn in the sun as she and Amira help grow the community of female musicians who can support one another. Keep an eye out for this year’s festival! It will be held on September 14, 2019 at Guthrie Green in Tulsa, Oklahoma… it will be a KICK ASS MUSIC EVENT! Until then, you can find her future show dates listed on her social media… so put it on your calendar and catch Casii Stephan and The Midnight Sun live as soon as you can!