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Published: 2015/10/17
by Kiley Stevens

James Casey: Trey Anastasio’s Saxman Animates Animus Rexx

On Sunday night, James Casey, saxman for Trey Anastasio Band will appear with his new electronic project, Animus Rexx, at Highline Ballroom in Manhattan, with DJ Brownie [The Disco Biscuits’ Marc Brownstein] opening the night. In the following interview Casey talks about Trey Anastasio tour, his beginnings in the band, growing up, as well as the origins and future of Animus Rexx.

Let’s talk a little bit about the upcoming Trey tour. The new album, Paper Wheels is coming out on Oct. 30th. Are you excited to premiere the new material on stage?

It’s my first album with Trey’s band, so it’s all very new.

When did you join up with Trey band?

I joined in 2012, the fall of 2012. So my first tour was the tour with Traveler, the album with “Scabbard” on it. But I didn’t record on that album, I joined up afterwards for the tour.

How does one become the saxophone player for the Trey Anastasio Band?

It’s interesting. I was playing with Soulive at the time, and we were doing Bowlive at the Brooklyn Bowl in 2012, in March, for two weeks. For three of the dates, I think it was the second weekend, Jennifer Hartswick was the guest, for the Thursday and Friday, maybe the Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But I had no idea who she was.

I was told “a trumpet player and singer is coming,” and it was me, her, and Karl Denson. We played, and I didn’t know who she was, and she started playing and I said “Wow! She can play, nice!” Then she started singing, and I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t ready for that. And at the same time she had never heard me, so I didn’t know who she was, she didn’t know who I was. And we decided to keep in touch.

Then I saw her that same year down at Jazz fest in New Orleans, and we were joking around. I said “This is the year of James getting more gigs, because James needs more gigs!” Laughs I was speaking in the third person, and she says “I’ve been putting your name out to folks.” And I just knew her from then, I didn’t know… So then in August, the middle of August, I was in Arizona at my parents’ house and I got a phone call from this weird number that I didn’t know. I didn’t answer it, I let it go to voicemail because I was sleeping, I was tired. I woke up an hour later and listened to it, and it was like: “Hi James, this is Trey…Anastasio. I have this band called Phish and I just wanted to know if you wanted to come play in my personal band. I got your name from Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie (Cressman) and just give me a call back when you get this,” and he gave me his number and that was it.

I listened to it, I didn’t know who he was, and I went back to sleep. I didn’t answer it. And then Jennifer sent me a text saying “This guy is going to call you, Trey is going to call you.” So I called up the Lettuce guys, and was like: “Some dude named Trey called me and I don’t know who he is” and then they all went ballistic at the time. So that’s how I joined Trey Band.

Your story began at the Brooklyn Bowl and your fall tour includes a Halloween run at the Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas?

I’m looking forward to it. The Bowl in Vegas is bigger, much bigger. I was just out there with Lauryn Hill, and it’s really nice.

You’re also starting things off in Brooklyn at the Kings Theatre.

It’s actually the first time my brother and sister will have seen me play. My brother just moved to Nashville, he’s always been in Arizona, so he hasn’t been able to see me. And I left Arizona when I was 18 to go to school. So, I’m from Washington D.C., originally, but we moved to Arizona when I was young. And that was a big change.

Do you think that has had an impact, either negative or positive, on your music career or on your business relationships?

I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t move. I started playing music a child, but I started playing saxophone in fifth grade, and then we moved. And there was nothing. I was bored in school, so my band teacher, all of the students were just starting band, and I’d been playing in churches since I was a child. So he let me do whatever I want. So I’d literally go around and learned every instrument. Every other week I’d bring home a different instrument from school. One day, I brought home a French Horn and my mother was like “Why are you doing this in my house? It’s loud.”

But saxophone stuck with you?

I’d been playing saxophone, and they didn’t know what they were doing, so I learned more instruments. I’d bring home this, or bring home that, or bring home a euphonium this week, or a tuba. The other things I learned, were different types of people skills. I was used to a certain kind of people in Washington D.C., the people we were around, and then when we moved to Arizona it was a whole different type of people, who spoke in a different way than we did. They didn’t understand my accent or the way I talked or my vernacular. So I had to learn theirs, as well as the one I already had. It’s like learning a whole language within your own language. But it’s definitely helped me in business because a lot of people expect one thing, and then they get something else, and it kind of throws them off balance. You can see them for who they are, which is also a weird thing.

As far as this scene is concerned…I ended up in this scene haphazardly. I stumbled right into it. I guess Sam Kininger pulled me in. He used to play saxophone in Lettuce, and he played at Wally’s in Boston. And when I was 18 years old, I’d go to Wally’s and stand in front of the stage at Wally’s and listen to him play. And then I’d play a little bit and then over time we gained a rapport, and that’s how I learned how to play funk.

What’s your favorite kind of music to play?

Ever!? Gospel! Gospel drums. Drums is where I started, and gospel is overall…I don’t care what everybody says, gospel is the best music, absolutely.

Is your family musical too?

Oh, yes. My dad is a choir director and a singer, my mom is a singer and a piano player. My dad’s dad was Marvin Gaye’s bass player, I never met him or anything, but I saw videos.

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