Music was always a large part of upstate New York-native Casey Dinkin’s life. Yet like many talented and passionate singer songwriters, Casey searched for a reason not to pursue music, up until now.
“I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” she explains. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer songwriter, have a band and tour around and make albums, but I never thought it would happen.”
So what changed the mind of this singer and guitarist who lyrically and musically sounds like a distant cousin of Norah Jones? In my interview with Casey Dinkin for Music Historian’s full-length feature for July, I learned that self-reflection, relocating to New York City, and raising money through Kickstarter.com to put her songs on a record helped her take the necessary steps towards making her dream of being a recording artist a reality. The result for all of Casey’s efforts is the release her debut record later this month, Right Now for Now.
“I love this independent music”
Music surrounded Casey all her life. She says that both her parents loved folk songs from the sixties. Her mother played music from Joan Baez’s songbook as well Judy Collins, and her father favored Motown and soul. Meanwhile, Casey’s musical tastes included The Beatles and The Grateful Dead.
Casey and her mother would sing tunes from musicals together. At fourteen years old, Casey picked up guitar, and she participated in musical theater and school choirs. During this time, her admiration for the independent singer songwriter blossomed.
“I remember in High School,” says Casey, “I watched people get up on a stage with a guitar and sing. They would sing a song they wrote at the coffee house. I thought that was so cool, and I wished that I could be that amazing.”
College opened up new performance opportunities for Casey and led to more experiences, some successful and some challenging. She explains:
“In college, I started singing with jazz bands. After college, I sang with a rock and roll cover band, which built a following and played many gigs. At this point, I became more confident with performing. I started to think “I really love this independent music.”
“Then I started collaborating on songs with one of the members in the band, and that was the first time I had really shared my songs with someone. When we performed them in public, people responded positively; they thought my songs were enjoyable.
“Unfortunately though, that band broke up, and I was on my own for a while. I found more opportunities as I looked for other bands. At this time, I also worked for an anti-hunger non-profit.”
Casey enumerates that at this moment, having a job and handling her own performance promotion and booking made her think twice about pursuing music. So she put music aside to focus on her non-profit work which eventually led her to Washington, DC.
Putting Music on the Backburner: Casey’s Self Reflection
“I got a job in DC working at a national anti-hunger research and action center. While I was there, I realized that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial where I could set my own path. Since I’m an artistic person by nature, I wanted to be involved in the arts.
“I found myself having conversations with people trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Then one day I was talking to my friend Beth who told me that she made a cork board to help her figure out what she wanted to do. She thought of every possible career and put it up on this board, anything she could think of, and then she told me that the goal she really wanted to pursue, which was to write a book, she didn’t have the guts to put up there. I then realized I had the same thing.”
Although Casey tried to put music aside, she never stopped writing songs. She claims to have written about 100 songs by the time she left DC.
“I started to realize that putting music on the backburner was just a response to fear. I was also learning to be a yoga teacher at the same time, and some of the studies included letting go of fear and being your authentic self,” reflects Casey. “I feared that I was not going to make it, or it [music] was not important enough. Instead of letting go of this fear and being a songwriter, I worried about my ego.”
Recognizing this worry was Casey’s first stepping stone in overcoming her fear. Her next stepping stone validated why pursuing the dream of singing and songwriting mattered. Casey enumerates:
“In the middle of this self-reflection, I realized I had always written songs. I never stopped. Every day that I walked to my job, I wrote songs in my head. Then, one night before I went to sleep, as my head hit the pillow, I realized “If I died tonight, in my sleep, then my songs would die with me because I had not done anything with them.”
In this moment, Casey realized her songs counted as a “real body of work” and from there she decided to change her life. This included leaving the nation’s capital and moving to a city she always wanted to live in, New York City.
“At the same time, the funding for the project I was working on in DC was ending. I called someone I knew at an anti-hunger organization in New York City. He happened to have a position that just opened. So, I made the decision to move to New York.”
The Move to New York City
In one of her songs on her record, “The Light of NYC,” Casey described Washington DC as “the city of all smarm and no charm.” Firstly, I wondered what this lyric meant. Secondly, I wondered whether Casey felt like the only individual she knew in DC that was torn between choosing either a life in public policy or the arts. Casey explains:
“I made up a phrase one day “a city of all smarm and no charm.” One of my former colleagues described this lobbyist we worked with as someone who was “so smarmy, it made her skin crawl.” Smarmy refers to a charming but manipulative person that cannot be trusted.
“One day, I was walking outside and said to myself, “This is the city of all smarm and no charm.”
Casey adds, “Of course, there are a lot of very charming things about DC, and not everybody is smarmy.”
She continues, “I thought DC was where I could be, but when I got to DC, it was clear that I wanted to be in New York City. I think if you want to live in DC in the long-term, you must want that long-term career in policy and government. I thought I actually wanted that, but when I arrived there, I realized I truly wanted music.
“Although I could do music in DC, New York is where I have more access to great people to work with in music. I feel like there are so many people here that pursue creative things. In DC, I sometimes felt like the weirdest person. But here [in New York] I feel it’s normal to be [both] a musician and something else. I’m never the weirdest person in the room. It’s so refreshing.”
One of the most important contacts Casey made when she came to New York City is her producer Dan Siegler.
“When I looked for a producer, I wanted somebody that did not see my music as just another project. I wanted somebody who genuinely likes my music; plays keyboard well; and thought about the lyrics I write. I wanted someone that would think holistically about my songs, understand what I was trying to say and guide that.
“Then I met Dan Siegler who is a gifted keyboard player. He understands my songs in ways I couldn’t even understand them. Of Course, at this point, he has probably listened to my songs 50,000 times.”
Casey talks about her first experience producing a record.
“The process involved the following,” begins Casey, “I would go and play 30 songs for Dan, and he would go through them and say “this song yes, this song no, this song maybe but it might need another verse or a bridge.” Then we would talk about how the song should sound, musically, and start putting together the instrumentation.
“It was a very interesting learning process to see how that happens and see how a song is built piece by piece.”
In order to support this essential step of putting her songs on an album, Casey decided she would raise the necessary funds.
Funding Her Dreams of Making a Record
“Two days after I decided I was going to make an album,” explains Casey, “I received an email from someone I knew asking me to contribute money for their band’s upcoming tour on Kickstarter.com. That’s when I researched Kickstarter and thought “this was how I was going to make my album.””
“I raised about $11,000 in 30 days,” continues Casey. “People came through in incredible ways.”
According to Casey, she and Dan have dedicated a tremendous amount of time figuring out each component of every song – for example, what type of bass line, or if the song needed a violin part – and the delivery, making sure every note has the right intonation and falls on the right beat.
Though she did spend time reworking lyrics for certain songs on the album, Casey feels that the lyrics in her songs, as a whole, seem to come out naturally and effortlessly. Casey claims she feels blessed to gain inspiration and constantly write.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about appreciating that gift. I think right now, I’m very fortunate that life seems to give me these thoughts that turn themselves into songs. Very rarely do I sit down and say “I’m going to write a song.” Usually, an idea pops into my head while I walk down the street, especially if I am experiencing distress, and I don’t know what to do. So I think “I’m going to write a song about it,” and that helps me through the process.”
The best example of a song that represents this is her title track “Right Now for Now.” This song, throughout Casey’s experiences as an artist, takes on multiple meanings.
“That’s the song I wrote while my first band after college was breaking up. I wrote that song when I needed to tell myself that everything would be okay,” reflects Casey.
“When I wrote that song, I was not into Yoga,” she adds. “Then when I studied Yoga and listened to leaders that talked about being in the present moment and recognizing each moment as precious and event as temporary, I [now] think that song also talks about living in the moment, understanding that troubles will pass, as well as letting go and forgiving yourself. That’s every point in my life.”
The Album Release Party at Rockwood Music Hall
While Casey searches for inner peace through her music and works to achieve her dream of doing music professionally a celebration follows – the album release party for Right Now for Now at Rockwood Music Hall on Sunday, July 28th.
“I really look forward to celebrating everything I have been working for over the past two years and longer. This is the absolute pinnacle; the longest-term, truest thing I have ever accomplished.
“It will be the first time releasing an album, playing at Rockwood Music Hall, and performing my album songs live with a full band,” Casey joyfully claims.
The icing on the cake for Casey’s album release party might be the reunion with people that have supported the new artist through her journey.
“I have people coming from all over the country which is super exciting. My upstate NY friends and family are coming, and people from North Carolina and DC.
“They followed my progress and my many updates along the way. They were a part of my Kickstarter campaign…, and this is the finish line.”
Every Present Moment Counts
As we conclude our conversation, Casey mentions that releasing an album has taken longer than she initially expected. This makes me think that whenever a musician has available time between live performances, recording a song, producing or promoting their record; they dedicated it to writing a new song, rehearsing, or completing a second job. Casey reminds me that every present moment counts.
In addition, even during her years in DC and Albany, not pursuing music, every moment Casey experienced included a lesson that prepared her for now. Learning yoga helped Casey see that her previous habit of putting music on the backburner was a response to fear. Moving to Washington DC slowly fueled Casey’s desire to move to New York City. Finally, Casey’s experience with non-profits taught her how to run a successful fundraising campaign – one that would help support her dreams of releasing an album of her beautifully constructed, charming and earnest songs to the public.
Right Now for Now will help listeners who are native or have become well-integrated into the New York City landscape, view this city from a refreshing outsider’s lens. Having also been to Rockwood Music Hall several times, I can attest that Casey’s album release party on July 28th will be the perfect setting to enhance this listening experience.
In the time that Casey prepares for this big event, she is also looking to the future.
“The next thing that follows is expanding my fan base. It would be great to hit the road. I would also love to start recording another album after this one is released,” explains Casey.
The most important long-term goal for this smart, talented and ambitious artist is to become better at everything, from songwriting, to learning more instruments, and honing in on her arrangement skills.
“I’m trying not to get too descriptive about the future because I think there is no longer a cookie-cutter model of how the road to success in the music industry should look,” she adds.
And of course, Casey is right. So let’s enjoy right now, for now.