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Interview: Cass Dillon talks songwriting, new EP, and playing in retail stores

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Long Island native Cass Dillon has had a career that many young artists have only dreamed about. From solo music to producing songs for movies to acting, Dillon has been doing it all.

Since the mid-2000s, Cass Dillon has impressed the music community with his heartfelt songwriting. His voice even caught the attention of Long Island music legend Billy Joel, who hand-picked the singer to perform the Joel penned “Christmas in Fallujah” in 2007. Disillusioned with the music industry, Dillon took a break from his solo career to work on other projects. While on break, he recorded music for film and TV, with the most recent song featured in the upcoming film “My Man is a Loser.” He has also been bitten by the acting bug and can be seen in two upcoming films; “Song One” with Anne Hathaway, and “Ten Thousand Saints” with Ethan Hawke and Hallie Steinfeld. Dillon can also be seen in the new Off-Broadway play ‘Folk City,’ based on Robbie Woliver’s books ‘Bring it All Back Home’ and ‘Hoot!.’

Cass Dillon made a return to his solo music last year with the release of two new singles; “I Love You,” and “Friends,” both available on iTunes now. A new EP will be released in summer 2014.

It is not hard to see why Cass Dillon’s music attracts people. The way he writes songs with such sincerity is remarkable. With a sound mixing acoustic, folk, and a little country, his songs flow with emotion in both lyrical depth and delivery. Dillon has come a long way and has really found himself in his new music.

I had the opportunity to correspond with Cass Dillon via email to discuss getting started in music, songwriting, working with Billy Joel, playing in retail stores, and the exclusive scoop on the title of his new EP.

How did you get into playing music professionally?

After playing a few cafes and bars on Long Island, I met some music managers and people in the industry who walked me into a meeting with the president of a publishing company. I walked out with a publishing deal. Being so young at the time, it was that professional validation which catapulted me into the mindset of a professional musician.

Who/what are some of your influences?

Steve Miller and Bill Withers are two big influences. Bill Withers has often talked about great songs being both simple and profound, a combination that’s very hard find. Both artists seem to find that sweet spot. However, it was that first John Mayer record that really drew me into songwriting.

I was listening to your songs on YouTube and could hear a real sincerity in your music and lyrics. What is your songwriting process like? What kind of emotion goes into your songs?

There’s nothing like the moment when there’s a guitar in my hand and some musical idea, riff, or vibe that I’m fiddling with matches the emotion of something I’m going through. From there, I just try to tap into some other consciousness that allows the song to come out through me. Quite often I feel like I’m not writing the song. It’s like I’m a vessel and it’s coming from some other place, it’s already been written, and I happen to be finding it and bringing it to the world. It might sound a bit “hocus-pocus” to some, but in order to take my own raw emotion, put it into song, and have people feel it in return, I believe there’s a spirituality in the writing process that should not be avoided. There’s a wide spectrum of emotions we feel around love. Whether my songs talk about loss, appreciation, hope, reflection, or old fashion fun, they all tend to come from or travel in the direction of “love”, and that seems to be a thread through my own personal songwriting.

For a while you stopped recording your own music in favor of acting and producing. What brought you back?

My friend and manager lost his father recently. So I traveled out to his farm house in the country to spend some time with him, console, and try to bring some good vibes. While we were hanging out there and in the middle of conversation, I had a guitar in my hands and just tapped into what my friend was going through. The first line of the song and chord progression came right out of me, my friend contributed some lyrics, and the song was written with ease and in no time. The following day I produced this song titled “I Love You”, and I could feel that this song was part of something bigger than me. It was that weekend where I learned to separate the ego from the emotion, and that’s what brought me back.

How do you think your songwriting/sound has changed since you started in music?

It’s become more from the heart, more honest, and less produced. When I started, I was trying to write the best song I could. Now, I’m just being, and writing songs as I go. The songwriting is primarily what has been driving the sound, but not entirely. Setting up my studio in my manager’s old country farm house definitely impacted the sound, but I also could not have made my new EP without the help of my good friends who happen to be excellent musicians. They contributed so much musicality and vibe to this record. It’s all been a very organic process and you can hear it.

I read in your bio that you had the opportunity to work with Billy Joel. What was that experience like?

It was like I was a freshman in High School invited to the senior prom. I was overwhelmed and learning on the fly. I was processing things that I’m just starting to understand now. Billy respected me and treated me as an artist, even as young and green as I was. It was such a high to be thrown into that position, singing front and center in arenas in front of 18,000 people. It was one helluva surreal ride that I’m forever grateful for.

I saw on your Facebook videos of you playing in different stores. Is this a regular thing that you do? What do the store employees say when you take out your guitar?

This is not a regular thing. This is what happens randomly one night when musicians get cabin fever in a country house at 1:00 am. There was a wide range of reactions. Several were excited and extremely appreciative right from the start, taking out their iPhones and then offering us free beer after the performance. Others were nervous and shocked at first, but we won all those people over. Then there were two employees who pretended not to notice, kept their back turned, and continued their inventory check the entire time. We couldn’t believe it! We were just trying to bring the late shift workers a little love on a cold night, and we had a blast doing it.

Your bio says that after recording “I Love You,” you recorded an EP. When will that be released?

Early this summer. It’s called “3240 Oregon Road”, the address of the country farm house we recorded the record in.

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