Back in the 8th grade, girls dumped sensitive guy Paul Cassella for no foreseeable reason. So he, like almost everyone else, doesn’t remember the 8th grade fondly. That didn’t stop him and bandmates James Pecora and Matt Sexton from naming their band after the second half of Steely Dan’s reject name “Big Nardo & The 8th Grade.” Together for roughly four years The 8th Graders have been playing shows and working on a CD that will soon be finished. Here Cassella talks about Jimmy Page, his ballet career, and a few things that are sure to piss off his girlfriend. Catch The 8th Grade tonight at 12th & Porter with Kristi Neumann and Pale Blue Dot, or find more information at their Web site (www.the8thgrade.com).
Describe your music, please.
Power pop. Sophisticated pop tunes played with tons of energy, invective and volume. Like if Elvis Costello had Jimmy Page on guitar.
What’s the first album you ever bought and where is it now?
I once gave my brother some cash to buy the Chaka Khan record that had I Feel For You on it. He came back empty-handed, luckily. So, my first album was Ratt’s Out of the Cellar on vinyl. Right now it’s sandwiched in between a Sisters of Mercy record I inherited from a Eurotrash neighbor of mine and a Sly & Robbie album I bought in New Orleans.
What song would you never want to hear again, and why?
Any song by 311. Pick one. Come to think of it though, I think my least favorite of theirs is called “Low” or “Down” or some monosyllabic word they use to prove they’re hip. They need to take that shit back to Kansas or Sweden or wherever the hell they’re from. (My girlfriend is gonna hate me for saying this, by the way.)
What’s your favorite cheesy song that’s a guilty pleasure?
I’m already resigned to the fact that I’ve made some people angry by dissing 311, so I’m gonna go out on a limb here: “Like I Love You” by Justin Timberlake. I’m fond of any song where a guy asks his girl to “hold [his] jacket” so he can dance. There are a lot of these pop tunes out that really have a great beat and excellent guitar parts. This is one of them. Along with “Hella Good” and “Pass The Courvoisier Part II,” this (in my humble opinion) is among the best material offered up by pop music in the past three years.
What’s the best gig you ever had?
I played three songs acoustically in my living room for a girl I had a crush on. She gave me this wide-eyed look of awe and we had a nice “sleepover” that night. A fine example of the power of music. (Girlfriend is now justifiably miffed.)
What’s the worst gig you ever had?
We played a gig at Wall Street in Murfreesboro. I think we were having an off night. We opened with our cover of “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap).” At the end of the tune, the audience just sat and stared at us. Maybe they were mentally applauding, but it sure felt like they were ready for the headliner.
What record do you wish you’d made?
Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page is easily my favorite guitar player. He has such swagger. He comes in behind the beat on like every solo. It’s like his playing stumbles drunkenly into the song, then of course, proceeds to just destroy the track (in a very complimentary way).
If you could be someone else for 24 hours, who would you be?
Paris Hilton...no, Nicole Ritchie. No, I’d be one of the Fat Boys.
What’s your opinion on the Nashville music scene?
Chock full of SCARILY talented people. I just went to Popular Genius Saturday night and I was blown away. I listened to the songs and thought I should just hang it upquit songwriting and become a longshoreman or a park ranger. If you don’t watch yourself, you can easily be upstaged by the opening act in this town. I think that breeds a very healthy and productive competitiveness.
Who are your favorite Nashville musicians/artists?
Self is another one of these bands that was so good they made me wanna quit. That guy is one hell of a producer. The Features too. I love the fact that Matthew (is that his name?) plays guitar about as well as I do and still rocks the house. I like to think I do the same.
Who is someone you’ve worked with that you think is incredibly talented and everyone should know about, producer, musician or otherwise?
Gotta give a shout out to my boys at Big World Studios. Dani Amendola (our producer) and James Pecora (our drummer and co-owner of the studio). They work some magic with the knobs and the room sounds great. We’re currently finishing up our album there. Let me also mention Adam McIntyre. His current band, The Pinks, is amazing, but I like him as a lead guitarist too. He played a solo on our album that’s amazing.
Why do you play music?
Because my career in ballet was over and I swore I would never go back to work for Mary Kay Cosmetics. I was lost, broke, out of a job, and completely drunk. I walked for days until I can to the intersection of two barren country roads. The devil (or one of his minionshe’s good at delegating these things) appeared and said if I sold him my soul, he’d make me a star. I said I wouldn’t sell my soul but I had a used Ford Tempo I was looking to unload. He said he’d take the car but for such a meager trade, he could only make me a struggling musician and that the stardom part was up to me. So here I am. Okay, so that’s a pack of lies, but it’s a lot more interesting than the real reason...trust me.
What is your proudest moment in music?
Getting fired from a long-held music industry job because I’m a “creative type.”