If there are two things immediately obvious about Ben Cassorla, it's his love for jangle guitars in his newest EP amigos and an impressive collection of musician/actor friends. He's toured with Ben Riley, Thelonious Monk's drummer and as a hot commodity guitarist with Dawes, Washed Out and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
Ben spoke with me over the phone during a tour opening for Blitzen Trapper with his own band, Cassorla, named after his last name.
"It's been a slow journey from playing my music none of the time to now almost all of the time," Ben said. "Finally I started to decide I wanted to make my own music. I got a little sick of all of the touring. I loved playing music every night but I found it a lot more satisfying when it was my own music."
On Cassorla's latest EP amigos, he put those touring relationships to use. Each song features a different collaborator including Taylor Goldsmith from Dawes, Crash from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Eric Earley from Blitzen Trapper and Parks and Recreation star, Aubrey Plaza.
"I just felt like I have this great group of people that I know who are great musicians and offer great things to the world and I wanted to take advantage of that," Ben said. "We’ve all worked before in the past, so it was easier to make it all happen. I would just say okay, this song, I want you to sing it. Will you sing it?"
In the music video for "Bona Fide" Plaza paddle boats around a pond in LA playing, yes actually playing, saxophone.
"Her on a boat playing saxophone, I couldn't think of anything funnier," Ben said. "When I was making that album I wanted her to be a guest on a song. She said let's do this. I said if you’re going to play saxophone, we’re going to have to make a music video."
The video also features a performance artist dancing around New York subway stations, ferry rides and streets.
"I like the idea of him and Aubrey doing totally separate things but coming together," Ben said. "And having some sort of weird relationship across the video even though they haven’t met each other yet."
This dual life can also be said for Ben's personal life. He lived in Harlem and Bed-Stuy during college and for four years after but recently moved to California.
"In Bed-Stuy, I loved the Apple Bees where Michael Bloomberg was said to order strong long islands iced teas on Monday mornings," Ben said. (For any New Yorkers wondering, that Apple Bees is located on Fulton and New York Ave.)
Ben is now based in Glendale, Los Angeles. He says LA allows him to be more creative and pickier about shows and projects he takes on.
"If you’re looking for things that New York is good at in LA you’ll be disappointed," Ben said. "It doesn’t have good pizza or bagels and driving sucks. I don’t really like the weather in LA...But the tacos are amazing. The pace of life is a whole lot slower, not everybody has to hustle as hard. There's less of a need to make money to pay rent."
Before hustling for rent, Ben was introduced to music by his mother. She taught him classical piano starting at the age of four.
"Finally for my seventh or eighth birthday I got a beat up acoustic guitar, a tiny one," Ben said. "A few years later my dad ran over it with his car."
Luckily when he was nine he bought his first electric guitar with a $50 bond from his grandma, citing it as one of the happiest days of his life. It was a red Stratocaster, inspired by Jimi Hendrix.
More recently, he's inspired by the simplicity of John Lennon's John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.
"It changed how I make a lot of my music, it's so simple and direct and that was the music I connect to and make," Ben sad. "When I made this album, amigos...the mixer and master I work with were always incredibly happy to work with me because most stuff has 48 different guitars on it. My stuff is one bass, guitar, vocals, drums. It makes their life a lot easier."
I asked Ben about the recent trend of using backtracks on stage and electronic instruments, and if he holds one over the other. He said they're two different animals. He used real drums on amigos which made the recording process harder but added a looseness that he loves.
"To be honest, i don’t judge it either way," Ben said "In the studio using electric drums, it’s a different instrument."
He released track "The Right Way" with Mighty Mike (producer who worked with Kelly Clarkson and Carly Rae Jepson) that uses nothing but electric drums. He said that the track comes from a totally different place and has a very different sound.
"Live, I think I prefer doing it all with other people because part of the fun of the music is in interacting with people," Ben said "But at the same time i can’t judge."
This next year you can look forward to an EP coming out from Cassorla, some opening tours and the beginnings of a full length album.
"I can’t make any promises," Ben said. "Just performing, making a lot of music, new touring, try as play as many as possible collaborations with as many great people as we can."
Listen to the full amigos EP: