Interview: The Wonder Years’ Casey Cavaliere Talks About Season Two of His Podcast, The Record Process

Casey Cavaliere has been pretty busy these past few years. When he’s not playing guitar and writing for The Wonder Years, he spends his time producing music for bands at True Level Studio in South Jersey, and breaking down the process for how to make music for his podcast The Record Process, with his True Level Studio partners Adam and Tom. With the second season about to drop, I sat down with Casey and talked about what makes the second season of The Record Process better than the first.

I was curious, what was the inspiration behind your podcast, The Record Process?

A couple years ago, some mutual friends, and I all had the need for a space to start working out of, tracking, mixing some of our own music, and other artists’ as well. So, we put our collective heads together and built out a studio space. In working with a lot of clients, we started having a lot of really interesting conversations, some which would fall into the music nerd category,  and that’s such a fun part of the process for us. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to be like, “Hey, we have a little bit more downtime. I’m not going off on tour all the time. Maybe now seems like the right time.” This gave us some time to find a way to refocus it into what became season one of The Record Process, which was just myself and my two other studio partners at True Level Studio, Tom Conran and Adam Ackerman, two extremely talented musicians, engineers, and acousticians. They run a company called Atom Sonic Concepts, and do a lot of studio builds. So, we had a leg up when it came to the studio build and design. Season one effectively became a linear walk through. We realized as we were about halfway through our outline of it, it was actually setting the groundwork and becoming a precursor for where we ultimately wanted to go which was starting to narrow in on specific records and with specific people behind those records, whether it be the artists that recorded them, the producers that worked on them, the engineers that mix and track them, or the people that helped release them, promote them, and market them. There’s a ton of voices, and there’s a ton of differences, every record is unique in its own way. And, that’s where we started turning our attention to what would season two look like? That’s where we finally settled on the idea that we wanted to switch to more of an interview based format and reach out to some friends and tell the story of these records that they were a part of. 

When talking about The Record Process, the idea behind making an album, what are some of those records that you go back to and think, “This is flawless”, or albums that you are trying to recreate in your own way?

I think that the idea of something that’s flawless is inherently biased in its own way, and an inherently flawed notion because, the time and place that you’re digesting that record, that record comes into your life and coloring how you feel about it, attaching itself to memories, attaching itself to people, places, and things that mean a lot to you. You might actually miss some of the things that now you would go back and be like, “Wow, that record actually sounded not as great when stacked up against the pure sonics of some of these other records,” but it didn’t matter. And it still sounded larger than life and still hit the hell out of me. I think a lot of the records that I grew up listening to were not even records that sounded flawless. If you look at the first Green Day records, or the first Offspring records, they weren’t great, they’re not flawless. Guitar work on a lot of those old school punk records are flawed, but it didn’t matter, because look how people view those albums in their mind’s eye this many years later. I think I was obviously a child of the 90’s and that’s when music really started hitting me so a lot of this stuff that came in the mid to late 90’s, where rock and alternative rock radio was actually very big and MTV was in its heyday, before it began to burn out so to speak. At least for guitar driven bands. That was also a lot of stuff where, if we were talking more flawless stuff some of those rock records that were getting like very large major label studio budget treatments that were so perfectly put together and I really wouldn’t understand how much skill and craft went into the records that guys like Jerry Finn, that did a bunch of the Blink stuff. And there’s a ton of other incredible engineers and producers in that genre, that made those records sound killer, and then you would get them, put them in your CD player, and you’d be obsessed with them. There was some like really weird post-grunge-era stuff where the guitars are noisy, feeding back, dissonant as hell and I loved it and I became kind of obsessed with that, and obsessed with producers that were leaning into the antithesis of pop perfection. I think that had a lot to do with how I started to see that and understanding what the goal is. There are times to really lock in, and cement something so tight and pristine, and have it be a moment, but it’s only going to seem that unbelievable, if you can find a way to juxtapose it with something that is so loose and not the pinnacle of perfection. So, I think that’s coming from both ends of the spectrum, that those are the records, in both columns, so to speak, that kind of informed the way I look at music and it changes,  from band to band, and even with The Wonder Years from record to record, song to song, there are moments where things have to lock in, and there are moments where it’s okay to be a little amorphous with the tempo and the feel of something. It’s records from every  side of the genre, but a lot of those early punk records. I really liked old Offspring. Smash and pre-Smash, and Ixnay, I always go back to those. I grew learning those octave guitar parts and power chord parts of records like that.

Right now, what are some albums that you’re hooked on?

I love the new Chloe Morando record, I listened to that a lot.  I will shamelessly plug Origami Angel because they are doing something so stylistically cool, that we are very happy to have them on this upcoming tour. The last two records that they have put out are really cool, and show that they’re not afraid to just be themselves, and that they’re still in a place where they’re not overthinking, which I think is a really cool place for a band to be in and still have some really cool authenticity to it. I’m excited to see people go off for them off. Those are probably two good examples that vary, but obviously, there’s so much more. I also will say, if you haven’t checked out an artist named Jhariah, he put out an EP last year that, it’s tough to find words that do it justice, because it’s so dynamic. But, check out that EP by Jhariah. I actually had him on the Record Process.  The EP is called A Beginner’s Guide to Faking Your Death. I’m excited to see where he goes, because I had so much fun listening through that, getting ready for that episode, then hearing kind of how his brain works as well in crafting those together. So awesome.

So, on the podcast, you cover a lot of ground. The concepts you three talk about are incredibly in depth. How did you plan all of that out? Are all the episodes and themes things you all wish someone would have talked about when you were starting out? 

Yeah I think there was definitely a genuine sense of us trying to pull out some of the things that we have learned along the way. I think sometimes you realize you do something for long enough, you don’t always give yourself credit, or realize how much you download throughout that process. So, this was a cool opportunity for us to upload. And I think the cool thing about it, too, is there was stuff that even working through those episodes in season one, with Tom and Adam and putting together a cohesive outline, there were things that were even great refreshers for me. The best way to learn is by teaching something, I think, and that’s exactly what we did. I feel like I came out of that season even better with  a lovely refresher of “Right, back to the basics, okay, I’m overthinking this,” and, “Hey, that was cool. I should maybe take my own advice”. I really found it rejuvenating. It also came together through just the brainstorming on what advice we would give in any given scenario at any point in the process and breaking it down as such.

People obviously are going to know you from your work in The Wonder Years, but both Adam and Tom, what projects have they worked on?

Adam has has done a lot of work. Anybody that’s in the Medford, New Jersey circle, he grew up playing in a lot of bands. Most recently, he plays in a band called Honeyjar. That’s a cool indie dream pop project. He’s one of the the big creative forces with that, as far as songwriting. Actually, now he’s out in LA doing a lot of pop songwriting, with a bunch of people. Previous to that, he had a long tenure as a guitar player in a band called Sorority Noise. And, Tom Conrad has been a very notable Philly engineer that’s worked out of a ton of different rooms all over the city. And grew up playing in bands, but most topically, has just put together an incredible album with a new side project that he’s calling Slo TV.  It’s experimental, and very eclectic enough in genre and scope and where it goes thematically. So, he’s going to be slowly releasing that throughout 2022. That will be a very top of the list project for him this year.  Everybody should definitely look out for that as well.

Awesome. I can’t wait to check it out.

You know, the record’s really cool. If you follow Slo TV on Instagram, he’s starting to put forward some little clips and teasers of some of the songs. If you listen to The Record Process,  you’ve already heard some of those songs in there.  It curates a beautiful soundtrack to the kind of atmosphere we wanted to put forward with the show too, so, a win for us.

So, you guys all work at True Level Studio in South Jersey. What does a typical day look like at the studio? Or is there such a thing as a typical day?

As of last year, my days have been quite atypical when it comes to the studio, because I actually moved out into Atlanta. I am talking to you from my new home just outside of Metro Atlanta. So, in having said that, I will maybe break down that question in a different way. The day between Tom and I specifically, both on East Coast time, and still doing a lot of projects together on a daily basis. His day looks pretty common in terms of coming in, setting up and usually we’ve either had our assistant put a session into his mix prep template. And the same thing kind of goes for me as well. But, I’m doing it remotely down here in my space. Usually a typical day will be, for him, mixing for anywhere from five to seven hours. If there’s a project that’s in the works, sometimes there will be a session scheduled at night, whether it’s vocals or guitar, a lot of weekends, we will go out, and do pre-production sessions. Generally, that’s what a studio day looks like for him, it’s usually pretty quiet, there’s not a lot of hustle and bustle, usually just one assistant or an intern floating around, and then maybe taking a break and soldering some cables or doing some straightening up from a previous session or something. But then, between the two of us, we’re usually checking in at least once or twice a day, just because of how much shared work we have, both with the podcast and then with a number of studio clients that we’re working together with, and producing songs for an ongoing month by month process. So, a lot of that work I’m then doing down here, and we’re tossing sessions back and forth. Whether it be between the artist myself, and we’ve worked out a flow with one or two artists now where I kind of handle a lot of the pre-production, brainstorming ideas, taking the sessions, chopping them apart, putting an arrangement together, putting forward some ideas and some really detailed notes on things and then maybe working with their singer on the top line stuff, the lyric stuff, getting the song in a good place, and then having to make the changes, send it back to me. Then I might send it to Tom to finish off the mix in our room that we built, that is a much more sonically appropriate environment for some high-level fine tuning. Although, I do a lot of stuff on the road,  I always like to have Tom get ears on a lot of the stuff that we’re working on. So, that’s generally what that looks like. Otherwise, recently, a lot of my day has looked not dissimilar to this zoom call. Now, I do a lot of remote production sessions, check-ins, furthering ideas, diving through demos, diving through other songs in varying stages of production. And, also doing some artists consulting and coaching when it comes to the non-musical but also, very important creative tendrils of how to market your band and how to formulate an even more cohesive vision to hopefully separate what are some great tracks and some great songs and some great work ethic from so much of the other noise. Organizational stuff is not always the strong suit for a lot of creatives I found, and it took me many years to download and digest some of those skills. So, now I’m trying to pass that forward,  via some virtual one-on-one sessions.

When can people expect to hear season two?

Season two will be premiering on February 8th. And the first episode we have planned will actually be with friends of ours, Derrick Sanders and Brooks Betts, singer and guitar player from Mayday Parade. We invited them to talk through their self-titled record and the process behind making that, because it was kind of aptly timed in that it turned 10 two years ago, but they’re now just celebrating that with an international anniversary run on that record. So, I thought it would be a cool time to dive back through it with them.

That’ll be very cool. How long will season two be?

You know, what? I don’t have an answer. I’m kind of letting it ride. I know that at the very least, it will be going through April. And we will see where it goes, we’ll see what the feedback is. What other kind of guests or ideas start to come into the fold, in juggling that and trying to curate a really nice balanced cast of guests from week to week that keep things interesting and keep the perspectives fresh on some stuff. So, I don’t have an answer for that yet. But, then again, when we started season one, I didn’t have an answer of how it would enter, what season two would be like, I didn’t even realize that that was season one. I think sometimes that’s how a lot of it happens. And I look forward to seeing the reception of some of these interviews and the new format, and kind of taking it from there and maybe letting it begin to take on a life of its own, and letting it go. 

Now, since the podcast is so artist focused, what advice do you have for artists who are trying their hand at their art? Maybe for the first time? Or, maybe they’ve been doing it for a while, what do you think is some solid advice for them?

Well, first and foremost, write as many bad songs as you can. Steer into the mistakes, go make a bunch of them, you’re not going to strike gold the first time you put your shovel into the earth. You will find through repetition of finishing those songs, and getting through them and figuring out and unlocking some of those roadblocks and challenges creatively, you’ll figure out where your strengths lie, where maybe some of your weaknesses lie, what sort of creative talents you excel at, and where you might need some supplemental help in the department of collaboration. That would be the first thing that I would recommend is, write as many songs as you can, don’t hold them too tightly. The first one or two, you got to look at it as the long game. Hey, guess what, the first couple Wonder Years songs that saw the light of day were not Earth shattering. But, that was okay, because the ones behind them were maybe a little better, maybe not. Who knows. And the ones after that kind of took on their own life. Here we are, 16 plus years later, and I’m pretty darn proud of the songs that we’re about to put out later this year. Start with small steps. And the first thing you can do is get and refine that habit.  And it’s taking things when you know what works for you as an artist, and then when you know what things you like, I think that’s what will help, and set you apart in a long term sense. But, you have to put the time in, and be patient with it and and do the work. And the work is sometimes not pretty, especially at the start  when you’re dealing with a lot of raw material. There’s a lot of excess. When you’re carving a statue out of a tree trunk, there’s a lot of saw dust that is just swept up. So, go make some saw dust.

I think that’s great advice. So you’re going on tour in a couple of weeks. What can people expect from The Upsides and Suburbia Anniversary Tour?

So much music, so many songs. I know this firsthand, because I’ve been running through them all, at home, by myself, and I’m ready to be playing them with the band. That will be fun. So, they can certainly expect a lot of music. Just to clarify, every night of the tour, both records, there’s been some confusion about that. If we’re doing two shows in a city, both nights, we will be playing both records, no exceptions. We’re not like, “Hey, New York, night one is The Upsides, New York night two is Suburbia“, none of that. Both records every night, and then maybe some additional special treats. So, a lot of songs can certainly be expected. And beyond that, we hope that a very respectful and safe crowd environment can also be expected. We put a lot of effort into making sure as many protocols and safety measures can be put into place as possible. That’s always very important to us and important  to the safety of our fans and them feeling comfortable, especially in these times where we’ve just been through a very hellish two years. We’re going to try to keep everybody as safe as possible, and have a good time. I think we’ve waited quite a long time, 10 plus years for these records, so to speak. So, we are ready.

I love it. And last, but not least, I’m sure a lot of people are wondering, is there anything you can tell us about the new The Wonder Year’s record?

I will say what I’ve been telling anybody else that asks: It is our best record. Now, take that as you will because it is coming from a member of the band. However, I will qualify that further by saying anyone that I’ve played parts of this record along the way and the people that really know us as people, as a band, and people that have really followed our career, have all unanimously agreed. Either, they’re being very nice to us, and they don’t want to hurt our feelings, or there’s something special on the way. Obviously, we think it’s the latter. I can’t wait, it’s honestly killing me having just listened to the masters and not being able to share it with everybody right now. But, this period is decidedly ours to hold on to and enjoy the record that we made. And soon enough, it will be everyone else’s. And we’re excited for that.

Be sure to follow Casey, Adam, and Tom to see what they’re up to, and definitely check out The Record Process here.

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