Poetry and Pantera, a seemingly incongruous combination, is where the story starts with Cassells. The Ballarat based alternative/folk solo acoustic performer, like centuries of teenagers before him, took up writing poetry when 15 years old.
“I always heard, in some way, music behind particular stanzas of certain pieces I wrote. Music had always been a part of my life prior—taking great influence from members of my immediate family,” the now 22-year-old explains of how he discovered his own sound in adolescence.
When he was 12, his mother’s partner at the time introduced him to heavier bands like Slipknot and Pantera, alongside more mellow singer-songwriters such as Cat Stevens and Paul Simon. “I can only assume the alternative side of my music came in little eyelets from his first-hand influence,” reflects Cassells.
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Since then, Cassells has launched a self-titled debut album and played gigs with acts such as Clamm, Anticline, Georgia Knight, Steph Strings and Skyscraper Stan, plus Convenience Store, Keaper, Think About You and Norwood.
To add to that list of notable gigs, Cassells has just been announced as one of “the ones to watch” as part of the Be_Hear/Now music festival happening in Ballarat from June 30 to July 2. As part of The City of Ballarat’s live music program, Be_Hear/Now focuses on supporting musicians in Victoria’s third-largest city.
That support includes identifying talent, providing mentoring and training, assets and resources to help musicians refine their craft. “It is an absolute privilege,” says Cassells of being chosen alongside singer/rapper Sami Regague, folk psychedelic band Pyrex, electro-western band Confetti Western and 60s and 70s inspired Iridescence as the 2023 cohort.
“I’ve watched my friends perform for Be_Hear/Now in the former years and have thought to myself ‘what a beautiful opportunity it is to be given’. It’s initiatives like this, that allow musicians the chance to be seen in a light that they see themselves in,” he says.
Now, after being an audience member for the past three years of the festival’s existence, it’s Cassells’ turn to take to the Be_Hear/Now stage. While he began as a solo acoustic performer and the sparse instrumentation in his recorded music didn’t require a band, that has changed “as time has gone on, the variety of instrumentals have grown. From being just an acoustic and vocal act, traversing to an orchestra of strings, brass, bass, keys and drums, leading to forming a live playing band,” he says.
When Cassells performs on July 2 at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute (“we’ll be performing in the beautiful library section of the building, which holds a lot of the archived history of Ballarat”) it will be with a full band.
Joining him will be Grove bassist Abby Ashmore, drummer William Baker (Galloper, Reckon), violinist Karin Griffin, rhythm guitarist Brent Valdes and on keys Leon Brennan (Kizmet), all Ballarat locals, except for Baker and Valdes.
“Throughout the years, the Ballarat music scene has been, from my personal experience, something of an enigma. You can seemingly feel as though you know what’s going on in the scene, but then discover a whole new variety of artists – it’s like uncovering hidden gems at times. Through the mystery of what the town had to offer in music, I guess we all found each other one way or another through the search,” he says of how the line-up formed.
“It’ll be the second time ever that I perform with a full band which will be showcasing all of the new songs yet to be released with the album,” he says of the tracks he is currently working on with bandmate Brennan.
“It’s been a lovely process so far working with Leon in the studio, as it feels natural. It feels as though we have an unspoken understanding for what we’re trying to do with this next record, like our emotional and creative wavelengths are in unison with one another,” he says of his sophomore effort Confession Slaves that he’s expecting will be released before the year is out.
Until then, you can get hold of his book of poetry The House of Honesty, which he published earlier this year, or check out the Be_Hear/Now shows. “Expect a nice sensual, intimate set filled with spoken word poetry and dreamy ethereal folk,” he says. “That’s all I can say, come find out for yourself”.
This article was made in partnership with City of Ballarat.