When Casey Abrams appeared on “American Idol” in season 10, he was unlike any other contestant the show had seen: Bushy-bearded and thumping on his upright bass, he cast an immediately memorable figure.
In the year since, he’s been hard at work on his post- “Idol” debut. "Casey Abrams," out June 26, is a sunny mix of pop and jazz that feels perfect for a summer day from first single, “Simple Life,” to album closer, “Hit The Road Jack,” a remake of the Ray Charles standard with his “Idol”-mate Haley Reinhart.
Abrams calls from a sweltering New York, while on a promotional tour for the album. Despite the temperature, the 21-year old jokes that he may go out into the city streets and open his guitar case and see what he can earn. “I’ve never actually tried busking before,” he says. But first, he answers our questions about Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery, crafting a pop song, and his best buddy, Rocky.
[More after the jump...]
Even though some of the album titles like “Blame it On Me,” “Wore Out My Soul,” “Stuck in London,” don’t sound like it, your album is very upbeat and positive. Was that on mood you wanted to put out there?
Yeah, let’s put out good vibes. There’s a lot of negativity in the world. More than 90% of the news right now, things are going bad. That’s what music’s job is, isn’t it? To make us feel good about the world. I think so.
What song do you put on when you need to feel good?
Whenever I’m feeling kind of down or something like that, or even good, the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is a go-to song of mine. It’s like watching a movie, but with your ears.
What do your fans to learn about you from this album that they didn’t learn about you on “American Idol?”
That I can write songs. That I have a story to tell and that I can play other instruments than the bass or the melodica.
This album really feels like your creation. That doesn’t always happen with an artist’s first album post-“Idol.” Was that a struggle at all?
I did have to fight for a couple things, but overall, I mean, they really just let me loose. They kind of let me do my thing. They saw what I did on the show. They knew that I wouldn’t take no shit from no one. Pardon my language. Everyone around me was very generous and kind. I didn’t have to fight that hard for what I wanted. I’d say, can I do this and they’d say, “Let’s try it!” They were very down with experimenting. It was kind of an experiment, but a good one.
How was it working with Martin Terefe, who’s produced a lot of Jason Mraz’s albums?
I think he’s probably the nicest, but weirdest guy I’ve ever met. I don’t think he has a bad bone in his body. If something’s not working, he’ll let you down very easily and if something’s good, he’ll be your biggest cheerleader and he just has the funniest stories that I’ve ever heard.
This album has the sunniness of a Mraz album and the jazz feel of a Jamie Cullum album, who plays piano on here. Was that blend what you were going for?
Yeah! You have to have the jazz flavor, always. Without my jazz background, I don’t think I’d even have this album. But you have to have these catchy melodies in there. They’ve been getting stuck in my head, so that’s a good sign: the melodic sense of pop, but the jazz core.
You co-wrote with some heavy hitters here, including Jason Reeves and Toby Gad. What is the biggest thing you learned about songwriting during the making of this album?
I learned how to make a pop song. I don’t think there should be any rules to songwriting. I think all songs that anyone writes are equally valid, but I learned how to make a catchy melody and how pop music works.
Was that hard for you?
No, because I always have a melody running through my head at all times, like a solo.
This past year on “American Idol,” the judges would describe someone who was out of the ordinary or someone whom they couldn’t pigeonhole as “There’s another Casey.” What’s it feel like to be the shorthand for anyone who was different?
It’s pretty sick, huh? It feels incredible. How would you feel? It feels awesome. I’m just happy that I left some sort of mark in the judges’ head. I dig it and I’m glad it went to the guys— one who played the drums, Reid Grimm, and Phil [Phillips]— the winner, which is quite an honor to be compared to an “American Idol” winner. I think that’s cool.
People were very upset when you got voted off...
(jumps in) I’m glad. Look where I am right now. I’m happy.
Really? What was the biggest advantage to not being the winner?
Well, less pressure. I think that’s huge for me because, to be honest, that’s something I have to work on. I don’t do really well under pressure. I need chill vibe and that’s what it was. We took our time and we found the right label and the right music. As soon as you win, I feel you have to come out with an album right away, but I think it was actually great that Scotty won because he was ready to do it and he did it like a champ. He’s doing awesome.
And he seems, at 18, incredibly able to handle the pressure that comes with this. He’s very grounded.
You know what, he’s a really humble dude. He’s kind of shy at first. We kind of really didn’t talk to him. He was like, “I remember when no one would really talk to me in the top 10.” But during the tour, we got really close. We’d go see movies and stuff, go get burgers. It was good. He’s a chill dude.
You have another “Idol” buddy on here, Haley Reinhart. This is the second song you’re recorded together after “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” You two have great music chemistry, are you two going to make an album together?
I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I think the reason it works so well is because she’s a cool person and I can talk to her honestly. We can shoot the shit. Just chilling. I think, to be honest, as long as there’s such good vibes between the friendship, it translates really well onto disc. We never know what’s going to come out of our voices.
If people download the album instead of buy the physical CD, they will miss your posing with a very handsome fellow here in some of the shots.
That’s Rocky, my dog. One of the songs on the CD [“Great Bright Morning”] is kind of in his honor. I’ve had him since 5th grade. We adopted him out of a bundle. The mom’s name was Goldie. There were nine little puppies. Three of them didn’t have tails and four did. Wait, that’s seven. I’m not good at math (laughs). He doesn’t have a tail, which I think is probably the coolest part, you know what I mean. He’s got a stub instead of a tail, which is so funny because whenever someone comes home, if I come home or my mom or dad walks in, he gets really excited and starts shaking his little stub. He’s cool.
What are your tour plans?
That’s a good question. I was thinking as soon as I get back to California, I might take my Grand Marquis around the state. Get a U-Haul or something. I don’t know when though. I’ll surprise you.
There’s nothing about you since we met you on “American Idol” that screams conventional.
What is conventional? I just want to play some music and let people hear it. I guess I could rent a million-dollar bus or something, but why not just use what I have.
Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter @HitfixMelinda
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