Neal Casal

1:29 PM

  An Interview with Neal Casal 
Member of The Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Image result for Neal Casal

September 27,2016
By David Anderson
      Angela Weber 

With Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s upcoming show at The Varsity Theater on October 11th, we had the privilege to interview accomplished singer, songwriter and guitarist, Neal Casal.  Not only has Neal put out his own original music, but he has collaborated with artists such as Ryan Adams, Phil Lesh, Todd Snider, Willie Nelson, and, of course, Chris Robinson, just to name a few.  The talent runs deep and far.  We talked with Neal about the new band members, new album, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel, and keeping things fresh in the music world.  Being the Minnesotans we are, we snuck in a little Dylan as well.

October 11th, CRB will be in Minneapolis performing at the Varsity Theater.  Since your last visit up here you guys have a new album and a couple of changes in the line up.  My question is what have the new band mates brought to the sound and the direction of the music these days?

Well, we had a change in rhythm section, the bass player (Jeff Hill) and the drummer (Tony Leone), so what is great about our new rhythm section is that these guys both are really good friends.  They’ve played in many other bands and they have a really great playing relationship and friendship outside of our band.  It is something that existed before they joined us so there is a real strength in that.  A band can’t function properly unless it’s rhythm section functions properly; there is just no two ways about it.  The fact that we have such a clean, smooth-running rhythm section has made a huge differences in our music, in our live shows, in our record we just made, so I would say that is what’s going on.

I haven’t had a chance to see the new guys live, but obviously there is a lot of media out there and I got a chance to watch recently the LOCKN’ Festival online.  I would say there is definitely a free-flowing and spontaneous vibe there with the Brotherhood.  It is almost like there are no restraints and you can expect the unexpected.  Do you see that as a conscious decision to go that way or does it happen naturally?

No, it was a conscious decision for sure.  We wanted musicians that could play that way and could think that way.  We do want it to be a free-flowing thing.  We build sections into our show that change every single night.  We don’t play the same set every night.  We are always mixing it up, so we wanted musicians who are versatile enough, and like you said, free-flowing enough, to be able to handle  that  kind of playing  and be able to enjoy it and look for it.  Some people want more of a rigid regimented musical life and that isn’t for us.  We had to find people who were at least as good as us, as musicians, and with the case of our new rhythm section, those guys are actually more advanced than the rest of us.  In a way, they are better players than the rest of us, they are lifting us up and taking us along with them, and showing us things we couldn’t have planned.  So, there are unexpected things happening now that we have them and that’s what happens when you bring great personalities into a group.  Things will happen that you could never have planned, you couldn’t script.  As much as it is their job to follow what we have been doing and the template that we set out, it’s our, Chris and myself and Adam’s, job to follow what these guys are bringing to the group.  That’s synergy.  That’s the true relationship.  We are all responding and reacting to each other as a band.

You mentioned set list and from night to night, no two set lists are ever the same.  That is really cool.

We have some similar combinations of songs, so there will be familiar places we will go, but yeah, as you have noticed it changes, and we want it that way.

What goes into putting together a set list for a particular night?  Do you sit down before the show and kind of script it out?

Well, Chris does it primarily.  He just thinks about the venue, where we are, the setting, how it is feeling that day, and I think he will often times look over a set list from the last time we played that place to make sure we are always bringing something different to cities we played before.

Being in Minnesota, the birthplace of Bob Dylan, no CRB show would be complete without a Dylan song or two.

Yeah, we definitely play a few.

How would you say he (Dylan) has influenced you as an artist or musician?

Dylan, well, he is the greatest songwriter on the face of the Earth, bar none.  When it comes to our world of rock music and contemporary song writing, I don’t think there is anyone who can touch him even close.  He has influenced me, whether it is directly or indirectly, because he influenced everyone that came after him.  That includes The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, any songwriter you can think of.  They’ve all been influenced by Bob Dylan; he really changed culture in music.  Of course, we all owe a debt to him.  Speaking personally, I am a massive fan, always have been, seen him play many times.  I could go down the list of my favorite records and songs.  We all know it well.

My whole family, we have always gone everywhere to see him.  We just love him.  One of my earliest childhood memories is my dad playing Blood on the Tracks.  I was probably 7 or 8 years old, he’s filling out his bills and his paperwork and he has Blood on the Tracks going.   I was hooked at a young age.  It’s been a huge influence on my whole musical taste.

Yeah, well that is one of the greatest records ever made is Blood on the Tracks.  I don’t know how your dad can sit and fill out bills listening to that record!   That’s a strong man who can do that, for sure.

You guys are pretty much are relentless tourers.  The show in Minneapolis is less than three weeks away, but you still have 15 other shows to play before you get here.  How do you keep yourself freshly engaged and not let it become a grind let’s say?

The traveling part of all of this can certainly become a grind and there is no avoiding that.  But then again, anything can become a grind, any job.  Even if your workplace is a half a block from where you live, it can become a grind.  Life is a grind, life in a bus.  As far as the music, it rarely becomes a grind.  Some nights are better than others for sure.   We have all had our share of nights where we are just not able to summon the magic.  That goes for anyone, the greatest of anybody.  But that being said it almost never feels like a grind.  It is a privilege to play music for a living.  We are very fortunate people to still be doing this at this age, at this time, after all the records we made and all the years we have been around.  It is lost on none of us what an honor it is to be able to make artistic contributions for a living.  It’s not that hard, man.  It’s not that hard to stay in the game with this, it really isn’t, and for me to get to play guitar in front of people every night is an absolute joy and I am just hoping I can do it for the rest of my life.

Being a huge Allman Brothers fan, I wanted to ask you about your experience playing Duane Allman’s Les Paul back in July in Macon.  How did that come about and what was that experience like?

We have known Richard Brent who runs the Big House and he has been kind enough to bring us Duane’s guitar a few times.  He brought it to us in Athens a couple of times.  This last time in Macon was my third trip around with that guitar.  A guitar like that, every time is like the first time.  It is just an honor to be able to get to take an instrument like that for a spin.  Feel the magic in it and the history in it.  As a musician, as a guitar player, I study instruments all the time and what make them tick.  It is very cool to play that guitar and get a sense of how Duane got some of the sounds and where that guitar maybe led him.  It is just one of those things.  I have had the nice opportunity to play Jerry Garcia’s The Wolf a few of times and Duane’s guitar, I try to approach those instruments with the respect they deserve and that’s the best we can do.

The guitar that you mostly play now, it seems to have a pretty Jerry-like sound to it.  Is that by design?

Yeah, partially.  Playing Wolf influenced some of the features in the guitar I have now.  I learned from Wolf a few things, electronic and wood choices that influenced how this guitar was built.  But that being said, I don’t really, I am not one of those Jerry imitator people.  That is not what I go for.  I have been making records of my own and records with other bands in other styles of music for over 20 years.  Jerry imitation isn’t all that interesting to me.  You can hear his influence in my playing, but that is as far as it goes.  If you look at his rig and mine, I have almost none of the same features.  Any similarities are just my hands and hearing it.  I heard a lot of his music growing up, so the influence is there.

Imitation is not that interesting, like you said.  I could see maybe influence in possibly interpretation, but definitely not imitation.

Yeah, right, it’s like there is some kind of vibe or essence I am going for, not do the guy’s thing.  That wouldn’t be moving culture or music or life forward.  It’s a bad idea to constantly be trying to copy something that happened a long time ago.  It would never work.  You’d just end up ruining it that way. 

CRB is coming to Minneapolis October 11th at The Varsity Theater.  You can get your tickets at starting at just $22.50.  If you haven’t already, I suggest you order them now!  Head over to for more info on getting the new album and additional tour dates. 

Huge thanks to Neal for taking the time to talk with us!  You can checkout more of his projects, as well as his personal photography, at

Get out and support live music!

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