Good Times & Great Oldies With Jennifer Hartswick + Nick Cassarino November 09, 2018 09:50
Interview by Tiffany Clemons
Photos by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography
I’m new to writing for Live & Listen, and my interviewing style is a little different than most. I try to be serious, but always end up laughing hysterically and going off on some sort of tangent. However, I always preface this with my interviewee by telling them, “I want the readers to really get to know you and fully understand who and why you are who you are. Why you do what you do, and hopefully continue to follow you through your musical journey called life.”
I feel like this process went over fairly well with Jennifer Hartswick (Trey Anastasio Band and Jennifer Hartswick Band) and Nicholas Cassarino. (The Nth Power) when I sat down with them in the dark lit green room in the back of Birmingham dive, Zydeco. I had actually met them a couple of weeks prior at Hulaween, and while we had a few laughs and some brief conversation in the Spirit of Suwannee, we really dove deep into how magical this duo actually is right here in the Magic City as they kicked off the next leg of their tour.
So, now that you’ve been briefed, let’s start from the beginning. How did you get started with the trumpet?
Jen: I started playing trumpet when I was 10. I grew up in a big ol’ musical family. All classical musicians, and most of them were brass players. My mom was the only woodwind player, so naturally, when she had a girl she thought, “Okaaaay, you get a clarinet! You get a flute! You can play the piano! (Which I did).” Then when I was 9, my grandma came over and told me I had too much hot air to playing those instruments and brought me a tuba. Then my uncle, very shortly after, gave me a trumpet, and that was the one that stuck.
What about you (Nick)?
Nick: I started playing when I was… well, I started playing bass when I was 11 and probably started playing guitar when I was 12. Both of my parents played music and played guitar, so I kind of grew up with that around all of the time. So yeah, I guess I started when I was 12.
Nick: My old man taught me a bunch of stuff first, and then when I was 14, I linked up with a local guitar teacher. His name is Paul Asbell, and I studied with him through high school. He was really great.
Did either of you go to school for music?
Jen: For a minute. (laughs)
I feel like that’s common. I mean, John Mayer didn’t graduate either! (He was just the first person who came to my mind.)
How and when did y’all meet? And then, how did that evolve into this?
Jen: We met when [Nick] was 14…
Jen: I know, right? I was 20 and judging a high school “battle of the bands.” I think it was state wide or something. I don’t remember, but there were A LOT of bands. Somebody knew what they were doing when they made the schedule, because his band was last. So, I had to sit through a whole day of bands until his band, and of course, his obviously won. I literally was like, “who is this kid and how does he play like that at 14?” Ummmmm, so yeah… that’s how we met!
So, fast forward however many years…I mean, y’all obviously kept in touch, or…
Jen: Yeah, so I was on the road at that point, but he had to go to high school. (laughs). But yeah, we stayed in touch, and I kept tabs on him. I don’t know what it is from [Nick’s] perspective…
Nick: Yeah, we kind of re-connected after I graduated. I was 18 years old. I was living in Burlington, and Jen was around. She was touring a bunch with [Trey Anastasio Band], and then we just started doing some gigs here and there with Jennifer Hartswick’s full band.
Jen: It was like 11 people at one point. It was large.
I mean… I love when the stage is covered in musicians!
Jen: But we were like a bunch of idiot kids like, “We don’t care if we make any money, Let’s all shove ourselves into an SUV, with all the gear and all the butts, and sleep in one hotel room." But it was great. We had a great time.
Nick: Yeah, and in 2011, Jen brought me to my first festival, Bear Creek.
I WAS THERE!
Nick: That was a good year, right? We played the Music Hall, and that changed everything for me and seeing Suwannee.
OMG, I wonder if I saw you there because I definitely saw Jennifer…
Jen: Oh yeah, that was definitely him, because I don’t do gigs without him. Especially that era until now. Yeah, I don’t do anything without him.
I love that! That’s really cool…
Okay, so we’ve gotten some good background information going here. Is there anything that we should know about you that we can’t find on the internet?
Jen: I’m a reeeeeally good cook. You can’t find that on the internet.
Ah! So what is your “dish?”
Jen: I don’t have a dish. I will make you anything you want.
GOOD TO KNOW! *wink*
Jen: If I have friends who are travelling through town while touring, they always stop at my house and have breakfast. That’s the move. I like to feed my friends. We’re gone so much, and to be able to feed someone a home cooked meal that was made with love, is such an experience. To have or to make, either side of it, recipient or the maker. So yeah, that’s a fun fact about me!
Any secrets about you? [Nick]
Nick: Secrets? (Followed by a downward sarcastic whistle…)
Nick: You can tell everyone that we’re really fun, and we’re really nice.
Haha, okay. Got it!
Jen: (laughs) Because NOBODY knows that!
Can’t find that on the internet!
Jen: You would never expect that!
So, [Nick] you are from The Nth Power and [Jen] you are known from TAB (Trey Anastasio Band) and have your own band, with a ton of people. So, what is it like being “alone” ish… You know, you don’t have crew, and you are kind of doing everything self-serve. How is that?
Jen: It’s the greatest time of my life!
Jen: I absolutely love it. It’s so easy. It’s easy travelling with [Nick.] It’s easy playing music with [Nick,] and I mean, we call each other our musical soulmates. We don’t even have to speak. Just play, and we understand where each other is coming from. Plus, we’ve known each other for so long, that we just know each other so well. He’s my brother.
Sounds like it’s just works!
Jen: And travelling with 2 people is a dream.
Nick: It really is.
Jen: And it’s, ya know… affordable! And I feel like we can accomplish more with the two of us than we can with eight people.
So, that’s a perfect segway into my next question. So, what does Trey and your other respective band mates think of y’all and your growth together. Are they jealous of how awesome you are?
Nick: Well, as far as The Nth Power goes, they are all psyched about it, because The Nth Power was formed to back up Jennifer in the first place in New Orleans.
Wow! Okay, I did not know that.
Nick: Yeah...they’re happy about it, because it’s great, and we’re happy. It really showcases a different side of me personally, because I don’t play like this anywhere else. This is one of my musical strengths. So, it’s great. They’re happy that that’s getting seen.
It’s something special for sure.
Jen: Thanks, yeah, ummmm I don’t think you were being serious when you said “jealous…” (laughs).
Haha, ummm I TOTALLY WAS.
Jen: So, actually two weeks ago, Trey (Anastasio) came out to Rockwood and played with us and got to see the show. That’s the first time, and it’s really interesting, because we have been working together and hanging out for 20 years. Everything that we do together, Trey and me, we’d get it done, and then we’d sort of have our separate lives. He’s goes and plays with Phish, and I rarely go out and see that, maybe once a year.
He always wonders what I’m doing, and I’m playing in places that are too small for him to come to. So, the last time that we were in New York, he found out we were there and asked, “How come you didn’t tell me?” I said, “You’re too famous to come.” He insisted that he wasn’t, so the next time I came through I said, “Cool, we’re gonna play the smallest club in New York, and I’m going to invite you out to come!”
I think for one, he wanted to come, but also, he wanted to prove that he was serious. (laughs) So, after several days of planning, we got him in there, and he got to watch the show for the first time. He hasn’t stopped talking about it since. We’ve talked almost every single day about it, and he’s so thrilled and is like, “You know, what you guys have, people don’t find in a lifetime of searching. What you guys have is so special. I’ve seen so many bands who just absolutely hate each other and don’t want to be in the same space as each other and ya know… you guys… it’s human and then it’s musical.” So, yeah he loves it.
I will say, my first time seeing you two was just a couple of weekends ago at Hulaween, and I totally agree. You absolutely have something spectacular here.
So, you guys have been touring most of this year. What is next? Because I feel like y’all have got some “morning show” vibes here. Like, I want some “Jen and Nick in the Morning!” Good times, great oldies!
Jen: (laughs) As long as we can record it at night, that could possibly work. We’ll record it at 9:00 PM, and then it can air the next morning!
Nick: It’s just onward and upward basically! Just going to keep playing out. Keep travelling…
Jen: Yeah...the record just came out.
I was just about to ask about that! Nexus, right?
Nick: Yep, so we’re gonna ride that record for a little bit, work on some new music, and see what happens next.
So, we’re gonna continue this train? I love it!
Jen: I would be silly not to.
Tell me more about your latest record.
Jen: NEXUSSSSSS, is me and Nick and one of my absolute musical heroes, Christian McBride, on bass. We recorded it at The Barn, the infamous Phish barn in Vermont, which just has a vibe all on its own. It’s amazing.
Nick: HUGE VIBE.
Jen: We went in there for a week and put down some brand-new music. Music that we had never played out, so we were actually just discovering how we wanted to sound, which is a really fun process and now we get to tour it and figure it out and live inside it a little more and then it kind of takes on a life of its own, more so than on the record.
So, you know, as any touring musician does, especially when trying to build an audience they play covers, which is awesome. Y’all kill it. But now that y’all have your own originals and touring together, how does it make you feel to look into the audience and see their reaction to your original music and even be singing along?
Jen: It’s really deep. I mean, this is the first time that’s happened. I’ve been a musician for a long time. I’ve been writing music for a long time. I’ve had my own band for a long time. But this is something totally different and to look out and have people sing along to words that I wrote about a certain thing that happened in life. I’s really wild. It’s very humbling.
I was actually talking to Trey about that too, and we were sort of joking about streaming on Spotify and all these things. He pulled up and searched the record and he said, “You know, the top two songs on Spotify for you are both originals… for us, for TAB, that’s not the case. It’s a cover and an original.” And he said, “I hope that’s not lost on you.” So, I’m honored and humbled that the people get it. It’s music that Nick and I wrote together and it’s awesome and it’s awesome to see that people love it.
Following the interview, they played an hour and half-ish set to a half seated and half standing crowd filled with originals and covers, peppered with little anecdotes. You could see the glisten in everyone’s eyes as we all witnessed the pure love and passion that these two put into their music. I’m pretty sure every single person in the house stuck around afterwards to say hello to Jennifer and snag up a copy of Nexus, by the time I made it to the table, she was already having to break out more because all of the copies on the table sold. Below are their upcoming dates, I would highly suggest that you catch a show if you can and see this truly special duo for yourself.