Neal Casal is a man of many hats. A prolific and fully realized recording artist in his own right, Casal has released a steady flow of his own albums since the early '90s, worked with artists like Tift Merritt and Willie Nelson, and has released a book of his photography, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals: A View of Other Windows, documenting the time he spent in his most recognizable role as band mate to the alternative country superhero.
The New Jersey born Casal recently found himself playing the role of sideman once again, this time as a member of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a band that displays both Casal and the former Black Crowes frontman's neo-hippie sonic tendencies in a way that is neither filtered nor abbreviated.
New Times caught up with Casal during a stop in New Orleans to discuss his life as a sideman, his photography, and losing pool to Willie Nelson.
New Times: So are you on tour right now?
Neal Casal: Yeah, I'm on tour with the CRB, and we've been on the road solid since June. We played Tipitina's last night. It was a really good show. We've been playing a lot, so our band is in very fine form right now.
What was it like recording The Magic Door after putting in time on the road and having so more time as a band?
Actually, the basic tracks for both albums were recorded at the same time, so both records are part of the same sessions essentially -- the only difference is that they were overdubbed a couple of months apart. The production on The Magic Door is maybe a bit more sophisticated or developed just because we learned a few lessons from doing the overdubs on Big Moon Ritual.
The Magic Door definitely has a little more focused sound than Big Moon Ritual.
It is, yeah, it definitely is in terms of production for sure. We're learning how to make records as we go here, and Big Moon was our first stab at it, so it was cool that we got to refine the process a bit for Magic Door.
For you as an individual, I've always noticed that regardless of the artist you work with, you always have a thread of the jammy feel to what you do. Is this gig a bit more ideal for you and your tastes?
Yeah, it really is! The CRB really is a perfect forum for everything that I'm into musically. I mean, I get to sing a lot of harmonies, which is something that I love and I'm pretty good at, I guess? And I get to play more guitar than I've ever played in my life in any band really, so for that to come along for me -- a little bit later in my musical life -- has been a real gift, and a really amazing thing. It's been such a good learning experience, this band -- you know? I've gotten to stretch my guitar playing and my musicality and I'm just currently in the throes of another great learning curve.
But yeah, being in this band has been just great for me, really. To be able to stretch out instrumentally like this is just amazing, and Chris has brought out so many new things in my musical tricks that I didn't even know was there, or things I knew were there and I wanted to explore, but never really had the chance to in other bands. Most groups are too afraid to play a number of 10 minute songs in a row, and we have no fear of that, you know?