Talent Scout: Casey Harris, The Renegade

X Ambassadors keyboardist Casey Harris builds on success of "Renegade" and tours with Muse
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X Ambassadors keyboardist Casey Harris builds on success of "Renegade" and tours with Muse
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The song “Renegades” by keyboardist Casey Harris’ band X Ambassadors was on mega rotation during this past year. (It was featured prominently in a Jeep Renegade commercial, as well). The band hopes to build on their latest successes when they hit the road with Muse in 2016.

HOMETOWN: Ithaca, NY

MUSICAL TRAINING: I took piano lessons for about seven years, starting from the age of nine. I also had a fantastic music teacher during high school that I eventually assisted during my junior and senior years. (Molly MacMillan taught me piano and Dara Anissi was the school music teacher.)

FIRST GIGS: My first paying gigs were at a short-lived Internet cafe called Wownet in downtown Ithaca, New York. I remember thinking I was so cool for bringing an old Fender Rhodes 73 out to them, instead of the digital stuff everyone else had at the time.

INFLUENCES: I tend to like beautiful or epic melodies, great musicianship, unique tones, and, honestly, mostly instrumental stuff. I grew up loving film scores and such, and then fell in love with progressive rock, jazz, fusion, and funk a little later. I’ve also been becoming more of an electronic music fan in recent years.

WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: Tobacco/Black Moth Super Rainbow, Jeff Beck, Aaron Copland, John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, The Meters, Ratatat, The Books, Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, Pink Floyd, and I could keep going and going...

INSTRUMENTS PLAYED: I’ve got my good old ’71 Rhodes Mark I Stage 73 (I’m also a trained piano technician, so I’ve got it set up and tuned nicely). I also use the Nord Electro 2, Nord Stage, Nord Lead 2x and Nord Stage 2. My laptop running Cakewalk SONAR with a little M-Audio Key-station Mini 32 is my “go anywhere” writing rig.

MY BIG BREAK: When our song “Litost” got on the radio in Norfolk, Va., a DJ heard it on someone’s Spotify playlist and decided to give it some spins. The next thing we knew, people were calling in to request it and it went to Number One. That led to us being heard by the guys from Imagine Dragons. They basically got us signed. Then we got a break with our song “Jungle” being in a Beats by Dre commercial last year, and this year we’ve gotten all kinds of breaks with the song “Renegades.” It’s really gone nuts. I still find all this success kind of mind-blowing.

LATEST ALBUM: VHS is our first full-length release after being signed, and we’re all extremely proud of it. It’s eclectic, but flows together, and should be listened to as a single piece. I wouldn’t call it a concept album, but it definitely leans in that direction.

FAVORITE KEYBOARD GEAR: I’ve been playing Nord keyboards since before the Stage was released, starting with the Electro 2. They have great sounds, great feel, even on the un-weighted keybeds, and most importantly, everything is controlled by buttons and knobs. To make a new sound on my old keyboard, you had to do the old menu-dive routine, and since I’m visually impaired, this took about ten times as long. Immediate controls are absolutely a must for me. I’ve also been using soft synths almost exclusively for recording this past year or two, so I’m interested in getting a Muse Receptor, or a very reliable laptop to let me use my studio sounds live.

WHAT’S NEXT: I’m stoked to say we’re going on tour with Muse in 2016, playing all the major northeastern U.S. and eastern Canadian cities. And that pretty much kicks off another solid year of constant touring, where we’ll be all over North America and Europe. We’ve always written music while on the road, so we’re already writing new material for our next album.

ADVICE TO OTHER MUSICIANS: Always just keep doing it. My band has been playing together for nearly ten years, and we’ve just started to see big things happen. And while success is great, I would, and did, play music even if I wasn’t getting paid a cent and nobody was listening. It may sound a bit selfish, but I believe music is something you have to do to bring yourself joy before you can give it to others.