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E.S. Sparks

By E.S. Sparks

A handsome devil in a white suit. A slick con man with a gold watch and an immaculate haircut. These are tropes Andrew Cashen plays up well—during our initial conversation, his pale blue-green eyes (seemingly always set to “stun”) are obscured by Jim Jones-esque sunglasses. “It was sunny,” he later assures me when I ask about his wearing them for the duration of that chat; I still can’t decide if they were worn for his benefit or mine.

It’s tempting to lean into myth-making when it comes to this prolific performer. I’ve seen him on stage in four distinct musical acts and his energy and talent are undeniable. But as “Andrew Cashen” the band, his stage persona is a paradoxical mix of a deeply personal truth teller in charlatan’s clothing. Over the course of his set at local honky-tonk Sagebrush, backed by a full band and the sublime supporting chorus of the “The Sirens of Creation” (local artists Rocky Anne Bullwinkle, Anastasia Wright and Marielle Bardon), he confidently meanders about the room with an apparently endless slack of mic cord, serenading different pockets of the crowd, climbing chairs, interacting with pool-players, and finally, dispersing a bouquet of yellow roses to people in the audience. But instead of the “Bad Man” he purports to be on his stellar second solo album, The Cosmic Silence, I was left with the impression of a kid in his Sunday best, demanding our attention not through schtick but rather pure showmanship.

Perhaps the reason this hard-working musician (and painter! and graphic designer!) is so compelling as a huckster is because he’s actually got the goods he’s selling, and one only has to flock to a show to become a true believer. After all, he’s given two teeth to the cause—a side effect of his commitment to the bit (and unfortunate habit of knocking them out with the microphone during his high-wire antics). An “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” indeed. Then again, this is the same guy who taught me how to play Threes at an impromptu after party in his backyard with fellow FSG friends. I did have an insane winning streak (beginner’s luck?) though, so who’s really hustling who… but I digress. Ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between: The Talented Mr. Cashen.

What's Good?

All photos by / unless otherwise noted

The new album [The Cosmic Silence] is so good.  It’s very swoony and nostalgic and cinematic. It sounds like a movie soundtrack.

Cinematic is what I was going for. Ennio Morricone, he does all the Clint Eastwood movies. [Mimics the opening cry of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”] That’s where I was coming from.

So is this a work of fiction or is it more personal?

I think with the first album I did it was all very impersonal, I kind of did a character voice. I was singing super low the entire time the whole album which was kind of easy to write. This last one wasn’t as easy to write because it was personal and it’s kind of terrifying when you do something like that and put it out in public. There are a lot more songs where I was singing either in falsetto or my real voice, which is also terrifying. When you do that it’s you. And people are judging you as opposed to doing a character. 

It bears your name. Was this a progression to get more honest?

I think so, yeah.

What brought that on?

Honestly… just a lack of creativity. This is like the 15th album that I’ve done—not under my own name—but after writing so much stuff, I feel like it takes a lot more creativity to create a story or a character instead of just being like, Well, this happened in my life. I forget who said it but, “Write what you know.”

That’s the core tenet for sure, but there’s a balance of making something that resonates with other people and it doesn’t feel like it’s just you.

Yeah! And I’ve already had someone come up to me and say one of the songs that I wrote reminded them of their grandpa who died and I was like, Cool, that’s not what it’s about but I’m glad you took that from what I said!

I think when you start with the truth it’s easier to connect to. With your more out-there projects [like Tear Dungeon]—they’re fun definitely—but maybe not as moving. Was that scary for you?

Yes, absolutely. There’s songs on this last album that I [almost] regret putting out, but I did it so there’s no going back. Not because it’s a bad piece of music—just ‘cause I was over-honest. Especially doing it live, you’re exposed. Which can be fun if people dig it, but if they don’t it’s like, Okay I just bared my soul to you guys and you didn’t clap. Great. [Laughs.] You grow afterwards though, which is good. I do enjoy performing with this project, it’s just a lot more pressure.

Photo by Joe Olmstead / @joe.olmstead

As far as “The Cosmic Silence,” the way I interpreted the title is that it’s hard to sit with yourself and there’s an infinite amount of learning and knowing in that silence.

The way I came up with the title—I guess I’ve been doing the “cult” thing the whole time. But I [figured] if I was going to do a cult [leader persona] I need a message. And yeah, the whole cosmos is filled with silence, if we all try to fill that silence with positivity and creativity, making noise, making art, making anything… that’s a good thing. Let’s keep doing that.

There’s a common misconception that the people who join cults are weak or not smart.

That’s not true, yeah. I’ve done a lot of research on a lot of cults, just because it sparks my interest. And a lot of people that join cults come from some kind of broken home where a parent figure wasn’t present, which is why a lot of those cult leaders have their followers call them “Father” or “Mother,” and they fill that void in their life, something they [felt they] were lacking.

A lot of the time they are just searching.

Yeah, I mean joining a cult sounds kind of nice. Moving out to a ranch, being self-sustaining, making your own food, not having to deal with society’s bullshit sounds exciting to a lot of people. Being an outsider, not wanting to conform to society—a lot of people feel that way. But there’s a lot of other things that come with that that don’t work.

Would you rather be a follower or a leader?

That’s a tough question… I’d say a follower. That’s a lot of pressure, being a leader.

It is. Which is why a lot of them are addicted to amphetamines and lose their minds.

But I am fascinated by those people who decide, Yes, I am a leader. Yes, I was chosen by God.

Daryl Goerner

A portrait of the artist with his portrait of a follower of Jim Jones.

Do you think they actually believe that?

They have to. Or, like even with the Source Family, Father Yod didn’t believe that when he first started. He just took bits and pieces from Buddhism and a bunch of different religions and kind of made his own. It wasn’t [initially] for other people, it was him trying to find his religious thing. Then he just started telling people about it. And he had a vegan restaurant, and a bunch of these young actor kids from LA were like, This guy makes a lot of sense. I think it was them that convinced him that maybe he was special, And it just went to his head after building and building and building.

Actors were drawn to this particular one. Artists, bohemian types… also scientists. Lots of types of people are drawn to cults. Is it the ability to relate to other people’s visions, you think?

That and, I mean I said it before—being an outsider. Those people all consider themselves outsiders. It’s the same reason why a bunch of people are drawn to punk, because they saw these people looking a certain way and telling society that we don’t want to be a part of it. People just relating to not wanting be part of this society that we created.

Do you feel like an outsider?

Yeah, sometimes. Not in general, because I do have a lot of friends and acquaintances and there’s a big community of musicians in Austin. But [some of my] family look at me and ask me why I do the things I do. They’ve been asking me that question since I was thirteen. No matter how many times I try to explain it, that making art makes me really fucking happy. More than anything else.

Andrew Cashen

I will say you are a leader, inherently, as the frontman of this band. Do you feel any responsibility as an artist, or do you try to keep that separate from what you're creating?

I feel a sense of responsibility to the people in my band of being a good leader, a good communicator and a good provider. I’m the one that books the shows, I’ve got to make sure that they get paid. They’re taking time out of their day to do practices, and I can’t pay them for practice but it’s literally a job. They’re some of the best musicians in Austin, they deserve to be compensated accurately. I feel a responsibility to put on a good show because people are paying money to come see it. I would feel a massive amount of guilt if I put on a show that wasn’t up to par.

It certainly comes through; no one could accuse you of not committing to the performance.

I was telling [someone] from my band, I do have this persona and it’s a character and it helps me perform, because just being too honest and blunt is a little… nerve-wracking. But I think it would be funny if I didn’t turn off the persona and I could just do it 24 hours. One of my biggest influences is Andy Kaufman, doing that shit… Even his friends were like, Dude, come on, turn it off. We’re friends, talk to me! I wish I could do that.

That didn’t turn out so well for him.

But it was entertaining as fuck! 

Well when we first talked you wouldn’t take the sunglasses off. I thought you were “cool guy”-ing me.

Nah, I think it was just sunny. [Laughs.]

Look, I don’t blame you! Honestly if I were in your position I’d probably just tell people to listen to the album and be wary of interviews.

It’s a necessary evil.

So I’m evil?

Yeah, totally. [Laughs.] No, you’re not. It’s a necessary evil for me. I feel like people with the wrong motivations love it. They want to be famous and that entails giving up your privacy… The Achilles heel is when people love what you do and want to know how you made it, which entails how you live your life and go about living in society. My goal as a musician has always been to make enough money to live comfortably. Support your family. Be a normal human on a musician’s salary but not have to give up your privacy. And shake people up! Make people uncomfortable. That’s what art is about.