An almost rock star: Marty Casey had more than INXS needed

Jul 25, 2006 at 6:17 pm

I felt a bit bad, confessing disdain for over-the-top Big TV star-making crapfests, to a guy who had just recently gotten a belly full of said crapfest, riding it to something like auxiliary stardom, or at least a major label record release.

Marty Casey: second from left, has worked with the band Lovehammers for 15 years. He came in second on “Rock Star: INXS,” which may be the best thing that ever could’ve happened to him.
Marty Casey: second from left, has worked with the band Lovehammers for 15 years. He came in second on “Rock Star: INXS,” which may be the best thing that ever could’ve happened to him.
The show in question was “Rock Star: INXS,” one of a zillion reality TV shows. It ran last year on network TV, and the premise, weird as it sounds, was deadly serious. INXS, the legitimately cool and groundbreaking outfit from Australia, was ready to get back to life as a band, but without their singer and spiritual leader, Michael Hutchence, who died in 1997, victim of a suicide or perhaps a dalliance with autoerotic asphyxiation.

How I came to get sucked into the TV show is still a bit of a mystery, but there I was, watching as the wannabes navigated the behind-the-scenes maze that included trying to one-up each other without appearing to do so, haggling over which cover songs each would get to perform each week, and, of course, how to come up big when asked to sing an INXS tune, backed by the crack house band.

(FYI, I’ve not succumbed to the current version of “Rock Star,” in which Tommy Lee is seeking a singer for his band. Haven’t we all seen more than enough Tommy?)
The INXS show was actually pretty dramatic, and one guy in particular, Marty Casey, impressed with real musicality. “This guy is too good for this show,” I recall thinking. The band must’ve felt the same way, because they tapped the chump J.D. Fortune to front their band. But the 32-year-old Casey came out OK; he finished second and got to take his longtime Chicago band, Marty Casey & Lovehammers, on tour in support of INXS. Further, Casey’s band, which plays a decent brand of modern rock, scored a record deal with Epic; their self-titled debut came out in January. And he got to work with his homey, producer Steve Albini.
Casey and band come to Phoenix Hill Tavern Saturday night. I caught up with him on the phone last week and asked him how he survived the crapfest.

LEO: I don’t normally waste my time on reality TV, but I did get hooked into “Rock Star: INXS.” Frankly, I would’ve picked you. Why do you think INXS didn’t?
Marty Casey:
I thought I was a little too challenging, and I don’t know if they were up for the challenge.

LEO: How so?
I made it clear that I thought, since INXS kinda created the genre that is dance-rock, and since there’s so many bands doing that now, they should re-create it. Kinda like U2 went for it with Achtung, Baby, and created a new sound. I think that actually hurt me, because I think they just wanted to continue their progression and make a new record based on what they’d done in the past.

LEO: Do you regret expressing that?
No. I had gone into that competition to take big risks, and I’m glad I did. I don’t think I’d have been happy making a record that was pretty standard.

LEO: How did you learn about the show?
I got an e-mail from a friend. I wasn’t that interested in the television portion. One of the few people I’ve ever been compared to is Michael Hutchence. Not necessarily the tone of my voice, but for some reason my performances got compared to him. I thought, maybe I got a shot at getting this gig.

LEO: Even though you didn’t win, the publicity was tremendous. Can you imagine any other way to get that much attention for what you want to do?
I can’t. The purist way to come up in music is to hit it on the road and build your fan base and have a hit single and come out from the middle of nowhere. That’s the pure way. But this is kind of the new way. People don’t just hear a song on the radio, but they get to know your personality. It’s like a dynamic moving and living music video for yourself.

LEO: Did you have difficulty accepting this — any guilt or self-doubt?
I didn’t have any difficulty because I’ve been in an independent band for many, many years, started an independent label, released independent CDs that charted, had a No. 1 DVD on Billboard. I’ve done it all independently, slogged it out on the road for years. When your break comes, you don’t know what form it’s gonna take. There’s always something of yourself that you will question, being the independent band signing to a major. Green Day, when they signed to a major, got a lot of backlash. There’s always something you’ve gotta give up or deal with. In this case, yeah, it was a little bigger to be doing a reality show, but I understood that this is a Mark Burnett show, which is always done with class, and for INXS, which was an established, really respectable band. Even then, I knew it was a calculated risk, but I thought, a good thing.

LEO: Any backlash?
No. I’ve been lucky. Maybe it’s my personality — something about how I was portrayed has gotten me further than I expected, without as much grief.

LEO: The critics usually pounce on that kind of stuff.
We’ve had some good luck with reviews of the album. What we did with our first (major) record is, it’s really raw, and not overproduced. We kinda went the route of, let’s not release a polished multimillion-dollar extravaganza record that everyone anticipates, because that will get you slammed. Let’s release something with guts, raw and pure, and treat it like another independent release. I think it surprised people.

LEO: Who are your musical heroes?
I still go back to David Bowie. There are some records you can understand how they’re created. But I look back to a Bowie record, or a Pink Floyd record, and I can’t even understand how they created it.  

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