“I asked around the other members of The Bad Seeds to see what they had to say about Marty and got answers like ‘the best bass player on the planet’ and ‘the consummate craftsman’ and ‘put the sex into The Seeds’ and ‘the bass player’s, bass player’ and ‘the most underrated Seed’. He is all these things and he is much loved as a man and a musician. There is an alchemical combination of tone and touch and heart that is unique to Marty – a sound that goes way-down deep, soul-deep – that collects all the crazy shit that happens around him in its effortless, unadorned power and turns it into gold. Marty is the master!”
Nick Cave on Martyn P. Casey
Martyn P. Casey will be inducted into the WAM Hall Of Fame tonight, at Capitol. BOB GORDON looks at a life well-lived in music.
Martyn P. Casey, bass player for The Triffids, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Grinderman, has spent three decades travelling around the world playing rock’n’roll. With his induction into the WAM Hall Of Fame, however, he’s humbled by the bestowment of a hometown honour.
“Yeah, well it was out of the blue,” he says, modestly. “It was a pleasant surprise.”
In going around, doing what he does, Casey doesn’t often contemplate these sorts of kudos. Ultimately, it’s just bunch of folks from the homeward stretch saying, ‘Good on ya mate’…
“Yeah well Nick gets a lot of kudos for what he does and rightly so, he’s the writer. It’s an honour to work with those lyrics.”
Casey’s family moved to WA from England in 1965. At a young age he and his brother were given instruments to play.
“He got a guitar and I got a bass,” he recalls. “It just happened that way. I don’t remember specifically asking for one, it was just the way it worked out. We had an old GoldenTower amp between us. We used to love feedback (laughs). We’d just sit there doing these feedback tunes ’til we drove our mother nuts and she sent us off to guitar lessons.
“So we both learnt guitar, I don’t think they even had bass guitar lessons in those days. We did that for a while then started playing with people from school. I was in the same school as Matthew de la Hunty; I remember playing with him a lot. We had a band for a while called The Nobodies. In those days we made cassettes; I’m sure there’s a few copies still kicking around. I’m sure Matthew’s got the archives somewhere.”
Casey stuck with bass and some years later was playing in a reggae outfit in Perth called A2Z. By this point (1982) The Triffids had played around Perth for some time and were looking for a new bassist when previous players Will Akers and Byron Sinclair became unavailable.
“A mutual friend recommended me to Dave (McComb) who came down to see this reggae band, which is pretty strange because at that stage I don’t think he was a huge fan of reggae. So he asked me to join and it wasn’t too long after that that we moved to Melbourne. I think it was their second trip to the Eastern States.
“Next thing you know we’re all living in Fitzroy. We lived at the Prince Of Wales for a while. When we checked in Alsy (MacDonald, drums) was doing the paperwork at the desk and a guy walked up and grabbed him by the cock and said, ‘Welcome to Melbourne’. Turns out it was Pokies Transvestite Night.”
Following that warm welcome, Europe eventually beckoned for The Triffids. I was as something of a vacation at first, following the hard slog on Australian gigs and highways.
“It was a matter of a lot of work,” Casey recalls, “and we used to save all of our money. We’d try and save whatever money we made. Eventually we made a few records, the first one I did with them was the Bad Timing EP; then we did Treeless Plain (both 1983). These were on midnight-to-dawn sessions where you could get cheap rates for the studio.
“We made some money and decided to go to the UK, ostensibly for a holiday. The next thing you know we were playing at (famous London venue) Dingwalls with The Go-Betweens. Quiet a few journalists were there and they fell in love with The Triffids. It all sort of took off pretty fast.”
Acclaim followed The Triffids with albums such as Born Sandy Devotional, In The Pines and Calenture. They were always bigger in Europe, but returned to Australian to feature on the Australia Made roadshow in 1987 with INXS, Jimmy Barnes, The Divinyls, The Saints, The Models and others. The finale each night was Good Times, with INXS and Barnesy, joined by the lead singers of the other bands on backing vocals. Promoter Michael Gudinski infamously told McComb, ‘we’ll make a rock star out of you yet, David’ as he walked off the stage in Sydney.
“Oh god,” Casey laughs. “Yeah, they got him a tambourine. ‘Come on, look the part mate!””
When The Triffids went into recess following 1989’s The Black Swan album, Casey joined Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
“It was strange,” he recalls. “The Triffids didn’t officially break up. I think the original idea was that Dave just wanted to take a year off. We were getting pretty burnt out by then; it’d been going for about 10 years solid and never really had a break. I think he was feeling pretty shattered, so we took a year.
“I was back in Perth – and I’ve told this story a million times – I was working at a petrol station, pumping gas, checking the oil and tyres – like the Chuck Berry song (Too Much Monkey Business) – and I got a call from Mick Harvey, he was playing bass in the Bad Seeds but they’d just done The Good Son album, which required a lot of extra instruments that Mick wanted to do – xylophones and extra keyboards and what have you. So I ended up joining and next thing I knew I was in Berlin with The Bad Seeds.”
If an established order was already present in the band, Casey had no problems settling in.
“It was pretty smooth for me, they were kind of moving in the direction that The Triffids had been doing anyway, sort of more melodic, from The Good Son onwards. I slotted in pretty well.”
There’s a lot of space in Cave’s songs for Casey to play in and with, though nothing is ever set in stone.
“It’s different all the time,” he says. “We’re changing all of the time, there was a time when there were these satirical songs, like that Another Nick Cave Song, so we try and move on all the time. There’s not a formula with The Bad Seeds, it’s kind of changing all the time.”
Certainly the erraticism of Grinderman, which featured Cave with Bad Seeds Warren Ellis, Jim Sclavunos and Casey, called for a different kind of experimention.
“I just had a fuzz box,” Casey counters, “that’s all I had. I tried playing a wah-wah for a while, but I couldn’t do it. It was too hard, I was too old (laughs). You can teach an old dog some new tricks, but I couldn’t do that one.”
As it stands, Casey has worked with two of Australia’s most highly regarded songwriters. It’s an observation not lost on him.
“Yeah, I’m very lucky,” he notes. “I think they’re two of the best there are. Two of the best writers Australian music has seen.”
And while Cave and the late McComb were and remain two very different people, Casey notes that they shared focus and drive in common.
“Yeah, definitely. I can’t think of a better word than drive. A sense of that’s what they do. They’re writers. They’re working at that all the time. They were both very different people, but what they did share was that they were both very funny people. Both had an amazing sense of humour. Very dry. That very dry, Australian humour.”
While Casey is inducted tonight at Capitol, it’s worth noting that he has other two gigs to play at, one a birthday party at the North Fremantle Bowls Club and the other at The Oddfellow with The Painkillers (Joe Bludge’s band which features fellow Hall-Of-Famers, James Baker and Richard Lane).
X-Press requested a comment yesterday from Nick Cave in London about his friend and musical colleague and received this quote not two hours later. Casey is quite touched when it is read to him.
‘I asked around the other members of The Bad Seeds to see what they had to say about Marty and got answers like ‘the best bass player on the planet’ and ‘the consummate craftsman’ and ‘put the sex into The Seeds’ and ‘the bass player’s, bass player’ and ‘the most underrated Seed’,” Cave writes.
‘He is all these things and he is much loved as a man and a musician. There is an alchemical combination of tone and touch and heart that is unique to Marty – a sound that goes way-down deep, soul-deep – that collects all the crazy shit that happens around him in its effortless, unadorned power and turns it into gold. Marty is the master!’
“Oh lovely,” Casey laughs modestly. “I’m going to cry! Yeah… they’re a nice bunch of guys.”