The Dead Casinos, are alt-rock to the core; the two high-school seniors create a sound that is moody, intimate, intense and, somehow, playful at the same time. Ben Cooper is the drummer of the two and Griffin Benton is the lead-singer, song-writer, guitarist and bassist. Musicians can feel pressured to prove their skill by playing as many notes in a riff as possible, The Dead Casinos, however, demonstrate their skill in restraint. In their EP, Was it all that you dreamed?, restraint almost acts as a third member of the band. Their restraint allows for the all-important swell of emotion and narrative before they throw out their third member and give you the sound explosion they made you want. They may still be in high school, unsure of what's going to happen after their remote graduation this spring, but these kids know rock.
Griffin Benton and Ben Cooper have known of each other since the third-grade, but it was in their sixth-grade class that they started talking about their shared love of music in between Spanish lessons. Later that year, Griffin got Ben to overcome some stagefright to perform Riptide by Vance Joy for their middle-school talent show. After this performance and up until 2019, the two would jam for a few hours at a time without recording it. During this time, they worked on their skills as a unit until they developed a deep understanding of their bandmate. Griffin explained, that all of their ques are done with subtle facial expression and "he and I have been playing so long together, we have this extra-strange sort of communication." This time, in which they were two young musicians simply exploring sound, is essential to who they are as individuals and as a band. Ben confessed that "without each other, we wouldn't be where we are right now or pursuing music."
The impermanence of the jam sessions they would have, and of live music in general, is why it's so magical and why you have to be there. Continually introducing sound waves that dissipate as soon as they are created is the paradigm of art and life itself. Unfortunately, because of quarantine, the two haven't played in the same room in over a year.
Ben explained, "As much as it sucked that we weren't able to play together, it actually stepped-up our music to the next level."
They had to totally shift their way of making music. The isolation and complete lack of studio time inspired a different sound and accelerated their motivation to compose a tangible album, even if they had to record it at home. The two songs they were able to partially write in the same room together, Perfume and Unfolded, have a more "boomy" sound than the others, Griffin explained.
An Arctic Monkeys performance made Griffin realize he had to start writing better stuff and after seeing the Rolling Stones perform in Canada, Griffin came stateside and wrote about 50 songs. This is when the two of them began working on their record. Griffin records the guitar, bass, vocal, and stand-in drum parts out of his home studio and Ben introduces the tracks to his groovy drum beats. They then send the track to a mixing engineer based in London.
Among their many musical influences, they look to the rock-duos like The Black Keys, The White Stripes, and Royal Blood to learn how such big sound can come from two people. Detroit is Rock City. It is also the home of Motown and techno; you can tell there's a grooviness about the music from Detroit and the guys agree that the sound "feels homey."
Although the Dead Casinos are in the right place, they ran into some challenges with their timing. They had to face losing the promise of larger gigs and essentially being ghosted by a mixing engineer after eight months of writing and a lot of money spent on recording sessions when COVID-19 hit. Griffin admitted that the experience was "depressing" especially after all the work they put into it with "nothing to show for it."
When I asked them about other challenges they faced, Griffin responded:
"Every single piece if it. You go into it thinking you know what you're doing and you realize you don't. Everything was harder than we thought it was going to be. I don't ever want to get into that thing where we're pretending it's super easy all the time."
Ben answered that social media was also a steep learning curve for them and, although I know they would never admit it, I assume the problem has something to do with them being super f*cking cool.
Ben Cooper said his parents got him a drum set when he was just three years old and he's still a little unsure why. Ben's Dad and brother play guitar and his brother also produces rap beats. Up until about four years ago, Ben was playing the drums on-and-off. Now, he plays as much as he can and is learning classical guitar and piano but says that "drums are the center thing [and] nothing's going to go past that."
Above: Ben Cooper (left) and Griffin Benton (right).
Griffin Benton lives in a household of artists, but is pretty much the only musician in his family. I asked him when he realized he'd be a musician and Griffin said, "Everyone, as a small child, is a performer" and that he "knew it pretty young and no one really told me no."
The guys are releasing their debut album this spring and look forward to the post-quarantine performances they will have. I need to remind myself that there is actually an end to quarantine; I don't see it and I don't think it's all that close, but it is there (I think). When that day comes, I will be first one buying tickets to see The Dead Casinos perform live. I told them I was stoked to see Ben drum a hole through his snare and he responded by saying the cymbals would be cracked too, so you'd better be there to witness it with me! Until then, (1) stream their music, (2) turn it all-the-way up, and (3) have a dance around.
All images are the property of Griffin Benton and Ben Cooper; I have no rights to them, whatsoever.