Alex Caso Talks Burning Hand of Friendship
Alex Caso has been a man of different names in South Florida's music and DJ scenes. Alternately known as DJ Cookieheadz and/or Sad Tiger, he was the synth/keys player in the Waterford Landing and one of the early figures of Pop Life's success. A man with an enviable collection of music and an even larger and rather insatiable thirst for music, he's also an eternal tinkerer. After some legal troubles with his old podcast, the Burning Hand of Friendship, that forced a shutdown of the airwaves, he has since rebranded as a record label for the numerous compositions that have "sat around" since the mid-'90s.
Releasing a pair of full-length cassette compilations this coming Tuesday, She Is a Galaxy and Mujeres Infieles, Caso, or ALX CZO, as he's currently billing himself, explores his experimental and ambient proclivities on the former and the saccharine depths of dark synth-pop on the latter. Disparate on paper and miles apart in execution and envisioning, the tapes are a good symbiosis of where he currently stands as a DJ and musician.
Tell us about the Burning Hand of Friendship and what your intentions are with the label.
Alex Caso: Burning Hand of Friendship actually started as a podcast that I did back in 2009 through 2012. It was a pseudo-pirate radio show that was very much freeform and psychedelic. It hailed itself as a music cult. It consisted mostly of random DJ mixes of all genres, weird personalities, and a story line on how there was a conspiracy by the radio and the music industry to kill rock 'n' roll. When I got a cease-and-desist order for a couple of the shows I made, I decided to transform it to something else. Unfortunately, I can't illustrate anymore on that.
At that time, I was also frustrated with trying to find a label to release stuff that friends and myself had hidden away. The first release was supposed to be the last Waterford Landing album on vinyl, but when the band imploded, I put the label on the back burner and decided to resurrect it this year. The intention is really to have an outlet to release my weirdo side projects and hopefully release stuff for other like-minded people.
As a longtime musician and DJ of South Florida, what do you find was most informative to you in the composition of these tracks?
When I work on songs, it's mostly based on feelings and musical fetishes rather than overthinking composition. All the songs I've written have always had an emotional back story to it, and I like to let intuition guide me. The songs are also coming from a frustrated film student, so I work hard on atmosphere and textures. My environment (or places I was living) also played a key influence to their form. The first tape that I am releasing, She Is a Galaxy, which is mostly experimental, ambient, and drone-ish, was mostly written when I was living in the sprawling suburbs of Kendall, feeling isolated from the rest of Miami. The second tape, Mujeres Infieles, which is a lo-fi '80s/'90s nostalgic trip, was written when I was living downtown and going through city life drama.
If you listen to the releases back to back, you can hear the contrast between the suburbs and the city.
There's a familiarity in the intent of these tracks that I find are similar to your work in the Waterford Landing; what were you unable to explore as a musician in that band that you could do on your own?
Both have their own merits. I loved being in TWL, especially with Ed Matus, which I am proud to say is my BFF. I have always had good musical chemistry with him, and it was just very easy to write songs with the band. The music almost wrote itself. It also comes out faster since you have three guys crafting a song. For me, that is the advantage of a band: Music gets written and recorded faster. I like solo stuff, because you are calling all the shots and it is a bit more personal. The only problem is that it's a slower process. I have to come up with all the elements, and it takes time, as I am very critical with what I do. At least in a band, if I had a doubt about something, someone would voice their opinion -- problem solved.
Now, I just put things away when I get stuck and revisit until I think it's ready. Till this day, I still call Ed to show him my work, as I like having someone I can bounce ideas with. As a matter of fact, I even get him to play guitar on some tracks.