Gary James' Interview With Tony Cassella Of
The Nirvana Tribute Band
The Nirvana Experience
If you never got to see Nirvana 'live', you can see The Nirvana Experience: A Tribute To Nirvana. Tony Cassella is Kurt Cobain in The Nirvana Experience. He talked with us about portraying Kurt Cobain in a Nirvana tribute band.
Q - Your website says the band was launched in the summer of 2012, which means you haven't been doing a Nirvana tribute all that long, have you?
A - Yes. W'eve been doing it for two years.
Q - So, what were you doing before The Nirvana Experience?
A - I was in a band called Defeaning. We were an Alternative Metal band. We did that for five or six years or so. Then I started doing acoustic shows around Houston and also released a solo album in 2011. After that I decided to form a tribute band.
Q - Was your solo album on an independent label?
A - I just released it on my own. It's called "Tony On Fire".
Q - How did that do for you?
A - Well, it's hard as an independent artist. It was difficult to try and recoup any money that was spent into it. I really couldn't justify making another album. I released it online everywhere. It's on CD Baby, iTunes, eBay, Amazon. I don't even know how it got on some of those websites. (Laughs). It's great to have all this online distribution nowadays, but at the same time it's so hard to get yourself out there when there's so many other people who have the same access you do. I think the consumer has to sift through so much music to find music they actually like nowadays. So, the album was definitely worth it. It was a good experience. But I knew I had to move on and try something that was a little more business savvy.
Q - Did Defeaning ever get a deal?
A - We never got a deal either. We did pretty well locally around the Houston area as far as developing a following. We went to Los Angeles twice and played shows out there. So, we really gave it our best effort and we were happy with what we accomplished, but unfortunately we never broke through to that level.
Q - Why did you want to put together a Nirvana tribute band?
A - I guess that's a two-part question. The first is why a tribute band? I felt there's a lot of people, a much larger audience for doing a tribute band for myself as opposed to playing my own music at this point in my career and there's a much higher chance of making some money, (laughs) doing it, which I can actually use to invest in my own music if I wanted to. I'm like, tribute bands are really hot right now. Let's give this a shot! And so, what tribute band am I going to do? There was a couple I was thinking about, Deftones or Godsmack. There was already an Alice In Chains tribute band around town. I was like "Nirvana!" It makes the most sense because there's probably more demand for Nirvana, from the '90s band as there is for any other band in the '90s. I'm pretty confident when I say that because first off, Kurt Cobain is not around anymore, so you can't go see him. You can't go see Nirvana anymore. Secondly, Nirvana appeals to a wide range of people. I see teenagers wearing Nirvana shirts. A kid just came up to me at our last show. He must have been 14, 15 years old and he said, "This is my first concert and it was amazing!" (Laughs). That was just cool, you know? He wasn't even alive when Kurt Cobain was alive. So, it ranges all the way from 14 to 15 up to people in their 40s who saw Nirvana when they were around. That's why I chose to do Nirvana.
Q - Did you do much research into how much work would be available for a Nirvana tribute band?
A - I talked to a few other people that were in tribute bands and they seemed to think it was a good idea. I didn't do too much research as far as what venues might be interested in us. I was more concerned in getting our act down. I wanted to make sure we got it down right before we threw ourselves out there. I had really long brown hair and I cut almost all of it off and dyed it blonde so I could look like Kurt on stage. I went out and bought a Fender Jaguar and recruited a couple of other people in Houston that were really interested in doing it. After we had our act down and we knew we could do it, we could actually pull it off, then we started researching, contacting booking agents and that kind of thing.
Q - How many gigs a month are you getting?
A - We're probably doing one a month maybe.
Q - How many gigs did you get when you first started?
A - Well, when we first started I think it was about six months or so until we played our first gig and it's been about once a month since then. We've been approached for some other opportunities, but we are being very picky and choosy right now with what we want to do. We are waiting for the right offer.
Q - Is one gig a month enough to sustain this band and pay your bills?
A - You know, that's a good question. We are finding we are investing almost as much in the band as we are getting out of it, financially. We are confident that more doors are going to open up. We just played the AXS TV show, World's Greatest Tribute Bands in April (2014) and that gave us a ton of exposure. So, we are not doing anymore exposure. (Laughs). Then we played an all-tribute-band Festival in Dallas and that was awesome. And we're meeting other tribute bands, like national tribute bands. So we are confident once we get some small tours lined up, it'll pay off.
Q - You're in kind of a unique position. There's not that many Nirvana tribute bands out there.
A - Right. Well, we are having a discussion with one of our booking agents and he mentioned that as well. We said there's not a lot of Nirvana tribute bands out. He said now is the prime time because the '90s are coming around as far as the tribute scene. There's The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin. Those are the main tribute acts that people want to see. The '80s bands have already come. They kind of went through their stand, the Van Halen tribute acts, the Motley Crue. Those are pretty hot, but the '90s are starting to roll around. So we are going to be ready to be the big '90s band when the tribute scene rolls around to the '90s.
Q - You've paid a lot of attention to detail in The Nirvana Experience. Kurt Cobain was left-handed. You are right handed. Do Nirvana fans pick up on that? Did you try learning how to play guitar left-handed?
A - Well, I thought about going to a left-handed guitar, but I just felt it was too much work. So far, to be honest with you, I've never gotten any kind of negative feedback. I actually mentioned this to a fan I met at our last show. He said, "Hey man, your resemblance to Kurt on stage is creepy. You even act like him." I said, "Yeah, I figure I got everything down, but I'm not left-handed." He looked at me and said, "I didn't even notice." So I think a lot of the people that knew the Nirvana songs and that want to hear the Nirvana songs and want to sing along to them, I don't think they are really paying too much attention to that. I think you might have the diehard Nirvana fan that wants to be critical of every little thing you do , but you can't exactly be like Nirvana, you know? (Laughs). He might think that way, but I've found the more important thing is that we have the music down, the vocals, the performance and we sound and act like them. Left-handed, I thought about it when I first did the band, but I didn't think it was as important as the rest of it.
Q - Did you ever see Nirvana in concert?
A - No, I never did.
Q - Was it hard to find the other guys for the band?
A - You know, it was actually much easier than I thought. I had the idea floating around in my head for about a year or so. I was just kind of considering it, I could try this. I could try that. Then I sent a buddy of mine a message, well a guy I played with before, a bass player, real tall guy with dark hair. I just sent him a message online. I said, "Hey, do you like Nirvana?" (Laughs). That's all I said. He responded. He goes, "If you're talking about putting together a Nirvana tribute band, I'm down!" I knew he was a good bass player because I played with him before. I think we auditioned three drummers. The third drummer was actually trying to get me to be in a Godsmack tribute band and I said, "I'm doing a Nirvana tribute band. Why don't you come out an audition for us?" The first time we practiced with him, we knew he was the one. He was right on board. Dave Grohl is one of his favorite drummers. So it just kind of fell into place.