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DJ Cassidy interview

We chat to the DJ about his ambitious new album Paradise Royale.

DJ Cassidy and Jessie J

DJ Cassidy is on a mission to bring classic music of the late 70s and early 80s back to the charts by giving it a contemporary twist.

The visionary artist has recruited some of the world’s best musicians and vocalists to come together on his forthcoming album Paradise Royale. The first taster of the collection is first single Calling All Hearts which features Robin Thicke and Jessie J.

We caught up with Cassidy recently when he visited the UK to find out more about the album, talk about working with the greats of music and find out just how he got Jessie J and Robin Thicke on his first single.

Hi Cassidy. How are you today?

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I’m great.  Thank you for taking the time out. I’m excited to be talking to you.

Let’s start off by talking about your forthcoming album Paradise Royale.     

I’ve been working on this album for years. I signed to Columbia in the States about a year and a half ago but I started work on this album about 4 years ago. In the last 4 months I’ve just started to bring it to the people of the US and this is really my first week bringing it to people in the UK. It’s been amazing. People here have such a profound appreciation of music and really appreciate what I’ve set out to do.

Calling All Hearts is out in the UK. Tell us what inspired the track.

It really all stems from the vision I had for this album. Would you mind if I told you about the album vision first? It leads into that song but will make better sense if I explain that first.

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Sure, go ahead… 

The story of this album started really when I was 10 years old believe it or not. I was a hip-hop kid and aged 9 I asked my parents for two turntables and a mixer for my 10th birthday. When I turned 10 DJ Cassidy was born and my life changed forever. I looked up to Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa at that age and it was a blessing that I did because prior to that I was really a closed minded hip-hop kid and like most of my friends thought that to really appreciate hip-hop you had to hate everything else.

I said to myself in order to be like my heroes I had to play like my heroes. I researched what kind of music they played and I realised they weren’t playing hip-hop because there was no hip-hop. They were creating it by playing all kinds of music – soul, funk, disco, reggae, rock ‘n’roll, Latin music – everything under the sun. That completely opened my mind and fascinated me.

I made it my goal to be completely undefined and to be the DJ people would call on to play all music, for all people all over the world. That was my motto and it’s still my motto. When I turned 18 I started to live that motto and travelled the world playing some of the hottest nightclubs and events. I started to play for people I’d admired my whole life, people like Puffy, Jay-Z, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, Russell Simmons, Naomi Campbell, Anna Wintour, Oprah Winfrey through to the President of the United States.

Just a few people then! It must have been amazing to play for the President?

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(laughs) I was the first DJ to ever play at an inauguration and to play at the White House. I tell you this because wherever I played I began to view the soul music of the late 70s and early 80s as the greatest and most universal dance music of all time. No matter where I was the classic records of that era not only worked, they killed putting spirit and emotion in the air like no other music.

I thought wouldn’t it be great if young people could have music with this sound and this feeling to define their own time. When young people would ask what I play at a Jay-Z party and I’d explain that I played this kind of music they never quite understood and I thought that was a shame.

Four years ago I set out on a mission to bring the greatest and most universal music back to the airwaves and back to the dancefloor.

When you set out on that mission what’s the first thing you did? How did you start to realise your goal?

I put my favourite 25 artists from that era into a playlist on iTunes in chronological order. They all fell between 1978 and 1982, a very specific time span. Some of the artists on the list were Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, Chic, Chaka Khan… I wanted to get my songs to feel like these songs.

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Then I made a list of every musician that played on every song. What I found is that it was the same people appearing on the list. It was very clear that these artists and producers were hiring the same session musicians. These were the men behind the music. I reunited 22 of the most legendary musicians from that time back in one room for the first time in over 30 years to recreate that definitive sound with no machines, no samples, no covers and no interpolations.

I’m talking every individual member of Earth, Wind & Fire, Chic, Rufus…every musician that played on Off The Wall. They are 22 of the most iconic musicians that literally created the greatest records of that time.

After I did that I thought I needed new voices to bring this music back to life and back to young people today. I recruited 13 of the most diverse, eclectic recording artists of my generation to write and record original songs. That list includes John Legend, Estelle, Kelly Rowland, Melanie Fiona, Mary J Blige, Ne-Yo, Cee-Lo, R. Kelly, Usher, Robin Thicke and Jessie J.

This really does sound like a passion project for you and it’s incredible you’ve managed to pull it all together.

Thank you! There was a long list of artists that I wanted to work with on this album and it was way longer than I could have fit on one album. That’s great because my goal is not to make just one album, it’s to spread this music and for other people to make music with this sound and this feeling.

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Let’s go back to Calling All Hearts. How did you get Jessie J and Robin Thicke on the track?

I worked with Claude Kelly who is one of the most prolific songwriters of my day and he’s worked with people from Britney to Michael Jackson. He’s also written with Jessie her entire career and had some monstrous hits. My goal was always to bring together different voices from different walks of life and genres of music under this one sound. Claude said from the early stages of the project that I had to work with Jessie. When she finally made it to New York to finish her new album with Claude, he called me to run to the studio whilst she was eating lunch and I pitched her the project and two songs.

I played her the Calling All Hearts demo and she quickly said she wanted to record the song. I told her I’d set up a time with her manager but she said she wanted to record it right now and 2 hours later she recorded the song. People often ask me what it’s like working with Jessie and I answer with one little thing – Jessie recorded that song in 2 hours like she’d been singing it her whole life. It was as if I gave her that song at least a year prior and she’d been singing it in the shower every day. She just embodied the song.

When I wrote the song with Claude I said it had to be the anthem of the album, the definitive anthem of my journey and vision, and completely embody the sound of celebration. Six months later I was driving round New York City with Andre Harrell, he’s a mentor of mine, and I was playing him the album. He said he couldn’t believe Robin wasn’t on it. I explained to him that I’d reached out to Robin early on but it hadn’t really worked out. He called Robin at his hotel and told him I was coming over. We got there at 1am and played him the album. The fifth song was Calling All Hearts and after one verse he stopped it and said ‘I’m recording this with Jessie tomorrow’.

The next day he flew back to L.A. and the next night he recorded it. The rest is history.

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You make it sound so easy Cassidy! 

I tell you one who was not so easy to recruit – R. Kelly. I flew to Chicago 8 times over the course of 20 months and went to 5 shows on his tour.  I went to his Barnes & Noble book signing and waited in line 7 hours to get to the front to speak to him. I spent $22,000 on travel just to get the song recorded.

How are you planning to tour this record? Obviously part of the appeal is the wide array of talent involved but they can’t all join you on the road…

I always had one vision and that’s come to life. I’ve recruited a full band of young musicians to go on tour with. These young musicians will be set up around me as a semi circle with me as the DJ in the centre of the stage. Not only will they play along and sing my songs but they’ll play along interactively to every song I play in my set. They will be fully interactive in the experience like no other band and DJ ever before.

Calling All Hearts featuring Jessie J and Robin Thicke is available now. Watch the video for Calling All Hearts below:

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