He’s performed for some of the globe’s biggest names. Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez… Even the President of the United States Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle know his name and all have invited him to play for various functions and parties.
But now New York native DJ Cassidy is stepping out from behind the DJ booth and into a producer role, assembling the who’s who in ’70s/’80s soul/pop and some of the globe’s hottest vocalists of now for his new album project ‘Paradise Royale’. One of our favourite songs of 2014 thus far – lead single ‘Calling All Hearts’ – is a fair indication of what to expect when the album drops in a couple of months time.
So we placed a call to the excited producer to get the lowdown on his vision, the album and how it all began.
“When I was nine years old, I asked my parents for two turntables and a mixer for my birthday and when I turned ten, DJ Cassidy was born,” the producer (real name Cassidy Podell) reveals. “I was a hip hop kid. I looked up to Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, who were the founders of hip hop culture, and I realised that they were playing all kinds of music – not just hip hop – and that completely fascinated me.
“It made me want to be able to play ‘all music for all people all over the world’ – that was my motto as a young kid and still is today. I DJed every possible opportunity I found in school – school functions, talent shows, carnivals, homecoming parties… and by the time I was 18, I was DJing every hot club in my home town of New York City and I quickly began to travel to Miami and LA.
“And before you knew it I was travelling around the world… from America to Europe, to Africa, to Asia and eventually to Australia and everywhere in between. I had the privilege at the age of 18 or 19 meeting some amazing people that we all listen to or admire. And I began playing private parties around the globe for them… people like Sean Puffy Combs, JayZ, Beyoncé, J-Lo, Naomi Campbell, Oprah Winfrey, which all eventually led to me playing for the President of The United States.”
He’s since played for the President at The White House on a handful of occasions and admits there have been many times throughout his career that he’s been tempted to pinch himself to make sure he’s not dreaming.
“I’ve had many career-defining moments and I would be privileged and fortunate if I could say that I’ve only had one, but I’ve had many,” he reveals, humbly. “I remember the night that I met Sean Puffy Combs for the first time. I remember the night that I met JayZ, I remember the night that I met Oprah. I remember the first time that I was at The White House. All these moments I had to pinch myself and ask myself how am I here and why am I here.
“I continue to have those moments… every time I play at The White House which has now been a handful of times – it gets more and more surreal every time. You begin to know your way around, the staff begin to know your name. So my DJ career took on a life of its own at a very young age. Beyond anything I could have ever expected. I never intended on my hobby, my craft, my love to become my career. It really happened out of nowhere.”
The lead single from the project was the infectious disco-infused pop nugget ‘Calling All Hearts’. Vocalled by both Robin Thicke and Jessie J, it delivered audiences an addictive first taste of what to expect from the forthcoming album. With Nile Rodgers and Earth Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey among those contributing to the track, we suggest it was like a disco fans’ dream come true.
“Well ‘disco’ is the world I tend not to use as much as others,” DJ Cassidy explains. “Because when I started this project four years ago, I put my favourite 25 songs from that era in a playlist in iTunes, put them in chronological order and they all fell between 1978 and 1982.
“Some of the artists on the list were Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, Chaka Khan, Chic, Diana Ross, Shalamar, Luther Vandross, Rick James, Teena Marie… most of those artists would not consider themselves to be disco. They probably would all consider themselves to be soul or possibly R&B. Very few would have used the word ‘funk’, very few would have said ‘disco’, but all those words apply.
“But those words don’t cover everyone. For example, Michael Jackson and Luther Vandross would never have considered themselves to be in the same genre. But often in retrospect, people who are not in a genre start to fall into a genre. I saw these records – particularly the 25 I put in this category – I began to view records that felt like those and sounded like those to really represent the sound of celebration and to really represent what I believe to be the greatest dance music ever. And I set out on a mission to bring that back.
“How I did that was to look up all the musicians who played on those 25 songs and I saw all the same names repeating. It was clear that the same session musicians were behind the greatest records of this era. So over the past four years I united 22 of the most legendary musicians of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in one room for the first time in over 30 years to channel their definitive sound, with no samples, no covers, no interpolations and no machines.
“And after I recreated those sounds with the architects of that sound, I then recruited 13 voices from my generation to write and record original songs to that music. And those artists are Robin Thicke and Jessie J, but also John Legend, Estelle, Kelly Rowland, Melanie Fiona, Mary J Blige, Chromeo, Passion Pit, Ne-Yo, Cee Lo Green, R Kelly and Usher.”
Though there’s such a collection of top name talent lending their vocals to the project, Cassidy tells us that no-one turned him down.
“Had I waited another year, there would have been another 13 artists, but at some point, you need to draw a line in the sand and say the album is done,” he says.
“The only reason that people who I would have loved to have been on the album are not is because of scheduling. The reason I say that with such confidence is because I called on artists who I knew would be inspired by this vision. That I knew had been inspired by the music of this era and that I knew would want to share in my mission.”
That vision – the creation of ‘Paradise Royale’ – has been four long years in the making. Given the time it’s taken to create, we ask him whether that vision has evolved since its inception more than four years ago.
“That’s an interesting question actually and one I’ve never been asked,” he says. “And I’m going to think about that and think if there is an answer, but off the top of my head, I think I was pretty certain about what the album would be from the very beginning. Musically I’d say I evolved. Throughout four years of creating, I think any artist tends to evolve, but when I look back at the first song I recorded, it’s still as good. So it really was a mission that began with one goal and I think I saw that goal through.”
He also tells us he found the challenge of making the transition from DJ to producer a relatively seamless one.
“I don’t want to say it’s been a challenge. It’s been an experience that has require the utmost amount of persistence and patience,” he reveals. “I set out on a mission four years ago to bring back what I believe to be the greatest dance music of all time. It simply put a spirit and a motion and an energy in the air like no other kind of music. I made it my mission to bring back that spirit, to bring back that feeling to young people today. And the way I went about creating that music really required patience and commitment and that was the challenge.”
The second single to see the light of day is ‘Make The World Go Round’ (below), featuring the vocal talents of R Kelly. DJ Cassidy reveals his rather unorthodox approach to getting the singer on board for the song.
“That song was the mission of all missions,” he explains. “I flew to Chicago eight times over the course of 20 months and saw six shows on a tour. I went to ‘Barnes & Noble’, bought his book and waited in line for seven hours to get to the front to reconnect with him. It was truly an epic journey and I have a similar story for everyone on the album.”
Meaning, of course, that he’s essentially become a bit of a stalker. Albeit a highly professional one.
“Yeah, I was a stalker. But if you stalk with patience, persistence and honesty, you get what you want,” he laughs.
What Cassidy also wants is to take the album out on tour, but we’d presumed that given the number of superstar vocalists, musicians and producers on board, envisaging a live show might be a little difficult. Not so, he reveals.
“I’m very glad you asked that and you’re one of the few people who have, so I think it’s a very good question and I had the answer all along. I have now started to live the answer.” he says.
“My goal four years ago was to put together a band and to be front and centre of a band. And for the first time to put a DJ at the forefront of a live band and have a live band play along with me interactively and be a complete part of the DJ experience.
“When I toured with Robin Thicke this winter, it was the first time people got to see that come to life. The bass player, the guitar player and a keyboard player. You watched these musicians interact with me on the most musical scale and it really is a DJ/band experience like you’ve never seen before. And that band is only going to continue to grow as the album gets released.”
Two singles, one album, 13 huge vocal stars, a myriad legendary ’70s and ’80s musicians and a dream realised. All this from an unassuming set of turntables and a mixer for his ninth birthday. Just imagine if his parents had have given him a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle instead.
“Well I asked them for that too. I was fortunate enough that they bought me the Donatello doll in addition to the turntables.”
DJ Cassidy’s singles ‘Calling All Hearts’ and ‘Make The World Go Round’ are available digitally now.
His album ‘Paradise Royale’ is currently slated for a “late winter” release here in Australia.