Casey Banker of Modern Leisure, photo by Paul Banker, article by Tom Murphy
Casey Banker has certainly left his mark on Denver’s indie rock world over the last nine years. While living in Greeley, he started The Don’ts and Be Carefuls with some friends in 2008, his brother Paul joining a year later. Although the name was a bit unwieldy the music was lively and Banker’s lyrics strikingly well composed. The Don’ts flourished at a time in Denver and America generally when indie rock wasn’t some tired thing watered down by imitation and oversaturation. And even as trends wended in the latter direction, Banker’s gift for sharp observations about his own life and the world around him remained strong and great songwriting never really goes out of style. The band split in September 2012.
Banker went on to play in member of Shady Elders in which he shared songwriting duties with Fox Rodemich. That group had a moodier, dream pop side to its sound that garnered a respectable fanbase. But there were the inevitable creative differences and resulting personal differences and Banker exited the band (which has since gone on indefinite hiatus circa July 2017). But in 2016, Banker re-emerged with a new group called Modern Leisure that more fully reflected his creative vision and sensibility.
Modern Leisure has been releasing singles since summer 2016 but its latest, “The Secret Art,” has been released (listen and download below the interview) with plans for the full length, Super Sad Rom-Com to drop on October 20, 2017. Banker recently shared some thoughts on his new band and the ways in which his songwriting has evolved since his time in The Don’ts and Be Carefuls. Modern Leisure performs at the Hi-Dive with Kyle Emerson and Down Time. Doors 8:30, show 9 p.m. 21+, $10. At the show you can pick up a copy of the 7″ of “The Secret Art” backed with “Girls in Black.”
QCSA: You’ve been in prominent Denver bands of the past including The Don’ts And Be Carefuls, The Outfit and Shady Elders (maybe others). What do you get to do or put forth with Modern Leisure that maybe you weren’t able to in the past?
Casey Banker: It started a few years ago after I found myself without a band again. I had just got out of the longest relationship I’d ever been in. So I moved into a cheap studio apartment in the Speer neighborhood in Denver. I lived there for about 18 months and over two summers. A little bit after moving in I started writing. The ideas came out fast. I found myself reflecting on relationships and experiences I’d had since moving to Denver in 2010. About a lot of the people that came in and out of my life and all the shows and crazy experiences I’d had. My time living in that apartment was also kind of wild since I was on my own again and it felt like the last hurrah of my 20s. Living in that neighborhood, which is near the Denver Country Club and a lot of rich people, informed the music too. Seeing such a large growing income gap felt like the end of a Denver era… Denver felt pretty different than it had 5 years ago and my life did too.
So I wrote most of the songs while I was there and when I moved out I put the band together and started figuring out how to record the album. That’s when I named it too. With Modern Leisure I’m finally able to be creatively in charge of a band, which is ideal. It’s not something I ever had before. All the bands I’d been in before had been democratic and those never worked out for me. I wanted to run things from the ground up this time, for better or worse, and felt like I had enough experience to make it work.
Why did the name Modern Leisure suggest itself to you?
Modern Leisure just popped into my head one day. I think the 2 words came from some early Blur albums. Someone mentioned to me that it sounded like an ode to The Modern Lovers and I’m just fine with that. I was also going through a yacht-rock phase at the time and felt that the name perfectly described the inviting yet schmaltzy nature of that music. The name also helped serve as a sort of mission statement that helped direct the music. It’s fun to use an abstract idea to help guide a creative process and Modern Leisure just seemed to encapsulate this weird idea of a seductive malaise that I wanted to get across. It’s also fun to say with an english accent.
You got to experience being in a band during Denver’s DIY and indie rock heyday. What do you think the current era is better for and/or lacking in regarding being a band in Denver and trying to play shows and get your music out there?
I don’t know if it ever felt like a heyday at the time. I started playing in bands about 9 years ago. The difference now, I guess, is that everything is much more confusing with social media. There’s a lot more internet pressure to build a relationship with your audience. I do miss how simple it was with Myspace. Making your band a brand will always seem a bit besides the point to me. But you can still have fun with it and make like coasters and frisbees which is fun. Mod Leis yo-yo’s are currently in production.
How do you think the local scene and the cultural infrastructure around it (venues, publications and radio) could do better to cultivate local music?
Open Air, The Colorado Sound, and Radio 1190 are all pillars of local music. I could’ve never dreamed that commercial-free independent music would be blasting 24 hours a day on FM but here we are. A lot of my friends listen to the those stations. Bands could be more discerning on what they are being paid by venues. A lot of artists just think it’s an honor to book a show somewhere but they need to have frank discussions on pay out and where the money is going. The venues aren’t going to do that for you so you have to come to that conversation informed.
What is The Secret Art? Or what does it represent as a theme for the song?
The Secret Art is essentially a song about being in a terrible situation in your life and still finding a silver lining. It’s me feeling like I’m living in a real-life purgatory and finding comfort in the idea that even the people that I respect the most experience that feeling too. It’s probably the most positive song on the album.
You’re releasing a single, why not wait to release an EP or an album?
I booked the hi-dive a few months back thinking the album would be finished but it wasn’t. So releasing a 7” single was the next best thing. Plus I love singles. They’re so precious.
As a veteran songwriter, do you find your focus in songwriting has changed over the years? What do you feel like you tend to write about now as opposed to the sorts of stuff you wrote about in The Don’ts and Be Carefuls? If it’s similar territory do you feel that your refinement of your treatment of subjects and putting together the songs has undergone an evolution that you can identify in how you go about things now?
Oh for sure. I had a bit of a wake-up call on how meaningful and moving a song can be over the last few years. Inserting humor and truth inside a great composition can just elevate it another level. My old songs could be quite angsty and a little one-dimensional. Listening to artists like Destroyer, Father John Misty and Metronomy helped a lot. Subject-wise, I’m still on a similar train. I still like writing about characters. Duality and contradiction play a large roll in everything I write. Or that’s what I find the most inspiring to write about. People can be shitty but I don’t think there are too many are truly evil people out there so there’s a lot of good material to be found in just understanding where someone’s coming from.