Casey James Prestwood on recording in Nashville legend Manuel Cuevas's house
Casey James Prestwood and the Burning Angels just finished recording their new album, Honky Tonk Bastard World, in the Nashville home of revered designer Manuel Cuevas, whose iconic Nudie suits have been worn by an array of country legends. It's an ideal pairing for the two, as the former has steadily attracted a growing legion of two-stepping enthusiasts with their authentic take on classic country since first planting their boots here more than five years ago.
In advance of the band's release party this Saturday night at Park House, we caught up with Prestwood to talk serendipitous opportunities, new songwriting and the band's friendship with Cuevas himself.
Westword: You're about to release your newest album. How do you feel it will make its mark in comparison to your past three albums?
Manuel Cuevas himself
Casey James Prestwood: Well, we recorded seventeen songs and they're all originals -- we broke off from the way we did the first few albums, which would usually be a mix of covers. In country, covers aren't being played on the radio;some of them are out of print. It's like sharing it with an audience that may not have heard it.
Sound-wise, our new album is the best thing we've done so far. It sounds really good. We have some pretty amazing players on it, like Lloyd Green -- he's played with Johnny Paycheck, Gram Parsons and Paul McCartney. He played pedal steel on Parsons's Hickory Wind, and I've been a fan of his steel work forever.
He has an amazing memory of all of those experiences. Kenny Vaughan came out, Pete Wasner, who plays with Vince Gill. We have some new, very different additions. The cool thing is, the band that you saw at the Star Bar is the band you're getting on the record.
Gram Parsons in his infamous, Manuel Cuevas-made suit
You recorded this album at Manuel Cuevas's home in Nashville. Obviously this has to be hugely special for any country fan. How did this even come about?
I got my first jacket made by him in 2007 or 2008. I was in a craze of collecting rhinestone Nudie suits, which are hard to find, and someone I was playing with told me to go see Manuel. He designed Gram Parsons's suits; I had no idea that he was the vision behind them. Over time we got to know him, and when we'd go through Nashville, we'd stay at his house.
Our band name came from him -- he put "burning angels" on the backs of our suits. I was telling him about how we had gone and seen where they had burned him; I was telling him that, and he put a cross on the back with angel wings, the cross was burning, and the jacket said "Burning Angels." I like to think we're picking up where Gram left off with the Fallen Angels.
Now everyone in the band has suits made by Manuel. We played his eightieth birthday party. When we stayed with him, he cooked for us and told us the most amazing stories, one after another. He hung out with my heroes. The second or third time we were there, John looked at the big, lofted room in Manuel's house said, "Hey, have you ever had a band record out here?" That happened in January, and we were out there in March making a record. It was a very relaxed, chill environment.
How was that experience, and how did recording in Nashville inform your sound?
We're all away from our normal lives and distractions being out there. We spent a lot of time preparing, working to keep the integrity of our live songs. It was like being at camp or something; we bought a ton of groceries and holed up. It's inspiring to be there.
Sometimes we would go to Robert's Western World. We'd go, and we would see a band and be super-jazzed and be inspired to play, get home and go for it. We were chasing old-school songwriting and storytelling. I'm more comfortable with that; I can keep it vague or painfully honest. On my first record, I was still figuring that out.
In terms of being one of the best country acts Denver can see, do you feel like you've gained a faithful crowd? Do you feel that people keep hearing about you and showing up?
It's getting to a place where I don't know everyone's name. That's a good thing -- they're there to see the music. We're still working on hitting Colorado hard, and some of that was fundraising to pay for a record that we envisioned making. I think that we still stand out as a great country band.
The fan base is diverse, a mix of classic country fans and new listeners -- not to say that any of the fans are, for example, Gram Parsons fans. We're not a tribute band, but we wear clothes inspired by him -- that's still our thing. I feel lucky to have met the people I've met here; no one is actually from here. We still want to hit the road and get out, but playing Colorado, it's been good to us.