A year-and-a-half ago, Evan Casey joined Desert Hearts co-founder Marbs in launching Desert Hearts Black: a new subsidiary of the iconic California brand that caters to those who prefer the darker, driving, melodic sounds played in the wee morning hours of each festival and club event. The launch was a smash success; its first release reached the top of Beatport charts, and subsequently packed out club nights across the country.
This progress was threatened with the onset of pandemic, but Evan and Marbs persevered, bringing Desert Hearts Black to an even wider audience through Twitch. It is there that they became partners with the platform, and their dynamic weekly streams have seen them play to upwards of 20 thousand people at once. On the label end, things have continued to flourish; the two owners have signed a number of high profile talents like Township Rebellion, Tim Engelhardt, Dance Spirit, Thugfucker, and more to its roster.
2021 already sees Evan and Marbs continuing to flourish; the label heads have prepared one of their most ambitious releases to date, ‘Birds On A Wire.’ The slow-burning, double sided EP is not only their first vocal-centric work with the help of Katie Kilbride, but it’s also a step in a new, psychedelic-leaning direction for the pair. Its title track, which clocks in at a healthy 10.5 minutes, feels like it was made for a golden desert sunrise. Not to mention, the EP’s title track has gained the stamp of approval from none other than Damian Lazarus, who provided re-shape of his own to complete the package.
We caught up with Evan on what’s gone on with the label since then, bringing their community to the digital space, and where his artistic journey has taken him of late. We also got some input from vocalist Katie Kilbride’s point of view.
>Hey Evan! Good to speak to you again, and Katie—nice to meet you!
Hello! Thanks for having me back, so much has happened since our last chat! And very happy to introduce and have my very dear friend Katie here with me to share some words later on.
>“Birds On A Wire” feels a bit like a step to the left for you sonically; the A-side in particular is quite mellow, yet tripped out. What inspired this direction for the EP?
I would say the “left-fieldness” of this EP is definitely a product of the space and time that this pandemic has presented to us. Sometimes with the busy touring and focus on your own current sound, the time for experimentation and diving a bit deeper gets set aside far too often. The trippy synth work and overall energy of Birds on a Wire is actually in line with the music Marbs and I truly love, and we were just able to step back and really envision what we wanted to make; and very happy with the result. If I had to pin down something specific and give a tip of the hat, we vocalized an intention to channel some Mano Le Tough energy. His productions are just insane to us, and we really wanted to create something heady in that same vein.
>Do you see more releases on Desert Hearts Black emulating this psychedelic nature in the future? In general, what has evolved in the label’s ethos/sound since its launch 1.5 years ago?
Absolutely! We just love such a wide range of music, and our ultimate goal with the label is to create a platform for strong, forward thinking music in any form. When we launched the label, there was this same desire, but outside of our own music, it was the process of finding artists we aligned with who were excited about what we were doing. We have been incredibly fortunate to receive amazing music since the launch, and that has continued and evolved ever since. The only ethos we really carry is “Do we love this?” “Would we be excited to play/share this?” and “Does this inspire us to keep pushing forward?’ If the music checks those boxes, it really doesn’t matter too much what genre it sits in, or where it comes from. The first year, our sound aligned with a fair amount of Melodic Techno artists, but that genre wasn’t necessarily the core intention, it was just the music we received and connected with deeply. Our sound is always evolving, and the releases reflect that in our eyes. But we never want to be in a box. Good music is good music!
>Let’s hear more about the technical side of ‘Birds On A Wire” Did working with Katie affect the writing process? What was the production process like in general and how did the tracks come together?
Yes, it definitely played a major part in the technical side! This was our first time working with live, raw vocals, and that in itself was a learning process. We had been chatting with Katie for some time, working on ideas, and really wanting her to be involved in the process, given it was her first dive into this world. On our end, we actually just had one really big night of inspiration, went into the studio for 10+ hours, and had about 80% of the track written, which is still wild to us haha. Then aligning that work with Katies vocals, polishing the last 20% and creating a cohesive final product took much more technical energy that we are now very grateful for. The creative flow between the 3 of us has been really special, and something we are so excited to continue moving forward. The vocals are all original writings from Katie, and we just really wanted to make something that was heady, and twisted, but then uplifting into her beautiful gift. Many more to come from this trio 🙂
>Damian Lazarus is a big remixer to come on board; how did you get him on?
Ahh yes, Damian. Well in all honesty, he’s been one of, if not the single most influential artist for me over the years, so this was a surreal moment. As a DJ, producer, and curator, he’s just a wizard and truly creates worlds with his work, so we are beyond happy this track resonated with him. As we were working on Birds on a WIre, getting more and more twisted with the synths, we would joke about him liking the track, and it being something with full Day Zero vibes. So when the EP was wrapped, we just held that vision and truly believed he would enjoy the music. We sent it off, and he came back with such a great response and a desire to write a remix for us! He’s played both the festival and one-off Desert Hearts events, so there was already love there, and we couldn’t be more grateful to be working together so closely with someone we’ve admired for so long. He absolutely smashed the remix, and it’s really just capped this whole thing in such a proper way. And as Sasha responded in his feedback, which we now reference often with a smile, “This remix is a bubbler!!”
>Back to Desert Hearts Black; last time we spoke, the label had just launched. Now it’s approaching its two year birthday later this year. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about running a label since then?
I’d say the biggest lesson for us was to just trust the process and continue to work with people that lead with their hearts and want to share great music with the world. Sounds simple and possibly a bit cliche, but it’s really all about the love and working with artists that share the same mindset. If this year has taught us anything, remaining adaptable is crucial, especially in this industry.
From the tip top, to locals on the rise, we just follow the music and it’s really led us on a special path. We are so proud of the catalog as well as the response we have received in these 2 years from our community and all over the world. We are just here to connect, and this label has really opened the floodgates to countless inspiring moments.
>What are your prime roles in Desert Hearts Black as label co-owner, and what challenges have you overcome to be the best you can in these positions?
The roles vary, but the partnership with Marbs is the only reason this works as it does. He is just such a force behind the entire Desert Hearts project, and I will always express my gratitude first to him, and bringing me into this next chapter side by side. The final decisions are always joint, but demo selections and curating our Compilation series ‘Gateways’ are two things I take great pride in. It is always very humbling to receive music from all over the world, accompanied by kind words about our work so far. I’d say the challenging side is more scheduling, when we feel we have more great music than time available, but ultimately that’s a very good problem to have as a label head. Keep em coming everyone! 🙂
>Of course, we can’t have an interview these days without a bit about the pandemic and industry shift. Desert Hearts Black has found a new way to thrive in the Twitch space – what are some of the keys to success you’ve discovered since joining the streaming revolution?
Wow, the Twitch world! Talk about adapting haha. It’s crazy to think how long we’ve been doing this now, but honestly I couldn’t be more grateful for the way it’s unfolded and connected us with people all over the globe. At first we were just excited to play music and connect with the incredible DH community while in isolation, but that quickly shifted into a platform that brought so many together. The amount of love, support and donations that have come in for months now is truly incredible, and I’m not sure how all of this would have played out if we had not immediately jumped into the digital space. Personally on DHB Friday nights, we have created such a special bond with viewers, some friends, many strangers, all of whom are now family for life! Marbs and I have really tried to expand on our night, constantly digging for new music, changing the visual aspects, and using the mic to really connect and create an intimate energy, even when there were 15k people tuned in. When people feel like they are in a shared experience, and not just watching some video, it really creates an energy that you feel at a festival or club (at least as much as it can). Our hearts are full because of the ways this community has shown up and supported one another, and it really showed us that this is bigger than just music, or a party. Main key to success, be genuine, and let people know you feel their love.
Special shout out to anyone and everyone who has joined us, you are keeping the magic alive.
>After such long ‘residency’ sets week after week, has your style of DJing changed over time and if so, how so? Will this remain in effect when gigs come back?
If there is one silver lining in all of this, in regards to our music, it is this tasteful shift for both of us. To be honest, it’s hard not to have big tracks to rely on when touring, simply because they work. But Marbs and I alike have always had the most respect and admiration for the DJs who are always playing a wide variety of music. Guys like DJ Three, Tennis, Damian, Doc Martin, Dixon etc. They have always been outside the bounds of genres, and although you don’t know what they will play, it’s always incredibly tasteful and cutting edge. This was something we discussed in the very beginning of the pandemic; that we wanted to evolve sonically, and to take more risks in what we play. Now that we have had extended hours week after week, we have really tapped into the sounds we love and the path we see forward, without the influence of live crowds or short sets that usually lead to all the bigger tracks in rotation. When you stream for 10-15 hours every friday night, the time for weirdness really opens up in the best way. (Luckily now we’re down to 8 hours a stream haha) We want to share music that is good at all hours, that transcends genres, and focused on a journey instead of big moments. There was a heavy focus on this prior, but now we really had the time to give all of our focus to that growth.
Really felt this shift over the last year, and are so excited to bring that to both our DJ sets as well as the signings we make on the label. So it wasn’t just experimenting, as much as polishing and redirecting our intention moving forward. It’s here to stay!
>And what are some of your proudest memories & milestones you’ve achieved through your time streaming with Desert Hearts Black?
I would honestly say every single memory that comes to mind about streaming has to do with someone viewing and reaching out. We had amazing guests, takeovers, and record numbers hit, but the people making this possible, watching from home, really deserve all the love here. The zoom rooms showed hundreds of people in festival gear, smiling and dancing, and getting through something very tough, together. We had someone share the unexpected death of his brother, who loved DH and our stream specifically, and he took his ashes to a special place with our music playing and said his goodbye. “This is what he would have wanted for this moment” I mean that absolutely rocked us beyond words, and those moments only brought everyone closer together. Some streams are just on twitch, but the community that has rallied around us I just can’t say enough about. Love is the path forward, and even in these times of disconnect, people found a way to share something together in a beautiful way. For us, that was endless motivation.
One very special moment, that will lead you right into your chat with her, was having Katie come on the stream and single her vocals live for the Birds on a Wire EP. It was her first time performing ever, and she had about 14k people tuned in rallying behind her! Talk about a debut. I told her many of my firsts were to empty clubs haha. But so incredibly proud of her and what we created together.
>Any final words/comments for our readers?
Just want to say thank you for supporting us, enjoying our music and our vision, and that we can’t wait until we can connect back on a dancefloor and have the biggest group hug of all time!! ( When its safe 😉 )
A lot of great music coming out this year, including our second ‘Gateways’ Compilation, and new artists to the label! Stay tuned <3
We are so excited for what’s ahead, and just know that you always have a space in this community to find some warmth, love, and good music. And as we always say on the friday night streams, “We’re just getting started!”
>Katie—this is your first official release as well. Can you tell us a bit about your own journey as a vocalist?
I’ve been singing as long as I can remember. My mom and dad said that I sang as early as 2 years old – and would often burst into songs about my friends or the imaginary lands I has explored to that day. I performed at family dinners and holiday parties on command, or at times uninvited for hours.
I grew up on Maui, Hawaii and music was always playing in my house, in my room or. I joined chorus in middle school, sang in front of assembly, entered all the talent shows and even considered going on American Idol when I was 16, at the peak of the shows’ success. When in reality, I was really afraid to fail or get rejected by the voices of Hollywood… people I’d idolized or looked up to my whole life.
That fork in the road moment, when I decided not to go to the mainland to pursue my singing career, allowed me to put my free thought to paper. Writing is how I processed emotion. I used my life experiences, my first love, regret, and the natural landscapes that surrounded me as inspiration to write – poems, verses and eventually songs. Melodies started to pour into me as downloads from another place.
I went on to college in San Diego, joined a small reggae band that performed on campus and at parties. I thought that was kind of it for my music career, thinking I had missed the boat on my dreams of becoming a singer…that I was too old or that it didn’t matter anymore. After graduation, work became the focus and my dreams of becoming an artist faded into the background. The thoughts of what could have been or what I should have done took over, as did my anxiety and regret as I navigated my 20s.
The constant ebb & flow between wanting to pursue music seriously and then not taking myself seriously was a daily battle. During that time, my life was on a different trajectory and my songs
writings were reserved just for me. It wasn’t something I shared with anyone, not even my closest friends and family at the time. It’s been wild to reflect on how many of my friends didn’t even know I sang, a hidden talent of sorts. There was a clear disconnect with who I was and who I had become. This was inauthentic and incongruent with who I was at my core, two things I actively try to move away from.
But there was and always has been a voice wanting to get out. The intensity of my inner child and soul desires to be free. As I approached my 30s, this voice was unavoidable. It was a deep knowing that singing is what I am made to do. But fear was often more powerful than my
intuition. As soon as I started to actively set specific intentions for what I wanted to bring into my world, a massive shift happened, life expanded and the creative flood gates opened, as soon as I put fear in the backseat.
Like most people when Covid hit, I spent more time at home in 2020, which allowed me to go inward to process, write and witness life around me. Songs and melodies started to flow. I got out of my own way and started to share that singing is something I wanted to pursue, with anyone who would listen. I dreamed to write and record original music, that would be released on a label. I wanted to be taken seriously as a real artist. Not too long after that shift, Evan & Marbs shared they were looking for a female vocalist and thats when things really started to ramp up and fall into place.
First getting to know one another as friends, through the Desert Hearts community, really set the tone for how our collaboration unfolded – so much love, creativity and vulnerability. We had a few sessions in the studio together in LA, where I sang the melody and lyrics I wrote for ‘When Yesterday Ends’ and ‘Birds on a Wire,’ for the first time…which is 2 of the 3 tracks that would be released on our debut EP. Soon after that, I performed for the first time on the Desert Hearts Black Twitch stream, in front of 13k people, all around the world.
And if that isn’t enough magic for you or proof that thoughts become things and dreams become reality, ‘Birds on a Wire,’ the lead track on my first official EP as a signed artist, was re-shaped by the legend, Damian Lazarus! I’m so incredibly honored and astounded by the trajectory of this project. I’m so grateful for Evan & Marbs for believing in me. But most of all I’m proud of myself for really going for it!
>Katie—Where do you hope to see your music career head in the next couple of years?
If my journey to becoming a vocalist has taught me anything, its to rid myself of any and all liming beliefs. The sky is the limit.
I going to continue write and record as much as possible. Traveling, taking road trips, getting outside and immersing myself in nature, is where I’ve found some of my most recent inspiration…so venturing off to new places with my pen & paper is on the horizon for sure.
I’m excited to collaborate with Evan & Marbs on new music that we have in the works. Also create with other talented artists in the space, as I continue to evolve my style and voice. It would be incredible to collaborate with other female artists on an all female release one day too.
Ultimately, my life long dream is to have my music career become a full time thing in the next couple of years, allowing me to go on tour and perform in front of a live audience, and singing my original lyrics around the world. The dream of being back on a packed dance floor is where the love for this music all began. I can’t wait for the day when we’ll all return, connect and share space with one another again soon.
I’m trusting the process and also trusting my intuition to know that I’m on the right path towards making my dreams a reality. I hope my story is an inspiration to others wanting to achieve their dreams – no matter how big or small.
Thank you for taking the time to connect with me today and tell my story. It’s only just begun.
You can pick up a copy of their new release from HERE