There’s a whole house load of talent residing within the creative persona of Cassandra McCowan aka Cassa, as evidenced by her Master of Arts gained from a London college. That qualification was a ticket of entry into London’s wildly competitive world of west end musicals, where this triple-threat artist has spent most of her artistic life until recently returning to Aotearoa. Entitled So Long, Cassa’s debut single attracted the attention of NZ On Air who shared the song through their NewTracks compilation this month.
Kia ora, my name is Cassandra McCowan and I’m a singer/songwriter/actress. I’ve also started learning the production side of music, keyword being ‘started’ – there is so much learn!
I studied three different styles of music – first year of university I studied Contemporary Music at Otago, then I moved to back to Auckland and graduated with my Bachelor of Music in Classical Voice.
My dream had always been to perform in musicals, so I moved to London and completed my Master of Arts at the Guildford School of Acting. I’ve also had some incredible teachers over the years. They have all played key roles in my career so far because they taught me such a diverse range of skills. Music nourishes my soul and I just genuinely love learning about it!
I was in a duo called Hey Miss as a teenager, with my good friend Sam. We opened for Sting, who was phenomenal live! We also opened for Rod Stewart and (almost) Lionel Ritchie. (His concert was cancelled mid-way through when a storm hit and audience members started sliding down the hill!) I’ve performed at Christmas In The Park a few times and sang the anthem for the Lions tour and the Bledisloe Cup.
Earlier this year I played Mary Delgado in the NZ tour of Jersey Boys, which started at the Civic Theatre in Auckland and finished at the Wellington Opera House. But I’ve spent most of my adult life performing in London so I was super grateful to be home for the release of this single.
One of the biggest downsides to performing in musicals is that the music isn’t your own. I used to write music quite a bit growing up but my main focus has always been theatre. I did one particular show over 1000 times and it began to feel like I was losing touch with the creative side of performance. We performed 6 nights a week, so I went back to school during the day and studied music production. I started writing music again and then Covid brought me back home to Aotearoa. The silver lining was that I finally had time to focus on writing, which is how Cassa came about.
I was trying to think of an easy way to say my name – Cassandra McCowan is a bit much. My mates call me Cass, but for some reason, a one-syllable name felt far too bold. I think, in some ways, I wanted to separate who I am as a person and who I am as an artist. I also find it funny that casa is Spanish for house, totally irrelevant but I enjoy it!
I started writing music maybe 17/18 years ago, and in some ways my writing style hasn’t changed much. The way I hear melodies over a track or a hook in my mind has always come relatively easy to me. But certainly, my lyrics and the meaning behind my music has evolved along with the ups and downs of life. No musician is ever finished learning and growing as an artist and it’s so beneficial to listen to all types of music. You never know what is going to inspire you!
I got my dream job a few years ago, covering the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock. I was part of the original West End cast for two years then went over to South Korea to play the lead. It’s such a great show (it’s the same brilliant script from the movie written by Jack Black) and Andrew Lloyd Webber is arguably the biggest name in music theatre, so to turn up on the first day of work to find me ol’ boss Andy greeting us and making small talk over tea and biscuits was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment.
It’s the first track I’ve made that I actually enjoy listening to. That sounds very critical of my own music, which I definitely am, but I’m usually unable to enjoy listening to it because I’m always hearing things to work on, or new ideas to try out. This was the first song that felt complete – almost like experiencing someone else’s music… I figured that was a good sign so I decided to make this my debut single!
I wrote the top line a few years ago while on that tour in South Korea. I was having a weird day because I had randomly started thinking about an ex after a few months of not thinking about them at all. I felt really down about it, but at the same time, I was also having these moments of optimism and motivation. I’m a relatively sarcastic person who considers themselves a realist at best, so writing this summery-pop number felt like a fun juxtaposition.
The lyric, ‘Tracing colour in the way you move.’ I had this really strange dream where everything was black and white, except this one person who had these neon lights surrounding them in a border. I wrote it down when I woke up and I’ve been waiting for a song to use it in – this track was the perfect fit!
So Long was the first song I worked on with producer and musical wizard Dan Martin. He took my ideas and turned them into such a cohesive and crisp track. Dan records vocals like nobody’s business and we stacked up so many different harmonies and effects on my voice, it was definitely the highlight of the recording process.
That there is no set timeline for getting over someone. You can be totally fine one day and then bam(!), it feels like the first day of heartbreak again. It was a way for me to say goodbye to someone, and let them go without having to actually talk to them. It worked though!
I’m probably not the best person to answer that question as this is my debut single! So at the moment, it’s a total guessing game. I picked a song that I think is catchy and relatable. It’s hard as I haven’t really curated a ‘sound’ as such yet, so I’m just going off of instinct and personal taste. Which I suppose is what music is about anyway, so I’ll let you know if it works out! Yikes.
This is my debut song and it comes with a whole EP! My next single will be released before the end of the year and the EP will come out early next year.
This was actually my first application to NZOA and I’m beyond grateful to be included on a compilation with such talented Kiwis. I’d just recommend applying every time you’ve got a good song – you’ll miss out on 100% of the opportunities you don’t take!
When I first moved to London to study I used to walk across the uni campus listening to a YT channel called Majestic Casual. Not a massive fan anymore but their 2014 era was sublime. There are some songs that you can’t help but belt your tits off to, so I got some very weird looks. A few smiles. A couple of glares. It was fun because I had just moved there and I didn’t know a soul. I loved the autonomy and the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be.
I designed this lyric video with an editor I found on Fiverr – would highly recommend this website for meeting some exceptionally talented and creative people! I’m a big fan of trippy/Jimi Hendrix/kaleidoscope imagery and I like that it’s something a bit unexpected.
I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal. So get vaccinated!