|In July 2007, the members of Cavo had an epiphany. They were opening for hard-rock band Staind at a resort in Lake of the Ozarks, MO, and decided to use their moment in front of the large crowd to play some of their new material live for the very first time.
The band’s frontman, Casey Walker, began to sing "Let It Go," a stirring song from the St. Louis quartet’s upcoming album Bright Nights * Dark Days. “At the end of the song, I sang the lyric ‘I need to let it go,’ over and over and the crowd started singing the words back to me,” Walker recalls. “It was the first time that had ever happened and it was just surreal. We walked offstage and were like, ‘What just happened?’ This crowd had never heard of us. They didn’t know any of our songs, but the response we got from them was
That pivotal moment is when Walker realized that Cavo, after nearly nine years together, had a good shot of getting where they are today: releasing their major-label debut album, Bright Nights * Dark Day, this summer on Reprise Records. With songs like the propulsive first single “Champagne,” the uplifting power ballad “Let It Go,” the blistering “Cry Wolf,” and the strutting “Blame,” the album is a passionately played collection of hard-hitting rock and roll with keenly felt lyrics about life, love, and the acceptance that comes with realizing that all we can do is to try and be the best person we can for those we love. “I think it’s amazing when a songwriter can open up a piece of themselves and let the whole world see it,” says Walker, who writes Cavo’s lyrics. “It may not be beautiful, in fact it may be really ugly, but great art comes from an honest place. It has to. And that’s what we try to do with our songs.”
The current line-up of Cavo — which also features Chris Hobbs on guitar, Chad La Royon drums, and Brian Smith on bass — solidified after Smith came on board in 2006, but the original nucleus formed when Walker hooked up with Hobbs and La Roy in March 2001.
Walker had wanted to front a rock band ever since seeing Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder onstage for the first time. “I had sung since I was kid,” Walker says, “but seeing him made me realize that writing songs and singing with a rock band were what I had to do. And I knew immediately that Chris and Chad were doing something special. We all shared the same passion for it.
Chris is someone I consider to be a musical soul-mate; he’s very artistic and has a great sense of how the end result should sound. Chad is just pure energy; his playing is like a shot of adrenaline. They’re the kind of guys who, even if they weren’t signed to a label, would still be playing music together, and that’s how I felt.”
That commitment to music got Walker, Hobbs, and La Roy through some rough times ahead — the group endured numerous production setbacks, a former member’s alcohol addiction, and the end of another member’s marriage, all of which is chronicled on Cavo’s aptly titled independent album, The Painful Art of Letting Go, which they selfreleased in 2006. “We’ve had some major losses and some major gains throughout this process, but it has only made us stronger as a band and as friends,” La Roy says.
After Letting Go was released in September, Cavo were ready to hit the road. The only problem was they didn’t have a bass player. Walker knew Brian Smith from the St. Louis scene and asked him to join. “Brian coming onboard literally changed everything for Cavo,” Walker says. “When he started playing with us, everything was different. It was more intense. His technical ability gave Chris the opportunity to start indulging his creative side, which in turn shaped the sound on our new album.”
In January 2007, Cavo wrote their first song as a four-piece — the ringing, tribalsounding “Useless,” which Walker feels encapsulates everything about their musical direction.
“It was clearly different than anything on our previous album. It was more aggressive, probably because of Brian. He plays parts, not just notes, and that made the music more aggressive. So I had to step up my game and become a more aggressive singer to match where the music was headed.” Soon they had two more songs, “Champagne” and “Cry Wolf,” both of which made it onto an EP that got the attention of the program director at St. Louis radio station The Point, which put “Champagne” into rotation. A few live showcases in the summer of 2008 later and Cavo signed on the dotted line with Reprise Records last October. “Signing with Reprise meant everything to us,” La Roy says.
“It’s a chance for the world to hear and feel our music, and an opportunity that many people can only dream about.”
Record producer David Bendeth, who has worked with Breaking Benjamin, Paramore, and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, among others, caught Cavo at their showcase in New York City and told the band he wanted to help them make a great album that could stand the test of time. “He basically said that he wanted to record with us whether we signed a deal or not, and his passion for our music was really inspiring,” Walker says. “In the studio, he spent the time to make the songs the best they could be. He cared about the final product and it shows.” Adds La Roy: “I had a feeling this record was going to be something unbelievable and epic, but when I heard the final tracks, I was speechless.”
In addition to Cavo’s own songs, Bright Nights * Dark Days features an additional track, the powerfully emotional “Ghost,” co-written by Nixons singer/guitarist Zac Maloy, who has also worked with David Cook and Chris Daughtry, and the Norwegian songwriting team Espionage. “I was a Nixons fanatic,” Walker says, “so I had to get my geek moment out of the way when I first met Zac.”
“One of great things about being signed to a major label is that it allows our band so many amazing opportunities,” Walker continues. “It was also validation — like somebody telling you that what you’ve been focusing on your whole life wasn’t a waste of time.
People would ask me, ‘How long are you going to keep playing in this band; when are you going to quit this hobby?’ Being in a band isn’t a hobby, it’s really hard work. But when it works, and you’re out there playing music with your best friends, it’s the best job ever.”