“I’m an army of one/ Don’t you know, don’t you see me coming through?/ Better all get out of my way / I’m feeling so strong ” – ‘Army of One’
You’re broke. You have no job. You’ve been trying to make it as a singer. Then you write your first record and it goes to number one. But it quickly becomes clear that if you want to work on a follow-up, you’re going to have to make compromises. Big compromises. So what do you do next?
All of this happened to Cass. She sang and co-wrote ‘Touch Me’ with producer Rui Da Silva, and the single topped the UK charts early in 2001, selling some 300,000 copies. “I knew from the start that dance music wasn’t the direction I wanted,” she says. “I thought having a hit would open doors, but that’s not how it worked out.”
Cass decided to walk away and start again. She wanted success, but she also wanted it on her own terms. “If I do something, I have to do it 100 per cent,” she says – and if you see her perform live, you’ll know exactly what she means by that.
But let’s start at the beginning. Cass grew up in North London, the only girl in a large, working-class Irish family. As her songs make clear, this wasn’t always easy. But there was always music. From an early age, she would sing in Irish pubs and win talent contests. But when it came to choosing a career, she didn’t even see this as an option. She followed a schoolmate into nursery nursing, then went to secretarial college and worked as a temp, moving on to a series of dead-end jobs that ended with her servicing fruit machines to get a company car.
“Even though I wasn’t being honest with myself about what I really wanted to do, I always knew it was all temporary,” she says now. “When I worked in offices, I was always the girl asking if anyone wanted a tea or coffee. Then I’d go hide in the toilet, doodling or day-dreaming or writing songs.” Instead she lived for the weekends when she and her friends would drive across the country going to clubs like Cream, Gatecrasher or Miss Moneypenny’s.
Often when you’re living a half-life, it takes a near-death to bring you back to reality. Cass’s wake-up call came at 4am one morning, driving home from Southend after another long night servicing machines. Tired and in a hurry to get home, she nearly crashed into the central reservation. “I suddenly thought, ‘What am I doing? I’ve got a voice, I can write songs, and I’m just doing these crappy jobs. It’s time for me to be brave. No more messing about.’”
She quit her job the next day. “I had no money, no car, but from that day I started making music.” She sang in clubs, in bars, even on the street – and after Rui Da Silva saw her performing with some buskers after a night out in the West End, she began hanging out at his studio, eventually writing ‘Touch Me’ over a demo that had been languishing on a shelf.
Once she parted ways with Da Silva Cass began working with a friend in a bedroom in Chingford until she found a style that finally felt her own. Initially about her frustration with record companies, ‘Army Of One’ was the first song she really felt she owned. “I felt, ‘This is it. This is what I want to do.”
The final piece to the puzzle was to find the right producer. After playing the song to RolloArmstrong at his studio, he immediately declared he wanted to work with her. But he had commitments with Dido and Faithless, so in the meantime she hooked up with Craig Dodds (Sugababes) and wrote three songs with him. “That was brilliant, it was like a therapy session – getting all my angst out.”
Raw, honest and brimming with real emotion, all of her songs come from the heart. “When I’m writing, I just tend to just pick up the mic and freestyle and it all pours out,” she says. “I love anything with soul – which to me is a song with real emotion, irrespective of colour, gender or genre.”
Rollo brought in a splash of colour, helping her find a sexier, sassier side. At times on her album you can hear the influence of her childhood heroine Dolly Parton. At others, you hear the strong, clear voice of performers like Annie Lennox, Tracy Chapman or Kate Bush. Her tales of family strife have even drawn comparisons to Eminem. But ultimately, Cass is just herself. Which is exactly what she’s fought to be.
“I want this album to touch people,” she says. “That’s the most important thing to me; that it connects to people and perhaps tells them that whatever it is they want to do, they can do it. If I can, anyone can. I want it to be like a comfort blanket, something they can put around them to stay sane.”
Cass’ debut album, “Come Here”, will be released on September 12th on Island Records.
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