Christopher Adkins Stone, otherwise known as CAS, requested that I meet him at his Richmond townhome on a rainy Monday afternoon. I was greeted at the door by his roommate and bass player in his backing band, Tien. He showed me into a living room lined with dividers emblazoned with east Asian inspired artwork. CAS emerged from his studio in the back of the house to welcome me and show me back to the room where he often works. It’s furnished sparingly with an electric piano, a desk and computer, and an old couch. It appeared that I had interrupted his lunch, as a burrito bowl from Chipotle sat half-eaten on his desk. CAS struck me as a steak man; however, in that moment, it did not occur to me to ask him.
Born just outside of Seoul, South Korea, CAS was adopted and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Brought up on blues and jazz, the young CAS was constantly surrounded by music, as his cousin owned a music shop nearby. He began playing guitar when, on his 12th birthday, said cousin gifted him a guitar and amp. Throughout his middle school years, he was involved in the thriving metal scene in and around Cincinnati, playing guitar and screaming with a band performing in talent shows. At the age of 14 CAS performed a show for an audience of 100 people, which ignited the passion for performing that still flames in him. He was attracted by elements of the metal and hardcore scenes in Richmond, such as United Blood Fest and the band GWAR. And so, after graduating high school in 2016, CAS decided to follow his father (who had moved here many years before) to Richmond.
The music CAS currently has available on streaming services is heavily hip-hop influenced, with electronic beats and affected vocals. He describes this as an “overcorrection” from his metal days, which also included cutting his hair and dying it blonde. Due to a lack of confidence in his guitar playing, CAS instead began producing beats for himself and singing over them. That is all about to change again, though, with the release of his new album, Lackluster, a concept album about the stages of grief experienced after losing a loved one. Heavily steeped in pop and rock, and listing among his influences Guns n’ Roses, A Flock of Seagulls, and the Sex Pistols, CAS is coming from the classic singer-songwriter tradition on his new album: personal music written and performed by a single person on their instrument of choice — in this case, electric guitar.
Leading with his undeniably charismatic stage personality and searingly energetic guitar playing, CAS takes the old concept of the pop-rock band and infuses it with his signature brand of sardonic wit and vulnerability. CAS sings delicately and passionately over a traditional four-piece rock band: two lightly overdriven guitars, bass, and drum kit. However, he incorporates frequent breakdowns backed by synthesizer orchestrations, such as in the song “Bad Dream.” During these breakdowns, CAS sings in beautiful harmony with his bandmates, creating melodies so delicate they feel as if they could collapse at any moment. That isn’t to say that the hip-hop feel is gone entirely; it shows up in such places as the electronic beats in his song “Low-Light,” and there is still evidence of that undeniable hip-hop influence throughout. In the latter half of the song “Oversized Comedown” though, CAS demonstrates his ability to fully rock, specifically highlighting his lead guitar.
CAS collaborated with Hourglass Sessions to produce a live one-shot music video of his song “Oversized Comedown” at the Diamond. This song, specifically its latter half, demonstrates his ability to fully rock, specifically highlighting his lead guitar. I sat down with him to talk about the experience of filming his Hourglass Session, the state of the Richmond music scene, and being multifaceted in a world that is increasingly asking more and more from its creatives and artists.
Note: Lightly edited for clarity and ease of conversation. Edited for length.
What are your thoughts on the Richmond music scene?
I think it’s very diverse. The classic [statement], “Richmond doesn’t get enough credit for the artists that come out of it,” is so true. Some of the best artists I’ve ever met have been here in Richmond. There’s just so many different niches. I was watching Noah-O’s videos that he’s making right now, which are incredible, and there’s the Kidz at Play, they’re incredible. Hazelgrove’s incredible. There’s just so many different pockets of music, you know? I would really like it to continue to grow. I don’t know if we have the resources to do it, but I think with social media and the direction everything’s going… we will one day.
That is the big thing that I hear, is that it’s such a diverse scene, and that it’s supportive. There are those who say that they don’t feel a lot of stiff competition; it’s friendly.
On the other side, I think it can be very competitive. Competitive as in everybody’s trying to be that next big thing, you know? Everybody’s trying to shoot for the stars, when we need to just conjoin as one and then move up together.
So, do you feel a gap in the Richmond music scene? Such as between older established bands who dominate the scene and younger artists trying to get started? Are the established bands not helping new artists enough?
It’s not even that, I just don’t think there’s any connection at all. I don’t think we’re put in scenarios enough where the older generation and the younger generation are in the same room. You know, I think that we would get along well — we’d have a lot of good talking points. It’s a problem, I think that the younger people might think the older people are washed out, or the older people might think that the [younger people] don’t know what they’re talking about: we’re trying to use in-ear systems, and things have changed [Laughs]. There’s a little bit of assumption going on. I will say there are people like Carlos [Chafin] at In Your Ear [Studios] — he’s a great person and he does really help the young people. And it’s one of those things where we can pull from each other now, because they’re very open-minded people. I have to shout them out for that; we just did our In Your Ear session [Shockoe Sessions] with them last week. They have Shockoe Records coming out, and as CAS we are going to work with them to do some cool things. I brought up the idea with them that we want to play every baseball stadium in America.
Shockoe Sessions is great. I did one back in December, and we had only ever played one show before, but they brought us on just because we asked nicely.
That’s what I’m saying. I feel like a lot of people in Richmond have an ego about who they work with, or what they’re trying to do. Me personally, I have to check myself all the time on my ego and go, “at this point I’m really not anybody crazy, so I have to take what I get at this point.” Egos can kinda get in the way sometime.
Egos certainly can get in the way when making music. But now let’s talk a little bit more about you. I want to hear about your songwriting process as a solo artist — you do consider yourself a solo artist, right?
Yeah “CAS” stands for Christopher Adkins Stone. My songwriting process is chaotic because it probably only happens… two weeks out of the year. With Lackluster — and even the album after that that we have backlined — each song off the album was done in a day, and not premeditated. It was just something that I sat down one day. The song “Mama Said ‘Behave’,” which is going to be the single off the album, [I started] thinking about the instance when I was younger and my mom’s lessons, and how that would affect me when I’m older. And it happened within a day.
So I usually start with guitar and singing, and then I bring it to my computer, start laying down drum sounds, getting the right vibe for it. I went with an 80’s sound so… I started writing with that. But it really is that every single song off that album was written and produced in one day. And you know, it could be bad, it could really bite me in the ass, but it’s one of those things where you sit down to write a song, and if I’m really feeling something, then I want to get all the emotion out that day. Especially lyrics and vocals, because when you’re writing the lyrics, you’re subconsciously going through something, and you’re putting yourself back in that place of empathy, stress, depression, or angst, and I think it’s very important to get the emotion out in that moment.
So is your band on the album at all, or do they just play live?
They just play live.
Well, you also play with synth tracks live. Why do that instead of just hiring a keyboard player if you’re going through the trouble of building a band anyways?
Yeah. It’s funny because for Shockoe Sessions, we were going to have a keyboardist, but it’s one of those things, no shame to anybody. Some of the sounds we use are so manipulated that I want it to be that exact sound. There may be a time where I want to play one of those songs with just a piano sound instead of a synth sound, but for right now — and as a starting artist who is literally nobody yet — I think it’s important for your live sound to sound like on the album. Just so that people can cohesively remember it. In the days of social media and TikTok and all this crap, people are fed information all the time. Your art can get sucked into this hole where people never get to hear it, and I just wanted to make sure that it was similar to the album. Especially since no one’s heard it yet.
Since you bring that up, why don’t we transition to streaming. What are your thoughts on the role that social media and streaming play in how this generation listens to music?
It started out as such a good thing, but I think it can get oversaturated and kind of washed out. It’s like what I was saying when we as artists pour our heart out: writing, taking our gear to the show, making sure we’re there on time. There’s so much work that we have to do for a single, or how you have to promote it now. We’re putting so much pressure on us, on top of us already having to look a certain way or sound a certain way, or making sure we have the right equipment, or make the right music for the sound. It’s one of the things where I think you’re really adding a lot of stress from these platforms because they’re really getting washed out. I think there will come a day when it will… overturn itself. And I love the fact that we can go to Distrokid and launch our song — it is great. But I do think that it’s too easily accessible. It can be a good or bad thing, depending on the person, but it still oversaturates the market. It’s kind of frustrating to have our gem of a song thrown into a pool of who knows.
That is the word that so many people use: oversaturation. There is so much music. However, streaming platforms are how you release your music. You’re the first artist I’ve interviewed that doesn’t release physical copies of their music, and what’s most popular by far right now is vinyl. Do you have any plans for that, and what are your thoughts on listening to music on a vinyl record?
I love the physicality of vinyl because I think… you know, one of my good friends, Humble, is a painter, so we always talked about the different products that we create, and how it was more tangible to make something that’s physical: you can touch it, you can see it, the painting is right here. With music, it’s a little bit harder, because it’s something that you can’t physically hold, so I think vinyl gets back to a way of holding a product. And music, at the end of the day, was a product, but now it’s become something that you can’t even see. So I do like vinyl records, but my only thing right now is that they are expensive.
It’s important to distinguish yourself as an artist and branch out, which I see that you’ve been doing with that documentary you produced, Unmixed Unmastered. It was interesting to see the creative process laid bare like that, and it seems to be something that a lot of people are intrigued by — watching creatives make things. How did the making of that documentary come about?
My friend Hazelgrove teamed up with Sam Bullard, and Hazel’s done a few sessions like that before, where it’s been, “Let’s go out to the barn and have a good time.” There’s no stress about food because we’re making food together; it’s a very community-driven thing. [Unmixed Unmastered] came about as “Let’s do it again, but this time let’s make it bigger.” With me personally, with anything that I’m doing, I think, “Let’s not do it bigger necessarily, but let’s make it a little bit more interactive for the people.” We thought, “Let’s record it and videotape it at the same time — make a documentary out of it.”
So, it was just one of those things where we wanted to get a bunch of great artists from different genres to come together. Like how we were talking about the older generation and the younger generation not being in the same room; let’s put down the wall and sit down together to make music together. Just put everyone in the same room. We had three different rooms, so it wasn’t ALL the same room [laughs]. Going back to the thing about ego, and how a lot of artists can have an ego… it was kinda like, “Let’s just sit down with a beer, NO EGO, and just see what comes out of it.” That’s one thing that doesn’t happen too much, you know? You have to buy your studio sessions, and you have to go to all these studios with money and expectations, and the ego gets involved. But this is something where there is no ego. Ego’s left at the door, and let’s just have fun with it and see what happens.
It’s cool to see you breaking into something that you’re not necessarily known for. Is producing something that you plan on continuing to do?
I will in the future, but I really am one of those people that loves it all: I make all of our merch, make all the promo videos, I edit everything. I usually do cooking pop-ups to help raise money for the merch. I genuinely love doing all these different things, and since I only write two weeks out of the year, I need something to do most of the time to find inspiration. I could see myself putting together another one. I just like to schedule out my time where it makes the most sense to do something. So, if I’m not, I want to be promoting the music, or shooting videos for it, or creating merch. Right now, I’m kind of focused on releasing the album and the single that come along with it, and then maybe once that’s done, going to back to directing music documentaries.
As a young creative, whether you are a musician or making YouTube videos, you’re wearing every hat until you start making enough money to where you can finally pay people to do all those other jobs.
It’s just so much pressure. And I will say: you CAN do it, but it just takes a lot of determination. Making the music is so much pressure alone, and then the fact that you have to make these promo videos afterwards is just so much. And working a day job too; I have a day job.
That was my next question: what is your day job, and does it give you the freedom you need to be able to pursue this?
I’m a bartender; I love getting people drunk for money. I force myself to work on music, because there’s some days where I don’t feel like doing it. The other day, I stayed up until four in the morning editing a promo video for one of the songs I have coming out. And I had to go to work at seven, so I got up at six — very low amount of sleep. But working on the promo video gave me a sense of purpose and why I’m doing it. It gave me that upbeat drive to get up the next day and go, “All right, let me knock out this bartending shift and get paid for it so I can keep making merch, keep playing shows, keep my guitar playing strong, and all that stuff.” So it does give me the freedom, but I definitely have to create my own freedom to do music.
This one is a bit hard to quantify, but that’s why I ask it: what spells success for you in this? When will you have succeeded, or “made it?”
I know, right?
I am one to really shoot for the fucking moon, and past it. I want to get a Grammy and sell out Madison Square Garden. I want to tour the world. It’s not so much the level of success, but I want to help people with whatever struggle they’re going through, because I do write a lot about addiction, divorce, and feeling isolated as an Asian American… all these traumas. So, it’s not necessarily just shooting for, “I want a Grammy,” but getting to a place eventually to stand up for the rights that I believe in. It’s not necessarily that I’m trying to be this huge star, I just want to get to that point to reach a bunch of people and ultimately send a message.
Good answer. This is where I want to give you the opportunity to tell me what next.
We’re releasing the single “Mama Said” on July 15th, off the album Lackluster. I want to shoot to play at every baseball stadium in America. That’s a goal of mine that I really want to make happen, and we’re gonna start with the Reds stadium, because I’m from Cincinnati. We’re gonna reach out to them and see if we can make it happen. You know, just send out the messages that need to be said: woman’s rights, why is all this fucking happening with women right now; this is absolute chaos.
When is the album gonna come out?
The album’s gonna come out in August.
Your song “Oversized Comedown” is on that album, and that’s what you played in your Hourglass Session; that was awesome. You’re at the Diamond, your name is on the jumbotron. How did you make that happen, and what was the experience of making that like?
Being from Cincinnati, the Bengals were just in the Super Bowl. I was a little drunk on some tequila, and I was watching the halftime show and I thought, “How crazy would it be to play in the Super Bowl?” It would probably be the best feeling. Then I woke up the next day a little hung over, and I still had that drive and that idea, and so I thought, “How do I make it to that first stepping stone into eventually playing a Super Bowl?” So, I thought about the closest stadium, and I realized it was here in Richmond, and there’s been so many cool things done in that stadium. So many great artists and muralists have worked in that stadium, so it is kind of a staple of Richmond. It’s got that certain grunge; the Richmond stank is there for sure. We reached out to a guy named Trey at [The Diamond] and they said, “What are you doing this Wednesday?” We showed up there, they showed us around, they showed us where we could shoot. But we couldn’t step on the green, only when we were shooting. Then we were shooting, I think, three Wednesdays from that, and we made it happen. It literally got up to the last minute of when we rented the stadium, because the hourglass kept falling, and people were tripping, and it was chaos, but we ended up getting the perfect shots for it in the very end, so it turned out perfectly.
And how has that video helped you along? Because I noticed that you’ve got it listed as your website on Instagram?
It’s gonna help me play the Reds Stadium. It’s gonna help me play all the stadiums in America. I’m creating, basically, my music resumé. This is my year to build my music resumé. I haven’t really done it like I’ve done it in the past. We played a huge show in New York, we’re about to play a fashion show in Miami, we played the Squirrels’ stadium, we played a few local Richmond shows, which I love. It’s just gotten people to see what we can do. It’s giving me the outlet to show people that I’m singing now. I’m a solo artist, and we’re not messing around too. I was proud to be in that stadium because… it’s just so powerful. Visually, the [Hourglass] team, Tyler and Dillon, they were fucking great. I love them to death. It was just a great product overall that I’m glad we could make happen.
CAS’s album Lackluster will be coming out this August. Look for the first single, “Mama Said ‘Behave,'” officially out this Friday (though you might be able to find it right now if you know where to look).