Interview: Casey Shea and the wild origin story of L.A. band Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon is a six-piece band from Los Angeles that has been getting some attention for its album Le Grand Cañon, which was released last year. By phone, Casey Shea (guitar, vocals) discussed the importance of radio support, the challenges of being an L.A. band, and a memorable first show.

AXS: They’re playing Grand Canyon on 88.5.

Casey Shea: They’ve been great supporters over there. Joe (Guese), one of the other guys in the band, came over today. We had the radio on and our song came on. It means a lot to have that kind of support from a radio station - especially that one. It’s the best radio station I think I’ve ever listened to. They have such diverse music. If there’s a radio station that would get behind our band, that’s the one. We’re really lucky.

AXS: There was a gunfight at your first gig?

CS: This was in the very early stages of the band. We were trying to finish writing what would become our first album. We had the idea to get out of town so we could focus and get out of the normal space. One of the people in the band had heard about this place called North Fork. It’s about four and a half hours north of L.A. There was an AirBnB. We took all of our gear up there and made it into a rehearsal space. The first night we were taking a break and we went to this little bar in town in the center of town, which is about a half-mile stretch. We went there just to grab a drink. I don’t even know if we had a name at that point. We had toyed with the idea of Grand Canyon. We had never played a show. We started making friends with the people in the bar.

At some point we were talking to the bartender and asking if they had live music. They ended up giving us this gig in which we’d have to play three sets of covers and originals. We were like, “Oh God! What have we done?” We had eight original songs at that point. At the end of the week, we go to play this venue. It’s an incredible bar like you find in the middle of nowhere. There’s a stuffed bear in the corner. There’s a fireplace. We were in the third set, and it was going well. The entire town seemed to come out to this gig. In the middle of the last set, we were playing “Refugee.” All of a sudden the bar emptied out. We just kept playing. The bartender ran out of the place. Half of the bar was outside, the other half were pressed up against the back windows. The bartender ran back in and screamed at one of the other bartenders, “Give me the shotgun!” We were still playing “Refugee.”

Maybe 30 seconds later, the bartender runs back in with the shotgun. Some of the locals ran in, and there’s blood all over the guys. We finished “Refugee” and the other bartender said, “We’ll have to put the music on hold” and explained what happened. There was a fight. The fistfight turned into someone getting Maced. Then friends of the guys in the fight showed up and started shooting. Then the bartender fired a shotgun into the air. Luckily no one was seriously hurt. It was quite a first gig. The people in the bar were like, “You guys were like the band on the Titanic. You just kept playing.” We just kept playing and providing the soundtrack for the mess that was happening outside. We went back to that bar, and that was the story everyone was still talking about.

AXS: How is this band different from previous projects?

CS: Most of my playing has been as a solo performer. That’s one of the biggest things. Grand Canyon is six people. I met Joe Guese through a mutual friend. We were talking about our musical heroes. We really connected, and said, “We should just start a band.” We had this vision of what we were going for. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Tom Petty documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream. It’s a great one. Early on in that, Stevie Nicks said that if Tom Petty had asked her to quit Fleetwood Mac and join The Heartbreakers, she would have. We decided to start that band.

AXS: What’s the most challenging thing about being a band in L.A.?

CS: The biggest challenge is that you have to drive everywhere - in terms of getting people out to see shows. I lived in New York before I lived in L.A. It was such a different experience. In New York, you’ll have little pockets where there are five or six clubs you can walk to. At the end of the night, you get on the subway. Out here there doesn’t seem to be a central location where all the gigs happen. To get people out, you have to convince them to leave their homes at 9:00 at night and drive to a place that’s 20 or 30 minutes away. You have to be a good enough band that people will drive to see you in this vast city.

AXS: How was your experience at South by Southwest?

CS: South by Southwest is always fun, but logistically getting to actually perform is the hardest part. It’s like Mardi Gras. People are everywhere. Drunk people are everywhere. Trying to load in through all of that can be a headache. It’s always a great time. We had a few really fun shows.

AXS: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?

CS: I’d probably be trying to stay in the music world. Maybe open a music venue. You talk to anybody who has been in the business for a long time, and you hear, “I do it because it’s the only sort of thing I can do.” I feel like that hits home for me. I do love music and bands. I’d probably at least try to stay around it.   

Check Grand Canyon's tour dates to see if the band is playing near you.