On season 10 of American Idol, Casey Abrams was known for his fearless performances of jazz, rock, and blues tunes. He was initially eliminated from the competition before reaching the top 10, but the judges used their one save to keep him in the competition. Abrams stuck around for several more weeks, eventually being voted off in sixth place. He has kept busy since that time. Following the American Idol LIVE! tour in the summer of 2011, Abrams began further honing his skills as a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
In addition to working on an album, he also became involved with IBD Icons, a charity that supports research for inflammatory bowel disease. Abrams has ulcerative colitis, a condition that causes inflammation of the colon, and can result in painful and debilitating symptoms.
In June of 2012, his self-titled debut album was released by Concord Music Group. Abrams is currently supporting the release by performing gigs around the U.S. He took some time to chat with me about his music, his plans, and his health.
So are you touring right now?
Yeah, I’m playing little venues here and there.
You co-wrote most of the songs on your new album. Did you have songwriting experience prior to working on this album?
I had written some by myself at my house. I’ve never written with someone. It’s a weird process getting together with someone you’ve never met before and trying to write a song. That’s the process I went through. It’s a different process going through verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge. It’s very technical, but very fun.
Were any of the songs on this album songs you had worked on before Idol?
No. These are all ideas I came up with afterwards. It was kind of how I was feeling after Idol, and some of the experiences I had.
How quickly after the show were you in the process of putting this album together?
During the tour we were kind of talking about it. After the tour ended I went back to L.A. and immediately started going to writing sessions.
How did you decide on doing “Hit the Road Jack” with Haley Reinhart?
Steve Jordan, who produced the track, and I decided on it. It was just going to be me at first, and I was just going to play bass and sing on it. But then I figured the original Ray Charles one had a chick in it, so I thought it would be nice to try it as a duet. I figured me and Haley had covered a couple of songs on Idol. I pulled her into the recording session to see what would happen, and it was magic.
It has a unique arrangement.
Steve and I were just kind of thinking, “Let’s put an urban twist on ‘Hit the Road Jack.’” It’s a big risk, but I thought it turned out okay.
Do you have any personal favorites from the album?
“Stuck in London” and “Midnight Girl” are my favorites. One has kind of an odd meter and has different time signatures. I like that. The other one is very sweet. You can play it with just an acoustic guitar or with a full band. It’s very fun.
You play several instruments on the album. Did you plan on contributing so much musically when you first started making the album?
Yeah. Initially I wanted it to be only me playing. But I think it’s best to have input from different artists. We went to England to record and I jammed with some of the greatest musicians I’ve ever met. I played [upright] bass on some, electric bass on others, drums on one, and guitar on a few. I think it’s part of who I am. I wanted to play an instrument on every single one.
Who are some of your biggest influences as a bass player and as a musician in general?
I like Cannonball Adderley, Vince Taylor, and, let’s see… I think Brian May and Freddie Mercury from Queen are badass. There is a jazz bass player from Israel, Avishai Cohen, who does some pretty cool instrumental stuff. I also like Esperanza Spalding. Ray Brown, who worked with Oscar Peterson, is pretty tight.
Is bass your primary instrument?
I consider myself a bassist first.
How long have you been playing?
I’ve played [upright] bass since sophomore year of high school. Before that I played the electric bass. I studied AC/DC bass lines, and some rock and roll stuff like that. Even before that, it was piano, and before that it was clarinet, and before that the recorder. I’ve got a lot of instruments in my blood.
Currently you also play piano, guitar, and drums.
Yeah. I practice a lot. I’ve got them set up in my little garage. I have musical ADD, so I like to switch things up.
Have you considered doing a straight jazz album?
I was thinking of covering all the songs on this album and releasing it under a different alias or something like that. I would just make it straight jazz versions of all the songs. It would be weird but cool.
You dealt with ulcerative colitis while you were on American Idol. Can you talk about your work with IBD Icons?
I‘ve been working with Janssen Biotech and CCFA [Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America] for a while. I think it’s a good cause. For everyone who signs up at the website, a dollar is donated to the CCFA. You can also see a video and hear a song I wrote especially for the cause. The money goes to research and education. I think IBD needs to be researched to figure out what’s going on and help people who have it.
What was it like trying to go out on stage while dealing with your illness?
It sucked. It really sucked, but it was a dream I had to be on the stage with millions of people watching. I couldn’t let it push me over at that moment in time. It was really hard. Harder than I think I had even imagined. I got over it though. I’m healthy today so that is what’s important. It’s an embarrassing thing to talk about, but I think it needs to be talked about. It was hard even to talk to the doctor about what was going on, but it has to be said.
Aside from your work with IBD Icons, what are some of your other favorite events to come out of your time on American Idol?
Meeting Jack Black and performing with him. We’ve been keeping in contact a little bit. He’s cool. He’s got a lot of interesting stories. He’s a very nice guy. One of my buddies, Tim Halperin—who was actually on Idol [season 10]—sent me a video of [jazz bassist] Victor Wooten saying “Thank you Casey, for all your stuff.” That freaked me out because I had been studying Victor Wooten licks and songs for a while. I’ve been meeting cool musicians and I’ve got a couple of them on the road with me.
Anything parting thoughts?
Of course, I’ve got my album out. I hope everyone checks it out!
You can learn more about Casey Abrams at his official website. Casey Abrams is available everywhere. A deluxe version, featuring two bonus tracks (covers of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”), is available exclusively at Wal-Mart.