“Don’t blink, you might miss the pivotal plot.” – Kill The Vultures “Shake Your Bones”
From being a full-time student, to an English tutor in the MCTC’s Learning Center, to front man for local hip-hop duo Kill The Vultures – not to mention being a part of four other local groups, to father of a 6-year-old daughter, Alexei Moon Casselle is taking his own advice and not blinking.
Casselle has intentionally worked to find respect and recognition in his local scene as an artist. He wants to share his work with as many people as are willing to be open to it and interact with it. This intention flows over into his work as a tutor providing respect to the students who seek out his help.
“I love the diversity at MCTC,” said Casselle. “It feels like the most diverse representation of the Twin Cities that there is, which might make it the most diverse institution in the state, all within a relatively small space. I’m studying to become an urban educator, and MCTC’s diverse, urban campus has only reaffirmed my decision to plant my roots in this type of environment.”
As an MCTC student, it is easy to look past the people sitting next to you and think of them only as background noise. However, you may be sitting next to a local star that you can relate to, learn from and engage with.
Many of us can’t separate our experiences from our creative expression and Alexei Moon is no different. His life is a general infusion of his upbringing, his family, and his friends which make their way into his music.
“I wish I could say that money has no influence in my art,” says Casselle, “but I have a family and bills to pay, and I have realized that money and art are not really friends. I am still figuring out how to make a living doing what I love to do without compromising my art.”
When asked what success looks like, Casselle touches on the constant hustle that musicians have to face. Even after being in the business for 20 years, Casselle says you can only really put your head down and do the best you can and just don’t stop. Success is something you find in yourself and not monetarily.
Casselle’s recent album Carnelian, from his Kill The Vultures duo with Stephen Lewis, aka Anatomy, proves that even though this is their first full length album in 6 years, they are as cohesive as always. The sharp lyrics, moody and abstract jazz infusions fills the ear of the listener with such drama that, even though somewhat off kilter, seem to fit together perfectly.
“It has been ten years of experimenting with free artistic expression, performance and everything that comes with that,” says Casselle. “It has been trial and error for sure, but we want to challenge the listeners.”
As a person of color, Alexei Moon suffers under the weight of the ever present stereotype of creating incendiary work. So often, when black people write about subjects like racial oppression, many view it as angry and destructive towards the society it is critiquing, which is often not understood as something good.
However, many others would say that blackness is hot. So hot it is about to burst into flames and hence it’s incendiary pervasive nature. Would Kill The Vultures’ music be less incendiary if the front man wasn’t black??
“Being mixed is something I am still trying to figure out and what that means to me,” said Casselle. “Where are the voices in music that are speaking about things like that openly?”
Before MCTC, Casselle had the opportunity to teach at Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Resource (FAIR) school downtown. He was not classically trained as a teacher, but with his background in making art and music he was able to develop a strong community and culture in his class through creative writing and public performances.
“I saw a parallel in my work at FAIR,” said Casselle. “I am a figure within a larger community and speaking my truth and expressing my voice, and in the classroom I am doing that but also teaching others to do that too, to help people find their voice and the confidence to say what they wanted.”
Casselle was born and raised in South Minneapolis in the 80’s and 90’s where he was heavily influenced by Michael Jackson, and now so is his daughter. Mimicking MJ’s dance moves is now something he and his daughter can experience together.
“I had a strange eclectic music taste,” said Casselle. “I had a cassette of Oldies, like fifties doo-wop, the LaBamba soundtrack, Weird Al Yankovic – which my daughter is now getting into as well. I was raised on cassettes and loved my Walk-Man – I didn’t even have a cd player until I was 15.”
When he thinks about music in this fast paced world, Alexei Moon believes that there is something very meaningful in owning a musical artifact that is attached to an album that you don’t get with digital.
“In some ways music is being more infused and incorporated in our daily lives than it ever has been, but in some ways it feels a lot cheaper and more dispensable,” says Casselle.
“In some ways maybe we demand it so much that it has to be on every device we own, so in some ways we may value it more. But monetarily, artists are finding it harder and harder to sell their music and make any money off of it with so many streaming music sites.”
As humans we all make mistakes. As a performer, Casselle understands this firsthand and works to present a true interpretation of himself.
However, he knows that having a drink before a concert does help to calm the nerves. But he also knows that alcohol dries your voice and can attest that too much can cause accidents like falling off the stage which he has done.
“I have learned to not walk into any performance and have expectations. What I can hope for is that people are open to whatever is going to happen. Open enough to react to the music and respond to it.”
As college students, there is no better time than now to step out of your comfort zone. Try new things. Challenge yourself, as part of the magic of college is exercising your passions that are no longer limited to the opportunities provided in high school.
Alexei Moon Casselle is a perfect example of this. He is trying new things with his music and finding freedom in taking a leap at happiness in doing what he has always wanted to do.
To experience Casselle’s music firsthand, check out his upcoming CD release show at First Avenue on December 11th.