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Artist Spotlight: Nik Bruzzese talks Casa Loma solo project, new EP and writing his own legacy

Man Overboard’s Nik Bruzzese is building his own legacy with has latest project. Making music under the Casa Loma moniker, Bruzzese aims to write songs that express his life struggles, along with passing on his story to his children. Atlas spoke with Bruzzese about this unexpected project, the story behind his upcoming EP and changing the conversation.

What brought you to this project outside of Man Overboard?

Well- a little context information- I run and operate a recording studio in New Jersey, so for me to actually do it was kind of easy. It was just me by myself pretty much. I haven’t wrote music for the band….it’s been like five years. And then coming off of a super rough year, I decided to write these songs as more of a ‘I need to stay sane and I can’t be’. So I’m a dad and I say a couple times that you can’t wear your heart on your sleeve when you’re going through your own personal tragedies when you’re a father. This was my only true escape to vent and release whatever I had to get out. That’s how these songs were born. 

From there, I sent it to Jake from Pure Noise (Records). We both have a lot in common- we both lost our dads. I sent him the songs just to be like ‘hey man, I know what you’re going through. Maybe this song….you find a little peace in this song to help you get through whatever you’re going through.’ And he was kind enough [to be] ‘yo, whatever you need, I’ll put this out!’ 

It’s for my kids, ultimately, and that’s how this was all born.

What’s the story behind the name Casa Loma?

So I was going back and forth with names- do I just call it my name? I have such an Italian last name and I was like, how are people going to say my name? People have been calling me the wrong last name since I was in kindergarten, so I was like ‘this isn’t going to work, I can’t call it Nik Bruzzese’. So my aunt had just passed away and my uncle was down on his luck so he made me a mix CD. He’s a big swing music guy. One of the acts on there was Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra. I was like ‘that’s a pretty cool name’ and he was like ‘you know what Casa Loma is?’ I actually have no idea. Apparently it’s one of the most haunted places in the world in Toronto- it’s like a castle. But then he said it’s also a town in California that has the highest immortality rate- the people live to be like 110 years old. So him giving me the CD in his time of grieving and me seeing the name- that has a nice ring. I can’t think about this anymore, I’m just doing it.

What names come to mind when you’re thinking of your inspirations and influences for this project?

For this project, I was really into this singer-songwriter named Andy Shauf. He has a band called Foxwarren and he also has his own thing so I was listening to a ton of that when I was writing this record. Foxwarren is definitely high up on my list. I also like this band called Trail of Dead- their name doesn’t sound like what they would sound like. That was another big one for me. And then it’s just like me writing a song- this is how I write songs. 

What’s the story behind the first two singles and the EP coming out in June?

The song “Travelers”- my dad actually worked for Travelers Insurance Company so that’s where that name comes from. I bought the house that I grew up in as a child so I explain it like when you lose a parent or any loved one, you’re always looking for those weird signs that happened to you. You’re like ‘is this their way of reaching out or was I supposed to bump into this stranger on the street and say a line that somebody used to say that sparks a memory?’ I’m constantly looking for that kind of stuff as somebody who lost their dad. For me, I was like ‘what can I leave my children?’ There’s going to come a time when I’m no longer here and they’re going to go through that grieving- what can I give them to suppress that feeling at all? This is my only contribution to that. So that’s the positive in the whole mess for that song.  

The other one- the “Famaglia” song- a friend of mine passed and it was just a crazy situation. You go through these crazy things in life and you either stay down when you get knocked down or you get back up. It’s one of those songs where you gotta find your will to carry on and live in that spiritual mindset- this person’s always with me and I know it and everything’s going to be fine. You’ve gotta just push on forward.     

The EP itself is like my therapy session for the stuff I went through. I didn’t plan on the songs ever coming out. I was like ‘I’m going to write these songs by myself in the studio and I’ll show my wife and kids but that’s probably as far as it’s going to get’. I had no intentions of it seeing the light of day. In a way it became this thing, like if this is going to happen, I want to let my children know stuff like ‘I’m always here, dad’s always here’ type of thing. I refer to it as that letter in the desk moment. You lose someone, you open a desk and it’s just like ‘yo, Nik, if you’re reading this, I’m dead bro but it’s all good’. This is kind of like my letter in the desk.

That’s beautiful because now other people can also hear these songs and relate to that feeling.

And that’s what my whole thing is. I’m a super easygoing, sarcastic Italian guy. Talking about feelings and that whole thing….I can do it for a little bit but naturally, I’m a funny, comedic guy. I have to find that funny thing about it, that comedy in it. I can only stay sad for so long. You gotta let people know [that] you gotta laugh about it one day. It’s the only way to get better.

I can definitely see where you’re drawing your themes from in these songs. Are there any other topics or themes that you’d like to explore in your music that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet?

That’s a really good question. I haven’t even really gotten that far and if I did get that far, it would probably just be like the hardships of life. I’m 33 years old, I’ve got two children, I run my own business, I’m a self-made individual. I did the Man Overboard thing [and] now I’m doing this thing. I think the ultimate goal if I were ever to explore other things is showing my kids or other kids that the path that’s not as well taken by other people can still work out for you. You can still make a living and put a roof over your head doing something you love. I think that’s my end-all message, like ‘yo I did this and I made it’. I’m 33 and I’m sitting in my recording studio right now tracking a band. Life’s okay for me. I’m not stressed out about anything right now- knock on wood. I guess that would be what I would explore.

CASA LOMA 002 (by Kurt Fowles)

How are you staying creative and productive during this lockdown and do you have any advice for people trying to do the same?

For me, I’m pretty busy with the studio. I do a lot of phone calls with bands and a lot of writing sessions through Skype and stuff to help people write songs. I’m also mixing a couple records from bands that didn’t record at the studio but need that second phase of [needing] the record mixed and mastered. I’m doing that also.

For people to find creativity, I think people just gotta slow down. There’s so much news out there, there’s so many things you hear about but at the end of the day when we look back on this time in quarantine, it’s going to be a little blip of time. That’s the one thing I keep telling myself- when am I going to have this time again to enjoy with my kids, even though they’re ripping each other’s heads off. It’s going to go by fast. I truly feel like that and I don’t know if that’s because I’ve toured my whole life. Man Overboard used to tour for like eight months a year. For me, when they’re like ‘two, three months’, I’m like ‘been there man, I sat in a van for three months’. 

I think to find your creativity, it’s one of those times you’re never going to have again. If there’s anything you wanted to learn about or a book you wanted to read, now’s the time. I do think that things will go back to normal. It might take a little bit but I think people underestimate people. People are like ‘this is the new norm’ and I don’t know. I don’t think it is. People are going to be people again- people want to live.    

Trust me man- the rainy days where it’s just me and my wife and the kids, I’m like I cannot wait for this thing. Teachers need to get paid $8 million a year!

The perspective of getting some forced downtime after touring for so long is really interesting.

Like I said, I’ve been there. We’ve been away from home for so long that it is a blessing. Even if you don’t see it that way, you gotta start to look at it that way. Ten years from now….10 years goes by fast, believe me. Man Overboard started in ‘08- we just did our 10 year anniversary last year. I can’t believe we’ve been a band for 10 years- that in itself is crazy to me. Ten years from now we’re going to be like ‘remember that time there was the coronavirus and it was like four or five months?’ In the grand scale of time, it’s not going to be that long.   

Enjoy the time with the kids even though I want to throw them both out of the window sometimes. My kids are 16 months apart, so Olivia is three and Marley is about to turn two [and] they couldn’t be more opposite. The nice days where they can sit outside- it’s beautiful. We’re all in good health, thank god. 

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What plans do you have (if any) for Casa Loma for the rest of 2020?

So many friends have texted me and been like ‘so…what are you going to do?’ I’m like ‘what do you mean’ and they’re like ‘are you going to go on tour?’ I don’t know! Obviously, I want to play the songs out so that’s going to be on the list for me. I would like to play a couple shows. Like I mentioned earlier, Jake is a friend before he’s the guy who releases my music so for him to put his neck on the line and put a paycheck in front of me- as a friend, I want it to be as successful as possible.

I do plan on playing, I would like to write more songs and do a full record at some point. I don’t know if that’ll be this year or next year. Definitely another record, definitely some shows and who knows? I’m open to kind of anything with this project because it’s all new territory for me. I’m not going to go on tour with State Champs or All Time Low. For the genre that this is, it’s very different from Man Overboard so I want to explore that world a little bit- maybe play shows with bands like Foxwarren or Kevin from The Story So Far just released his thing at the same time called Same Side and that’s pretty different from The Story So Far.  

Friends that were in pop punk bands that are now doing experimental bands….it would be cool to link up with friends and do something with that. A couple of the guys in The Story So Far have Cold Moon and Same Side and then Dan [Rose] has Elder Brother so it would be cool to team up with those friends and do a little thing. 

I already texted with Will from The Story So Far. His band’s called Cold Moon so I was like ‘dude, how cool would it be if we did like….we’re old now so maybe like three days?’ I get like PTSD from touring. Living on the road so much has scarred me so I’m like ‘we’ll just tour for like four days’. 

I don’t see myself ever living on the road that long again, especially with the kids. But people do it. Ace [Enders] does it and I tip my hat to him. He tours and makes a great living and puts a roof over his family’s head. It’s super hard but he does it the right way. It’s very inspiring to watch him go on tour and every off day fly home to be with his kids and make them breakfast in the morning and send them off to school. If he could do it then I think I could do it, but he could do it way longer than I could, that’s for sure. 

Like I said, I have no expectations at all. I just want it to do good for my children and I want it to be good for Jake and help some people. Everybody’s got their own shit and I don’t want to make it seem like my shit is worse than anyone else’s. That was a big wall that I had to climb over before putting this out. I don’t want to seem like I want people to feel sorry for me and my story. All I really want is to put it out there that I’m going through it and if you’re going through it, you might find peace in these songs. If not, it’s all good but that’s my intention. 

Is there anything else you want people to know about Casa Loma or is there anything you wish you could talk about more that you may not get asked?

Well I think what I would want people to take away from the project is what I just stated. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m not looking for anyone to live my story, I’m just looking for my own outlet. I do think that’s something that doesn’t come up enough- not just me- that people in general don’t talk about. Everybody’s got obstacles and everybody’s got their own stuff going on and it’s super hard to know that based on social media. Everybody lives that perfect life online- I say “online”, I sound so old- but you know what I mean? Like on Instagram- you could be fighting with your spouse and then be like ‘we’re baking cookies!’ and post a picture.

I think- not just me talking about it- but everybody’s gotta drop that curtain and be like ‘I’m a real person. I may have been in this band that you love but guess what? I hurt just like you hurt, I put my shoes on one shoe at a time like you do.’ This is what I’m going through and I’m not going to act like my life is perfect. I think that’s one thing that should be in the conversation going forward, that people should be happy.  

This is Coping will be released on June 5 on Pure Noise Records. In the meantime, stream Casa Loma’s first three singles now!

 

Story by Olivia Khiel
Photo Credit: Kurt Fowles

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