Versatile Singer, Producer and Sometimes Rapper CASPR Recalls Formative Beginnings and Connections Within Surf Gang
Words by Josh Jones
Photography by Anthony Edwin
It’s funny how a nickname can stay with you for life. It’s actually pretty handy when you can use it for your artist name. “I’m skinny and pale, so Caspr has been a nick- name for a long time. I’ve always loved spooky things like Halloween. It’s become such a part of me, I want to legally change my name!”
So says Caspr, a soft-spoken singer, producer and sometime rapper, who signed to Atlantic Records in 2021. But he’s not as soft as the cartoon ghost. Originally from Jersey City, he’s grown a pretty thick skin to protect him from what life can throw at him. “Growing up in Jersey I definitely got a hardened edge I guess”, he explains. “It’s not that crazy but yeah, some stuff happened that doesn’t happen normally to other people. Like my mom’s car got stolen a lot and she’d get robbed and stuff. We had to move out of there but I really liked Jersey City and that whole area. I don’t know if it really transformed me into a hardened person but it definitely made me a smarter, more aware person for sure.” For a lot of musicians, moving to New York is a big deal. It’s a lifelong dream but the bright lights and pace regularly overwhelm newcomers. Not so much if you grew up in Jersey City though and moved there via Chicago. “Moving from Jersey City to New York was not overwhelming at all,” he laughs. “That shit was right across the water. I was up in Manhattan all the time. I’d just take the ferry there. When I moved to New York I’d already been going there so often it felt like I already lived there honestly.”
A combination of studio experience and thick skin is a pretty good thing to have in the music industry, especially when you’re battling your way through underground shows and parties. “I don’t take bullshit from people in the industry. Just be who you are because people are just gonna be able to tell when you’re forcing something so it always has to be from your heart,” he says. “I think a really positive thing that I have is that I’m not just going to sit back and do whatever. I’m going to voice my opinion, so that’s one of my best traits.”
On paper you might read that Caspr, who’s had tracks produced by Travis Barker, lends his drumming on several songs. You might think to add him to the conveyor belt of pop-punk artists that you need to listen to. But there’s much more to him than that. His style encompasses grunge, post-punk, emo, hip-hop, and alternative. “I guess because everyone hears the guitar music and then they say ‘pop-punk’ but what I feel like I’m making isn’t pop-punk, I feel like what I’m making is more like emo/goth alter- native music. It’s definitely not as hard as a pop-punk song. Either way, I just want people to listen.” And with arresting titles like “Coke Nose” and “Duct Tape Lips” grabbing the attention of enquiring minds, they’re liking what they’re hearing.
One thing that has had a huge influence on his music is British music, especially The Cure. “I just guess it’s just like the way they can hype things up but at the same time it’s also melancholy. So they have music that you can dance to that’s melancholy at the same time and I’ve always been attracted to that. And just Robert Smith in general. I only listened to British music as a kid growing up. Period,” he tells me over the phone as I conveniently sit in London. “I used to walk around with this fake British accent and pretended to be British. I only listened to British bands. My dad had all the records and I just wanted to be a British person really, really badly. Which is funny.” His father regularly played festivals and often took Caspr and his older sister along for the ride. By middle school, they moved to upstate New York and Caspr started playing dad’s guitar. He also penned “dark poetry” in class. “They weren’t like, super graphic, they were just about monsters stealing people from bushes and weird types of scary monsters and people getting kidnapped and stuff like that. I guess I was in first and second grade so that was a little weird but I just liked the spookiness of it.” He also recorded music inspired by everyone from J Dilla, MF Doom, and A Tribe Called Quest to Conor Oberst, The Replacements, Green Day, and Nirvana.
A figure on both the Chicago and New York underground DIY and art scenes — he’s popular member of the chaotic, and much hyped, Gen-Z champions, Surf Gang collective — Caspr’s earned his musical stripes. He’s been working on his music since high school and when he moved to Chicago for college, he realized immediately that music was what he wanted to do. So he left his syllabi to work in a recording studio while he uploaded his songs to SoundCloud, building an ever expanding audience. “I only went to college for like a week so I pretty much went straight to that recording studio,” he says. “Honestly I didn’t do as much hands-on work as I wanted to do. I was just sitting in on sessions and getting them stuff. It was in Pilsen, Chicago. I don’t even know the name of the studio anymore but the guy who ran it was nice. I got signed while I was working there so I kind of just got up and left. Not to be rude but I wanted to do hands-on stuff. I didn’t want to having to keep working there. But it was a cool. I learned that you have to tolerate people.”
In Chicago he became a mainstay of the underground rap scene. Performing at and attending warehouse parties and shows in weird places but he eventually felt like he’d hit a ceiling and needed to go elsewhere. New York was elsewhere.
There he’s part of a tight network of collaborators known as Surf Gang who hang out at LES Coleman Skatepark. Skating, art and making music are the things that tie this sprawling group of rappers, producers and most importantly, friends, together. They big each other up, help out on songs and are, well, just there for each other. “I met Caspr through [Surf Gang member] Harrison,” explains one of the collective’s core members, producer/musical artist Evil Giane. “He hired him to shoot this song “Headache”, which turned out to be produced by Eera, who later became Surf Gang as well. We shot the video on this old Android phone I had after we just sorta started hanging out.”
I ask Evil Giane what makes Caspr unique. “His creativity and work ethic,” he replies. “I like that he does his own thing as far as sounds. I think it’s sick as fuck. I would describe his sound as Caspr — he’s so versatile he can do almost anything.”
“Surf Gang is like my family pretty much. It’s an extended family and they’re all from New York except for a few people. We all live in New York right now. It’s just an art collective that makes music. It started out being a skate group and a graffiti group and now it’s just kind of turned into just music because we all make beats and music. It all happened super naturally and organically, and it’s cool to see your own friend group go up and do something impactful in music. They’re getting good placements and they’re getting good songs right now, you know?”
In today’s music world, speaking about mental health and wellbeing is no longer taboo and today’s artists proudly speak to their peers with candor about how they’re coping. For Caspr, Surf Gang is much more than a sounding board for musical ideas or people to skate with. “Having that support network is huge because they’re really cool to rely on and they’ll keep your head straight,” he says. “They’ll tell you what’s good and what’s not good. They won’t bullshit you. Having someone who won’t bullshit and actually cares about you is probably the most important thing I’ve ever had, so yeah, it’s super nice. I’ve learned that family fights are part of being part of Surf Gang. Things change and you just have to let them change. You go through those ups and downs. Those high ups and those intense downs but together. As long as you have a core group of good people then everything will be good. My anxiety’s got a lot better, I don’t worry about things. I’m just hanging out with my friends and it will be all good.”