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Casio Shack
Key Player’s Disposable Heroes

Everyone owned a cheap Casio synthesizer when they were ten years old. Kids bashed away on the plastic keyboard for two days before the machine broke or they just got bored with it. Upset kids—and annoyed parents—most likely tossed the unwanted Casio into the garbage or donated it to the Salvation Army. Where did they go from there?

“I got my first Casio at this open-air flea market for $3 from this totally scary, hippie guy, really strung out,” recalls Tom Ward of the one-man Orlando band Casio Shack.

The characteristic “leftover” nature of the shoddy electronic instrument fascinates Ward, who has owned nearly a dozen Casios in the band’s five-year history. And conveniently, if a Casio malfunctions (or gets smashed on stage), Ward can rummage through any of Orlando’s many thrift shops for new gear.

At Ward’s College Park home, numerous Casios, drum machines, and tape decks are scattered about the room. Despite his intended disassociation with lo-fi music, it’s the quintessential bedroom studio. His microphone stand is fashioned out of a ramshackle tree branch duct-taped to a cement block.

“My favorite times are being up at four in the morning working on something,” he says. “I’ve scared myself sometimes.”

He says that he thinks “the stigma of the singer/songwriter/guitar player/folk guy is really terrible.” It’s funny he feels this way, considering his solo status. But Dylan he’s not. Ward often gets nasty by running keyboard signals through effect boxes, unleashing volumes of noise and distortion (no doubt a result of having worked as an engineer for Morrisound Studios in Tampa, the former world capital of skull-crushing death metal). He’s constantly bending our preconceived notions of this type of musician, this type of music.

“I like going up there with all my machines and letting them play,” Ward says. “That’s why I like these Casios. [I] get two drum beats going and let it go off and run effects over ‘em.”

At any given show, Casio Shack could resemble the earnestness and emotionality of, say, Morrissey, or it could turn out to be a wall of noise like Japanese audio terrorists Merzbow or Masonna. Of the Casio Shack songs I’ve heard, the real gems are the demure pop songs with full-band potential. For now, only Joshua Nye will join Ward at the Sapphire concert, adding more keyboards and drums to the mix.

Originally published in the Orlando Weekly on December 8, 1999.