Jon Caspi knew his song “Raise ‘Em High” was good when he released it in 2013. But he couldn’t have predicted just how many other people would like it, and how quickly it would take off.
“It became a song that people associated with us,” says Caspi, a North Jersey native. “It’s a song that people like to sing-along with at shows, and it kept on growing. We knew the song was special because people kept on digging it at shows compared to other songs, but we never expected the song to get the momentum that it has. It was from being on the songs for us to the song. It feels special when we play it now, but in a different way.”
Just like Kate Bush proved this past summer, a relationship with a song can change with time, and the meaning and popularity of a song can change along with it. Come 2020, “Raise ‘Em High” would take on a new life with the pandemic, and it was thanks to an old school way of discovering music: independent radio.
“A DJ on WFMU named Jonesy who has a show on Sunday afternoons started to play ‘Raise ‘Em High’ as a 2 p.m. toast,” explains Caspi. “People were locked down, and he wanted to create a community. People started to take pictures of themselves toasting whether it was beer, whiskey or coffee, then they would tag the station on Facebook. Eventually it turned into a Facebook group, which has a thousand members. For the past two years, it gets played every 2 p.m. on Sunday.”
One of the more underrated things about the Garden State is how many good college and independent radio stations there are to listen to and to find out about new music. WSOU, WFMU, WTSR and WPRB have given musicians like Caspi an outlet to share their music, and have given listeners a sense of community not found on most mainstream radio stations. Caspi realized its impact when he first started out as a rock musician.
“Back then, the impact of college radio was huge,” says Caspi. “Every good alternative rock band started out on college radio. With our new release of ‘Raise ‘Em High’ we’re going back to college radio. College radio is influential and people still listen to it especially in smaller markets where you don’t have giant radio stations on the airwaves.”
One of the beautiful things about radio is you never know who exactly is listening, but it turns out that rocker Jesse Malin is an avid listener of WFMU, and really enjoys “Raise ‘Em High.” And now there is another version of the song that features Malin and Dez Cadenea (Black Flag/Misfits) along with Caspi and his band, The First Gun.
“Jesse is a fan of Jonesy and the song,” says Capsi. “Jesse knows that song from the 2 p.m. toast, and Jonesy toasts Jesse a lot. I reached out to Jesse and said, ‘Jonesy is toasting you a lot with this song and we are putting out a new version, and would you like to be a part of it?’ He wrote back immediately that he was in. I went out to his studio and we recorded it, and I thought he did a fantastic song. It all worked out.”
The single was released on Sept. 23, and on Oct. 14, there will be a new EP from Jon Caspi and The First Gun called Raise Em’ High! And other delights. The EP takes Caspi in a somewhat different style of music, and he explores some pretty deep topics on the EP as well, such as his father’s death.
“We have been sort of a punk band for a while now, and this EP is more of a straight-up American rock album,” says Caspi. “We have an Americana song on it, a Gaslight Anthem-type song on it, and straight-up rock songs. One of the songs on there that stands out is a song called ‘Last Ride Home,’ and it’s about being present at the moment my father died. It was a traumatizing experience and I wanted to reclaim it.
“It’s a common experience that people are present at a loved one’s death and sometimes it is romanticized. There’s that, but also you could have a weird experience and it stays with you for a while. I didn’t want my last memories to be super negative. I wanted to show that when bad things happen, you could be empowered and make it your own. I wanted to change that experience that would inspire creativity, and one where the more I engage with it the more negative emotion goes away.”
On Sept. 24, Caspi will be playing “Raise Em’ High” and more songs at Alternate Ending Beer Co. in Aberdeen to celebrate Aberdeen Day. There will also be a “Raise Em’ High” special beer that will be released as well.
“The beer is an American lager, and it’s a retro can look. ,” explains Caspi. “We will be playing there on the 24th and it happens to be Aberdeen Day as well. The mayor will be coming out and signing a proclamation that Raise Em High beer is the official beer of Aberdeen Day. So that means that when it’s Aberdeen Day every year there will be a batch of Raise Em’ High beer.”
For more information on Aberdeen Day, go here.