“Casinos are a bummer,” said Jacob Rubeck. “People come there, eat at buffets, drink cocktails. You see people at their worst.”
Rubeck moved to Reno after growing up in Henderson, where he developed a particular distaste for the effect of casinos on the community.
“A lot of my friends had parents with serious gambling addictions,” he said. “It’s always amazed me how good people can come out of such a fucking wasteland.”
To Rubeck, the idea that the heart can persevere in the soulless neon world of slots and dice was the inspiration behind the name Casino Hearts. For the music, a special blend of a difficult period of his life, and a lot of spare time in his bedroom, created the moody pop compositions of Casino Hearts’ first album.
Currently Casino Hearts is a four-piece band, but for most of the project’s existence, it has consisted solely of Rubeck and his bedroom recording equipment.
“I just hook up an aux cable and start with a drum beat,” said Rubeck. “The cord’s not very good, so sometimes I have to hold it down with my boot to get it to work.”
Rubeck feels that working with his modest setup has been both a strength and weakness of his music since the beginning. On the positive side, he’s able to create whatever he wants, uninhibited by an obsession with audio quality. On the downside, he wishes that people could better hear his lyrics, and all the messages and stories they contain.
Although perfectly happy with the sound of his recordings, Rubeck found the live element of Casino Hearts lacking. A disappointing debut show, spawned from an stroke of ill luck, set the tone of Rubeck’s solo performances to come. While still part of the band Surf Curse, drummer Nick Rattigan was in a car accident that prevented the band from playing. The promoter asked if Rubeck could hold the stage on his own, and he decided to hook his iPod up to the speakers and sing a few of his bedroom recordings.
“It was like Casino Hearts karaoke,” laughed Rubeck. “Everyone left.”
An early version of the band included Donovan Williams of Spitting Image and Marion Walker on drums, who set a surf-influenced rock beat to Casino Hearts’ sound. His style is echoed in the work of current drummer Quinton Buck, who adds a cool old-school rock vibe to the lighthearted, catchy bass lines of Mark Nesbitt, and the reverb-drenched guitar work of Rubeck and lead guitarist Nick Minor.
“I’ve always wanted to be in a band like this,” said Nesbitt. “I’m used to playing harder, punk stuff. It’s great doing these fun, poppy bass lines.”
Casino Hearts gets tagged as a shoegaze band, due to the dreamy sound of the guitars and their often heavy-hearted chord progressions. But stylistically, their songs draw more from the quick, concise structure of The Ramones than from the long-winded sighs of My Bloody Valentine.
“There are elements of shoegaze in our style, but it’s more of a postmodern approach,” said Quinton.
“Our songs are essentially pop, but there’s a part of it that you can really get lost in,” said Nesbitt.
“I want our songs to get stuck in people’s heads,” said Rubeck. “If people leave the show humming, I’ve done my job.”
Casino Hearts will release a “best of” compilation to consolidate their prolific discography of the last two years. Then, an album from the full band.
“I’m always gonna release albums,” said Rubeck. “This what I want to do with my life. Make good music, or at least try to.”