Johnny Irion was spending time in Montecito at his uncle Thom Steinbeck's (John's son) compound when he and his friend Neal Casal wrote "No Hard Feelings" one sunny California afternoon in 2011. As the song was taking shape, Neal told Johnny, "I'm gonna go surfing and then send you a demo." Two hours later Johnny received the basic track. Just Neal—pure voice and his guitar.
As life so often goes, both artists got busy and the song lay dormant until a few months ago when Neal's neighbor and mastering engineer JJ Golden came across the original demo. He would spend a bit of time cleaning it up, primarily pulling a high pitch amplifier buzz out of the otherwise stunning performance by Neal. Upon hearing JJ's work, Johnny shared it with Patrick Sansone of Wilco and The Autumn Defense. They both agreed the song required a "Free As A Bird" treatment in the spirit of The Beatles. They'd recruit Jonathan Wilson on drums and Jon Graboff, Neal’s old bandmate in The Cardinals, on pedal steel, to complete the recording. Today, "No Hard Feelings" is officially released (listen/share).
"I was fortunate enough to have worked with Neal Casal over the last twenty years, whether he was playing guitar on a Sarah Lee & Johnny record or my last solo album or taking photographs. Neal always seemed to be everywhere, playing the ideal guitar part or setting up the perfect photograph or sharing an amazing song," remembers Johnny Irion. "'No Hard Feelings' is from a moment in time when I think Neal and I were both in super creative spaces. He had just joined the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and the future was wide open. Only a handful of years later, I was there for the 'paddle out' after he passed to celebrate his life on the beach he surfed in Ventura. I still cry for my bud. In his memory, we keep going, we honor and we share this moving performance he left behind."
Neal Casal died by suicide in August 2019, but the release of "No Hard Feelings" during Mental Health Awareness Month continues the work of The Neal Casal Music Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit formed in 2020, to provide instruments and lessons to students in New Jersey and New York state schools where Neal was born and raised, as well as, to make donations to much needed mental health organizations that support musicians in need. In this instance, proceeds will be shared with Sounds of Saving (SoS), a non-profit founded by Nick Greto and Charlie Gross, with the mission to leverage a connection to music as a direct path to greater mental wellbeing and to hopefulness during crisis in order to decrease suicide, especially for underserved communities. SoS has released over 15 "Songs That Found Me" videos of music and interviews with artists from multiple genres. In 2019, SoS hosted its inaugural "Feedback Sessions" event, which involved musical performance and an open moderated discussion between artists, audience and a psychologist about the theme of “Inertia.” All donations to SoS will support the nonprofit’s programming which brings stories, support, education, resources and pathways to treatment for creatives and fans seeking support through difficult times.
"SoS is grateful to work with Johnny Irion and The Neal Casal Music Foundation on the release of this beautiful song. When Johnny shared the personal connection he felt to Neal, we knew we needed to find a way to work together," explains SoS co-founder Nick Greto. "Neal was, of course, not alone in his mental health struggles. We are in the throes of a complex and dire crisis that is affecting all Americans, especially young people. While suicidal ideation continues to be a rising public health problem, most people who survive attempts go on to live their lives, thus making it even more crucial that we collectively work to help people before and during crisis. Furthermore, over 50% of musicians suffer from depression. So in the spirit of furthering our mission, we are honored to be the recipients of a portion of the proceeds from the release."