Alumna explores indie sound, performs at Ground Zero

Thornton alumna Casey Asterino performs with felow alumni Haley Kloess (left) and Tre Ulseth (right). Philip Walker (lead drummer) and Kevin Nahai (part-time drummer) are also members of the band. (Photo courtesy of Casey Asterino)

Cool, fun and edgy describe both the personality and music of Casey Asterino, a Thornton alumna whose stage name is Astrina. Asterino, who majored in music with an emphasis in composition and songwriting, describes her sound as a mix between “Radiohead and the XX, which are pretty different. But I think somewhere in between is where my music lies.” 

She often plays with fellow alumni Tre Ulseth (guitar), Haley Kloess (keyboard and background vocals), Philip Walker (lead drummer) and Kevin Nahai (part-time drummer). 

Asterino met her fellow musicians in October 2016 when they enrolled in a music industry class taught by assistant professor of practice Tim Kobza. Through the class, the members learned how to work together musically while managing their heavy course loads. After the class ended, they realized they had something special and decided to create an actual band, Asterino said. 

The members continued on with their music after they graduated, performing at places such as the Resident, The Federal, House of Blues, The Mint and the 626 Golden Streets Festival. 

Ulseth, a 2015 alum who majored in business and minored in studio guitar, met the band members when he was granted permission by the professor to take the course as a post-grad. He said he has found that his studies helped him take on a greater role in helping Asterino manage the band. Ulseth said his business background has helped increase the band’s marketing efforts, as well as made sure they take on opportunities that benefit the band financially. 

“It’s forced me to acknowledge the factors other than one’s music that leads one to musical success,” Ulseth said. 

Kloess, a 2016 alumna who majored in theatre, said her experience in acting has shaped her performance style. 

“It definitely helps with the comfort of being on stage and being OK in front of an audience,” Kloess said. “It’s also really helpful for collaborating with other people because when you’re in theater, you have a lot of different personalities, and everyone has to be on their game and know their part but also be able to coordinate with other people. I think that’s very helpful in music, as well.”

While they studied in his class, Kobza noticed that Asterino synced well with her fellow musicians, so they were invited to perform at USC’s Battle of the Bands, which took place at Ground Zero Oct. 25. Kobza liked their sound and knew this would be a great opportunity for Asterino to showcase her music. 

“I just thought that any opportunity that you can get in front of a new audience … and getting in front of some new audience members in a kind of return to her college venue that she used to play at when she was in my class, that’s kind of cool,” Kobza said. “Ground Zero was where we used to have our shows so it was pretty fun.” 

Asterino added that she greatly appreciated the chance to perform on campus since it brought her back fond memories of studying at USC.

“The part that was cool for me was playing at Ground Zero stage again because I haven’t done that since I was a student, so it was very nostalgic,” Asterino said. 

Astrina describes her music as alternative indie rock, somewhere between Radiohead and The XX. ( Photo courtesy of Casey Asterino)

The band ended up winning second place among an array of talented musical acts. 

That performance meant a lot to Ulseth, who also enjoyed the nostalgia that it brought him. 

“Being able to play on that stage again, we played that stage back when we were in school, and it’s just a very nostalgic thing for me,” Ulseth said. “I remember when I was a freshman at USC watching other student bands perform there, and I was just envious. It seemed inaccessible. And now it is something that is accessible … It was kind of a wake-up call about the types of things you take for granted as you grow.” 

Kobza believes that Asterino has great potential for longevity in the music industry. 

“I think that Casey has a real gift for songwriting and composition,” Kobza said. “She has the background in classical music, which makes her have a little different take on the final product in terms of the arrangements and production of their music, which I think makes her and [the band] stand out.” 

As she leads her band into the future, Asterino’s driving hope is simply to be able to play music with and for other people for a long time.

“In the next few years, I hope to be able to tour and open for a bigger act at some point and start playing festivals,” she said. “[I want to] just grow my audience and build a community around it.”