Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Castle Black for taking the time to interview with us for Madness To Creation. This was a very interesting and somewhat poignant interview that Evan of The Values conducted. Castle Black is clear when it comes to feminism and making great music that people can relate to. Fans can find Castle Black at the following locations:
Your guitar playing seems very riff driven, evocative of Queens of the Stone Age, The Strokes, or The Stooges, who were some of your guitar influences on your most recent ep, ‘Trapped Under All You Know’?
I do like very riff driven and hook driven guitar, especially within heavier music, so those bands are great comparisons for sure. I like guitar-driven rock. More so than Queens of the Stone Age, I love Dean Fertita’s guitar playing in The Dead Weather. The heaviness of the guitar but then the hooky, prettier guitar lines is the perfect balance in my mind, really. Which also brings me to Jack White, who is someone I just admire greatly, and who really made me think about my guitar tone and how important getting the right tone is, especially in guitar-driven music. Every riff of his is memorable, which is what I also loved about Nirvana. I like Kurt Cobain’s playing because he took sounds and got them stuck in people’s heads who may not have been open to that style of music previously. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead is another favorite, the way he just uses the instrument as an extension of himself, and thinks of unique ways to make sound from it. Similar to Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, whom I once saw do a performance where he swung the guitar around the room, just making interesting sounds from this very simple movement.
On the new EP, the gods that adored you, I drew some inspiration for the song “Sierra” from minimalist musicians like Steve Reich or Rhys Chatham, whose work I haven’t explored extensively, but whose ideas I greatly admire, even though it’s a totally different genre. Sierra’s main verse is based on one chord, and what makes the song there is the rhythm, the beauty is in the syncopation of the guitar and the bass, so that the words can float over that. I also really appreciate blues music, and the story that is always there, the call and response, the emotion behind that type of playing.
What can we expect from your upcoming EP? What did you do differently this time around?
The new EP, the gods that adored you, is kind of dramatic and bold in ways that the other EPs weren’t. The EP is divided into two parts – Part A “Fucked” consists of two songs and Part B “Adored” consists of the other three. Part A is more straight-forward rock, really driving, more raw. Part B gets into the more ethereal and epic songs. And the story of the EP just flows from one part to the next, a mix of social and personal statements that make up the whole.
This was our first time recording at Behind the Curtains Media, with Mike Abiuso. Mike really helped us get the sounds that we wanted. We had a ton of fun recording feedback tracks, and Mike also played synth on the Part B songs, which is a continuation of adding synth on one song on the previous EP, Trapped Under All You Know. Mike also mixed Part A of the album. For Part B of the album, we worked with Mark Plati for the first time (best known for his work with Bowie and Prince among others), so that was a bit of a surreal experience, having Mark mix those songs. Aside from being extremely talented, he is an amazing and humble person, and a complete inspiration to be around. He just added a whole other dimension to the songs on Part B, and I’m very much looking forward to working with him again.
While touring around America, do you ever feel maligned or underestimated because you’re a woman?
Well, I’m sure you’ve seen what can happen out there, being in a band with a woman yourself. And NYC is not without its own issues. There are unfortunately a lot of truly really awful at the core people out there, and their hatred or entitlement doesn’t just stop with women. There are also those more blurry line people, people who aren’t awful at the core, you see them care for their animals and give money to the homeless, but they say or do things that are sexist or entitled and do not realize it or see it as such. I dislike generalizations of men and women in general, as I truly believe I get along best with good people, regardless of any identifying group and I’d rather band together with like-minded people as opposed to be part of a group just for the sake of being part of a group. I was never into group dynamics, I was always that kid in school who didn’t belong anywhere, so perhaps that’s why I so strongly dislike group identification. So my point is, I like people who have similar values and who are allies, whether they are male or female. If I feel that if someone is treating me inappropriately, I really do think about whether that person’s motives are driven by the fact that I’m a woman, or driven by them just being horrible to a lot of people.
With that definition in mind, I of course have examples. One that stands out is our sound person at a venue in Nashville who was clearly and evidently from the start not thrilled to have women asking for what they needed during sound check. My choice of reverb was laughed at, my request for more vocals in the monitor was ignored even though I had requested it several times, and he just generally spoke to both me and my female bassist as if our requests were not valid. We are both extremely knowledgeable about our gear and have played hundreds of shows at this point, he just refused to interact with us as he did with the other male musicians present. He did not treat my male drummer like this, making sure he had everything that he needed before we started playing, and the only thing he said after our set was to our drummer, “that’s my kind of guy.” We’re still not sure what that meant.
At a show in Albany, there was a generally harmless drunk guy who insisted on standing on stage with me while I set up, letting me know that he planned on singing the songs, and incessantly asking for the lyrics. I do not believe he would have done this had I not been a woman. This was a man, possibly as a result of too much substance, who was unable to read social cues. I’m not sure that I felt maligned or underestimated by this situation, but I did feel his entitlement and the awkward choice I had of just continuing to tell him no in a non-confrontational manner and/or eventually just ignoring him, or making a bigger deal of it to get him to go away. That’s unfortunately a choice a lot of women, or those being preyed on, deal with quite regularly.
“Sierra” is the first single from the new EP, the gods that adored you, and it deals specifically with violent and invasive abuse towards women, in a way that none of my examples above even slightly compare. I wrote the song after reading an article on the daily battles that women in Sierra Leone face – sexual abuse, alienation, lack of rights, physical abuse etc. The song could have easily have been called India, but it was inspired by events in Sierra Leone specifically, and is being used as a way to highlight similar abuses, in other places, and the absolute absurdity that this still goes on in this world. It’s an acknowledgement of another’s pain and suffering, and strength, even if oceans apart. It’s a statement of solidarity with those women who are unfortunately subject to much worse than an ignorant sound person or a guy not getting off the stage.
What’s the reaction to your music like when you’re touring around the country?
We’ve had some of our best shows when touring. People just seem to connect with the music and the emotion behind it. In Norfolk, VA, a guy told me after the show that he was sitting at the bar in the other room, and had to come into the music room because what he heard was so raw and so emotive. Someone in Hoboken, NJ randomly heard us at a bar when he was going through a break-up, and found comfort in the songs; he’s been coming to shows ever since. In Greensboro, NC, I had a few women come up to me and tell me that they specifically came out because we were a band with a female singer/guitarist and female bassist. Someone in New London, CT told us that we were the best thing to come through that town in a long time. At a house show in Buffalo, NY, several people told me that we were refreshing, because the music was really different than most bands who played there. It’s those things that you don’t get quite so much of here in NYC, because there are so many things going on, and so many choices. In some places, there are only a few locations people go to regularly to hear music, so they are really appreciative and complimentary when you come their way. Some of the best reactions to our music have been in smaller towns and we love playing for those people.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since you started Castle Black?
There are tons, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes for sure. I am a person who feels every little thing, it’s the only way that I’m capable of writing music and expressing myself as I do. I’m driven by emotion, I can make decisions on impulse and for emotional reasons, when a different, more calculated decision might be better for the band and the music. To be so driven by emotion and to have to actively work to be any other way is something that very few people understand, even if they think they do. So the biggest lesson I guess has been how to manage this, how to make the right decisions for the band, without always making an emotionally-driven decision. Stepping back, seeing the bigger picture, trying to let the emotion pass or at least dissipate before deciding certain things. It’s definitely a challenge.
And I’m sorry but I have to ask, is it a Game of Thrones reference?
I was about to make a joke in the previous question that my biggest lesson was do not name a band after a castle in a book that will eventually be a castle in a very popular HBO series unless you want to get this question. But, yes, it is. I decided on it when I was reading the Song of Ice and Fire books. The show of course really set Castle Black on the map, so sometimes I think maybe the name would have been better off as Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
And there you have it! Castle Black has some shows coming up, check the dates out below!
Sun. 10/28- Bremen Cafe in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Tue. 10/30- Melody Inn in Indianapolis, Indiana
Sat. 11/3- Willimantic Records in Willimantic, Connecticut
Sun. 11/4- The Irish Wolf Pub in Scranton, Pennsylvania
Tue. 11/6- The Cave in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Thu. 11/8- The Butchertown Social in Louisville, Kentucky
Fri. 11/9- Kelly’s Bar Hamtramck in Hamtramck, Michigan
Sun. 11/25- Dingbatz in Clifton, New Jersey
For tickets and further information on any of the shows listed above, click here.
Check out the music video for “Broken Bright Star” below.