Q: This album is a song cycle about your last romantic relationship. There is some joy on here, but many of the songs contain images of despair, bitterness and horror. How true to life are the emotions that you’re conveying?
Gavin Castleton: The emotions conveyed on the record are only a small fraction of the colors one experiences in a serious breakup. I did my best to make it concise. Home is inspired by a very real relationship, one that lasted six years. I began writing Home when we broke up, and both processes took two years to complete.
Q: What caused the relationship to end?
GC: We weren’t growing within the relationship, so we made a mature decision to grow outside of it. Unfortunately, our execution of said breakup was not so mature. We wanted to do it lovingly, but this resulted in a very trite two-year emotional limbo that only prolonged the misery. I asked her to write the lyrics for her protagonist in order to document the process fairly and in hopes that creative collaboration would keep us close. Despite the pleasing results, it was a foolish exploit.
Q: She was writing lyrics that expressed how she felt about the relationship?
GC: Ideally. We ended up collaborating on three of the earlier songs on the record, and half a song from the second half. When it was no longer emotionally feasible, I finished the remaining duets alone, which was painfully educational, given that I was writing from her perspective with a critical eye towards my behavior in our relationship.
Q: I get the sense, though, from the songs, that you feel as if you were the one that was left.
GC: My role in the breakup shifted almost hourly for a long time. Ultimately, who did what to whom is irrelevant. What matters is whether or not I emerged from it a better person. And I did.
Q: On the record, when the relationship turns bad, zombies appear. Can you tell me what you’re trying to convey with that metaphor?
GC: I feel that when a relationship is love-thick and long-lasting, it’s less likely to be killed by something sudden or obvious – such as infidelity or violence or geographical distance. More often it’ll fall victim to the cancerous deterioration of untreated, deep-seated issues (oftentimes dating back to the beginning of the relationship).=
George Romero billed the slow zombie motif as a sociological horror. Unlike other horror movies in the late 60’s and early 70’s, his films were about the slow, impending doom of these compounding threats, and its effects on the survivors’ interactions. For this reason, zombies were the perfect metaphor for what happened to us.
Plus, I just really like zombies.
Q: Has she heard the record?
GC: Doesn’t matter. It’s not for her.
Q: How are you doing now?
GC: I’m doing very well. I recently moved from Rhode Island to Portland, Oregon, and I know it was the right thing to do. This town is very open-minded and welcoming. Emotionally, I feel healed and equipped to be a better partner for someone. My heart is wide awake and chattering loudly. I’m writing a lot of bite-size pieces-nothing wildly ambitious right now and enjoying new collaborations.
Q: Let’s talk about your career. You’ve released a lot of music so far.
GC: I’ve released seven solo records (independently) since 2004. Aside from those, I released seven records with my band Gruvis Malt, two with my band Ebu Gogo, and a handful of other collaborations since 1996.
Q: You’re very prolific. Is making music what you always wanted to do?
GC: Well, I had several other ambitions. At one point in my single digit years I was sure I wanted to go into a fictional field I’d dubbed “animal communication specialist.” But music was always in there somewhere. When we were young we didn’t have a choice—mom insisted that we learn the piano as a potential source of income. I’ve always had an affinity for melody—I began writing at five years old and never really stopped. Until I was 25, music was a monologue for me, a way to export emotions that I wasn’t comfortable expressing verbally. But since the age of 25, it’s become more of a dialogue with the listener… I’m more interested in communicating effectively, rather than just emoting.
Q: Well, the music on HOME is very emotive. It’s as if each song is produced and arranged to convey a different feeling.
GC: Love and loss is quite possibly the most dynamic thing we humans can experience. I did my best to convey that on the record. In all my solo work I strive to make each element of the composition support the song’s “thesis” (which should, in turn, support the album’s theme). So, for example, the first song “Bugguts,” is about the frequent panic attacks I experienced throughout the breakup. We wanted to connote the concept of breathing throughout the song. We used breathing loops as percussive elements. Wind-driven instruments like flute and French horn are featured prominently. And atmospheric elements like strings and organ were mixed with exaggerated volume swells. I even did the vocals while jogging in place. You get the point.
Q: The song “Oregon” touches upon suicide. Did you get to the point where that was on your mind?
GC: Of course... I went to the bottom and back… Daily…. And eventually, monthly. I don’t think suicidal ideation is necessarily an unhealthy thing, as some would suggest. When I felt entirely powerless, taking control of my own mortality was an empowering conceit. Brave? Not really. Wise? Definitely not. But empowering.
Q: “The Human Torch,” the song after “Oregon,” seems to imply that the girl comes back.
GC: Well, “Oregon” is the dark ending, and “Human Torch” is the ridiculously happy ending--a total Disney CGI finale about the reuniting of she and I. It was the hardest song to record, because it was so blatantly delusional. Those were just two scenarios out of hundreds that someone dealing with heartbreak might fantasize about, and the final song “Credits” discusses the futility of doing so.
Q: I saw the video online of you singing Prince’s “Nothing Compares to U.” How did that come about?
GC: In December of 2007 a friend sent me a video of the Sinead O’Connor version, which I hadn’t seen since the mid 90’s. I was struck by the bravery and rawness of the piece, as well as its simple and effective composition. So I knew at some point I wanted to try my hand at it. The video is my interpretation of it, using my looping approach and a guest cellist, Erin Hunt.
Q: Would you like to be a big pop star someday?
GC: [Laughs] No, not particularly. I’m happy to have people buy my records, but if I have to become the very definition of narcissism, contributing to our youth’s obsession with aesthetics and materialism in the process, then I’d prefer to remain obscure. I don’t have to be a star to do what I do. I’m successfully communicating with thoughtful people, and that’s where my interest lies.
Q: On a more superficial note, I know some gay guys who really think you’re hot. It’s not just about the looks—it’s the emotional sensitivity that they find attractive. Have you built up any kind of gay fan base over the years?
GC: This question makes me very sad. Being objectified undermines the countless years (well, no --- fifteen years) I’ve dedicated to making thoughtful music. Any attention given to me as a person (especially something so irrelevant as my appearance) is shifting the focus from my work, which can impact people deeper and longer than any physical attribute.
In regards to building a gay fan base, I find that people respond positively to honesty and introspection, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Q: I know that you were raised a Mormon. Do you have any thoughts about what’s happened recently with the Mormon campaign and their support of Proposition 8 in California?
GC: Yeah, I did post something on my blog (gavincastleton.blogspot.com) about it. Both sides of my family have a large Mormon contingent and we all felt strongly about our various perspectives. The heated discussions (via email) blew our family communication wide open, which was a beautiful thing. I can’t really claim that I have mass groups of friends in California that will be largely affected by [Prop 8], but I feel very strongly that this exclusionary legislation is an embarrassment to our country and our prospective faiths... The church’s propaganda regarding Prop 8 is, in my opinion, too "unChristian" for me to discuss calmly.
Q: Do you still consider yourself a Mormon?
GC: No. There are several elements of the Mormon church that I hold in high regard: love of family, strong community, and humanitarian aid, to name a few. But in my opinion, there is no way to subscribe to a monotheistic religion without inferring something negative about other religions. I can’t condone that. I am not a religious person and I find no solace from group worship. I would define spirituality as the communication of one’s most inner voice with our universe’s most outer voice. And by that definition, I explore my spirituality best through music. Ultimately, I hope to make music that is universally applicable, even if not always understood. This album is meant as comfort for the heartsick, no matter what gender or orientation made you sick.