A&R: Looking at your musical history, you’ve always created music that is holistically a part of you, despite industry pressures of what is radio friendly and structurally simple. Is this a business move or a personal choice?
GC: If making my personal brand of music is a business move, then I’ve made a gross miscalculation. Forgive me for addressing this as a semantic issue, but I think that making music that is honest or “a part of you” shouldn’t require a conscious decision – making music that is postured for or designed by someone else would require a choice. So I never really thought about it.
A&R: You’ve also always been very transparent on your feelings of the invisible hand of the music industry structure. Whether through your own blog posts at gavincastleton.blogspot.com or in songs like ‘The American Bottleneck,’ you allow your listeners to know exactly how you are relating to the music industry. In this digital age, should an artist make themselves accessible or hide behind broad lyrics that have broad appeal?
GC: Well, my view on that relationship between artist and audience is still evolving. When I was younger I felt that it was very important for artists to remove all the walls between themselves and their audience, because that would help audiences realize their own art - idolatry has a way of keeping people from hearing their own voice. But as I’ve set out to do that in my own life (and as the internet has done wonders in pushing the interaction between fans and artists into the casual zone), I see that trying to lateralize yourself with your listeners has some downsides as well. I try to make myself accessible without crippling my productivity or self-worth.
A&R: How has your new album, Home, been received since its release date of early 2009? How has the reaction been different than albums in the past?
GC: I think very few people have heard it, but I think those that have responded far better than I’d hoped. The reaction to Home is different than that of my other albums in that it tends to illicit response from those that have experienced romantic devastation, whereas others albums have spoken more to musicians, religious folk, people with abandonment issues, etc. Heartbreak is a universal process, and thanks to Home I find myself corresponding with many folks in the thick of it.
The album addresses attempts of salvaging a deteriorated long-term relationship. What made you make the decision to play the album for your ex-girlfriend whom these songs are about?
She helped write some of the lyrics, and she is half of the story, so I think it would be strange not to play it for her. I also wanted her to hear what I made out of the wreckage, in hopes that she would find something beautiful to pull from it as well.
A&R: Some of your music is heavily layered with almost subliminal harmonies. Do you ever run into issues replicating the complex song structures of songs like ‘Layers’ and ‘Stampete’ during your live shows? How do you overcome this?
GC: I have had nothing but issues trying to recreate Home on stage. I have played renditions of a few songs from Home on tour: Bugguts, Coffeelocks, Layers, The Wall Starts to Give, and Credits. Some fail, some do ok, none are the proper realization of the piece. When I first released the album, I had hopes of performing it in its entirety with the proper instrumentation. I’ve pretty much abandoned those hopes.
A&R: You have the perspective of a multi-instrumentalist. On Home, you included a cello, violins, flutes, handfuls of different percussions, double bass, french horn, viola, and the list goes on. When you sit down to write, how do you know which instruments to choose? Where does your knowledge of these instruments’ capabilities come from?
GC: The instrumentation for a song is somewhat arbitrary to me. The melody and rhythm steer things, I just try to choose the instruments that will deliver those elements the most efficiently and effectively. Since I work primarily in a digital synthesis/sampling workspace, I’m not limited to any particular instrumentation. My knowledge of these instruments comes from my classical and jazz training and more importantly my listening.
A&R: Along these lines, you often do multi-tracking, looping and layering during your live shows. How did this start and how did it manifest into choosing great covers?
GC: Strangely, I can’t remember how it started… I know I bought the Line 6 Delay to use its looping capabilities, but I don’t remember what inspired me to do so. It’s a matter of practicality; a way to do live performances alone while sounding like a band. As far as covers, I’ve always just picked songs that resonate with me and lend themselves to a somewhat linear structure.
A&R: Your stellar cover of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’(vimeo.com/gavincastleton) received hundreds of views within the first few hours of uploading it to YouTube, but was quickly and quietly taken down due to a Copyright violation. Where do you personally draw the line between art and copyright? Is it a first amendment issue?
GC: My Nothing Compares video was removed because I did not have the sync license to publish it, and the video made its way to Prince’s people within a matter of hours. He’s well known for vigilance and vengeance in matters of copyright. I like to imagine that he watched hit before hitting the red button but I’m sure it didn’t make it past an intern.
Copyright is a very complex issue, and my feelings on it are still in flux. I think the concept of multiple licensing options (you can let everyone borrow from you, you can let people borrow on a case-by-case basis, you can keep your works untouched, etc.) for artists is interesting, but I’m sort of a Chicken Little about the industry as a whole – lots of us are trying to figure out how to squeeze the last drops out of a deserted system, but insodoing are not addressing the mammoth issue: the devaluing of art. Value in a capitalist country is based on scarcity, and, the way we run it, the internet is the opposite of scarcity [as a side note, our musical approach in this country is also the opposite of “rare” – artistic recycling in the last 15 years has probably contributed greatly to the devaluation of music… Lax copyright law certainly plays a role]. So as long as the internet is our main distribution channel, it is not realistic to think we can reeducate people to pay for things that are so commonplace. Maybe our energy would be better spent undertaking the massive challenge of installing a new system of cultural value in which our society/government supports artists fiscally in a fair, effective, and mandatory manner. If our country made a concerted effort to protect and foster culture, then maybe artists could learn to think of their work as a contribution to the people and less as the only card they have in their hand. They could make stuff just to make it, and worry less about how it is handled/monetized once exported. And citizens could enjoy much more enriching and diverse art, guilt-free.
A&R: How has playing live with such bands as Facing New York, Taking Back Sunday and Rustic Overtones influenced your sound?
GC: They mostly make me want to sound bigger, rock harder, and improve my stage ownership when performing. They are all expert live performers and wonderful friends.
A&R: You’ve added your signature stamp on many projects, most notably Grüvis Malt and Ebu Gogo. Do you have any future collaboration planned?
GC: Yes, I’ve been in preliminary discussions with several of my friends about new projects. I don’t really want to say much about it until actual notes are being recorded. We musicians are a fickle lot, and for most of us there is a big difference between talking and doing.
A&R: Have you ever considered making album production for other artists a priority?
GC: I do some production work for Overclock Inc., which is in the business of producing for other folks. But overall, producing/writing for other artists rarely leaves a good taste in my mouth.
A&R: Finally, what can die hard Gavin Castleton fans expect out of you in the future? What are your goals in the world of music?
GC: I have several albums in the pipeline – at least one of which will be out this fall. I’m working on several videos, and some prose. My path is in serious flux right now – large left turns seem inevitable.
A&R: Is there anything that we did not cover that you would like to add?
GC: I’d like to thank Gray Robertson and the Torres brothers for putting in their time and efforts touring as my trio for not nearly enough money. I’m honored to hear my music handled professionally. I’d also like to salute my families, who have supported me vigorously in my artistic pursuits, and drop a shout out to Five One Inc. and Overclock Inc, who have helped me release my last few records. [I know this isn’t an awards ceremony, but I need to say these things more often]
A&R: Gavin, we thoroughly appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. Our blog is dedicated to opening ears to new, creative music and with musicians like yourself taking the time to provide us with all of this information is something we are very thankful for. We look forward to any and all future projects of yours.