Castle interview (04/2013)
|Conducted by:||Susan (in person)|
Metal Storm Award nominees Castle are wrapping up a N. American west coast tour before heading across the pond on a pretty sweet European tour. They stopped by Seattle's Highline Bar Friday night and I had the pleasure of chatting with guitarist and founder Mat Davis before the show about his dark, slightly doomy, slightly spooky heavy metal band.
Susan: Congratulations on Blacklands being nominated for a Metal Storm Award for Heavy Metal Album of 2012!
Susan: How has the album been received in general?
Mat: It's been great, yeah. Europe was first, it was our first label there, had it released so we had a few months where we toured and had a lot of nice things come out about it and it was picked up in the States, so that was new in September. You know, we've done a lot of touring since then and now it's just been released in Japan, so that's exciting, too. Yeah, it has a little bit of a life behind it. Keeps us on the road!
Susan: Nice. Did it turn out the way you'd planned while recording it or did it kinda take on a life of its own?
Mat: I think it came really close. I mean, you gotta have a little bit of an open mind when you go into it. I did a lot of demos with it so I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted it to come together. And yeah, I think it hit the mark in a lot of ways, sonically, and in performance. We had Billy Anderson there behind the board and he's a wizard.
Susan: For someone who's just discovering you guys, who's just heard Blacklands, how does it differ from your debut In Witch Order?
Mat: Well the sound is pretty radically different. I think it's more of a riff-based record. The first record was, you know I spent so long, over many years, and different songs have different flavors. It goes together in a way but the new record really goes together like I think it was kind of a lot of the songs came from the previous song, you know what I mean? It's hard to describe but it kind of unraveled, almost like a rosetta stone at one point and you kinda write from that. The first record was like, here's some songs that go together, period-wise, and then some were 3 years after, so they had a whole different kind of approach to the writing. But because we all played together on the record is sounds like the same band. But the new record is a bit more cohesive. A bit more metal actually. The doom thing came from the first record, it's way doomier. But it's kinda like doom production. Metal record with doom production. (laughs)
Susan: I want to talk a little about your influences because I gotta say, when I listen to Blacklands I can't help but conjure up an image that you guys must have been somehow influenced by Screamin' Jay Hawkins and "I Put A Spell On You," there's kind of a spooky vibe.
Mat: Oh, wow.
Susan: Is that just me or was it purposeful at all?
Mat: Maybe somewhere along the way, I haven't listened to that in a long time. I definitely listened to a lot of old blues over the years and I like things that are hypnotic and I think that would definitely fall.. I think a lot of blues music is just trance, you know, the really deep old stuff, that deep blues flavor. Southern stuff maybe, it has that circular kind of trance feel. I think that is kind of how I write. Obviously it's not straight up blues or anything but you know we also listen to a lot of German and Krautrock, prog rock, things that have that kind of hypnosis or trance thing. Although we don't do that specifically I definitely try to work that in in a kind of shortened manner, more concise. Like we're have a part where we're doing something else, then go into that.
Susan: I can see that, actually. A couple of the songs almost felt vaguely theatrical in a way. So that German influence, that makes a ton of sense!
Mat: Yeah. It might be Liz (Elizabeth Blackwell, bass and vocals), too. She's kind of dramatic with the vocals.
Susan: She definitely is! I read that the band was a solo project until you met her. How did you guys meet?
Mat: Well, we met at a bar I worked at and she was working for a music festival so we met and pretty much hit it off right away. We were together from then on and the band kind of came out of that. I mean I always had this side project, just always playing stuff for her and me working on other songs. She started to get involved and I think it came out really early on that she was a bass player and she sang so I was like, "ding!" And it worked, I mean it worked beyond my wildest dreams.
Susan: I love metal romance, that's so sweet!
Mat: Yeah, right on! Cool (laughs)
Susan: So, the album art is pretty epic. Can you talk about that?
Mat: Sure! Our drummer at the time had found Denis' artwork (Denis Forkas) on line and when we started to talk about concepts and artwork for the record that guy's name came up right off the bat. We had a few names but I wrote him and he hadn't done a lot with band, I don't think that was his path, but the more we talked he was interested in our songs, our lyrics, darker kinda cultish lyrics and he was really into that. It piqued his interest. I feel pretty good that we got him to do it because it worked really well.
Susan: Did he base the art off the music or is that a piece he already had?
Mat: No, that was based off our conversations, then further with the lyrics and the music. It went back and forth. It was cool because I got to kinda delve into the meaning behind some of these things because when I write it's kind of unconscious a bit. So to look back and try to explain a little further, probe a little deeper, kinda opens it up for me, too. Then he was able to feed off that and just run with it. I shouldn't say it was my thing or anything, I was just a catalyst for a few ideas. He came up with the concept and I was just like yeah, go with it man.
Susan: Great. I love how it's kind of abstract. You don't notice quite what it is until you look deeper. Kind of like the music the more you listen to it the more you notice.
Mat: That's cool, yeah he talked a lot about color and tones and the colors he was seeing from the guitar sounds and the vocals… to him he saw in color. It was cool because as soon as I saw it, I got what he did. Visually, he interpreted what he heard. It works! And it helps to have a great record cover to get your record noticed!
Susan: It really does.
Mat: It's like a foot in the door. People listen to it and hopefully it lived up to the record cover at that point.
Susan: Do you write the lyrics or is that a group effort?
Mat: Yeah, I write most of them. Liz definitely helps, especially on the second record. I was set in my ways a bit with my own writing but I was able to pull back a little from my control aspects and I think it opened it up melodically. I would write and kind of force words in sometimes, and she would be like, no, take the time and let things breath. So she really added a lot of that. But we would play off each other, I would have some lyrics and she would start to do some melodies with it and some things would work and some things wouldn't so that was a cool process, too. It was like, by the time that was finished, it went hand in hand with writing the song instead of adding lyrics in after. So, definitely Liz is a part of that process.
Susan: Makes it more organic.
Mat: Absolutely, yeah.
Susan: Are there any albums, over the course of your life, that have been really important and meaningful?
Mat: Yeah, for sure. Probably mostly when I was younger. I like albums I hear now but maybe they're not as profound for me. So when I think back, like, Voivod, hearing that for the first time, Killing Technology, I was 15. A lot of the albums right around then. Kill 'Em All, when I was younger, maybe 12 or 13. Judas Priest, Stained Class, Sad Wings Of Destiny, those were all when I was 11, 12 years old and I just started to get into music that was, I guess, epic, for lack of a better word. It was really, to me, you know I always wanted to know how they did that, how they wrote those songs. Especially Voivod, it was such a unique sound and it was so dense. To try and pick that apart when you're 13 or 14, it takes time.
Susan: Is that what inspired you to become a musician?
Mat: Well, I was already playing at that point, was already into metal. Well, rock, then metal. But yeah those records definitely got me obsessed.
Susan: Nice. So, you have been doing a lot of touring and it looks like you have a big European tour coming up, playing some awesome festivals.
Susan: How do you stay sane and healthy when you don't have a home base. When your home base is a car!
Mat: (laughs) It doesn't get easier but you just figure out more. Liz and I have been on the road, not just with the band but also personally, too, traveling around the country before that. I think you just figure out how to eat first, properly, and not eat road food. Like, we used to eat a bit of that but now we try to never eat that crap because it's hard to get over it, to bounce back. We know a lot of people across the country, you meet cool people so that helps, when you put yourself out there, whether it's an opening band or a promoter, or a friend of a friend in a city offering up a place to stay. So there's a lot of help along the way.
Susan: A kitchen, a real bed.
Mat: A kitchen, a real bed, breakfast, things like that.
Susan: Will this be your first European tour?
Mat: This will be the 2nd. We went there last… April? Or May? We did a Ván Records showcase tour. It was really cool. Another band who did the whole tour with us, Verdunkeln, which is a German black metal band, and other Ván Records bands played different shows, Year Of The Goat, Freitod, and others, 7 or 8 bands that hooked up for different parts of the tour.
Susan: How did you get hooked up with Ván Records?
Mat: Oh, we just sent them a demo!
Mat: Yeah. He just happened to bring it on vacation with him and he had it in his car stereo and he said he just listened to it over and over again. (laughs)
Susan: (laughs) That's awesome! Good timing.
Mat: Yeah, it was really cool because at that point we had just, we weren't even really a band, we had never played. We were writing the record and recording it in stages. At that time we had 3 songs done and that was the 3-song demo. We had a couple more songs musically recorded but with no vocals, and he was like, "do you have more" and I'm like, "yeah, sure, we have the whole record done!" (laughs) So we busted some ass and finished it and it was cool because it was like inspiring at the point, like Oh, this guy wants to put it out! Like a catalyst to make it as good as we could, since someone out there was willing to put it out. That's how it happened, it was a huge stroke of luck for us to meet him when we did.
Susan: Since you've been on tour for so long have you been able to come up with any ideas for the new album or are you still in Blacklands zone?
Mat: Yeah, it's hard for me being on the road since I really have to sink into the process of writing. But, I have songs from before we started touring, some new songs, so we have I would say 2 new ones and a bunch of half songs and parts of ideas. So, I kind of have a pretty clear picture of how it's going to be.
Susan: Any hints?
Mat: (laughs) Well, we fooled around with doing something really stripped down and kind of "live" sounding. Because there is a lot of overdubbing on the record, vocally, and especially the guitars, tons of guitars. But, when we started playing live I hadn't really thought how we were going to do any of this live, I had to rewrite a lot of the songs for one guitar part, rewrite the bass to incorporate some of the guitar parts. So, they kind of sound different. People always come up to me and say, "I really like the album but I really like it a lot more live. So it got me thinking that maybe we should do that for the next record, like go through that process: write it, demo it, then strip it back down for a 3-piece and kind of go with that in the studio, see how it sounds. But I like to change things up, I don't want to stagnate, I get bored easy, and I feel like our sound is evolving constantly. So, we'll see. We're still about 4-5 months off from hitting the studio.
Susan: I felt like Blacklands already has a bit of live feel. When I listen to it I can really see you guys playing it. So I'm excited to see the "real" live version and see what's different!
Susan: I sense a bit of a Canadian accent?
Mat: Yes, I'm originally from Canada, near Toronto.
Susan: What brought you out to San Francisco?
Mat: I'd been in Toronto a long time and I just started traveling around one summer I have a bunch of friends [in San Francisco] and I went and stayed and kinda never left. So, just started playing with different people and Castle kinda came out of those things.
Susan: Awesome. Well, that's all my questions, thank you!
Mat: Yeah, thank you so much!
The show was indeed awesome. Read the concert review here.
Posted on 01.04.2013 by
Susan appreciates quality metal regardless of sub-genre. Metal Storm Staff since 2006.
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