An Interview With The Promising Newcomer Musician JERRY CASTLE On His Upcoming Record, Earliest Musical Memories With Family, Biggest Inspirations and More!
Posted On 10 Jun 2016
Jerry Castle is a Nashville-based singer songwriter gearing up to release his new album “Not So Soft Landing” on June 24th. It’s a great atmospheric Americana record and Jerry credits much of his recent inspiration to time spent in sensory deprivation float-tanks.
He said “It really opened up a door that allowed me to feel more like a conduit that these songs were passing through as opposed to being a songwriter trying to manipulate the songs to sound a particular way.”
Learn more Jerry in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How’s 2016 been treating you so far? What were some of the highlights of 2015 for you and your music?
Appreciate you having me! Thus far, 2016 has been a busy and exciting year. The year has really been about building a team and getting our ducks in a row to support Not So Soft Landing for at least the next year. Rolling Stone Country just ran an article that featured my cover of the Blind Melon song “Change”, which is on the new album. The feedback that I’ve gotten from that has been amazing.
2015 was all about celebrating the recording process. Meaning not getting ourselves in a hurry, staying in the moment, and just being open to the magic that can happen in a studio setting. I’ve been in too many situations where you’re watching the clock, trying to cram the entire recording process into a couple of days and it’s just miserable for everyone involved. My long-time producer and friend Chad Brown sat down with me before we started recording this album and we made an agreement that there was no deadline. It would be done when we intuitively knew it was done.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was your family supportive of you?
Pretty much. There was a little period between the ages of 12-15 that I wanted to be a race care driver but being that I flipped one car and totaled another before I even had a license, that dream was short lived.
My first musical memory was at around 4 years old. My Granny and Paw Paw were having a party in their 600 square feet cinder block house and the whole damn neighborhood, which was mostly relatives, was crammed into that place. Seriously, there were probably 60 people in that little area and another 20 or so that had spilled out into the yard. I remember how keyed up everyone was, drinking, talking loud, laughing, talking about who’s asses they were about to whoop, etc. It seemed like everyone was having a different conversation. When my dad and his two brothers broke out their guitars and played “House of the Rising Sun”, every single person in that room was focused on that song and most were singing along. I remember thinking that I wanted to be a part of anything that had the power to unite such a rowdy ass crew.
Yes, for the most part they have been supportive. When I asked for a guitar at around the age of 7 my mom enrolled me in piano lessons instead, which is where I learned the only music theory that I know. When I asked for a guitar, she said, “you’re not going to be a broken down musician like the rest of the Castles.” Piano lessons lasted for about 6 months before I quit. I’ve always written songs but I was 20 before my mom bought me my first guitar. Obviously if I’d have been motivated enough to have a guitar, I could have gotten a job, made my own money and bought it myself but I didn’t. There have been plenty of times along the way that she’s asked me “How much more are you going to sacrifice for this” but it’s just because she cares and it’s hard for her to see me struggle.
My Granny, the same one that threw the party, was a huge supporter. She attended most of the local shows that we played. We’d wrap up playing at 2:30 A.M. and Granny, who was mostly blind, would be sitting at the bar drinking beer with what most would probably describe as some “unsavory character.” She’d always introduce them to me as “her new drinking buddy” and then she’d give me a critique of the show. She was mostly proud but if I started playing later than the scheduled time or if I said something that she felt like was inappropriate, she’d let me know about it. She’d also let me know if there were songs that she didn’t feel like were good. My sister Brandy sang in that band, Toast, with me. She was a lot of the reason that our following grew to the size that it did. She has been one of the biggest supporters of me with this new album. I’m not sure that ‘Not So Soft Landing’ would have seen the light of day without her support and encouragement.
How do you think Nashville has influenced you as an artist? What’s the music scene been like for you there?
Artistically, I think there have been both good and bad influences from living in Nashville. When I moved to Nashville, ALL I had was the artistic spark that seems to come from the cosmos or ethos. From a playing and singing standpoint, I was terrible. I didn’t have the ability to deliver the artistic spark in a manner that was palatable by most people in this community. In Nashville, there is an endless amount of players, engineers, producers and industry type folks that are absolutely amazing at what they do. After a couple of years of living here, I finally realized that I might be more of a “legend in my own mind” than an actual artist. I had an engineer named Neal Cappellino, who did the last, Toast record that sat me down once the album was finished and he said “I can tell your heart is really in this but if you want to last in Nashville, you need to start with some vocal lessons immediately.” I was super pissed at the time but I respected Neal and I grew to realize that having that talk with me was the last conversation that he wanted to be having. He was only doing it because he cared. The process of taking vocal lessons really broke me down before I found some balance between the artistic spark and the actual technique of singing. It took away all of my self- confidence and while that was helping my singing; it was making my art and songwriting suck.
I lived in L.A. in 2004-2005 and was really struggling to financially survive. Right around that time, country bands like Big N Rich were blowing up back in Nashville. Big Kenny had a rock band called ‘Luvjoi’ when I moved to LA. I figured “hell, if he can write country hits, I can write country hits.” So I moved back to Nashville to become a country songwriter. Three days after returning to Nashville, I found out that my I was going to be a dad. That really motivated me to make something happen as a country music songwriter. I played the game, wrote songs about dirt roads, cold beer, being southern proud, etc. but none of that landed me any country cuts nor a publishing deal. I eventually developed the only case of writers block that I’ve ever had, grew frustrated, and quit the music industry all together. I think the fact that I had gotten so far away from my authentic self, who I actually was as an artist, made my soul rebel against me trying to manufacture something that wasn’t honest. I put my guitar down and didn’t play a single note for 2 years. Since coming back, it has been all about the craft and all about the art. I feel like I’m just now starting to tap into a truer version of who I am as an artist.
Next month, you will release “Not So Soft Landing.” How does that feel?
That’s a tough question for me. I’m certainly very proud of what we accomplished on ‘Not So Soft Landing’ and I’m hopeful that it continues to open doors. As I said, I really enjoyed the recording process on this album but that’s in the past. I’m making a conscious effort to stay in the present moment with both life and this album as much so as possible. Historically, I haven’t done a very good job at that. I’m excited about touring but that’s in the future. Right now I’m woodshedding everyday and trying to prepare myself both physically and mentally for a year on the road. While I’m preparing, I’m trying to just enjoy the act of playing my instrument, of practicing yoga and of eating good healthy food. The joy that comes with that is the feelings that I’m focused on right now. I don’t mean to come across as a pretentious asshole but it’s the truth.
How have you grown on this record?
I think I’ve touched on a lot of this in the previous questions but the biggest way I think I’ve grown is in learning to not force things. The writing process wasn’t forced, the recording process never felt forced, and the production aspect never felt forced. That’s not to say that you don’t have to work at it sometimes. It’s just saying that when it’s time to give something some space, that space is just as important as the actual act of doing.
I think this is where the whole “not forcing things” really came from. It’s such a crazy cool tool. A good deal of the songs on ‘Not So Soft Landing’ actually originated while floating in the tank and a lot of the production ideas came to me while in the tank as well. I’d go in and focus on letting everything go. Perception of time is really warped in the float tank so I’m not really sure how long it would take but eventually, I’d bring up whatever song I was working on in my thoughts and the answers to a particular piece of the song puzzle would begin to appear. In the early going I’d hop out of the tank and type the lyrics into my phone or record the melody that I had figured out and then get back in. As my floating progressed, I could retain more and more lyrical and melodic information and thus, I could wait until my float was over to get out of the tank to document it.
I started floating because I had heard that it was easier to achieve the theta state in a float tank than it was through meditation. At the time, I was trying to meditate but struggling with it. For those that don’t know, in a sensory deprivation tank, you’re floating in the dark in a tube filled with water that’s heated to 98.6%. You stay buoyant because there’s 1000 pounds of Epson salt in the water. You can’t see or hear anything. The first time I did it, I felt extremely claustrophobic and anxious. It was 90 minute of being uneasy, being overly aware of my heartbeat and listening to the incessant chatter in my head. I remember wondering if anyone had ever died in one of these things.
I learned about the float tank from the Joe Rogan Experience podcast and I remembered his friend Duncan Trussell talking about his first experience sucking but it being great after that. Anyway, as a result, I gave it another swing, which was a better experience. I tapped into a little bit of that theta state during my second float and it just felt like nothing I had ever felt. The fact that I had an improved experience made me want to try it again and again and again. I’m glad I gave floating a second chance because if I hadn’t, this album probably wouldn’t exist.
How involved were you with the making of your “Ride” video?
I came up with the idea, shot a lot of the driving b-roll with my iphone in L.A. and sat in with Stacie Huckeba while she edited the video. She and I go way back, so she lets me know every single time we work together that I’m the only person she lets be present during editing. Creatively, I think we bring the best out in one another. We have another video for “She Kills” that we’re about to wrap that I’m really excited about.
I’m curious to know more about your new tattoos and how they connect with your forthcoming album?
The tattoo on my shoulder is a 3rd eye, that’s representative of intuition. There was a lot of intuition involved in the writing, recording, and production of this album. The tattoo is a reminder to carry that intuition into my daily life and out on to the road. The Arrow on my left arm comes from my Native American lineage. It’s the Indian symbol for protection. It is also a symbol for movement and direction. Not So Soft Landing feels like a big movement in the right direction. The arrow on the inside of my forearm is more like a totem pole and it’s a little more personal. It includes a 45 record insert, which is symbolic of the album. The totem also includes the Native American symbol for life and it has my daughter’s initials around it. Right before the tip, there’s Aquarius air symbol that has my son’s initials around it.
Who are some of your favorite artists? What musicians have continued to inspire you year after year? Who would you love to work with in the future?
I’ve really enjoyed watching My Morning Jacket’s music evolve. Jason Isbell has grown to be one of the best lyricist of modern times and maybe of all time. Tom Petty is absolutely one of the best songwriters of all times. I’ve read his book and have watched the “Running Down A Dream” five hour documentary a good 7 or 8 times. The Rolling Stones have been a big part of my entire life. I’ve read both Keith and Mick’s books and have seen every single documentary that has ever been put out about them. “Sympathy For The Devil” was one of the first songs I ever learned to play. I had the “Exile On Main Street” documentary on repeat for years. I connect with Willie Nelson’s music and life like no other. His song “Heartaches of a fool” stops me dead in my tracks every single time. I’ve read every single book that he has put out. If I had the opportunity to work with any of these people, I’d be over the moon.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
The short answer is I hope they take away whatever they want to take away that helps them feel better in any particular situation. I think music is such a personal thing and what might make one person feel better only makes another person feel like shit. From my point of view, I think the message on the previous albums has been that there’s always hope, be tough, fight the fight, you’re not the only one that feels sad and life is tough.
I think the message on ‘Not So Soft Landing’ is expanding upon that. There are a lot of broken characters on this album but the only place they could potentially find redemption, is through a deeper and more intelligent understanding of their self. Most of them have come to realize that they’re not like anybody else, so their not going to be able to relate on a level of “oh, I find comfort in the fact that someone else feels the way I do.” They’re only going to find comfort through being ok with the fact that they’re unique and striving to be the most loving and aware person that they can possibly be. You don’t get that from anyone else, you only get that from your self.