"Fat and happy has turned into bloated and uncomfortable as of late" We chat with Jerry Castle
With a new album recently released, the excellent Midnight Testaments, we sat Jerry Castle down and asked him about some stuff. He gave us answers.
Hey Jerry, how the heck are you?
Hey, hey hey! I’d probably be better if I could go play some loud sweaty music in a packed room, but all things considered, I’m doing alright. Thanks
Where are you right now? And what have you been up to today?
I’m sitting in my home studio in Nashville, TN. I just finished ricking
firewood. It’s 84 degrees here today so it was a sweaty endeavor.
What’s been keeping you busy in 2020?
A whole lot of writing, recording and getting Midnight Testaments out into
the world. I have a lot of material ready to go for 2021 but I’m really trying
to dig in on writing the best songs I can right now. I have three kids so any
time that’s not spent on music is spent with them.
What can you tell us about Midnight Testaments in two sentences?
It’s definitely the truest to life group of songs I’ve ever released. Stylistically,
it’s a hodgepodge of Americana, Southern Rock and Country but collectively,
I’d like to think that it all cohesive.
OK, you’ve got a bit more time, tell me something interesting about the
recording of the album.
I started recording Midnight Testaments right after I had finished recording
another album that I decided to shelf. I started booking one studio day per
week and at the time, I didn’t have any songs written for it. I kid you not
when I say that two days before the first studio date, I had zero songs
written. I’d write three to four songs over a two-day period and go into the studio barely knowing the songs. I did that for three different studio sessions and that’s where the majority of Midnight Testaments came from. While the process was extremely stressful and exhausting at times, there was something very cool about capturing the original energy of the songs right after they were written.
One of my favourite tracks is ‘Free’, tell me about that.
Oh cool! I’m afraid to tell you what it’s about because that might not be
what it’s about to you. After you hear what it’s about, you might decide it’s
not such a good song after all. Let’s just say that we all lie to ourselves
about who we are and what we want out of life. Realizing that can be a hell
of a bitter pill to swallow.
I also wanted to ask about ‘Worried Man’, what’s the background to that song?
It’s about being caught up in the rat race of modern society, knowing that
you’re caught in it and struggling to change it.
How do you go about writing and choosing which songs to record?
There’s no exact formula that I follow. I have taken a different approach to
writing songs on all three of my albums. Now, more than ever, I try to just
let the ideas come to me. I’ll jot down lyrics in my phone or record a little
piece of a melody and then put it away. The real key, is to sit down, go
through those ideas, and do the work. Young songwriters have a tendency
to want songs to just magically come to them and sometimes they do, but
most times they don’t. On Midnight Testaments most songs started with
me sitting down with an acoustic guitar and moaning and groaning around
until I could find a melody and chord progression that I found interesting.
On one of the songs, 'Stars Align', I wrote all of the lyrics before I ever
picked up an instrument.
Talk to me about Nashville, what’s so great about it?
The level of musicianship is off the charts. Everyone that played on my
Midnight Testaments lives within two miles of me. When I lived in Los
Angeles, it wasn’t like that and I’d venture to say that it isn’t like that
anywhere else in the world. Nashville gets a lot of attention for songwriting
and country music, but the actual musicians are second to none.
Americana is what country music used to be: discuss.
I hear where you’re coming from. It’s just a matter of what you consider
Americana to be. There’s a particular rootsy niche in Americana that is the
foundation of country music but it’s hard to tell what Americana is these
days as well. I particularly enjoyed Tyler Childers acceptance speech at the
Americana Music Awards after winning Best New Artist. He said “As a man
who identifies as a country music singer, I feel Americana ain’t no part of
nothin. It is a distraction from the issues that we are facing on a bigger level
as country music singers. It kind of feels like ‘Purgatory’.” With that being
said, Americana artist’s write their own material and can play their own
instruments. That used to be the case with country music artists. I’d
venture to say that less than 10% of the Top 40 country music artists write
their own songs and play their own instrument on their recordings. It’s more like three guys wrote the song while another guy built the track on the computer.
Who’s your most famous friend? And what story can you tell me about
It depends on your definition of “famous” and “friend”. Frankly, I have more acquaintances, co-workers and peers in the music industry than friends. Most of the people that I actually consider to be my friends have nothing to do with music. Again most, not all. It has been my experience that once my acquaintances become famous, they’re no longer accessible for chit chat or hanging out and I understand that. The demands that come with having mainstream success are bigger than most could imagine. I used to play a good number of shows with Old Dominion and I knew the lead singer, Matt Ramsey pretty well, we are both from Virginia. I once spent four days in the Northeast U.S with Taylor Swift and her mother. Sturgill Simpson opened for me, Amanda Shires has played both live and in the studio with me. She’s actually playing fiddle on the closing track 'Charades'. Movie Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of The Furnace, Black Mass, Hostiles) grew up in the same town (Abingdon, VA) as me. His family and my family remain fairly close to this day. Now that I’ve regurgitated all of the “famous” people I’m closest to, I’m going to go wash myself off. In all
seriousness, all of those people worked their asses off to get where they are.
That’s usually the common thread with successful people.
What’s next for you?
Probably focusing on getting the 20 pounds, that I’ve gained during COVID
lockdown, off. Fat and happy has turned into bloated and uncomfortable as
of late. I have the ocean on my mind so maybe a little trip south for some
saltwater, songwriting, and belly tanning are in my near future.
We normally ask about playing live but there’s not been much of that. So, a topical question instead, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve done/learnt during the pandemic?
I’ve learned that I can record a song and capture the song without any of
the players ever being in the same room. I did that on 'Make Do' back in
May. That was a first for me. I’m old school, I’ve always enjoyed the band
being in the same room grinding it out but I did learn that there’s more
there one way to skin a cat.
I’ve learned that if you don’t stay vigilant to continually improve, you can
easily regress and fall back into unhealthy patterns. And I’ve learned that
you can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you get what
you need. Oh wait, I think somebody else has already said that.
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
'My Love Will Not Change' by Aubrie Sellers, with Steve Earle. I’m just now
discovering Aubrie. She is BAD ASS!
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
What would your gangster rapper name be?
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Now I’m sure you can tell by looking at me and listening to my music that
you know the answer to that. Strong and black as the Ace of Spades.