Interview – Jennifer Castle
– by Shawn Conner
Jennifer Castle seems to have come out of nowhere, but she’s got some impressive credentials to back her up. Since releasing her album You Can’t Take Anyone in 2008, the Torontonian – who operates her guitar and a microphone under the moniker Castlemusic – has toured throughout Europe with Final Fantasy and Eric Chenaux, sang with Fucked Up on their Year of the Pig EP and toured with and sung on The Constantines‘ most recent record, Kensington Heights.
As an introduction, You Can’t Take Anyone showcases an instinctual talent for songwriting, while Castle’s rudimentary (or “misshapen” as the press release calls it) guitar playing and supple, sometimes slurry (as on the last-person-to-leave-the-bar ode “Don’t Go Now”) vocals stumble and stutter and weave but always make their destination. Jeff McMurrich produces with a minimum of meddling, Ryan Driver plays a little piano and guitar and sings backup in couple of places and Doug Tielli contributes some deft guitar lines to the folk-y standout “We Always Change”. There’s stillness here, and shadows, but movement and light as well; it’s Castlemusic.
The Snipe reached Castle at her Toronto home a couple of weeks before heading out on a 1o-date Canadian tour with Chad VanGaalen. She’d just played a church in town with VanGaalen, who had been shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and was in town for the awards ceremony. He lost to Fucked Up, so Castle’s collaboration with that band seemed as good a place as any to start. So I asked her about singing with lead growler Damian Abraham.
Shawn Conner: So have you been practicing your deathmetal growl since then?
Jennier Castle: Always. I’m raising a son. I can maybe use it on him. He’s one.
SC: So he’s not into Killswitch Engage, at least not yet. Does that keep you up nights, wondering what he’ll be listening to when he’s 13?
JC: No, but it might now. Like some weird alien robot music. I’m trying to put a mix tape together for his first birthday party. I don’t know, what do one-year-olds like? Maybe the Grateful Dead. They’re a kid’s band.
SC: Is it going to be tough going on tour and leaving him behind?
JC: Yeah, it will be tough in that I’ll miss him so much. But I’m with him most of the time. And he and his dad have a really strong relationship. They’ll push through it. They have a really good thing going. His dad’s also on tour often, he’s in One Hundred Dollars.
SC: It seems like one of the themes running through the record, right up to the title, is the impossibility of being with people, and then also the impossibility of not being with people.
JC: That’s for sure. I was sort of thinking about that when I wrote the record. It’s coming to terms with some forms of isolation. It’s hard to figure out how to be with people in all sorts of relationships, and to be on your own. It’s not so much struggling with being with people, as much as the struggle of how to be myself.
SC: Is it a grass-is-greener situation, where when you’re alone you wish you had company, and vice versa?
JC: Yeah, I definitely feel the impact of not spending any time on my own, and so I’m more protective of it and try to carve it out. Like I’ll arrange for a friend to come by and take Sonny – that’s my son – for a walk, and try to find moments alone. And then at night, after he’s in bed. It’s really important to me, to find ways of standing up for that time in my life. When I wrote the record, I was spending a lot of time on my own. But it felt productive. I felt like I was working on something. It wasn’t wallowing, I was working, and really getting that space, pushing away a lot of things so I could concentrate and focus, work and play a lot of guitar.
SC: You have an interesting approach to guitar…
JC: Yeah, that’s what some people say. I love playing guitar, but I don’t feel like I know too much about it, other than my ear for it. I mean, I can express myself on it. But I’m always thinking about getting guitar lessons. I want to learn how to play to express somebody else’s ideas. My approach is so unlearned.
SC: Well the tour should help in that regard.
JC: Yeah, it’s so great to be able to play every night. Especially these days, it’s a little more rare when I get to play throughout the day. I’ll play in the mornings when I can.