By Brent Thompson
Jerry Castle took his frustration of the 2016 election results into the recording studio and created an upbeat album for troubled and confusing times. The result, Brand New Hello [My World Records], is a collection that weaves a story of despair and redemption over its 14 tracks. On Thursday, July 12, the Nashville-based singer/songwriter – by way of Virginia – will perform at The Nick in a double-bill show with Iron Mike Norton. Recently, Castle corresponded with us via email about Brand New Hello, songwriting and the notion of creating full albums in a singles-driven musical climate.
Birmingham Stages: Your bio mentions the election being the inspiration for the material on Brand New Hello. Were all of the songs written after the election or had some of the songs been around for awhile?
Jerry Castle: I wrote one song before the election, “Watered Down Wine,” and the rest were written after. I felt like it fit into the story line of the album so I included it. I started writing the rest of the songs the day after the election and wrote the majority of them by the end of 2016. It’s the quickest I’ve ever written an album.
Birmingham Stages: Brand New Hello plays like an upbeat-sounding album for troubled times in our country. Was that approach intentional or did the songs just come out that way?
Castle: I wouldn’t say that my intent was to be upbeat during troubled times but that’s the way it came out. I did feel a bigger divide in our country than I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Like a lot of other Americans, I was overwhelmed with politics. I poured that frustration into writing and recording this album. I think there was a therapeutic element to the process. I knew that I wanted to learn to program and explore songwriting via that avenue, so I did. I learned to program while writing the songs and in recording them in the studio. It had a real impact on the overall vibe of the album. On at least half of the songs on the album, I wrote the music before writing the lyrics. Historically, that’s highly unusual for me.
Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process? Do you continually lay down ideas or do you shelve writing while on tour?
Castle: I’m continually keeping track of my ideas, usually on my phone, but I’m not sitting down, digging in and hashing out those ideas. I’ll let a song idea unfold as much as it naturally does but then I’ll leave it until I’m ready to do the work. Editing is hard work and it’s really time consuming. I have to be in the right mindset to do it.
Birmingham Stages: Do songs still evolve even after you take them into the studio – for example, does the finished product ever come out darker, brighter, more sparse or more full than you would have originally thought?
Castle: Oh absolutely! I try not to get overly tied to ideas until I’m in a studio setting. What the life or vibe of a song should be seems to become more apparent in a studio setting.
Birmingham Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant for you even after you’ve played them dozens of times?
Castle: Frankly, I’ve always had a hard time with that and it has probably hurt my career a bit. Generally speaking, I support my albums via touring for three to four months and then I’m so burned out on playing the same songs over and over, that I get off of the road and start writing another record. I’ve put out five albums over the past eight years. I’m addicted to the feeling of hope that a new song seems to bring me. So once I tap into that, I usually abandon the touring part and focus on recording a new album. I’m really trying to make a focused effort this time around to ease into the Brand New Hello tour. I want to give this album a real chance to be heard and that just can’t happen when you support an album for such a short amount of time.
As far as things that I’m doing in the live show to help avoid burning out so quickly on this tour, I’ve included a fair amount of improvisational sections in the set. That unpredictability creates an energy that forces me to stay in the moment. Being that the new album has more up-tempo songs than previous albums, I think that energy helps to keep things fun.
Birmingham Stages: Some artists say the current climate – Youtube, iTunes, satellite radio – is great for artists given that fans have so many avenues to access music. Some artists say for that same reason it’s difficult to separate yourself from the crowd and be heard. How do you feel about the current climate?
Castle: I don’t think there’s a clear-cut answer. There are benefits to the current music environment and there are negatives. It’s like the Wild West these days in that there are less steadfast industry rules than ever. It has never been easier for an artist to put out music and I think that’s good for singer/songwriters and bands that are truly approaching their music as art. However, with that comes over-saturation. I think one of the big negatives to the current environment is that full-length albums seem to be more of an antiquated way of putting out music. I think a lot fewer singer/songwriters and bands are capable of consistently putting out full-length albums. I think if you take a look at artists that do, you’ll find an overall higher quality of music than an artist that only puts out singles. Artistically, you learn so much more through the process of putting out entire albums.
At the end of the day, I think that you still separate yourself from the fray by being great live. You don’t ever want someone to come and see you live and leave saying “that’s not as good as the record.”
Jerry Castle will perform at The Nick on Thursday, July 12. Doors open at 9 p.m. and showtime is 10 p.m. Tickets to the 21+ show are $6 and can be purchased at www.thenickrocks.com.
Photo Credit: Joshua Black Wilkins