Music

Gem Found: An Interview with Damon Castillo

Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats.

"The scene was littered with glass and band equipment, so we went to work salvaging our gear as the paramedics arrived. That's when I had one of those life-defining moments. I found my vocal microphone out in the middle of the freeway, and I knew right then that music was what I was supposed to be doing. The mic still works; I sing on it every show."

This is how Damon Castillo, songwriter and vocalist for the San Luis Obispo, California-based Damon Castillo Band, describes the revelation that visited him after a freeway accident in which his band's van flipped over a number of times. The group later memorialized the moment for their fans by including an image of the wrecked vehicle on a t-shirt: a celebration of a serious and life-changing event... with a sly grin.

This kind of interplay between the deadly serious and the humorous, and the steely perseverance required to keep-on in spite of it all, is something Damon Castillo does with deceptive ease. His gorgeous voice, which can alternately caress a melody with a tender jazz feel, seduce a crowd with slow-jam sizzle, or spit rhymes with rhythmic yet characteristically laid-back precision, is a real-life wonder; one of my personal favorite discoveries of the past decade. His lyrics run the gamut from the whimsical ("Annie Hall") to the quietly philosophical ("Revolving Door") to the confrontational ("Claim to Fame"), while his ridiculously tight band cooks like a living, breathing, road-tested, California-pop-soul organism.

Laurel Lane is the name of the Damon Castillo Band's latest recording; it takes its name from the group's studio in San Luis Obispo. Produced by Grammy-winning producer Ross Hogarth (Ziggy Marley, Melissa Etheridge), Laurel Lane features guest shots from greats like Sheila E., Rami Jaffee (Wallflowers, Foo Fighters), Lee Thornburg (Tower of Power, Supertramp), Lon Price (Elvis Presley, Allen Toussaint, Ziggy Marley) and Sean Hurley (Alicia Keys, John Mayer).

What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?

I can't remember the exact song now, but as a four or five year old, I remember needing to jam Barry White! Yes, I was a romantic dude, even back then. Recently, I had the opportunity to play with a ProTools session for one of his songs. It was genius. The arrangement and performances were incredible to hear with the individual tracks soloed, and it was inspiring to play with the mix. When you've grown up with a song, it can be so difficult to try and hear it again for the first time. I was lucky to have that opportunity.

Who is your favorite "unsung" artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.

I love many artists that somehow stay under the radar for whatever reason, but I have to say Dominic Castillo is my favorite. Whenever I hear a new song of his, it moves me to write and play music too. He's my biggest inspiration. I always come away telling myself, "I wish I had written that!" There's a new song that he just released called "Nobody Falls in Love Anymore" that just kills me. The music and the lyric are inseparable: "Everything that we say, like an L.A. freeway, slowing us down, honking those horns... Nobody falls in love anymore."

Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can't be directly heard in your music?

Woody Allen! His films just speak to me. I would have to say, that I am his ideal viewer. Although I did write a song, "Annie Hall", you can't really say my songs evoke Woody in anyway. There's no clarinet in them.

Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other...?

Songwriting is an itch. I'd be writing songs whether I had a band, studio, gigs or not. It's an urge that can't be fought, and there's nothing more satisfying that scratching that itch.

Name one contemporary song that encourages/inspires you about the future of songwriting/pop music.

"Brandy Alexander" by Ron Sexsmith and Feist comes to mind. It really is a perfect little pop song. Just like the drink, it goes down easy.

The artist Damon Castillo named as his favorite unsung artist/songwriter in the second question above, Dominic Castillo, shares the Castillo surname because the two are identical twins. Dominic Castillo is an artsy indie rocker based in Portland, Oregon, and also just happens to be a massive talent worth checking out. He wrote the excellent "Is it True?" on Laurel Lane. Check out song samples from Laurel Lane, photos, tour info, and more at Damon Castillo's myspace page, and peep the video for "One Life Stand", the second single from Laurel Lane, below.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image