Castle Black Interview
November 2019. Written by Brie Coder. Edited by Abby Lane Taylor.
Photos by Mark Rubbo, Castle Black. Photos provided by Behind The Curtain Media.
Being in a trio band can be very hard work. Each musician must work a little bit more than those who may have four or more members in their group. Post-punk group Castle Black on the other hand, make it seem like being in a trio band is a walk in the park. With a female-front founder, vocalist, and guitarist, Leigh Celent, she takes the bull by the horns by creating music that helps empower women, but also stores hope that the music made nowadays can motivate people to make a change.
Recently, Castle Black released Dead in a Dream, a three-track EP melting pot of punk, post-punk, grunge, alternative, and new wave influences. Their self-titled song “Dead in a Dream,” sounds as if The Doors and Hole got together to make one trippy piece. “Know Me, Anyway” is a catchy tune that focuses on not knowing a person, though you might think you do. “B4 U Do the Same” starts off with a beautiful guitar opener, followed by the drums that complement the guitar so well. Celent’s vocal style is very upbeat, even though the lyrics “the night is gone, I’ll just slip away,” have a dark undertone to it. Castle Black’s sound clarifies that grunge was never dead, instead it’s being reinvented to fit the social standards that are happening in today’s society.
Brie Coder: First off, congratulations on your new EP release! Thank you guys for taking the time to do this interview!
Leigh Celent: Thank you! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!
Brie: Please introduce yourself, what role you have in the band, and one album that you enjoy listening to from the beginning to the end with no skips in between.
Leigh: I’m Leigh, and I’m the vocalist/guitarist for NYC based rock band, Castle Black. There are definitely a good number of albums I listen to start to finish, but one of my go-to’s, especially if I’m just feeling sad or feeling like I need something to connect with, is the National’s Boxer.
Joey Russo: Joey Russo, drums. Minus the Bear - Menos el Oso is an album I have listened to, front to back, countless times.
Scott: I'm Scott, I play bass and attempt to fix computer problems we have. I listen to a lot of albums start to finish, but my favorite for that is definitely Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders.
Brie: With the recent release of Dead in a Dream, how has the outcome been from your fans, supporters, label, etc.
Leigh: We don’t have a label, but I imagine that they would be happy with it, if we did. The EP is a culmination of this band’s journey up until now. It’s representative of the new line-up of the band, and speaks volumes about where we are going, sound-wise. Feedback from our peers and our fans has been really positive, a lot of the “best one yet” type vibes, so people seem to be digging the new stuff. We’ve had some great press write-ups on the EP, and we’re really excited to share the second half of the EP later this year.
Brie: Dead in a Dream is a great EP that is filled with a variety of different genres in only three songs. How did you guys come up with these songs?
Leigh: I think it’s important to write what you hear, whatever is strongly coming into your head. It’s equally important to challenge that sound and think, well what if I changed the voicing of this chord, or what if we changed the time signature here etc. Maybe it won’t sound as you want, and you go back to what you originally had or maybe the change will produce something even better than you could have imagined. As with the other songs, that’s how these songs were crafted, and even more so with this approach this time around. "B4 U Do the Same" was the first of the three that Joey wrote drums for. He was still living in Detroit at the time. I shared a vocal and guitar track of the song with him while on our tour that fall, and he already had drum ideas that he immediately demonstrated on the steering wheel. Before we knew that he was going to be moving to NYC, we just planned on sharing files back and forth. The first file I got from him post-tour with (electronic) drums blew me away, and I was very excited to hear them live when he eventually moved to NYC a few months later. "Dead in a Dream" is a reinvention of an older song that was never recorded. I just started to hear the song in a very different, heavier way, and Joey’s drums fit perfectly with the new vibe. "Know Me, Anyway "is honestly a blur. It was the last of the three to be fully completed but was based on an idea that I had written down maybe a year earlier.
Brie: Prior to this release, you guys dropped the gods that adored you. This too had a lot of different themes like Dead in a Dream has. What is the overall theme you want fans to take away from the music that you make?
Leigh: I want people to take away what they want to take away from the music, because music doesn’t have to be a static, unchanging beast; it’s written from a perspective, sure, but people’s own experiences shape their interpretation. Lyrically, I guess I write in a way that is highly interpretable, even if the songs have a certain meaning to me. Often, the songs have several different meanings to me, because I tend to mix stories and themes and subject matter. You can use the same language to describe the end of a relationship as you can to describe the end of the world, and the result is still something highly visual. As much as I love playing around with other aspects of the music, I love playing around with language too. I think the important thing is that these lyrics matter and come from a very personal place. I’ve never been a person who listens to music and ignores the lyrics; they are equally as important to me as the rest of the sound. At the end of the day, music is about connection and these songs have a lot of themes that people relate to.
Brie: Leigh, how does it feel to be the front-female of this band? Are there times where you feel under pressure to keep up with other rock bands that are predominantly male?
Leigh: I try not to think about it as a differentiating factor, and I really long for the day when we are past labels and division, and everyone is just a moral and just person, and that misogyny and sexism (and a ton of other -isms) don’t exist. I obviously prefer to be around people with that same mentality, but the reality is that there are many people in this world that still disrespect, abuse, and objectify women on a daily basis, and, sometimes, I have to interact with them. I don’t find it hard to keep up with predominantly male rock bands, just because they are male; we work extremely hard and have a very driven stamina. I’m sure we are working harder than the average band, regardless of gender, and are on par with our hardest working peers, regardless of gender. What I do feel pressure from is having to interact with people who inherently don’t respect women, who may treat me differently because I am a woman, or just having to interact with people who only care about themselves. It’s stressful to feel that you have a voice in all of this, and to know that speaking up is the right thing to do when you see that something isn’t right, but knowing how hard that can be to do it all the time…What do I do when I overhear the random guy at the bar, with his girlfriend right next to him, rating the likability of a popular artist based solely on how cute he finds her, as if he somehow can actually be the judge of her worth…What do I do if the sound person clearly treats me differently than my male bandmate (only happened a handful of times)…What do I do when I see a group of men, one with his wife present, looking at another female band member’s body as if he has a right to it...What do I do when there is a drunk man standing on stage too close to me while I set up, not leaving, thinking he has a right to that space? The list is endless. It takes a lot of simply not caring what others think, even those close to you, to try to stand up for yourself and others, and for what you know to be right. This is where I find it hard to keep up, because dealing with these issues regularly is exhausting when you only want the focus to be the music and your show. Yes, these issues pale in comparison to what other women face and have gone through, and at the end of the day, I can handle this part of the battle (listen to our song “Sierra”.)
Brie: It looks like you guys have a stacked tour this summer. Are there any tour stories you’ve had that stood out to you in either a good or bad way?
Leigh: One of my favorite stories was when we were in Indianapolis, staying at a friend’s house (who we didn’t know very well at the time, we had met him once in person I think at that point). He wasn’t home when we arrived, so he graciously gave us the code to his door and told us all about his dog Oswald who would be there. Oswald is a little skittish with men at first, so I went in before the others and got him used to me. He was an absolute sweetheart, but he managed to get out the door when we the rest of the guys came inside and started running down the street. Joey eventually caught up to him, offering the one dog treat we had, peanut butter, but Oswald was still all about trying to run away. Joey flawlessly tackled him, and carried him back to the house, because we didn’t have a leash. Turns out, Oswald does this a lot.
Scott: My favorite moment from a tour earlier this year was when there was some confusion on which venue we were playing that night. We started loading in at the wrong bar, and when they asked, we just told them we were playing that night. They actually let us get all our stuff in and set up before we realized our mistake and had to load out from that bar and load in at the bar down the street.
Joey: Mine is from Chapel Hill, NC. [I broke] my bass drum head mid-set, and [switched] it in favor of a floor tom on its side. The improvised "bass drum" got us through the night and provided a great opportunity the next morning to seek out an awesome drum shop in Raleigh that had a 28" bass drum head in stock - a rare find!
Brie: Finally, are there any statements, plugs, or words of wisdom you’d like to leave with our readers and your supporters?
Leigh: Be kind. Small things matter. Love the earth and treat the earth well. Even if you think you are a decent human being, analyze your behavior and habits often and constantly seek to improve things, not just for yourself, but for others, and especially for our rapidly suffering earth and environment. Those things are more important than anything we can possibly do musically, but we’ll always use our music to try to make the world a better place.