Moats and Ramparts: Doom Rockin' with Castle!
Last month Castle took Japan by storm with their tour with GUEVNNA and man was it a blast. I think we all have to admit that 2016 was a great year for all sorts of Extreme music. It was especially awesome for Doom, as it seems the genre has been expanding domestically and more and more bands from abroad are coming to Japan. On that topic, Castle's guitarist Mat was kind enough of to give us an interview before their show at Earthdom. Check out the interview transcript below!
Kaala: So Mat, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Mat: Yeah, I'm Mat. I play guitar with Castle.
And how did you guys start? You guys started in 2009, correct?
Yeah, kind of. I mean, I started - Castle was a solo project of my own since like 2005 or 6. Then we started to record our first record in 2009, which is essentially when we kind of became a band.
And that record was later released in 2011?
That's right, In Witch Order.
So there's In Witch Order in 2011 and then the next in...2014?
(laughing) I'm getting them mixed up.
2012 was Black Lands, 2014 was Under Siege, and this year was Welcome to the Graveyard.
Ah that's right. So you started off as a solo project, how did you get the other guys into the band, how did that come about?
Well, when I met Liz there was really no grand design or master plan. It just kind of happened that I found out she was a singer. And I played her the demos, she really liked it, so we just started bouncing ideas around. It just started like that, you know. I had tried getting a band going over the years and really maybe just totally wasn't into being in a band at that point. I was more into writing. But the thing with Liz just kind of took on a life of its own. It stayed a recording project even after she joined. We didn't play gigs until after the record came out. Summer 2011 was the first time we played shows. Um, something like that. So even after she joined it was still like that. Our drummer at the time lived in Canada, so we never even rehearsed. He just learned the songs, came and we recorded the record.
Did you have a fill in drummer for the live shows or would he come down and travel for the shows.
Well back then, like I said, we were just winging it. We had no plan. So when we recorded the record, it was Liz and I and an old friend of mine from Toronto played drums. And so he played live for a year and a-half in the band. He did the first few tours and still plays on the records today. But after a little while he just wasn't into touring, which is how we ended up getting a couple different guys to go on the road and be more live drummers. So you know, we still have that going on. And then he's so far recorded on all this stuff.
So you said in the beginning you guys were just doing studio stuff, recording. What changed, what pushed you to start doing live shows?
Just having the opportunity to do it. I mean, we got offered shows. I think the first tour we did was in Europe. So our label was always there and it just happened. It was in front of us so we started doing it and that was it. Never stopped.
So is this your guys' first time in Japan?
When did you fly in?
Tuesday. Tuesday we left, but we got here Wednesday.
Are you feeling the jet lag yet?
Not at all. None of us got jet lagged.
Yeah we had heard all the horror stories and everyone we met on our last tour on the West Coast, people that we know saw that we were going to Japan and everyone who had been here offered up their take on the horror of the jet lag. But I think because we had just gotten off five tours in a row, our schedules are so messed up it really doesn't - nothing is different. Before we flew we were going on three hours sleep. None of slept on the flight. Then when we got to Ryo's (GUEVNNA) we just kind of went to bed at a normal time. Woke up the next day and we were like "anybody have this?" Nobody had it. So yeah, maybe it will kick in. I've had it in Europe where it kicked in like four or five days after, you know?
Yeah for me it was pretty bad [when I first moved here]. I was getting up at like 4 o'clock in the morning for like two weeks.
(At this point Liz (Bass and Vocals of Castle) enters the room to bring something to Matt. We have a brief conversation about the use of surgical masks in Japan.)
So you guys came in Wednesday. You got here, went to bed. Woke up and last night you guys had your first show.
Yeah in Yokohama, at El Puente, like I was telling you about earlier.
What did you think about that?
Oh it was amazing. We had no idea what to expect. We played with these guys, GUEVNNA, and that was awesome. They were great. An uh, we had a pretty good crowd there.
El Puente is kind of infamous I guess.
Yeah, a lot of Powerviolence bands play there. And it's really involved in the scene, there's always shows going on there. It's very beloved.
Yeah we actually met people on our last tour that were friends with Shiggy. They knew him from California. So I had heard about him before we even got here.
So you had that kind of connection already.
Totally. We hit it off anyways.
I know it's a little bit early in the tour, but what - you said you didn't really know what to expect like - how are you feeling now about your time since you arrived?
It's kind of just like, how should I say it, it's not overwhelming but it's hard to believe sometimes that we're actually here. I guess it's like the first time we went to Europe. It's a great feeling. It doesn't ever really leave you. A sense of excitement about the most mundane things, you know. Just doing this boring thing but I'm in Japan, so it's kind of cool. And everything so far has taken on a little extra special meaning. Like the show last night, stuff like that. And hopefully all of them.
So you played El Puente last night, Earthdom tonight, and you're playing again tomorrow or Sunday?
Tomorrow yeah, is in Osaka. And then Sunday is a grind - it's called Grind Freaks festival. But it's not Grind per say. And Monday it's back to Tokyo.
OK, and Monday is the last night right?
It is, yeah.
And are you going to be spending any extra time here after?
No, we're flying out on Tuesday. We debated it. But we thought keep it short and sweet this time. Let's just get our feet wet.
So you said earlier that you were touring a lot and I'm assuming that's for the release of the new album this year. So can you tell me a little bit about the recording of that album and the tours that followed?
Yeah. We recorded it in - started in January and finished in February in Portland. And Billy Anderson did it, he's pretty well known in circles of Doom Metal and all that stuff. But uh, it's the third record he did for us, or with us. And this time was a little different. We spent a lot more time on the record. I think two weeks total. The record before was eight or nine days. Black Lands, the first record we did with him, took four. So we kind of got a little deeper into the process. Although people who reviewed it say it sounds a little simpler. But we kind of made it to be like that, it's not - we tear it apart and there's not really a lot going on underneath. So we took our time doing that. And then kind of stripped the sound down to make it a little bigger sounding I guess. Sonically we were able to make it kind of bigger by stripping it down. So that's a lot different than Under Siege which we kept on piling - building it up sonically in a different way. Just layering tracks. And sometimes that kind of has the opposite effect of reducing what you're hearing in a way. So we were pretty deliberate in doing that for this record because it was the nature of the songs. They're more melodic, they're a little more wide open. So we wanted to kind of fill that spot with tone more than anything. And Billy's great at that.
So we did that and then you know, sit around and wait for a couple months for the record to get pressed. But we had booked a tour before we knew any of the scheduling of that record. And that was to go play a festival called the Maryland Doom Fest in Frederick, Maryland. So as the record, we were kind of pushing for the record to [be released], but we finished that tour about 6 days before the new record came out. So we toured across the States without the new record and we were playing the new record. And then as soon as that tour was done, we went out two weeks later. You know, did another full United States tour. Which is why we did all these back to back tours. It just kind of worked out like that.
And how long was the second tour?
It was a long one I think. Maybe five weeks - almost five weeks.
Wow so you guys are touring a lot. And then you went to Europe after, right?
Canada. Canada was, oh wait a minute. I can't remember. Holy shit (chuckles). Oh we went to Canada first. And that was a four week tour and then Europe was a four week tour as well.
And now you're here in Japan.
And how did you get set up with GUEVNNA and the tour here in Japan.
Just really randomly. Just one of those things. I was pretty relentless with the writing people sometimes. And I find to just make the connection you have to take a stab in the dark. And I think I did that with uh, I think I wrote the guy who's doing the Grind Freaks Fest. I wrote him first because I saw he was putting on shows in and around Tokyo, or so I thought. I wrote him out of the blue and I said "Hey, we've had a record come out in Japan and are trying to get there. Just trying to make some connections to do a tour eventually."
And he was like, "Oh cool, I'd put you on this fest but you can't come all the way just to do that. You should talk to these other guys." And one of the guys he mentioned was Ryo from GUEVNNA, so that's how - I wrote him and we just got talking. He was great, he booked it very quickly. And it was way in advance. So when we looked at the tickets they were very cheap. Which is how we were able to do it. You know, do a DIY, kind of punk rock tour of Japan. And basically make it pay for itself because we did it so far in advance. You know, we were always "Oh to go there it's going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars." But it wasn't the case at all. I'm sure if we went to get those tickets a month before, it would be.
Yeah Ryo does a lot of tours and stuff. Like recently he brought over Hoopsnake from Canada.
I saw that, yeah. That's really cool.
So he's pretty active in all that. A lot of booking and stuff.
I just got lucky. I got pointed in the right direction.
So how did you get introduced to the Grind Freaks, were you listening to Unholy Grave because I think Grind Freaks is normally associated with them.
Oh so that's what it was. And I think is that not the drummer? (Gestures to Temi who just entered the room)?
Yeah, Temi is the drummer for GUEVNNA and Unholy Grave.
So maybe that's what it was. Maybe it was through Unholy Grave and checking those guys out online. I'm pretty sure that’s how it actually happened. This is going back almost a year. So I’m trying to remember.
So this tour has basically been a year in the works.
Almost. It started off in March when we started talking. So not quite a year but getting there.
So do you listen to any bands from Japan yourself?
Yes. Actually been quizzing Ryo on that. I've always kind of been into, not a ton, I mean I don't know everything about it or anything like that. But you know GISM was one of the first Japanese bands I got into. Also Zeni Geva, another band. A couple of obscure bands, you know you're just collective records and finding obscure bands. Like Zadkiel, who I'm trying to find their EP while I'm here. Nothing else is really coming to mind right now. But there are a few others for sure.
I would normally ask you, "What are the best bands you've played with here?" But it’s a bit too early in the tour for that one. That's one I would do for a post-tour interview.
So is this going to be the last tour for the record?
Kind of. We're doing another tour in March in the United States. We're doing a festival in Minneapolis, so kind of [tour] based around festivals. It's a small fest but it should be pretty cool. And we're going to do a three week tour there and back. We're going to start writing in January and then set that aside to do this other tour. But there's some other stuff. We'll be doing some one off shows next year.
You guys are from San Francisco right?
Kind of. We've been living in LA off and on for like the last year now.
Do you guys play a lot of local shows in between tours?
No. San Francisco we barely ever play. LA we play more often just because we're there. So we usually play there a few times a year. San Francisco is like once a year, maybe. We'll probably just do some festivals in the United States but we'll see what happens.
And you said before you're going to start writing new material again in January?
So that's pretty soon to start new material. It seems like you guys have a really good - uh what's the word I'm looking for - momentum. Where you seem to write, release, tour.
Yeah I think especially when we tour so much. I start to go crazy. The ideas that we're having and so I can't wait to start writing. You know, I've got a little studio at my house and just kind of like do that there. And it's also a good way to decompress from touring. The other side of the brain, you know, shut the world out and go into this other thing. We're touring and it's just totally sensory overload, you know.
I understand. It sounds like the creative process almost starts when you're on the road.
Yeah it does, for sure. I think every record has started, except for the first record, all the other records, the seeds have been planted while we're on tour. Like the last record, the first song we wrote was "Down in the Cauldron Bog" and we wrote that while we were on tour in Europe. And the record before that, Under Siege, the first song we wrote was "Labyrinth of Death" and we wrote that when were on tour in Canada. So I think it's, both of those records are kind of based on those songs I mentioned in a way like tonally and the scales and these kinds of things. So it's kind of cool. So now we have some ideas and we're looking forward to see what happens.
It sounds like you start the creative process; you formulate this one song and it kind of...
Definitely yeah. I think there's an energy you get on the road. You kind of see outside of your normal perspective and you can really put that to some use. But writing music, ideas, words, things like that you know. It's cool because if I'm at home I get stuck in a rut like anyone I guess. When you're on the road you're definitely not in a rut. The rut would be welcome sometimes.
You guys must be pretty tired.
Well not even that. We stay stoked on tours enough that we didn't hit that point of exhaustion. We've always had a little bit of time to bounce back or whatever. But yeah, anyways, it's cool to make use of the energy from traveling.
That's pretty cool. One thing I was wondering, I meant to ask this earlier, you said you kind of started as a solo project and then Liz came on and it kind of took on a life of its own as you said. What were your initial inspirations for writing and how have those influences and inspirations changed over time?
I really just wanted to do something different. Not really compared to the rest of the world or music or anything, but just for myself. Like I grew up listening to Heavy Metal and I had come and gone with it over the years. And it just kind of came full circle, and that's all that I was playing on guitar for years at that time. But it was definitely - the approach was to do something different for myself but also to get back to where I had come from. Bands like Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Dio and Ozzy Osbourne and all that stuff. You know, guitar riff stuff. But at the time I was also listening to some Black Metal stuff and I found that really interesting how they were doing it. Bands like Emperor and Dark Throne, stuff like that. So kind of like putting some of that mood into it, and I've always been into 70s Rock music as well, so kind of taking all that and trying to do something a little different.
That was the original idea and I don't think it's much different these days, you know. I think we just kind of fool around with different ways to put the songs together or put the vocal melody on. Because you know, in the beginning I never really wrote with vocals in mind, it was completely instrumental. So I was just doing guitar stuff. And you know, over the years, the vocals have become more of an integral part of the song writing, you know. The more we played live and see what worked for Liz, what worked for the live performance and everything. And just kind of make that shine, that part of it too. So it was a balancing act a little bit to do that and keep the original ideas going.
Ok so that's it for my questions this evening. Do you have any last words for our readers?
Not so much, I mean I'm excited to be here. I'm looking forward to these shows and I'm really hoping we can build on it and come back, you know. It's kind of what we did in Europe and we're still going there on a fairly regular basis. So hopefully that will happen. Thanks for reading and checking out the music and everything else.
Castle's merch and releases can be purchased at their Bandcamp.