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INTERVIEW: Chris Castino

Hi Chris, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Howdy, Vents! I’ve been feeling the warm sunshine here in MN; we made it through the darkness of winter.  It’s no joke! But now, late winter, here, is really time of, like, a big inhale of fresh air and the tickle of sun! Feeling good!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Chinese Whispers”?

Folks that know my music might disagree but this song is the first time I put it all together.  What I’m saying is: its the right combination of an attractive melody matched with personal and honest lyrics.  Technically its a good song, and emotionally its a good song. I mean, that’s all you can hope for as a songwriter! So much harder than I just made it sound.  We can’t be discouraged by the slowness of our own evolutions, things happen on their own schedule.  I’ve been writing songs since I was about 6 years old. Ha, I’m no prodigy.  But that first tune was quite adorable.  OK my point is that I have been pursuing the craft of songwriting ever since that time.  And at this point of my life I’m encouraged with what I see.  And when you are making something like art, you can only judge it by if you, yourself, like it.  Others will too. Almost always.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Certainly.  The album itself is dedicated to two wonderful people that left us too soon.  This song is about how our brains process grief.  We wonder what we should have, might have done differently. We dream about other outcomes.  We make them alive in real ways in our dreams and feel them there.  The term Chinese Whispers is the name used by some for a game of “telephone” where a thing gets said and as its passed around it gets less clear.  Selfishly, I felt blindsided when those people passed away.  I had heard only rumors about how they were.  You know what I’m saying?

Any plans to release a video for the single?

 I dug out some old super 8 film of my family and with the help of Nathan Nelson of Treedome Productions in Winona, MN we made a video.  I remember everyone in that old footage, but those watching obviously won’t know any of those people, so it’s kinda dreamy that way.  Nathan really edited it to feel slightly non-congruent…like our dreams.  Dreams are a theme of the song.

The single comes off your new album Brazil – what’s the story behind the title?

Brazil is the name of one of the tunes, first and foremost.  That song is the story of a person who is worried about being trapped in their shitty life, and finally decides to do something dramatic.  They spontaneously fly to Brazil to escape it all.   Brazil is no paradise in reality.  Have you ever heard of the term “pulling a geographic”?  This is what I’m talking about in this song.  Its probably a theme throughout when I think about it.

How was the recording and writing process?

Its was a joy recording it.  Dylan Nau is a great human.  We started all this several years ago. I had no focus at that point.  I was experiencing the harrowing peaks of a slowly evolving addiction for the first part of the recording.  It was the time when you have realized that you’ve lost all control and meanwhile you’re scrambling to try to keep everything in control. I was emerging into a place of painful truth as this record was being written.  It certainly didn’t hurt the songwriting.  As I began to be healthy for the first time in a long time, the project became a dream come true.  And we really started kicking ass on it toward the end. A lot of fun.

What was it like to work with Dylan Nau and how did that relationship develop?

Yeah, Dylan is incredible.  Can’t say enough about him. He work with my good friend Nicholas David (The Feelin) on several really good albums.  It was clear he knew what he was doing.  He also was a brother to me and was just there everyday when I was going through changes.  And I fell in love with the process of recording music.

How much did he get to influence the album?

From a producing standpoint,  I made most of the artistic choices but Dylan plays so many instruments on this record.  His pedal steel work is killer.  His keyboard parts are essential.  And he was right about a lot of directional stuff. I trust him.  I really wanted to produce this record myself.  Now that I have I’d actually love to have Dylan produce my next one, we’ll see.

Would you call this a departure from your previous musical work?

Yes and no.  My longtime band The Big Wu is a rock band.  We hit pretty hard, especially live. So this record is about the songs not the grooves. Although it does have some groove to it at times.  This album is the culmination of a journey.  So there’s some reflections of those places. Some musical reminiscing. Fans of The Big Wu will feel some familiarity.  And if you’ve never heard of The Big Wu I think you might like it even more.

Did you approach this record as a conceptual album?

No.  The themes on this record developed naturally because of what I was going through in real time.  Really some of the biggest changes in my life occured during this record (writing and recording).  Its not a coincidence.  Coming out as a solo artist demanded that I be honest and that was fucking hard when you kinda know that you are a drug addict.  There’s a lot of healing in there.

What role does Minneapolis play in your music?

I find it challenging to be from Minneapolis.  We have very high expectations of our music makers.  It’s always been that what we “put out” to the world has to represent us properly.  Many talented groups (including The Big Wu) never fit that bill.  Bands like Mint Condition or Jonny Lang really are quite successful everywhere except at home.  The “darlings” of the scene get more than their fair share of attention, and I don’t think that’s good for them either.  The best part about where I live is the abundance of incredible musicians to work with.  Otherwise I create music despite being from here not because of it. Always have.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I’m always inspired by Justin Vernon, Paul Simon, Chris Koza, Dawes, Dylan. Those are some of my faves.  And I can never deny the influence of Hunter/Garcia and the things I write and play.

Any plans to hit the road?

Maybe. At this point I’m shying away from bar gigs and would love to play small theaters around the midwest.  I’ve got such a great group of musicians that I’ve been working with but I like to play my friends well so…we’ll see!!  I love being on the road.  And I also love being a homebody.  There’s a perfect balance in there. There totally is.

What else is happening next in Chris Castino’s world?

I’ve been performing with a great bluegrass group from Milwaukee called Chicken Wire Empire and I’m thinking of doing my next record with them.  The Big Wu will be making appearances around the upper midwest and rockies.  I’ll be busy with music and recognizing my attachments and obstacles to peace in the Buddhist sort of way that I have to do.  I love where I’m at.  The future might be pretty cool.  I don’t see why not!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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