Hi Jerry, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hey! Thanks! Better than most and worse than some.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Make Do”?
I decided that I needed a philosophical excuse to become a more focused slacker, so I wrote “Make Do”. I’m kidding of course…sort of. The meaning of the song is to play the hand that you’re dealt, the best you can, and to have a good time while you’re doing it. Life in modern society can be such a grind. Financial success is held in the highest regard. We’re taught that if we work hard, we can accomplish anything that we want. It also seems that we’re taught that if we’re not making ourselves completely miserable, then we’re not working hard enough, which is utter bullshit. I think it’s just as important to make room for the light and happiness to seep in, as it is to doggedly pursue our goals. If you’re not having fun, then why bother?
I wrote “Make Do” back in May and recorded it remotely with my band. I recorded a vocal and acoustic to a click track, sent it to my drummer, who also has a home studio, he recorded his drums and then sent those tracks back to me. I sent the drums, acoustic guitar and vocal to the bass player, he added his part, and then he sent those tracks back to me. I followed the same process with the banjo player and guitarist. Once I had all of the parts put together, I sent it to my old buddy Jim Cooley (Luke Combs, Sam Hunt, Chris Janson) and he mixed it. This is literally the first time I’ve ever recorded a song that none of the musicians were ever in the same room.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
Not really. It was late at night back in May. Almost everyone was in bed and I went into my studio with the intent of trying to write a song. I literally said to my son “I’m going to go in here and see if I can come up with something.” The song was finished before I went to bed. I think it was just what was going on in my life. I had this record recorded and ready to go and I couldn’t tour. I had zero control over the situation and all I could do was to make the most of the situation. It was time to “Make Do”. That’s right, I just quoted myself.
Any plans to release any sort of music video for this single?
Indeed there is! We just wrapped up the editing of the video. We shot the footage at Percy Priest Lake and Dam, which is located about 10 miles east of downtown Nashville. I feel like we did a good job on the video of capturing the vibe of the song with a simple production theme and approach. Finishing videos is a lot like finishing songs for me it that once they’re recorded, edited and finished, I never watch or listen to them again. The video comes out on the same day as the single, which is Fri Aug 21.
The single comes off your new album Midnight Testaments – what’s the story behind the title?
I’m a night owl and a lot of my song ideas come late at night and often, they come a couple of hours after I go to bed. I also work a lot in the studio by myself late at night. Those two things are where the “Midnight” part comes from. The “Testaments” part is a tip of the hat to the gospel music that was so heavily influential on me as a young kid. Songs on my album like “Stars Align”, “Pick Up Your Guitar” or “Free” have a gospel vibe to them lyrically. Hell, you could change the hook in “Pick Up Your Guitar” to “Kneel Down And Pray” and the song would be a lyrically cohesive gospel song. I don’t set out to write heartfelt personal songs about overcoming adversity but that’s what ends up coming out of me on a considerable amount of my songs.
How was the recording and writing process?
I make it a point to change up my songwriting process on every album. On this album, Midnight Testaments, I wrote most of the songs right after I had recorded another unreleased album. The general feedback of that album was that it felt a bit bipolar, with some of the album feeling like alternative rock and some of the songs having a more country vibe. I decided that I’d just write some more songs and see what happened, so I booked one studio date per week for a three-week period. During the first five days of the week, I wouldn’t sit down to try to write complete songs. I’d write down a lyric here or there and I’d record melodies that came to mind but I wouldn’t try to finish the songs. Instead, I’d mediate on my ideas and I wouldn’t try to force them. If I had an idea, great! If I didn’t have any ideas, that was fine too. Two days before it was time for me to go into the studio, I’d sit down to finish songs and I wouldn’t stop until they were. In those two days, I’d finish 3-4 songs. The first week I did that, it was extremely nerve wracking but after I heard the results in the studio, I decided that that was the program I was going to follow for the next two weeks. I really felt like each week, the songs got a little better.
How did the current health and social situation influence the writing on this record?
All of the songs on “Midnight Testaments”, except for “Make Do”, were written before the quarantine began. It was very influential on that song in that a set of circumstances existed that made it impossible to release and support the record through touring. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it and I’m sure that subconsciously I was coming to terms with making the most of the situation.
What role does Nashville play in your music?
When you go out to hear music in Nashville, you really don’t hear bad music. You might hear a particular style that you don’t like but it’s rare that you hear artists or bands that should find another profession. Nashville has definitely helped to raise the bar of what I expect of myself as an artist.
My favorite thing about Nashville is the level of musicianship that’s at your disposal for recording or playing live shows. If somebody isn’t available or quits, you can just move right to the next guy without missing a beat. Don’t get me wrong, I have my guys that I prefer playing with but one person’s unavailability isn’t going to shut down the entire show. Not only is it not going to shut down the show, the next person that you bring in is probably going to be a bad ass in their own right. Everyone that plays in my band lives within a mile of me. If I want a string section, a horn section, pedal steel or gospel vocals, it’s all just a text away here in Nashville.
How has your particular upbringing in the Appalachian Mountain influenced your music?
Musically, gospel, country and bluegrass are practically dosed in the water where I was raised. My mother had me when she was just 15 and I was extremely close to my grandparents. My grandfather was a textbook old school, hard-core, hellfire, by god blue-collar Appalachian Mountain man that was a career welder. You were expected to “earn your keep” from the get go. I was mowing lawns, baling hay, setting tobacco, hunting and fishing before I was 12. I mention hunting and fishing because that was literally our mains source of food when I was a kid. Those early years of your childhood are always with you, for better and for worse. I didn’t get my first guitar until I was 20 years old and when I did, despite the fact that I had seen a lot of the world and listened to a lot of different types of music, country and roots music was what came out of me when I started playing.
What were some of the emotions you get to explore on this record?
I’d say pensiveness, grief, joy, and acceptance are the main emotions that I explored on this record.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
First of all, it’s rare that I sit down with the intent of writing a song about a particular subject. I usually start, get a few lyrics and a melody going, and the subject matter of the song seems to reveal its self to me. With that being said, a lot of my actual life bled over into these songs. I don’t want to overly give away what each individual song is about, because songs can mean different things to different people, but I will say that a former longtime band mate had died and another close friend had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away as well. At the same time, I was in a new relationship that felt good and I felt loved in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was definitely trying to navigate some pretty extreme emotions during the writing of this record. I was super dug into music for most of the year leading up to writing and recording this record, so I feel like that made me more open and in tune to the song ideas that the universe was presenting to me.
What else is happening next in Jerry Castle’s world?
In the near term, I’m going to get this album out, do some live streams and some more music videos. As soon as it’s safe to tour, I intend to go on the road for an extended amount of time. I anticipate that that will be sometime in the spring of 2021 and I’m hoping to be touring in the UK shortly thereafter. The initial reaction to the new album has been great in the UK and spending time playing live shows and building my following in the country is a big priority.