Castle - band photo

Interview: Defying Doom with Castle’s Mat Davies

Castle - band photo

Castle (l to r): Mat Davies, Liz Blackwell, Al McCartney

Musical categorization in the information age is not only increasingly complex but very likely to become wholly redundant as genres and styles blend and mutate ever faster. Thanks to the internet, the rate of both music discovery and consumption has accelerated such that any recording now receives as much if not greater recognition for the ways it incorporates a range of preexisting styles and genres than it does for more traditional concerns, such as production and songcraft (for those interested, Agalloch’s Don Anderson discusses the subject at length during his recent guest lecture at University of Victoria.)

But what, you may ask, does that have to do with Castle?

Doom – it’s all about doom: the resurgent popularity of the term “doom” as a sub-category of metal is complicated by its use as an umbrella reference for numerous offshoots – traditional doom, stoner doom, blackened doom, etc. – to the point where it is, ostensibly, synonymous with the definition of heavy metal itself. “I’m from the Eighties, man,” says Castle guitarist, Mat Davies. “I grew up with Judas Priest and Dio and Metallica – it’s all heavy metal to me.” But of the band’s initial reception in 2011, he was amazed that reviewers described In Witch Order as a doom record. “I never ever in my wildest dreams would have thought we’d be called a doom band!…Now people call it ‘classic metal’, but it comes down to classification and I agree with the guy from Agalloch, I think it’s bullshit.”

While both Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath are considered rudimentary “heavy metal” bands, it is the latter alone that is crowned the pater familias of doom. Sabbath, says Davies, “…had so many textures in their music, and rhythmic shifting – it’s really genius shit. The fact that it’s lasted 50 years or 40 years is a testament to how crafty it is.” Where Castle’s sound is concerned however, “Doom was never the ideal…obviously we do have elements of that, but we have elements of so much other stuff.”

A self-taught guitarist, Davies’ approach to songwriting is notably inventive and occasionally unconventional, but never ostentatious: “When we sit down and write a record, what comes out is what comes out, I don’t think there’s any preconceived notion that we’re going to try to make a certain kind of record – like I said, the only thing was to try to do something different…The longer I’m at this songwriting thing, one thing that I’ve learned is, you let it go where it needs to go. You let it breathe and live, and whether it makes it onto a record is totally dependent on how far it goes. You can only force the issue so much. The more you struggle with something the more I think it’s a struggle for people to listen to it in a way. If something takes on a life, you just let it run.”

Over the past several years female voices have brought distinctive and haunting sounds to innovative heavy rock acts that eschew any attempts to categorize them as “female-fronted”. Castle bassist Liz Blackwell took on principal vocal duties after In Witch Order was written, says Davies, and he finds gender-specific labelling uncomfortable: “We never intended or came out of [that subgenre], and definitely don’t play up to it. We don’t use that as an angle. I just see Liz as a really strong frontperson who happens to be female, and that quality adds a lot to the music.”

Based in California, the band cleverly rejected more specific geographical categorization earlier this year by documenting their “Cult California” tour with a travel diary that featured visits to “weird” California attractions and historical landmarks. Davies says the correlation between music and location has both creative and mnemonic value:

“That first record was written in San Francisco when I was living there almost 10 years ago now, but when I hear that record I hear that time, and I definitely think that that record was influenced by the city – the landscape, the weather, and everything else – it’s just a feeling, you know? Not everyone’s going to pick up on it or maybe no one else ever would, but for me it evokes that feeling…I think it’s really a combination, when music combines with a place, it’s like the product of two things, you hear some of that desert rock stuff and that IS the sound of the desert really, when you’re in the desert driving through it…It’s funny because when we wrote Under Siege we were constantly going from our studio to our car and just listening to it, on the highway; we write a lot of lyrics in that situation, in the car, singing and trying out different ideas. It’s just another technique – if it works in a car, it’s probably going to work.”

Currently on tour, the band’s Canadian dates were unfortunately cancelled at the eleventh hour; however three shows in the Pacific Northwest remain (see poster below) and Davies says that plans for a full Canadian tour are underway to coincide with the release of their next album, which they have been recording incrementally.

“When we’ve done previous records we’ve toured for a certain amount of time, whether it’s eight months or a year, and then we stopped and we wrote solid. But we don’t really have that luxury right now because we’re trying to keep touring through the process, so we’re giving ourselves a couple of months and then a tour, and then another couple of months, so we’ll see how that works out. It is a little frustrating but to me the next step is to do both at once, because what’s cool about touring and playing live is that it definitely changes the way you write, there tends to be more of an immediate response with things ready to play live because you’re thinking like that anyways.”

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Castle - West Coast Tour 2015

Castle – West Coast Tour 2015