Saturday, 10 February 2018

CaStLeS



(This first appeared in issue #67 of Shindig! magazine.)

Three musicians, one static caravan and a 16-track portastudio. Mix together in the Snowdonian hills and see what happens. Duncan Fletcher finds out.


Though their sound has mutated since brothers Cynyr and Dion Hamer started making music as CaStLeS in 2008, an alchemy has been achieved by bringing in new member Calvin Thomas and swapping instrumental roles. The trio's brand of soft psych-pop can be heard on latest single 'Foresteering' which is taken from their similarly titled debut LP Fforesteering. It's an album full of charmingly melodic lo-fi delights.

There's something about the album's predominately Welsh language vocals that adds to the psychedelic appeal - “Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Welsh language is so mysterious in some ways” muses Cynyr, “There are very few people that understand and speak the language, so maybe when people hear it they are drawn by the mysticism, which is what psychedelia does to you really.”

Like their previous 'PartDepart' EP, Fforesteering was recorded on a Zoom 16-track portastudio in a static caravan at Cynyr's home in the Snowdonian hills. “Most of the songs were written there as well,” says Dion, “and the surrounding wilderness is what inspired the concept of the songs for the EP and album, so in a way it's all been one big site-specific project, using the surroundings as a subject, it almost comes across as a human character at times.” Cynyr adds “I live in the caravan so it's very convenient to have a home studio where we can get straight into recording after arriving home from work. It's a cool place to record, being on top of a hill and having great views for inspiration.”

Though natural beauty inspires them, the shared joy in making music is equally important - “The concept of escapism can exist anywhere... you can pretty much find anywhere to get away from it all,” explains Calvin, “but music in itself is a way to escape.”

 
Fforesteering is available now from www.castlesofficial.com

(Click over the jump for the full unpublished Q&A)



CH = Cynyr Hamer
DH = Dion Hamer
CT = Calvin Thomas

You formed CaStLeS as a duo in 2008. What did you sound like back then and how has your sound evolved. If you could travel back in time what advice would you give to your 2008 self?

CH: The sound was really rough and raw back then as a two piece, lots of fuzz and distortion stuff too.
DH: Yeah I suppose because we were limited to two instruments, we made up for the lack of layers with more linear variety and changes to a song, which we still try and do today as a three piece.
CH: The sound has evolved so much since then, just having another member in the band improved a lot of the dynamics, and helped bring out the songs more. In 2014 we had a change of vocal and instrument duties, with me switching to lead vocal and guitar, and Dion from playing guitar and lead vocal to playing drums and vocals...in doing this it felt like a new band, we also had a new list of songs which became our debut EP and debut album.
DH: We were starting to write and record more demanding songs that had a bit more focus on things like melodies and experimentation with sound, so it was an easy decision bringing Calvin in, there was plenty of work for him to do. Another reason was the lack of drummers in the area at the time! Even though it was always my favourite instrument, I hadn't been playing drums for a while because I'd also been playing guitar for another band, We Are Animal. So to an extent I had to re-learn the drums.
DH: If we could travel back in time to the band in 2008 we would probably shout at ourselves to record the songs we played live, there was definitely more emphasis on the live show back then, so those songs we used to play have all vanished from memory.

You recorded the Fforesteering album on a Zoom-16 in a static caravan. Sounds fun! What made you decide to record there and how was the experience?
 
CH: We've always recorded on the Zoom multitrack since the very beginning, so it felt right to use it to record our album, we had got to a point where we were happy with the sound that we were producing on it.
DH: Most of the songs were written there as well, and the surrounding wilderness is what inspired the concept of the songs for the EP and album, so in a way it's all been one big site-specific project, using the surroundings as a subject, it almost comes across as a human character at times.
CH: We also felt the bunch of songs we had for Fforesteering suited that DiY process. Recording in the static caravan also felt natural for it, since it's where we've recorded a lot of previous stuff. Also, i live in the caravan so it's very convenient to have a home studio where we can get straight into recording some music after arriving home from work. It's a very cool place to record music, being on top of a hill and having great views for inspiration.

Like your previous 'PartDepart' EP, Fforesteering is partly inspired by the landscapes of North Wales. To someone from the flatlands of Humberside it sounds idyllic. What is it about this region that fires your imagination? Is there much of a music scene there?

CH: The Snowdonian landscape is extraordinarily beautiful, just walking around this place gives a lot of inspiration to me personally, I always come up with ideas for songs or music while walking about, a lot of songs i write begin while being out in the countryside, or hiking up some steep hillsides. Whenever i get an idea out and about I'd record myself humming into my phone, then when I'd get home I'd find the humming notes to play on my acoustic and turn it into a song. So for me the landscape of this place brings out a lot of songs in me, which is one of the reasons for the concept of our Fforesteering album, all the greenery and mountains and open spaces of nature are great source of inspiration.

DH: Music is full of literal descriptions and stories of happenings in people's lives, using the wilderness as a subject in our songwriting helps us tell those kinds of stories in a less 'in your face' way. In terms of a music scene, even though there are great bands based up here, there isn't so much as a scene, we've been traveling to places like Cardiff and Wrexham, which we play more often than we do locally, mostly because of the lack of venues here, but it has actually been getting a bit better recently.

CT: To be fair, the concept of escapism can exist anywhere. I remember working in the flatlands of the Humberside myself and you can find solace in anywhere that you can feel yourself getting away from the hustle and bustle of working life, from the Mountainous region of Snowdonia to the hills and spills of the Lincolnshire Wolds you can pretty much find anywhere to get away from it all. But music in itself is a way to escape.

You've spoken in interviews before about Tropicalia bands such as Os Mutantes giving you courage and belief to sing in your own native tongue. What's the best thing about listening to songs in a language other than your own?

CH: Firstly I'd say different languages are very beautiful to hear, but it's cool to get hooked by a melody, or how the words sound without the knowledge of their meaning. And sometimes i appreciate the structure of songs even more when i don't understand what the person is singing about.
DH: Yeah I agree that it's probably true that you'd experience the song in a different way to someone who understands the lyrics, maybe knowing the lyrics to something could mess up your interpretation and understanding of what you thought the song was about, so I suppose it could work both ways. Also, maybe with being bi-lingual and already listening to music in two different languages, it feels that it was inevitable that we'd eventually be listening to other languages as well.

What is it about the Welsh language that lends itself so well to music we can broadly call psychedelic?

CH: I really don't know. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Welsh language is so mysterious in some ways. There are very few people that understand the language and speak the language, so maybe when people hear it they are drawn by the mysticism of it, which is what psychedelia does to you really.

Being a Hull lad my Welsh is not so great but Google Translate comes in very handy! My favourite title of yours is 'Ffrwydriadau O Deimladau' ('From Explosions Feelings' according to GT). Great title, what's the song about?

CH: Ffrwydriadau o Deimladau is a song about being conflicted by a lot of feelings, thoughts and emotions, and how being in nature calms all of it down.

What's the best thing about being in a band with a sibling?

CH: Probably the best thing is having some sort of telepathic understanding between us which makes working on music and songs a lot easier, which is also true for live performances.
DH: You can be honest to each other as well and not beat around the bush on things, there hasn't been any fist fights yet anyway, got that out of our system when we were toddlers. But yeah the telepathic thing is true, it's quite amazing sometimes how similar our thought patterns work and come together.

It must have been gratifying to play the BBC Introducing stage at last year's Reading and Leeds Festivals. How was it? Any backstage gossip?

CH: It was unbelievable playing the Reading and Leeds Festivals on the BBC introducing stage, the highlight of our year really. We'd like to say we met the Red Hot Chilli Peppers backstage and they invited us over to sunny California, but I'd be lying.
DH: Yeah I think we were too drunk on the festival vibe to stay around backstage, it was one of our first big festival experiences. We were lucky to have been part of the 'Horizons 12' scheme earlier in the year, a BBC and Arts Council scheme in Wales, they threw loads of live show dates and festivals at us, which was a massive boost for us in many ways, in getting the live show up to scratch and giving us some confidence, so it was good timing in preparation for R&L.

Looking forward you're set to play up the road at Liverpool Psych Fest in September. What are you most looking forward to about that weekend?

CH: I just recently started listening to Songhoy Blues, so at the moment i am most excited to see them live. But yeah, playing that festival will be a huge thing for us.
DH: Yeah there are some cool bands on the bill, some that we've only just discovered, so we've now got plenty of time to have a good listen to their stuff before seeing them live at the festival.
CT:  I've heard so many people say how good the festival is so we're very glad that they've invited us to play this year.

Any plans for a second album? How might it differ from Fforesteering?

CH: We're currently recording our second album right now, with intentions of having it out later in the year. It will have a bit more English language songs on it than the Fforesteering album, and there will be more of a loose concept running through, the songs on Fforesteering were heavily on one subject, these songs are more open and tackle a variety of subjects.
DH: Some tracks were written at the same time as Fforesteering and 'PartDepart' EP, we basically had around 30 songs ready to record back then but some didn't fit in on the EP and debut album, so they feature on the next album. We're trying to push ourselves on this one, our live show has always been a bit looser and louder than what we record, but this time round we're looking to bring some of that energy into the recording, we'll see how it goes, we've also set aside a bit more time to work on it this time round.