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Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Letter to a Young Lyricist

Hi Matt, 
Thanks for taking an interest in my work! Congrats on your decision to pursue music. As I'm sure you're aware, it's a long painful journey with lots of sacrifices but more fulfillment than the average career, I'd bet. 

I suspect that my lyrical proclivities are a bit abnormal, so I'm not sure my approach is worth replicating, but I'm happy to tell you my personal philosophy and opinion in regard to prose/lyrics:

1) Read everything. A writer without a thorough grasp of the english language and the myriad of ways brilliant people have been exploiting it for centuries is like a drummer without rudiments... she might hit a few nice pockets, but she won't have the means to get acrobatic and will work much harder at phrasing than one with a diverse vocabulary and historical knowledge. Watch people like Van Dyke Parks, Joni MitchellLeonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan speak in interviews. It’s not a coincidence that they are some of the greatest lyricists of all time.

2) Listen to everything. Dissect the lyrics that really impact you. Figure out why they were so effective. Early in my development I was impacted by the lyrics of Rufus Wainwright, Joanna Newsom, Perry Farrell, Black Thought, Thom Yorke, Pharaoh Monch, Mos Def, Bjork, MF Doom, etc., but it took me too long to understand why. As someone that wants to increase my lyrical arsenal, it would be wise for me to listen both as an average listener and as a word engineer, and articulate why a phrase impacts me the way it does, so I can apply it to my work.

3) Live through everything. A lyricist is just a journalist in a poet’s jacket. Even fiction writing is based on first hand experience. Every few years I run out of stories. When that happens, I have to accept that I've lost my input/output balance; I'm writing more than I'm experiencing. This is a very common rut for artists, but seldom do they address it for fear of losing momentum. Stop writing, go out and have a breakup, or a car accident, or a crappy job, or a baby, or a protest... to "refill the coffers" with life stories that you can translate and relate to other people. The world doesn’t need more songs about how enjoyable dancing is. 

4) Be curious about everything. The most important and effective lyrics are those that tell the listener something they already know, but do so in a way they could not previously articulate. When you do that you are doing the listener a big service, and thereby creating value. Essentially, you are just drawing lines between things that other people had not connected before. This is the essence of good poetry. If I tell you that “love is like a burning flame in the chest” your response is most likely, “Yeah. Thanks for the incredible perspective.” If I tell you that “love is like having a bakery follow you around” you will stop and consider this, and may think, “Huh, it is kind of like that… walking near a bakery lifts my spirits with the smell of comfort. If a bakery were to follow me around, I would constantly feel like that. What a strange but accurate comparison that I had not thought of. Here is my money, GavCaz.” 
The way to train yourself to make these connections between disparate experiences easily is to learn about as many different worlds as possible, and take note of everything, especially how an experience makes you feel, so that you can find the parallels and intersections. Be curious about all things and people. Read, read, read. If you get good at it, you shouldn’t have to turn on your poetry cap… it will always be on. The goal is to live poetically. If you achieve that, lyrics will come easily. I’m not there yet, but I’m closer than I was five years ago.

5) Don’t worry about rhyming so much. Rhyming has ruined more lyrics than it’s improved. First learn how to write great poetry, and then worry about making it rhyme. Rhyming is easy when you have a dense vocabulary. Effective messaging is hard. Effective messaging with tasteful rhyming is the final step. 

That’s about all I got. Good luck - recognizing that your lyrics are a weak spot already puts you ahead of 98% of the artists out there, so stay at it and keep the long view.


Gavin

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Grady - the perfect murder/suicide jam for your Halloween party!



I've always been impressed with Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (and its  hilarious and brilliant movie adaptation), in which he appropriates two of the minor comic relief characters from Hamlet and writes for them a narrative that compliments and augments Shakespeare's original play. It's an ambitious thing to do because to do it well you'd really have to know the source material inside and out. I decided to try something similar with the small supporting character "Delbert Grady" from Stephen King's book The Shining. I've always loved both the Kubrick movie and the book, both of which were genuinely scary for me. But this was a much bigger undertaking than I'd first assumed. For starters, there are some pretty big inconsistencies between Kubrick's screenplay and King's book, many of which relate to Grady. And to make matters more complicated, King wrote and executive produced his own TV version of The Shining (one of the worst movies I've ever seen... and I had to watch it twice), which itself differed from the book in a few ways. On top of that, there is a never-really-published-but-available-on-the-internet prologue to The Shining called "Before the Play" by King (which is rumored to be turned into a film soon) as well as an epilogue called "After the Play" that I can't find anywhere. King also wrote a sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep, that was recently published. And when I was done absorbing those sources, I binged on the wide variety of interesting theories, interviews, and documentaries about the Kubrick movie available online.
The challenge of writing this piece was reconciling all those conflicting sources and remaining consistent with everything King ever wrote about Grady and the Overlook. My interpretation of Grady's history is an amalgamation of all the sources, from King, Kubrick, or otherwise, as well as a fair amount of liberties I took to fill in holes and make my own contribution to the folklore of the Overlook Hotel, one my favorite in all of Horror.
The music is collaged from pieces of the original score, as well many other favorite horror movie soundtracks and television shows.

Grady

I don’t need it 
don’t want it
but the whiskey keeps me haunted
it keeps calling me 
calling me

and I can’t lose it
can’t hide it
it rattles down inside me 
it keeps calling me 
calling me 

I was dropped on the earth in The Year of the Snake
my ma was a nurse and my pa was a fake
he said it was the cold but she knew it was the shakes,
I guess he couldn’t hold what he couldn’t escape

I dropped out of high school in the tenth grade
was gonna kill japs for the U.S. Navy
picture me: “Lieutenant Delbert Grady”
they wouldn’t let me in because my hands were shaky
     
I started working any job that’d pay me
I started going with this proper lady
She had me cleaning up the church grounds daily
Hoping she could dry me out to make a baby

We lost our first in the Year of the Rat
I lost my shirt when Maz took bat
I cracked the egg and the yolk came red
if you can’t break through you gonna break your head

I don’t need it 
don’t want it
but the whiskey keeps me haunted
it keeps calling me 
calling me

and I can’t lose it
can’t hide it
it rattles down inside me 
it keeps calling me 
calling me 

We sold what’s left and moved to Estes Park
laid to rest the thing I did, the darkness
I worked hard to make a brand new start
kept close to the trailer park, far from the bar

In the Year of the Tiger, Louise was born
I was pulling double shifts at the Dry Goods Store
was clean as whistle but still dirt poor,
was good with one kid but she wanted one more

When Louise was two, Lisa was due
she lit the whole room like the hole in our roof 
my ma flew out for the big debut
she stayed in the Park ’til she died of the flu.

I stopped at the Dark Horse after the wake
when I came home at three Betty smelled the mistake
I awoke in a cell with my head full of ache
and remained in a fog ’til the Year of the Dog.

I don’t need it 
don’t want it
but the whiskey keeps me haunted
it keeps calling me 
calling me

and I can’t lose it
can’t hide it
it rattles down inside me 
it keeps calling me 
calling me 

When I hit rock bottom at last
I was saved from the grave by a broken gasket

pickin’ up trash on Route 34 
I came upon a man in a broken down Ford
I knew just what to do cause I’d seen it before
I used my canteen to fill his radiator

I brought him into town to look it over with Mel 
who told us it would take a few days to get the part
I drove him up the pass to the Overlook Hotel
where repairs were being done before the winter got started

Oh what luck for your friend, D. Grady
The man, so relieved, was inclined to repay me
He noticed I was living in the back of my Studebaker,
offerred me a job as the wintertime caretaker. 

hustled into town to tell Betty and the girls
she wouldn’t let me in, she wouldn’t have it any more
I swore that it was true, I promised her the world
and I knew there was a chance ‘cause she listened through the door

please baby baby please baby baby please ergrgggghhh

things got better before they got worse
I was made for this place like a corpse for a hearse
I turned down the boiler each night like clockwork
I cleaned every station, from tool shed to desk clerk

Seemed like we were finally home
with some fresh mountain air to breath life into bone 
and nothing but time, no TV or phone,
should’a known that the wife couldn’t leave it alone

she started real subtle, just little observations
wondering why we didn’t get the best accommodations
wondering if I should’ve asked for better compensation
perhaps that Mr. Ulmann guy had known my reputation?

the storm rolled in, my wits wore thin
with the girls indoors, there was double the din  
and Betty doing nothing ‘bout the trouble they’re in
always trying to get one over on me, dressing like twins and…

one night they took the joke too far
Betty found a whiskey bottle underneath the bar
and next to it a half smoked Bayuk cigar
she threw them in my face, left a 4-inch 

and I couldn’t get my mind right after that night
I started seeing voices, I started hearing lights
I dreamt I was a minataur running through the maze
I woke up on the second floor, banging on a door

I don’t need it 
don’t want it
but the whiskey keeps me haunted
it keeps calling me 
calling me

and I can’t lose it
can’t hide it
it rattles down inside me 
it keeps calling me 
calling me 

before long I was sleeping in the lounge
Betty said it wasn’t safe to keep a gun around
I startled her awake one night ripping at her gown  
and the girls were hearing whispering and radio sounds

One night by the fire, while she taught me to read,
Louise stopped my lesson to tell me, “we should leave”
“I want you to like it here,” I tried to reset her, 
“I wish that we could stay here forever and ever…”

she wandered upstairs as I chopped up the kindling
stopped mid swing when the front desk phone rang
those lines have been down for at least two months, 
but here was this call from a Bob T. Watson

“Grady, do you know what your daughters intend?
Did you happen to wonder where your matches have been?
The Management feels that they lack discipline!
Perhaps you’re not so… adept at correction?”

The next thing I remember is Betty’s screaming
I opened my eyes to see my girls hacked to pieces
Before I could react the wall exploded to my right
She glared down the barrel while she put me in the site

I crawled around the corner as she tore down the hall
I slid on the blood and a chair broke my fall
when she bore down on me with the shotgun raised
every clock in the Overlook rang out its praise!

She startled and dropped the gun within my reach
I snatched it up and fired it into her teeth
and then it was done, my duties complete,
the silence was torn by the voice of Bob T:

“Grady, I must say I’m rather impressed
you’ve proven yourself to work well under stress
but before we can offer you the year-round employment
you’ll have to get downstairs and shut off the boiler.”

iI was hell getting down there with one mangled leg
but I’m a hard working man, ya that’s what the man said,
and with all of those bodies stacked safely in their beds
I swallowed both barrels and I opened my head.


Epilogue

“Colorado Lounge,” the lift boy called out
“Congratulations on the new job, sir!” he shouted
a big chested bald man wrangled my arm
and spoke with a hint of that old southern charm 

“Everyone is waitin’! Come come, Mr. Grady!
The Manager’s been very pleased with you lately
Outside the Gold Room I read the big sash:
“The Overlook Welcomes the Gradys at Last.”

He handed me a bottle and he called to the crowd, 
“Should we make him the bartender? What do you think?”
I froze for a moment, and I looked out at Betty,

her smile was as dead as my urge to drink.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times.


Available now at gavincastleton.bandcamp.com

This is a collection of fairly despondent songs with bare-bone instrumentation. I was #blessed to have the help of friends like Brian Cass, Kyleen King, and Courtney Marie Andrews accompany me on this one. The title, "It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times" is probably the only comical thing about it. 60% of this EP was written in July of 2011, in the days directly following the death of my 15-year old furry son, Lumas. Those three songs came quickly and easily (though I hesitate to describe a process so gut-wrenching as "easy"), but I immediately archived them... I didn't feel like I had the distance or stomach necessary to polish and productize them. I made a video for Expensive Love, and played Watering the Soil once at a show in San Francisco, but ultimately I wasn't ready to do right by them... until now. Underestimate Me arrived a few years later, after a healthy dose of rejection. The ease with which all four were written underscores what is surely the universe's bitterest joke: heartbreak is the best creative lubricant.

Team Love was the holdout; I'd never before had to be so patient with a song. The original demo was very different than the version you hear on this EP. It was a bitter fragment about how everyone in my generation seems to be growing out of friendships and into marriage and/or parenthood, with a tempo and arrangement more akin to Gary Jules' cover of Mad World than the upbeat piano doo-wop it became. But I was starting to turn a corner on a long bout of depression and I wanted the last song on the record to lead me out, rather than keep me there. I'd never before taken a sad song and inverted it, so I set about trying to do so.

"What if love is not, in fact, a noun... what if it is only a verb?"

This was the question that popped into my head and inspired me to write a holistic (in both the medical and the philosophical sense) song that would help me challenge and articulate my understanding --- or misunderstanding --- of love. Stephen R.  Covey had a similar thought in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People program, “Love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is the fruit of love the verb or our loving actions.” But I was inspired to look closer at the cost of employing the noun form of "love" by this fascinating TED talk by behavioral economist Keith Chen (and related TED Radio Hour Podcast episode, "The Money Paradox") on the economic implications of a concept known as "linguistic relativity" (the sordid history of which is recounted here). His research shows that people whose native languages lack future tense conjugations don't invest as much in savings as those whose native languages do have future tenses. I hypothesized that our culture's constant use of "love" as a noun, to be quantified, given and received, may have some adverse effects on our relationships.

Lyrical progress on Team Love was glacially slow - for over a month I averaged only a few words a day, resisting the tendency to use "love" in anything but verb form. Aside from a few hours each day dedicated to alternate revenue streams, most of my time was spent devouring every published thought I could find about the psychology of love, from the horrible Buzzfeed-style list "articles" ("10 Amazing Things About Love That You'll Never Believe He's Thinking And Are Impossibly Horrifying") to opinionated interviews on podcasts like Savage Lovecast and Death, Sex, & Money. From statistical sources like the OKCupid blog and various TED Talks to the motivational prose of pop psychology books by the likes of Brené Brown and Gary Chapman. I kept a running list of any revelations or arising questions about love and my relationship with it, and ordered it in a way that best illustrated the linear and sometimes long-jumping path of my thought process. Then I began to write lyrical blocks that illustrated each precept.

About five weeks after I began writing it, I was the exhausted owner of a relentless and cerebral song without hooks or a conventional structure. The irony is thick: I think that this song's lyrics are my most useful and thought-provoking to date, but I've delivered them in such a torrential manner that I fear few listeners will have the tolerance or perseverance required to unpack and examine them. But if anyone can handle a slow digestion process, my listeners can. I hope it becomes one of those songs that keeps giving with each repeat listen.

If you've already purchased It Was the Worst of Times, It Was the Worst of Times, then I want to thank you for trusting me with your money and time and helping me afford rent and dog food. If you haven't, I could sure use your support.





A few weeks back I published a cover of a song called "The Middle," by Portland folk artist Jeffrey Martin. I'd caught him playing at the Sisters Folk Festival and was floored by the authenticity of his voice and songs. I bought his CD, Dogs in the Daylight, and quickly developed an obsession with this song. Its message of moderation and compromise really resonated with me. In my arrangement, I organized the instrumentation into three camps: organic/analog instruments, synthetic/electronic instruments, and voice. Throughout the verses of the song, the different groups stay panned to opposite left and right channels, polarized. As the sequence progresses towards the chorus, they work their way to the center of the stereo field, reorganizing and optimizing themselves into an integrated stereo mix with more middle channel focus.

Free stream & download: gavincastleton.bandcamp.com/track/the-middle-jeffrey-martin-cover

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Year of the Horse

This year I decided to shake things up. Instead of a full-body suit --- which really only gets used once a year on Halloween --- I decided to #bless my niece with a Horseface mask that must be used year-round and for formal events. Sure enough, it was the big winner at her seventh birthday party - all the kids took turns looking horrific.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Doom performed live at Overclock Inc.

I've finished editing the second video from our Overclock Inc. Studios shoot last May. It's a song called "Doom" from my new album, #blessed (available as a free download here):



 Here's a little tutorial I made to walk you through the vocal fx programming if you're interested:

 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Average Man performed live at Overclock Inc.

This past May I toured New England with a live band I've been working with for a few years now. I've never really done a proper live shoot with them, so I'm excited to finally put out some footage from a day-long session we did at the Overclock Inc studio. We recorded seven songs from my catalog; this one is from my new album #blessed. Since the song features some fancy vocal effects, I made a little tutorial to walk through it all - for you gear heads out there. Enjoy!




Monday, March 10, 2014

One Steel Door



One Steel Door

Maybe there's just one last door between your lover and your heart
Maybe it was forged from the most impervious steel
and hinged on the most expensive parts

Maybe you will wait your whole life for someone to unlock it
And maybe they will,
maybe they won't

Maybe you're wrong about which side of the door the keyhole is on
and that's the most important part.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Average Man



Average Man
Now when I was a young boy, 
‘bout the age of five 
my teachers told me
I could be the greatest man alive 
they told me I could change the world
be whatever I wanted to be
there was no one in the world like me
every one of us was so unique

I’d not be an average man
no sir, I’d be no average man  

so I had those big dreams
and I had those big skills
had a reason to live
and I had some time to kill
but the world got louder still
yeah the world got louder still
it tried to drown me out
it tried to break down my will

“Get out my way, I ain’t no average man”
I was thinking so much bigger than the average man 
they flood my feed with all these useless lists
while I was curing cancer with these nonstop hits
so I was bitter towards the average man

then I hit my thirties like a bird against a window
I couldn’t reconcile the two disparate versions of me:
on the one hand was this man in search of comfort
and on the other was this meta-superhero I could be 

the man who knows his place
may be the greatest man of all 
I found freedom in obscurity
and purity in poverty
why try to be amazing in a world so saturated with amazingness? 
it’s blazing us
exhausting me, 
I wonder what it’s costed me,
the price I’ve paid for baby boomers 
propping up my self-esteem,
I should let go of all these scripted, movie-lifted dreams
and seek solace in my species 
as an average man
I’ll pay admission like an average man
I’ll raise a family like an average man
I’ll rock the hairline of an average man
I’ll binge on Netflix like an average man
I drop a remix like an average man
I crowd-source it like an average man
I’m hyperbolic like an average man

I only iterate like an