Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans, where we'll be meeting some people behind the local music scene who aren't musicians, but more behind-the-scenes folk.
David Castell is credited with producing some pretty successful music from North Texas, starting getting his start with live recording in the late '80s, after building his own mobile recording studio.
For studio LPs, his work dates back as far as 1992's volatile, powerful Course of Empire debut, one of his first endeavors in the coveted producer's chair. But there were plenty of other '90s releases he helmed, including works from The Buck Pets, Buck Jones, Funland and Deep Blue Something (including the album, Home, which spawned their biggest radio single, "Breakfast at Tiffany's"). Later, he produced two of Blue October's studio LPs (including their platinum-seller Foiled) and both LPs from the Burden Brothers.
He's no has-been, though: Castell's still as active as ever these days, producing recent releases from the Toadies, Smile Smile and a new track from Shock of Pleasure that's featured in Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher's new movie, No Strings Attached.
Still, we're just mining the surface of Castell's musical projects both past and present with this description. After the jump, we'll dig a little deeper.
One of your more prominent gifts as a producer seems to be determining the sound of a room. How the hell does one develop an ear, and a penchant, for acoustics? Surely it can't be an art form you learn in a classroom. Or is it?
Well, you have to have a good ear and be musically inclined to be a good engineer, and although acoustics and audio engineering are mostly technical fields, they're just like any other art form. Learning the rules just makes it easier to know when and how to break them. Hard work trumps talent but nothing trumps hard work and talent. Happy accidents are the best.
Take us back to the period when music was permanently injected into your bloodstream.
I was in a rock band, as well as marching band drum major, in high school. In college, I majored in classical performance and was a drum major again. I was studying classical music during the day and listening to art rock at night. I dropped out my sophomore year to go on the road mixing a band, then got into studio work and never looked back. Well, OK, maybe I looked back a couple of times.
We know about the more commercially successful records you've had your hands in. How about some underrated projects that you consider real winners, but never got their due shot?
South FM's Swallowing the Pill is a great record that no one ever heard on a large scale. I am also just as proud of both Course of Empire records, both Burden Brothers records and the Toadies' No Deliverence album. Can you tell I'm a Vaden Lewis fan? Also Ten Hands, Buck Jones' Shimmer, and Green Romance Orchestra. All really good stuff, if you ask me.
Does being a successful producer, in all its splendor, mean you're anchored to your home turf more often and not getting to travel as much as other music industry types, like the artists?
I certainly don't travel as much as artists. Since now a lot of my clients email me songs to mix, in some cases I never even get to meet them. But I still travel a bit and I do like recording in different cities and studios.
Are recording studios, as we once knew them, going the way of the dodo bird?
Pretty much. There are still big, beautiful recording studios around -- but not like there was 10 years ago. But if you want to record an orchestra, a rock drum kit or something really, really loud like rock guitars, a "real" recording studio is still the place to go.
Are there not holes in the home-studio theory? For instance, in a recent piece in the print edition, Salim Nourallah talked about the problem with recording at home -- namely that you'll never know when to stop.
I totally agree with Salim. Pointing a microphone at something and hitting record is the easy part. But arranging and building a song from the ground up, both musically and technically, can be difficult for someone who's had little or no experience. Also, the good ear and musically inclined thing comes back into play! [Laughs.]
Tell us about your current projects, and what sound they're going for.
I just finished The Electromagnetics' Dirty LP. It's surfy, bluesy, trashy sexiness. Also the new Descender LP, Dark Water, which is about to go to press. To use the word "heavy" is an understatement. Such an honor to work with those guys. Anthony Alfieri is a very talented solo artist I've been working with for the last six months. It's gonna be a kind of Jason Mraz- or Maroon 5-sounding thing. Kirk Baxley (formerly of Greatness In Tragedy), Derek Taylor formerly of Stara Zagora), Kenny Withrow (of the New Bohemians) and several other killer players are on it. Tragic Fake is a progressive, pop-punk band that I just finished cutting and have started mixing. The lead singer is Corey Withrow, Kenny Withrow's nephew. And, I just started preproduction with Meridian, with members from of Supercell, Miser and South FM. I also have a new Doug Neil (Junkie Southern) album scheduled to begin soon. Like the last one, it's gonna feature a lot of Dallas musicians, including Aaron Comess (formerly of Spin Doctors) on drums and Brandon Smith (of Billygoat) on bass. It's gonna be slammin'.
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What producers do you idolize?
There are many, but the the top three would have to be Flood, Daniel Lanois and T Bone Burnett.
How about current local music? Favorites from a music fan perspective?
Hunter Hendrickson is incredible -- I hope we get to work together. I really like Ishi -- I love beautiful little pop tunes, like "Pastel Lights." And I just bought the new Dead Twins LP, Polarized, off of iTunes. It was produced by Casey Diorio. It's on fire.
How about local favorites from days gone by?
I built a remote recording truck in the late '80s that allowed me to record many of the early Deep Ellum bands live or at rehearsal studios -- even in their parents' living rooms. Course of Empire, Ten Hands, Fever in the Funkhouse, Three On a Hill, Last Rights, Billygoat, Melt/Funland, Pop Poppins, Frankly Scarlet, Buck Pets, Shallow Reign, DDT. All amazing acts -- and most of their members have continued to expand into myriad artistic endeavors. I have a fond memory of walking down Elm Street one night in the early '90s and every band playing in every venue that evening I had either recorded, was currently recording or was scheduled to record. I was very busy in those days. I'm so glad to see Deep Ellum coming back, as well as new (or very old) venues like the Kessler Theater doing so well. It's a very exciting time. It has been such an honor and privilege for me to be a part of the Dallas music scene for the last 20-plus years. I have been blessed to have worked with some of the most amazing musicians and songwriters.