There’s a lot to read online about Jennifer Castle’s fifth album, Angels of Death. Released in May 2018 (Idee Fixe/Paradise of Bachelors), the 10 song record was recorded in a 150-year-old renovated studio-to-church in Port Stanley, and upon even a few listens, it’s easy to hear why people gravitated towards it. Castle’s wavering and beautifully haunting voice gently guides the listener through ideas of morality, grief, loss, confusion and time travel through the backdrop of her poetic lyricism. The record opens with the soft solo piano song ‘Tomorrow’s Mourning’ and culminates in a magnificent trance-like chorus chant at the end of ‘Tonight the Evening’. All in all, it’s a beautiful listen, one that draws you in and demands repeat listens.
We had the opportunity to talk with Castle on the phone to talk about Angel of Death, being a writer and the Niagara Falls.
So how does it feel to look back at Angels of Death a year and a half later?
It’s interesting. The songs have kind of taken on their own space just from playing them so many times this year. They have started to transcend the original meanings that had been set in place for them.
Has the meaning of the songs changed throughout time, or are you the sort of person that believes a record is supposed to exist in one specific space or time, sort of like a time capsule?
They are just songs, which are these repetitive things in many ways, but yeah, I want them to change over time. I want them to live with me. The recorded version will always be what it is, but when you listen back, we can’t but to listen from where we are at in that time, so in that aspect songs are always changing.
I like to reference things that I like, but I also like to try and make meanings on different levels that sort of hover around a certain familiarity that makes it accessible and popular. I like sharing the same things that I’m attracted to and I think I’m attracted to a lot of popular music.
Angels of Death is a pretty varied record in terms of sounds and songs. Are there any specific tracks that that really stand out to you now that the record has aged a bit?
No, not really. But one thing I’ve noticed a change in is that I don’t think of the album conceptually as much anymore. Now the songs have just become songs that the band plays within the setlist and even just the different placement of them in the setlist every night really transformed how they mean things. It’s been really fun to play Tonight’s the Evening in various different ways and kind of lean into the trance like ending.
I think that song is my favourite on the album. It’s one of those songs where you kind of lose track of time about four minutes into it and lose the sense of where it came from and where you are.
I feel that way when I’m creating music and when I’m in a creative process like jamming or whatever. It feels like such a genuine thing to attempt to express through being playful, because that’s how I tend to feel often, and I lose track of time because of it and I think that suspension into this sonic space is a cool thing to always shoot for. So just trying to be disruptive with that or magical with that and to just play with that suspension is a great thing.
I read in an interview that you did that you were a very serious writer at the age of 10. Now, in your 30s did you ever think you would be a career musician?
No, I’ve just always gone to journaling and I’ve always been busy with the act of writing, but I didn’t think that I’d ever professionalize it when I was a kid. I also just really wanted to be an astronaut and I even though I loved to write about going to space, I’d prefer to go to space.
I didn’t even pick up a guitar until I was out of high school. It wasn’t part of anything I ever thought about when I was in high school and people were talking about ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’, so it kind of surprises me a little bit. I do remember when I was really pushed to think about my future. I thought at one point that I would like to be a radio broadcaster, but I just went traveling as soon as I left high school. I bought a guitar right away and anything I thought before kind of just left as soon as I started playing guitar. I just kind of got really into it and it just happened, whether or not I was conscious of it or not. It happened a bit late in my life, but it still happened.
As a musician, you always reference your music and art being abstract forms. How important is the act of subtlety, and for you to remove yourself or specific people and places from the surface level?
I like the idea of of things being a bit hidden. I like it when things can resonate on a few different levels for some people, and then there are other levels that you’re not tuned in to but other people are. I mean, everybody is sharing something slightly different. There’s an elemental quality that is very subconscious for everybody, but I like to pare things down until their honest and as simple as I can take them without them kind of falling apart entirely.
This performance at Sonic Glow is not your first in Niagara or the Niagara Artists Centre, you’ve performed at the Niagara Artists Centre in St. Catharines with Dan Romano and you most recently performed at The Niagara Stage, supported by Polaris Music Prize at the Niagara Falls. Those performances are odd. Not many people specifically show up for them, but there’s a giant built in audience. What was that experience like for you?
The band had such an amazing and beautiful time there. It was so powerful and I just got so caught up in it all. I’m really lucky that I’ve become used to having the experience of people gathering around and listening to music and being really attentive. But, on the other side of the scale, it’s amazing just being able to make collective music that seems to suit the moment and to be able to transform a song and wiggle them and extend them to suit the outrageous amount of sun exposure we had. Like, at those types of concerts, everyone can hear the music, but at the same time, no one is really listening. You just want to create the soundtrack to these people’s experience and that’s a really cool thing. Musically, we had a really fun time. It’s a tough situation to be in in many ways. But I think that we were just in the right particular frame of mind that day, we were just staring at the falls the whole time.
In another interview I read, you said that one of your goals for 2019 was to “Get, be and stay free in 2019”. So how has the year treated you so far, and what are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Yeah, it’s been good. We’ve done a lot of touring. I just love being in September and for the rest of the year I’m working on a bunch of new stuff and I’ve got a more shows, I’m just excited for 2020 now, it will be very futuristic. I’m trying to get free and be honest, I think that’s important. Thank you for reminding me that those were my goals.