Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blake of Brother Ares interviews Josh and Bryan of Billy Castro

Me oh my what do we have here?? Brother Ares' guitarist/vocalist Blake asked me if he could interview Billy Castro for NashVile, and I said sure. Why not? Without further ado, here is the interview:

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Billy Castro of Knoxville are a hard band to define.  They mix heavy Electric Wizard style riffery with dissonant Big Black meets Sonic Youth sheets of noise.  Within this, they present a compelling mix of male/female spoken/sung/screamed vocals and ever shifting sonic dynamics. Their debut album "Make Love Like War' is pretty incredible and unique (which is something hard to achieve in this day and age). Also they kill it live. I interviewed two members of the band this week in an effort to help the world become aware of what an amazing thing they are to behold. (Full disclosure, in addition to being a big fan of these guys, I'm also a good pals and my band, Brother Ares, has had the pleasure of sharing the stage with them.)

1. Tell us who you are and what you do in the band.

Josh Cochran- I'm Josh Cochran, and I play bass guitar and do some of the songwriting in Billy Castro.

Bryan Baker- I’m Bryan. I play guitar and do songwriting as well as vocals.

2. You two have been in several bands together, correct? What is it about each other than provides such musical camaraderie.

JC- Yup. We've been in The Unashamed, Bright Shining Lie, San Miguel, and now this. I think we play really well off each other. Neither one of us are technical players at all, but we are both unique in our styles and are both capable of writing catchy riffs that some how fit in weird, experimental songs. Since a lot of Bryan's guitar riffs are abstract and his solos are noisy, it leaves a lot of room for me as a bassist that bassists in a lot of other noise and metal bands don't have.

BB- Yeah, I kind of rely on him a lot. A good portion of the time I kind of go wandering music wise. I can trust Josh to hold down the sonic fort so to speak. When we are writing, or riffing, he kind of knows where I am thinking of going, and I can kinda see his direction, so it is easy for us to build.

3.You have a new drummer in Mikey Knouff, what happened to the old one, and what does Mikey bring to the table?

JC- Patrick left the band due to creative differences and the fact that he'd been playing drums in some sort of band or another for several years without a break. He's doing well. I drank with him a couple of weeks ago, haha. Michael brings a different style to the table than Patrick. Patrick's style is more proggy, loose, and jazzy, while Michael's style is more rooted in precision, metal, and hard rock. It's been really cool to rework the songs with Michael's style.

BB- Yeah, Mikey is way more tight that Patrick. It’s cool, getting everything together. Mikey is one of those people, like Josh, I know can handle me wandering. Not to say Patrick wasn’t, just that I really like playing with people I can trust to hold the fort. I am super stoked to get one writing new stuff.

4. Bryan, what is it like being in a band w/ your wife?

BB- It’s not as odd as most people would think. One get this kind of romanticized idea of it, I did for sure. You kind envision yourself like, sitting around, jamming and writing all the time, but it really isn’t like that. Most of the time it’s ”Hey, we have practice Thursday.” “oh, ok.” I am ok with that, because band stuff is stressful enough on me. Not to mention Becca is a damn good performer, and someone I know can both interpret our music well enough to put vocals to it, as well as play off of the weirdness we bring in. You don’t find many vocalists that can follow, “Well, I think a choir like part would be cool here, then maybe like a arrhythmic spoken word piece with a Kerouac feel to it.” I don’t praise her cause she’s my wife, I do so because she great at what she does, and we have pretty frank and honest critiques of each other as well.

JC- Bryan said he hates being in a band with Becca (just kidding).

5. You took your name from a transgender porn star, tell us what it is about the real Billy Castro that inspired you to take this moniker.

JC- I'll let Bryan handle this one for the most part. From what I can tell, it's all about not being afraid to be who you are so long as who you are does not directly do harm to others. Many people are not yet accepting of non-straight people, so Billy Castro, to me, is about accepting yourself and putting it out there that other people can accept you, too.

BB- What I originally wanted to name the band was Billy Castro does the Mission, which is the name of one of his films. That is obviously a little wordy so we cut it down. I kind of knew the band would have a bit of an LGBT focus, and I kind of wanted the tongue and cheek sort of names you find in queercore band names. Limp Wrist, God Is My Copilot, Pansy Division. Billy Castro lefts us be a bit more subversive, a little less obvious. Josh is right though, it’s kind of become something more than that. It kind of catalyst for what we want to convey to people listening and watching.

6. I know you guys are very rooted in the LGBT politics (your cover features two men engaging in a very romantic moment) and the riotgrrl movement, at least lyrically, would you consider yourself a political band or at least a band with an agenda? Would you say there's an overriding theme to your lyrics?

JC- I'd say that politics are a big part of the band, but that aspect of the band is not mutually exclusive from other aspects, such as songwriting and having fun. Our songs are about resistance and perseverance in a world that isn't always too warm to outsiders. So, in short, yes, we are a political band, but the politics are one aspect of who we are and what we do.

BB- Fun fact: That isn’t two men on the cover, nor is it a man and a woman. I do a pretty good portion of the lyric writing, especially on the last release, but the statements our lyrics make, while being political, are very personal to me. This is easily the most personal, and exposing band I have been in. I write about LGBT issues because they affect me, they hurt me. When there are a rash of teen suicides because of homophobic bullying, it breaks my heart. When I watch our political system grind to a halt because of obstructionist behaviors on both sides of the aisle, I want to call them out, but like Josh was saying, you have to have a platform for that. You need music just as challenging and visceral to match your feelings. Challenge your audience on multiple levels. Create something multifaceted. You also have to avoid preaching and shaming the people listening. You can just storm and rage, and gnash your teeth. You have to remember that the people you are talking about and angry at are still people, just like you and deserve respect and love just like you do. That balance is hard to find, and we are still working on it. Use to we didn’t want to sound preachy, or detract from the serious tone of our show, so we didn’t talk to the audience, now we realize that we’re missing an opportunity to connect with them, but we’re still pretty awkward. I don’t know if we’ll ever get over the awkward part.

7. The style of music you present is very unique, incorporating elements of metal, spoken word, as well as things like world percussion into your sound. I really find the way you approach vocals to be one of your best/most compelling elements. What would you say are your influences that brought you to this sound? Would you consider any bands your contemporaries in a genre sense?

JC- Thanks! My biggest influences in this band, personally, are Sunn 0))), Electric Wizard, Sonic Youth, Shellac, Interpol, Joy Division, and probably a bunch of others I can't think of. Like most bands, we find it hard to categorize ourselves, but we came up with "Experimental Noise Metal." In some ways, what we do isn't all that metal, but we aren't too concerned with fitting into a specific scene or satisfying a certain group of people. It's hard to say who, if anyone, our contemporaries are. I'll have to get back to you on that one, haha. I don't mean that in some sort of "we're so different than everyone else so we're better" sort of way. It's just that we don't fit in with a lot of the current trends in Knoxville.

BB- I guess my influences are a bit less metal and indie-ish. I dig Fugazi, mewithoutYou, Rage Against the Machine, and Sonic Youth for sure. I am sure people are going to listen to this and be like, “Oh, a band that can’t categorize themselves? How novel.” But I think we kind of push some boundaries, because while we take musical influences from bands and artists, we also pull from spoken word artist and poets. I for one also take inspiration from performance artists and organizations in my approach to shows. Also, I think I can confidently say that there aren’t any bands in Knoxville really like us, and if there are, I really, really want to meet them.

8. This blog mainly features Nashville bands, however you guys are Knoxville based. Do you think your city plays into yr sound? Also, care to give a shout out to any other Knoxville bands that Nashvile should pay attention to?

JC- Our sound isn't all that popular around Knoxville. Our best reception was definitely at our one Nashville show. It's not that people here have been rude to us. We've had small crowds enjoy our songs. I just feel that Nashville is a little "weirder," if that makes sense. It's more into variety. Some bands Nashville should check out are Rudemas, Generation of Vipers, U.S. Christmas, and Wampus Cat. Those are the bands around here I enjoy and respect the most. I totally forgot Argentinum Astrum! Those guys are Knoxville greats.

BB- Yeah, things are kind of stone faced here. Not to say there aren’t some people around here who love us, but sometimes things are a bit cold. Since Josh got a bunch of the metal bands down, I may focus on some less heavy stuff. My buddies in Arkaden are killing it with a sort of indie metal feel. On My Honor is a pop punk band that has been slugging it out for years and they are amazing live. Bad Ideas are another new pop punk group that is a bit older school but made up of some great guys. New Brutalism is a kind of noise-ish rock band that has some killer jams.

9. How has reaction to Make Love Like War been? Any particular part of the album you are distinctly proud of? Favorite track? Why?

JC- The reactions, although few in quantity, have been positive. People usually comment on how different we are, that we don't fit a certain mold. It's up for free download, by the way! Go check it out if you haven't already. It's hard to choose a favorite track, but I'd say "I Will Go" and "Knapsack" are my favorites. I love that the former makes use of space and has weird time signatures. With the latter, I enjoy the simple but crushing doom metal riff, the way the drums build up at the end of the song, and the way the vocals of Bryan and Becca bounce back and forth. They're dissonant but somehow fit together.

BB- Everyone who has heard has liked it, which I assume is a good thing. I dig We Will Not Run Out Of Bricks. It’s the first song we wrote as a band and I love playing it. Knapsack is awesome too because it gives people a good compass as to where we are heading.

10. Your guitar and bass tones are pretty unique, so let's have a guitar geek moment. Tell us your current set up and what you think yr strengths are on your instrument?

JC- We talked about this at practice, and I'm going to let Bryan handle this one. Beyond the names of my gear, I know little about it. Bryan is the gear nerd of the two of us, haha. I feel weird talking about my own strengths, but I'd say I'm able to play what's needed in a song. If it needs to be simple and in the pocket, I'll stay there. If I need to jump out and do my own thing to fill the space in the song, I'll do that. I try to balance myself between playing bass like a lead instrument (like Joy Division's Peter Hook) and staying deep in the pocket with some minor variations (see Electric Wizard's various bassists throughout the years).

BB- I think I’ll start with Josh’s rig. He runs two bass amps. Basically it is a clean and dirty amp allowing him to get a lot of growl and thump and retain clarity. I use an old Peavey bass amp head. I wanted loud, warm cleans and I love it. I use Russian reissue Big Muffs for my dirty sound. I dunno what my strength on guitar is. I am kind of stubborn about having a unique tone. Something where people will listen to the tracks and now my kind of guitar sound. I don’t know if I am there playing a gear wise, but I am working toward it.

11. What's next for the band?

JC- We have a few shows coming up locally (Longbranch on October 20th and 24th). Other than that, we're planning on writing a lot of new material. So far, we've written one new song with Mikey and a portion of one other song, so we're looking forward to writing a lot more with Mikey on board. After all that, we're wanting to play more shows than we have before and are also wanting to record an EP and/or new album. A split with Brother Ares is also in the works, so keep a lookout for that one (those guys rule!). [Editors note- Don't make me blush...]

BB- One thing we are going to do in the coming year is to get out more. Gonna hit the trail and stake our claim and such. I full expect Josh to die of dysentery. Seriously though, we hope to start playing out of town a lot more, and to have some new recordings done. Our new stuff is really going to push things in ways we haven’t explored before.
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Thank you Blake, and thank you Josh and Bryan. Stream their stuff right here:

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