To get the creative juices flowing, some people seek silence and solitude; others go for a walk or use the buzz of a coffee shop like a living white noise machine. Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jerry Castle looks to Epsom salts. More specifically, those in a sensory deprivation float tank.
“When you float, it’s easier to access the theta state or the meditative state than it is when you’re sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed. During my second float, I inadvertently started thinking about a song that I had been trying to finish and I came up with a melody for the chorus,” he says. “I hopped out of the tank and recorded the melody on my cell phone. When I got back into the tank I came up with the lyrics to go along with the melody and just like that, after struggling with the song for weeks, it was finished.”
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Having those songs come to him through a different channel than his previous work (some during his time with the jam band Toast) gave Castle’s new record Not so Soft Landing a different sound, one that has a ’90s alt-rock edge, but still with a country cadence.
We talked with Castle about the wonders of the float tank, what it was like to work with producer Chad Brown (Ryan Adams, Hayes Carll), and fireworks stands. Watch his newest video for the single “How Long”.
SL: Can you talk to us a little bit about the inspiration and process for making this video?
JC: The song is about a breakup, and, as is often the case, both people still love each other but can’t figure out a way to make it work. It was important to me that we tell the story in a way that wasn’t predictable or trite. I didn’t want the video to be focused on me and I wanted to capture the darkness that surrounds a break up. I came up with the idea that most of the video be silhouettes that are doing gestures that convey heavy emotions. I ran the idea by Stacie Huckeba, the videographer and editor, and she knew exactly how to create a set that would enable her to film silhouettes.
With the actress, Helene Michele, I told her what my vision was for the video, and she came up with the majority of the gestures on her own. She also came up with the idea of the two of us being separated by a door, which is symbolic of the two of us trying to get through to one another but neither person being able to open up and let the other person in.
You’ve talked about how using a float tank has opened up your creative process. How did you discover using it, and how does it help you with writing music?
Back around 2012, I met Sturgill Simpson when he opened a show for me and I’ve followed his career ever since. I saw on his Facebook page that he was going to be on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast so I tuned in. During that podcast, Joe recommended that Sturgill try out the float tank and talked about some of the benefits of floating. It sounded like an interesting experience to me so I checked to see if I could find one in Nashville and low and behold, there was a place called Float Nashville less than a half a mile from my home. For me, the original intent of floating was to relax and learn to meditate. It took me a couple of floats to actually accomplish this, but once I did, it was like I had accessed this dimension that was entirely different than anything I had ever experienced before. It felt like I was on to something so I started floating on a regular basis and not only did it help me to finish songs but it also helped me to come up with brand new songs and production ideas. I think the thing the tank really helped me to understand is that when you’re trying to solve a problem or create something new, the best thing you can do is to take your mind completely off of it and that will create room for new possibilities to exist.
What was it like working with Chad Brown on this record?
In short, it was a fantastic and super focused experience. He’s a special producer that never phones it in. Chad and I are best friends and we go back a long way. He grew up in in a town called Bristol that’s about 15 minutes from my hometown of Abingdon, VA. The very first album he recorded was with my old band Toast and the very first time I recorded in a studio was with him, so we’ve learned a lot together. Being that we know each other so well, we’re like family to one another and just like with family, we sometimes butt heads, especially in the studio. We’re both very passionate about what we do. Given that we’ve had some history of butting heads, we sat down before we started recording and agreed that we weren’t going to have any self-imposed deadlines on this album. We agreed that we were going to see this album through, together, start to finish. We also agreed that it was important that above all else, we enjoy the process. The seven months that we spent recording this album were some of my favorite times in the studio and some of the most fun times that I’ve ever had period. We’re already plotting for the next album.
How has living in Abingdon and, now, Nashville shaped the way you make music?
Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains taught me to have a solid work ethic. I was baling hay and stripping tobacco by the time I was 12-years-old. That work ethic is what has kept me going through a lot of the adversity that you face in making records and living on the road. The mountains back home are both beautiful and haunting. I think some aspects of those characteristics bleed over into my music.
In Nashville, you have access to some of the best engineers and musicians in the world. Everyone is so damn good at what they do. It’s inspiring and that helps to raise your level of musicianship and artistry. Nashville is the capital of songwriting, and it has definitely inspired me to construct songs that don’t have a lot of fat on them.
When you go on tour in the South, do you have any favorite places that you make a point to stop at?
You know, the first thing that comes to mind is the Tennessee Alabama Fireworks store in Kimball, TN near Chattanooga, TN. I don’t know why we always stop there because I never buy fireworks but we do. I usually buy a Goo-Goo Cluster, look at the fireworks, and walk a lap around the parking lot every time we go that way.