Castrovalva – See You Later, Alli-hater…

“I think we’re going to take over the world. I think we’re going to be the next Marilyn Manson.” It’s a bold statement to make and one that some people might find slightly odd. Do they honestly want to be the next Marilyn Manson? “I kind of do a little bit…why not?” Welcome to the wonderfully wacky world of Castrovalva, or at least two thirds of Castrovalva anyway (“Leemun lives in Birmingham,” explains drummer Dan regarding the singer’s absence).

We meet in Nation of Shopkeepers, where Dan, who is joined by bassist Ant, informs us that he is actually doing this interview during his lunch break. Just like the rest of his band mates, Dan also has a normal and mundane job, so they can continue to make music. “We only really work just to fund band stuff,” says Ant, “as long as I can get by in life and make some music that’s all I care about.” Dan nods his head in agreement, clearly on the same wavelength.

However, it’s not just the same wavelength that Ant and Dan are both on; they’re also on the same payroll. “We work at the same place,” Ant tells us, “I’m on different shifts.” Is this how you met? “No, that’s even weirder, we already knew each other.” At one point they even used to live together, which begs the question, are they not sick of each other by now? “No, I could never get sick of him,” grins Dan.

“I’m too nice.” How modest of you, Ant.

Both hailing from Leeds, Castrovalva first began as an instrumental two-piece in 2007. Leemun was added to the band as a permanent fixture in 2009, after he guested on the bands first album. “He kind of bullied his way on to a couple of the songs,” jokes Dan. “Yeah,” chuckles Ant, “He used to do vocals [over our songs] and just send them to us.” It’s a unique way of getting noticed, we’ll give him that. However, for all those wannabe singers out there who think this sounds like a good idea, Leemun wasn’t just a cheeky stranger that fancied being in the band; the boys already knew him.

“We used to run a DIY record label called Salt The Wound and the reason that we knew Leemun was because we signed the band he was in before Castrovalva. We put a vinyl out by him,” reminisces Dan, “He does his own graphic art stuff as well [so] when we did our first EP, we asked him to do all the graphic art.” This was when Leemun executed the final phase in his dastardly plan. “I’d gone round to check some proofs of the art when he said ‘I’ve just recorded vocals for all your songs’ so I was like alright, cool.” What happened after that? “We put one out on that CD and then when he was in the area he’d just come to a gig and start improvising,” adds Ant, “Then he just ended up in the band.”

Not many bands have a story like that. When asked this question, most acts are all ‘we knew each from school’ or ‘we put an ad out.’ However, this is what makes Castrovalva so different from a lot of the artists out there: they don’t do things the traditional way, a point backed up by the story of how they decided on their name. “Why did we decide on a name?” asks Dan, “…because originally we decided we weren’t having a name.” Come again? “We picked a name just because we wanted to do one gig,” answers Ant, “That was that weird improvised gig that we just messed about with.” Apparently, in 2007 these two decided to play a gig at the Pack Horse, with the intention of it only being a one-off.

In reality the gig actually served as a breeding ground for Castrovalva. “When we started, [our sound] was all about weird soundscapes and weird noises,” explains Ant, “it was like weird noise loops [with] bass and drums sometimes.” Then came the gig and Ant and Dan saw the new dimensions that could be added to their music. “There was like ten minutes where we just decided to use drum kit and bass and that was the best part of the set, so we decided to start using more drums and bass,” Dan adds, “then it just became a proper band.”

Again, the birth of the lads as real artists isn’t exactly a conventional music fairy-tale, but why the duo actually chose Castrovalva as a name is a little less obscure. Their title came about not because of some crazy dream or epiphany in the night, but because of the boys combined love of art, in particular MC Escher, who’s painting they named the band after. “Yeah [we] love art,’ says Ant, “I love Escher, I think at one point my walls were covered in Escher pictures.” Some people don’t make this connection, however. “It’s nothing to do with Dr Who, stresses Dan, “We get asked it every time someone talks about us.”

Noted. So what about their music? Well, apparently Castrovalva’s sound comes under the genre (according to their Facebook page) ‘Noise Hop’. What in gods name is ‘Noise Hop’? “Yeah we just made up a genre,” laughs Ant, “[It’s] catchy noise…noise you can dance too.” After hearing Castrovalva this actually, in a strange way, kind of makes sense, but where exactly did the term come from? “I think someone in an interview a long time ago,” explains Dan, “…called [us] a mixture of noise rock and hip-hop and they kind of just put noise hop.” They thought, “it was funny…so we kept it and it kind of stuck.”

When it comes to influences, the band “…all listen to similar stuff but we also listen to different music too. We all listen to weird and loud stuff.” Seeing as the band themselves could be described as ‘weird and loud’ this comes as no surprise. As for artists the boys enjoy, “Blood Brothers, The Mars Volta, Dillinger Escape Plan, Glassjaw, Everytime I Die…then there’s like hip hop stuff as well like grime.” Dan refutes this allegation. “No, you like grime. I fucking hate grime. I just can’t stand it.” Anyone else get the feeling Dan might not like grime? “He doesn’t like all those aggressive London lads,” laughs Ant. “I’m a delicate northerner,” smiles Dan, “I don’t like all that aggressive southern stuff.”

It’s a good job Dan lives in the north then, where that particular music genre is often heard of but very rarely seen. What is seen here in Leeds though, are plenty of experimental bands, many of which Castrovalva share a record label with. Having joined the independent label Brew in 2009, Castrovalva have been surrounded by many other home-grown talents such as Hawk Eyes and Humanfly. Out there the competition is fierce but Castrovalva don’t see their label mate as threats. “I think we’re all varied enough to not have to really worry about competition. Plus we’re all really good friends with everyone that’s on Brew so it’s more like a little family,” explains Dan. When someone else gets recognition or gets rave reviews, apparently the rest of the bands on the label don’t writhe in jealousy; in fact they’re genuinely pleased to see the others doing so well. “It’s like your cousin getting married to a really fit wife,” Ant tells us, “…so even though you fancy his wife, you’re just happy for him.” Nice analogy.

Castrovalva themselves have had a few ‘babes’ in their time, especially in 2010, when they released their second album, We Are A Unit. Coming out to rave reviews, the English music press lapped up the album and gave Castrovalva a platform on which to build. Last year they brought out their third album, You’re Not In Hell, You’re In Purgatory My Friend and this year they plan to release another batch of music, this time in the smaller form of an EP. “We’ve got the EP and we’re talking about doing another tour around May time so that’s probably when we’re going to try and get the EP out.” After that the boys will look toward the festival season. “We’re going to try and do as many festivals [as we can] so we don’t have to buy a ticket,” jokes Dan, “I just want to play them all. I’m willing to play everything and everywhere.”

Unfortunately, this marks the end of our conversation with the witty Castrovalva boys, one of which will now have to get back to his day job. Before we leave though, any final words lads? “Haters are gonna hate, alligators are gonna alligate and Jamaicans are gonna Jamake.” Okay Ant. “I do apologise, Dan you have to take over now.” Dan shakes his head, “I don’t think I can follow that up.” Neither do we.

* Please note this is the online version of the feature as seen in the February 2013 edition of Vibrations Magazine. 

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