[We now have a new Q&A column focusing on local musicians and how they live, courtesy of the very kind Matt Caldwell. You are excited by this news. -Ed.]
Another April shower in May had just doused Mississippi street. Now a big, bright ball called "the sun" had broken through and lit up the place with glorious color. Singer and keyboardist Gavin Castleton, wearing a green military-style cap and black hoodie strolled up with his dog, Loomis.
If you aren't familiar with Castleton, you probably will be soon. He's yet another local artist who's stepping up to the world stage thanks to his latest album Home. Credit his rise to taste-making and musical-trendsetting internet radio station KCRW. KCRW likes Gavin. A lot. They especially like his melodic love song "Coffeelocks"—it's been one of the highest played singles of the month—which is why they invited him and his band to play the coveted "in-studio performance" on Morning Becomes Eclectic.
Gavin Castleton - "Coffeelocks"
We sat down with Gavin Castleton and his friendly pooch, Loomis, at Amnesia Brewing, just a few block from his apartment on Mississippi.
How long have you lived in PDX and when did you move here?
I moved here in September last year... just seven months ago.
Providence, Rhode Island, where I lived for 15 years. We moved to Oregon my senior year of high school. I was at Grant in '95. I was uprooted from my high school back east, it was very nerve-wracking to move out your senior year in high school. But I still had a band back in Providence, and the band was the most important thing in my life. I actually graduated from Grant in a half a year; I jammed all my classes together and got done early, then left Portland so I could go back and play with the band (Gruvis Malt).
So I was in Providence for the last 15 years... and finally just got back to Portland, this year. Enough fell apart that I could leave [laughing]. It took a whole lot of destruction for me to finally get away. I have family here. My sisters live here, so I was motivated to be near them.
The making of my latest album, Home, is incredibly relevant to moving and Oregon, because I wrote it and finished it right after I moved here. I had no place to live. I was on my sister's couch finishing this record, then flew back to Providence to mix it and master it for a month, then came back. So I was back and forth in a weird way, and it influenced the last few songs on the record. There's a song called "Oregon," it alludes to the idea of finally getting to where you want to be.
What's your favorite PDX Venue?
Back in the day, in high school, I remember La Luna. I've played only six of the five million venues here. The ones that I've really had a good time at is Berbati's, Doug Fir... although I didn't get paid. I'd really be excited to play Mississippi Studios if they'd have me 'cause it's right here. To me, it's 90% about the staff and the sound. The sound guy at Berbati's was incredible.
I'd like to say the Doug Fir, but, as a bunch of musicians seem to be aware, there's some weird dealings with local bands. So I wouldn't give them the golden seal of approval. I've talked to some people who don't like the weird deal they give to local bands. They have a thing called "the local spotlight", but they only give bands $50 apiece, unless there's more than a certain amount of people in the room. If you exceed that amount they give you a $100 bonus.
So, for example, if you have a well attended show there, they charge $10 a ticket and can clear anywhere from $700-1000 dollars... then they keep all of it except $150? I've played all over the country and I've never seen a local band get treated that way. The night I did the local spotlight, we had a great crowd, a big crowd, and the guy tells me, "You almost made the bonus mark but you didn't make it." So I had $50 to pay out a band of six people. Do the math. But, if you don't get a contract beforehand and you don't negotiate, that's what you get. But it is such a gorgeous venue and the staff is awesome and the sound!
What's a favorite recent show that you've seen?
I watched this band, the Blue Cranes, I love what they're doing to jazz and composition! I saw them opening for Wayne Horvitz at the Goodfoot in March and they crushed it! They were so powerful that night, I've seen 'em maybe three times, they're my favorite Portland band.
Any other local favorites?
Yeah, there's somebody named Kelli Schaefer who's my favorite solo artist. A young gal that does acoustic singer/songwriter stuff.
What kind of bike do you ride?
(Laughs) I have one of those gigantic bikes. It's more than double decker. It's like 15 feet high. So high that I have to hold on to stop signs and stuff. I didn't ride it here because it takes too long to get on and off, I can walk here faster than that.
I also have a dirty old dirt bike called "Awesome." That's the actual brand name, "Awesome."
Do you ride much?
No, not really. I'm holed up in my studio bedroom working as a producer for an R&B artist from Baltimore named Blak. We're working on his album right now... He's here for the week working with me. I'm in hermit mode.
What's your favorite place to eat?
The place I go to the most is Muddy's on Mississippi. The staff is awesome, the food is awesome and it's close. Besides that, I go to Liberty Glass late night quite a bit. I landed here (on Mississippi). It's a coincidence I got the apartment and I love this little niche. I wish stuff was open later, but I feel like I lucked out moving back to this neighborhood.
What's your Portland Moment?
When I first got here, a friend of mine from LA was visiting. We went for a walk on the Esplanade on the river. I systematically try to convince everyone I know to move here... half out of selfishness and half because I'm in love with this new place. So I'm trying to show off this town, and we're on that path... It's a Monday at like two in the afternoon. Suddenly, we see this potentially homeless man on a bike with lots of stuff hanging off, riding straight towards us. My friend is taking a picture of the waterfront and there's tons of space, but suddenly this dude screams at us: "USE YOUR EYES, FREAKS!!" And then swerved in a crazy way right in front of us. We were just frozen.
About 20 minutes later, we walk back to the car. I'm pulling out of the space, and another cyclist out of nowhere screams at us, "LEARN HOW TO TURN RIGHT!!" I asked a friend who's an avid biker and he tells me, "You don't understand. You showed up at the end of a bike war." It was a Larry David moment, my whole life is filled with these. So... two bike Nazis in one day while I'm trying to show my friend how wonderful and inviting the town is.
Catch Gavin Castleton tonight at Valentine's, 232 SW Ankeny, 9 pm, FREE, w/Alan Singley, Leb Borgerson. Photos: Jaime Lowe