After a heavy night out drinking ‘fizzy pop’, or if we’re talking honestly, really cheap lager Castrovalva are a little worse for wear, shambling bleary-eyed into the courtyard of Nation of Shopkeepers. The release of their second album, the magnificently titled, ‘You’re Not In Hell, You’re In Purgatory, My Friend’, has had an intense build up, culminating in a trailer featuring naked girls and psychedelic constellations, with the tag-line, ‘Wait til you hear us roar’
Only drummer Daniel Brader and bassist Anthony Wright have made it down, as singer Leemun Smith has recently relocated to Birmingham. Despite their vicious hangovers the conversation flows thick and fast with more twist and turns than a Nurnberg rally. By the time we get to the nitty gritty of actual questions I’m frankly exhausted, but keen to find out what makes this band tick.
As with all the best modern-day friendships, they met online, comparing obsessions with retro video games and old films. Ant explains, “We were on Leeds Music Forum being really lame and started talking about Monkey Island. Then we met at a gig with my old band, Blue Sky Project, and became best friends”. He adds “The band wasn’t really my sort of thing, but I made some good friends out of it and met Dan, which was cool. Actually Dan played for them for a bit, did a few gigs. He never tells anyone that!”
We’re not sensible either, we don’t sleep during the day. We just stay awake and turn into ghosts
Dan eventually signed them up to his now defunct Saltwound Record label, before they moved on to become a two-piece. Singer Leemun Smiths entrance to the band was a more forceful one, as he started out doing the bands artwork and ending up recorded vocals over their demos.
Dan recalls, “We’d gone round just to hang out with him one time and he said ‘Oh, yeah, I just recorded vocals to all your tracks’. So we put one on the CD. (He looks to Ant) Do you remember the one track we decided to use is a song that I hated?” Ant nods in agreement, “It was a song called ‘Bellhausen’, named after (Brew Records Founder) Tommy Bellhouse. We didn’t like it, then Leemun put vocals on it and suddenly it’s good! ” adds Dan. Ant concludes, “He used to come to our gigs and just jump on the microphone and make up some words. So we said, ‘Want to come on tour for a bit?’”.
As a two-piece, Castrovalva captivated the crowd with their raw energetic improvised tunes, dominating the underground scene, including particularly mind-blowing performances in the basement of Crash Records and Royal Park Cellars. Filling in the gaps with a twisted mix of rap and metal yowling, with the addition of Leemun it seems things have finally clicked into place. Ant explains, “We were always missing something. They were always ideas, not actual songs, they’re finished off now. He’s got that crazy vocal range, there’s the bass and drums, and he’s like another instrument”.
Flitting between the opposing worlds of hip-hop and metal, they dabble into prog-rock and even a surrealist take on Motown, Castrovalva absorb influences from across the spectrum. Despite both listening to a core selection of bands, ‘Glassjaw, Blood Brothers and Mars Volta’, they still have some areas where they can’t agree. Shifting in his seat, Dan smiles, “We have bands that we all listen to, but also stuff that no-one else will listen to. (turning to Ant) like you’re big on Dub-Step and Grime”. Ants bounces around, eyes lighting up like a hardcore raver hearing a banging tune, “Yeah, grime, grime, grime, GRIME!”, while Dan moans in the background, “I fucking hate grime!”
Calm finally restored Ant adds, “We listen to loads of different stuff, weird electronica and loud metal bands with really chuggy riffs (mimes playing guitar). Just pile it all together!”
Dan sighs, “I’m waiting for another one of these”, until Ant chimes in gleefully, “Don’t stay in the box!” Sensing my look of confusion, Dan laughs, explaining, “It’s a bit of an in-joke that he has these catchphrases. You’ll probably notice when you listen back that the last thing he says for every question will be some kind of weird little one-liner catchphrase. He’s done it for the past three years. We also finish each others sentences!”
Having known each-other for 8 years, Dan and Ant work together in the blood lab at Leeds General Infirmary, as well as living together for a time. Laughing, Dan admits, “It was bit too much time together to be honest!” Nowadays their time is mostly spent recording or bouncing around song ideas over the internet with singer, Leemun.
They recorded ‘You’re Not In Hell…’ at Ghost Town Studios with their long-suffering producer Ross Halden. “He’s got so much patience because we must be a night-mare to record”. Dan adds, “We’ve always said cos we recorded our first ever demos with him, he’s the only person we’d ever record with. He knows our sound and he pushes us to get the best out of us. There’s been times when during that last album he was just like, ‘That sounds shit! No offence, but I’ve just deleted it. So you’re going to have to do it better!”
Castrovalva’s schizophrenic bursts of sonic energy rarely stray beyond the three-minute mark, as Dan comments, ‘Long songs are rubbish!’, before remembering that they are currently working on a 23 minute one. Ant adds, “We’re going to release it on vinyl for Record Store Day, maybe. But then in an another interview Leemun said we’re going to do 5 albums in year, now its a couple of years later and only one album…we got a bit slack!”
Videos of their recording sessions are currently doing the rounds on Youtube, charting their slow descent into madness via sleep deprivation and mountains of take-away. Strangely, though this chaotic approach has produced their most accomplished sounding record to date, with the towering riffs of ‘Dining with the Pope’ and the glorious twists of ‘I am a Golden Widow’, a more progressively metal sound creeps to the fore. Not that Castrovalva have lost their sense of humour, with energetic gross-out fests, ‘Senorita’ and ‘Blood of An Englishman’ they stay true to the rude-boy roots of their debut, ‘We Are a Unit’.
Describing what went on behind the scenes, Dan explains, “Leemun struggles with his vocals in a morning, so we only record late at night”. Ant nods in agreement, “We’re not sensible either, we don’t sleep during the day. We just stay awake and turn into ghosts”. Hit by a sudden flashback, Dan shudders, “I remember the first two days of recording were potentially the two worst days of my life! Just drumming for hours on end! I think the first day of recording I did 14 hours of drumming, straight”.
Ant, laughs, “He was like Hercules, (mime flexing giant muscles) like a Greek god!”
With one of their number now located in Birmingham, I wonder if they’ve ever considered getting another vocalist on board. Lost deep in thought, Dan agrees, “We actually talked about it a little while ago…When Leemun first started he was always about going into the crowd and our sets were just us playing on stage and he was just about somewhere. We could hear him but we couldn’t see him! He wanted to go back to doing that when he realized he was literally just stood behind a keyboard for half an hour and hated it. We talked about getting a session musician or a fourth member and it just doesn’t feel the same, because we are literally the best of best friends and it just wouldn’t be right if it wasn’t us three”.
Despite some serious hint dropping, Ant keeps us hanging for the inevitable one liner, (Hint- It’s the magic number!) He scowls, “There was too much pressure! It’s a high pressure situation, I feel like I should be at a business meeting! See you in court (does talk to the hand gestures)”
With a look of resigned embarrassment, Dan shrugs apologetically, “Sorry, he does this!”
Crediting a vibrant Leeds scene, currently home to bands as diverse as Pulled Apart by Horses, Blacklisters and new punk showstoppers, Kleine Schweine, as well as a supportive label (they are currently signed to Brew Records) with their current success, they admit that they occasionally take it for granted. “I think when you live in Leeds you kind of think its normal”, explains Dan. Ant adds, “Then you do a gig somewhere like Bristol and you’re like, ‘Whoah! There is no music scene here!’”
Castrovalva’s old haunts would scarcely be able to contain their current live spectacle. Leemun flits from synth bashing to amp humping, face melting rap fury with bursts of satanic metal howling, Ant writhes on the floor, still blasting out intricate bass rhythms, while Dan holds down the fort with sweat-dripping, drum-thrashing that would make Dave Grohl proud.
Geeking out at the prospect of seeing one of their heroes, Mars Volta guitarist, Omar Rodriguez Lopez later in concert, the conversation returns to that 23 minute song. Only this time their sights are set on a full-on concept album, with a 60’s noir detective theme and a graphic novel insert, based around their song Max Rhodes.
Seriousness aside they laugh off rumours of the true origins of the song, Senorita. Namely that Ant ‘went to Spain with his Mum and got the clap off a waitress’. Dan grins, “Sorry Ant’s Mum, it’s not true. Clearly it’s a joke that’s gone too far” (while Ant announces loudly to the bar customers in the background “I am free from all disease! Free from all disease!! Free!!!”).
Having just finished touring with Nine Black Alps, their next task is embarking on yet more recording, Castrovalva are a band who tread the line between the sublime and the ridiculous with ease. Where they go next is beyond the realms of human imagination and truly worth waiting for.