@The Feldman Agency
Jennifer Castle finds death becomes her as dark album becomes a hit
While having one of the year’s most acclaimed albums under her belt is kind of old news to Jennifer Castle at this point, 2018 has added a pleasant twist to the familiar story: it would now appear that it’s not just music critics who are listening.
Castle and her band will wind the year down with a sold-out show alongside recent Polaris Music Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher at the 1,400-capacity Danforth Music Hall this Saturday, Dec. 15, which is no small accomplishment for a writerly singer/songwriter whose most recent album, Angels of Death, is a hushed folk-pop song cycle about the inevitability of mortality and our ultimate insignificance within the great river of time.
She knows it’s an accomplishment. Flirting with the beginnings of a mass audience is new territory for Castle. Particularly since she’s never had the slightest inclination to flirt with a mass audience.
"It feels great. It feels like a really wonderful opportunity," says the Toronto native from her recently adopted home on the shores of Lake Erie in Port Stanley. "You know, I try to take the moments when they come like that because I almost identify more as a person who plays a really small, sparsely attended room and every now and then I have to stop and say, ‘Wait a sec, I’m playing the Danforth and it’s gonna be jam-packed and I’m sharing the bill with an incredible musician.’ We did it, and it feels really exciting."
Naturally, with playing bigger rooms comes the burden of getting large crowds to shut up and pay attention.
Castle is kindred spirits with her recent tourmate Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station — with whom she shares a fluttering, Joni Mitchell-esque high-register delivery and just released the terrific new tune "Midas Touch," a warm soft-psych kiss from the 1970s — in that she demands that her audience actually listen to grasp and to appreciate what’s going on. Castle’s Polaris-shortlisted 2014 killer, Pink City, was by no means her Chinese Democracy, but Angels of Death is fairly barren by comparison. Songs unfurl in initially indistinct patterns, doggedly embracing the virtue of quietude, and patience is essential to connect with them.
Music like that can easily get lost in the pop of beer cans and chit-chat from the back of the room, but Castle actually doesn’t mind the fight so much — owing, she says, to " my continued time as a supporting-act musician.
"I really do make my rounds on behalf of other people’s shows, and I rise to that challenge more than anything, it feels like. Give me a room that’s, like, so quiet you can hear a pin drop and you can hear my vibrato start to amplify as I start to shake and get a bit nervous. But if you give me a challenge, then I’m almost more comfortable. I have a strong bravado. It comes in handy."
Clearly, the approach works. Castle has ascended to where she currently sits after five cultishly admired albums — two as Castlemusic, three under the name Jennifer Castle (including 2011’s Castlemusic, just to mess with you) — and hundreds of small shows by winning over those chattering crowds, one new fan at a time.
"It feels like it’s been word-of-mouth and, because I’ve been doing it for some time and because I started before the internet was totally poppin’ in terms of social media and that being sometimes a quick and direct route to a big audience, I really feel like I’ve done it room-by-room and person-to-person. And I continue to do that.