Hollow Bones in Monotone, the new album by local musician Chris Castle, draws on the songwriter's long and colorful history.
He's gone from a 16-year-old getting paid to write songs in Nashville to a 31-year-old married man drafting lyrics on Lake Erie, and his newest work is garnering him near-national recognition.
Castle grew up in New London, where he went to school until his sophomore year. After hearing about Nashville venues on an episode of "60 Minutes," he decided to send a demo tape of a song he wrote to the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. "Being 15, I was fearless," Castle said. "I sent them a cassette, and they said 'hey, you have some potential, why don't you come play for us?'" From there, it was only a matter of convincing his mom to let him go.
Castle was hired as a staff songwriter for Terry Rose Music at age 16. He spent the next five years playing in bars and filling his quota of writing six country songs per month. The songs he wrote would go into a pool of work, along the company's other writers, to be considered by record labels. The best songs would be chosen for demo recordings, and Castle's songs often made the final round. None were released by artists, however.
Working right in the center of the country music scene, Castle often ran into famous country stars. "In studios, I found myself rubbing elbows with people like Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt or Faith Hill" he said.
Despite the glamour, Castle wasn't entirely happy with his job. "I'd get frustrated with Nashville because it took away my artistic freedom. People took my writing more seriously in coffeehouses." Fed up, Castle left. "I walked away from that to be a better songwriter. I was an impulsive young man," he said. "And that was the best money I ever made from music."
Returning to Huron County, Castle played at a benefit concert in Monroeville. He met his future wife, Julie Smith, in the audience. They now live in Peru, south of Norwalk, with their three children: 10-year-old Chase, 5-year-old Whittley, and 2-year-old Emaline.
Castle began writing songs for Hollow Bones in Monotone last winter. Despite his country background, the album is Folk Americana. Besides singing, Castle plays guitar, bass, and harmonica over the CD's 11 tracks.
Even before the disc was released, Castle was chosen as the June artist of the month on the popular folk music Web site Folkalley.com. Castle recorded the CD at OMNIsound studios in Nashville, then released the album on July 7 07-07-07 a coincidence that Castle admits was accidental.
Only days later, Castle entered the song "Both Ends of a Gun" in the Granite State Songwriting Contest, where it won second place. The song mentions Lake Erie, where Castle spent much of his time writing songs for the album. On July 8, New Hampshire Public Radio invited Castle on the air for an hour-long interview following one his performances as he toured the state.
Although he's released four albums, Castle said Hollow Bones in Monotone is "the first one I can listen to all the songs and really be happy about."
Chris Castle isn't the only one in his family with a career in music. His brother, Jamie, owns Castle Music in the Norwalk Korners Plaza. Jamie also played drums in a band with Chris when they won the Ohio Music Festival in 1998.
Castle has taken the year off studying at BGSU Firelands to promote his new album. Even though he can spend several weeks at a time traveling the country and playing gigs with his bandmates, Castle said he will always live here near his family. Still, he often has to be away from his wife and kids. "A lot of my life is spent in a '99 Dodge van with two other grown men. Luckily, I have a very patient wife," he said.
Copies of Hollow Bones in Monotone are available at Castle Music or on Chris Castle's Web site, dirtsandwich.com.