Punk Trio High Castle on the Oakland Warehouse Scene, Writing Accessible Songs, and Sci-Fi
Oakland's High Castle
As a flag-bearing act of Oakland's Zum records and a crucial proponent of the Bay Area's warehouse-centric, outsider rock scene, High Castle has demonstrated repeatedly its prowess both live and on recordings. The band's latest record, Spirit of the West, recalls skittish post-hardcore glazed with a positively discordant ruckus of circular grooves and disorienting vocals. I sat down with all three members at the East Oakland warehouse where each has lived at various points to chat about sci-fi, violence, and the differences between DIY warehouse shows and proper venues. High Castle performs Thursday, March 1, at The Knockout with Nü Sensae, Deep Teens, and Wax Idols, and I'd wager $5 that it will be glorious cataclysm. (That's all the show costs, so I'm covered.) High Castle also performs Saturday, March, 3, at the Oakland Metro Operahouse with Dirty Ghosts and !!!.
Would you all care to introduce yourselves?
Wilson: I'm Wilson. I play bass guitar and sing sometimes.
Shaggy: My name is Shaggy. I play the drums and sing sometimes.
Erin: I'm Erin. I play guitar and sing. Sometimes I sing while I play guitar and tell Shaggy to sing along with me so she covers up my bad vocals.
It seems like there are more shared vocal duties on your new record, but everyone shouted simultaneously on the first EP. Was that a deliberate change?
E: We tried to sing more together. It was much different from the last record where we were all singing all of the time, all over each other.
W: We like it to sound a little more choral with the background vocals. It was more hypnotic that way. The first record we were all battling each other, but we were a little more focused with this record.
I read one review of the first record that claimed it would take longer to read all of the lyrics than it did for you all to sing them.
W: Right, because sometimes there were three different parts being sung at the same time. The songs would be a minute and a half long but the lyrics would take up pages. We like having the lyric sheet in a record, because when I was a kid that was one of the best things about buying records.
Spirit of the West has a nice fold-out insert with all of the lyrics. The new songs are definitely much longer, was a conscious effort made to lengthen them?
W: It was a natural progression from the first record, where the songs were so short. Now we might need to go backwards. We're still trying to figure it out.
E: If you think of our existence in halves, in the first half, our songs were usually one part after another, without repetition. With this record, we realized it was okay to repeat a part and it was like a-ha! We were conscious about that.
That goes back to what you said earlier about the hypnotic quality of the new songs. They seem very circular and repetitive without dragging.
E: Pop songs are popular because you hear certain things over again. We didn't ever sit down, have a conversation, and say we should write more songs that repeat parts.
Were you trying to make it more accessible?
W: At times there was a conscious effort towards accessibility. I think we wanted to hear something we hadn't done yet; we wanted to hear ourselves do something new. With the songs that you like growing up, there are particularly memorable parts.
E: We started out coming from this noise direction and we wanted to react against that, so it became more of a rock band, because that's what we like listening to.
It was a couple years between records, what were you up to?
S: We toured once. We practiced a lot. The sound that we have now is definitely growing and changing. We've never even focused on songwriting, we just jammed a lot.
So, you were trying to reinvent the sound between releases?
E: Even now, we keep whittling down our live set, and it's getting to the point where we need to write more songs. We have a lot of shit in the pan, but it's not on the plate.