The Floridian duo of guitarist/vocalist Stevie Floyd and drummer/noisemaker Rob Shaffer—collectively known as Dark Castle—recently issued their second full-length, Surrender To All Life Beyond Form, through Profound Lore. It’s an album whose expanse of influence is densely packed into a 34-minute runtime, turning such disparate elements as Indian ragas, spiritual chants and industrial beats into cohesive and surprisingly metallic dirges. Boasting guest appearances from Mike Scheidt (YOB), Nate Hall (U.S. Christmas) and Blake Judd (Nachtmystium) as well as production from the ever-vigilant Sanford Parker (Minsk, Buried At Sea, etc.), Surrender To All Life Beyond Form is impressive simply because Dark Castle managed pull it all off, let alone pull it off and make a coherent full-length out of it.
In celebration of the record, Dark Castle are heading out on a U.S. tour with YOB that will bring them to NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge this coming Tuesday, July 12. Floyd took my call while working on several art projects in the mountains near her newfound home in Portland, Oregon.
Can you talk about the process of branching out sonically? There’s so much going on with the record—was it just studio experimentation?
We had a lot of preconceived ideas as far as where we want to go with it and the writing, but at the same time, I like to let things just sort of happen naturally. We both were just trying to bring together all of the different kinds of music that we’re into lately.
We listen to everything. It’s kind of hard to write just one form of music. We were listening to lots of eclectic, multi-cultural music. Ancient sitar music, ukulele, ancient music from India, Japan, tradition kabuki music. That’s really apparent in our writing, and we listen to a lot of grunge, industrial, black metal, so it’s easy to have too much going on, and it’s chaotic and all over the place, and so we were just trying to have the most natural way of all those influences coming about in our music as possible, without forcing it.
One thing that I did, I guess, as we were writing—when we got really intense with putting the songs together—because we both write separately when we’re inspired, lyrics or music or whatever, and when we start to think about recording, we start to put everything together, and once it gets to that point, I try to just separate myself from heavy metal for a little bit and just listen to music that was around long before, whether it’s classical music, or like I was saying before, we have a lot of records of sitar players and kabuki music from Japan. That’s a huge influence for me. It kind of happened more naturally that way.
You can hear Sanford’s contributions to the album in the samples and synth and Moog. How much of that was just born of being in the studio with him? Did you know you wanted those sounds beforehand?
Yeah, and that’s another thing. We definitely talked about that. Sanford’s a really good friend of ours too, and when it comes to music, there’s a handful of people that I trust 100 percent. He’s definitely one of the first ones. He’s shown me so many bands that are my favorite bands, and we connect and hear things in music—I just trust that dude. I would feel comfortable with recording tracks and walking out of the room the rest of the time and letting him do whatever he wants. I wouldn’t do that, but I trust that guy so much, because I really admire his talent and where it comes from and the way that he sees music.
He sees it visually, kind of like I do, the layers and contrasting this part with this part, rather than just doing the guitar tracks and then overdubbing them all and being done with it. He hears little nuances and he pays attention to detail. He hears things that need to happen in between parts to maybe build up this mountain of sound and then let it down, or have this super-compressed guitar tone next to this huge, warm tube amp guitar tone, just to give you different feelings with sound waves.
It’s definitely something that I trusted him 100 percent, and he really went crazy. I love that. I loved letting him do that. There were moments where we had 30 or 40 pedals all over the floor and different keyboards attached and stacks of amplifiers, and we were just hooking all this stuff up to each other.
There was one point where we hooked up—I don’t even know—10 or 15 different things, pedals and keyboards and Moogs, and we hooked them all up to this foot pedal and just hit the foot pedal at random times. Stuff like that is really fun.
We’ve always used samples and a little bit of synth, since we started, so a few of the things we had ahead of time. Rob’s really into that, so he’s pre-recorded some samples that we’ve used live in between songs. So a few of those were preconceived, but I really wanted Sanford to just go crazy, and when it comes to synth and Moog, I’m really into very old synth.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tangerine Dream, but they’re a big influence of ours when it comes to that. More old synths, and then also industrial-sounding maybe samples or synths, or compression like what you’d hear in Ministry. And he’s into those same exact things when it comes to that, so it’s pretty cool just letting him do his thing.
What about bringing the other guests in—Mike and Blake and Nate? How did that all come about?
Well, I just had this idea that I really wanted a few of my favorite singers and favorite people to just sing a little on the album, but I didn’t have anything specific figured out. Actually, there was two other people that didn’t wind up working out, it kind of bummed me out. It was Bruce Lamont from Yakuza and CT from Rwake. And they’re all good friends, but they’re also just some of my favorite singers right now as far as playing heavy music.
I just wanted to have people that inspire me on this album. Close friends that are super-inspiring. It was just sort of a little fantasy and I didn’t know if it would happen or not. The song that Mike sang on, that’s a separate recording that we did together. It’s called “Spirit Ritual.” It’s like a side-project that we do. We’ve only recorded a demo EP little thing. So we used some of that, and Nate from U.S. Christmas, I sent him the track and I was like, “Do whatever you want over it,” and he just sang with me, and it’s cool because more than being a separate part, our voices just morph together on that song, and it was cool.
I just let whatever happened happen, and the song with Blake, I can’t remember if I asked him ahead of time. I think I did mention something to him when we were in Chicago, and he was like, “Yeah, cool.” But then I never really said anything again, and when we were recording that last song on the album, it was the last vocals to do and I was in there and belting them all out, and that whole last song was so weird anyway. I wrote that piano part on an out of tune piano one night, real late, in the studio, and Rob already had that drum beat, and we just sort of wrote that in the studio. It just sort of happened.
And then I had this song about being buried alive and looking towards the light, and I went in and just yelled that in one motion and came back in the board room and Blake was sitting there, and he was like, “Dude, this song sounds so weird and awesome,” and I was like, “Really? You think so?” and he was like, “Yeah, definitely,” and I was like, “You wanna sing on it?” (laughs), and he was, “Yeah, okay.” I handed him my lyrics and he just sang over it with me. It was pretty cool.
That’s a crazy stretch of the record. You have “Spirit Ritual” and “To Hide Is To Die” right in a row, and there’s so much crushing and heaviness, and then it goes into this ambient movement that’s a crazy turn, but again, there’s so much that by then you just roll with it.
(Laughs) That’s what I was hoping for. I don’t even know what I was hoping for, but I remember feeling really weird when this was done. I was like, “Oh my god.” It feels good, but not being able to place it in any category is awesome to me, but whenever you’re doing something like that, there’s people who love it and there’s people who hate it.
That’s okay with me. I’m totally fine with that. No one can help what they write. You just write what feels good, and it doesn’t matter if five people like it or five million. It’s not really about that. You can only write what comes out of you based on your life experience musically. We both felt so good about this album, because it felt so weird and totally abstract, and I was coming from a different place vocally, too. And Sanford had a lot to do with all of that.
Vocally, you mean?
Everything. He just hears things that we don’t hear, and he would say things like, for certain parts, “Why don’t you do this spoken word?” “Why don’t you pretend like you’re whispering into a baby’s ear on this part?” He’d say things like that while I’m doing vocals and make me think a little differently than I normally would.
And normally I do a lot more low screams, more death metal yells and stuff, and when we were going, it just felt really good. I love playing it live more than ever, which is really the most important thing to me.
Surrender To All Life Beyond Form is available now on Profound Lore. Dark Castle will be appearing live with YOB at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC on July 12. More info at facebook.com/darkcastlemetal.
JJ Koczan will be at this show if it takes selling a limb to get him there. He’s not sure how that would help, but you never know. email@example.com.