In 2019, a year during
which pop princess Ariana Grande headlined Lollapalooza, Castle Black
frontperson Leigh Celent is a welcome breath of fresh indie-rock air. Celent
and Castle Black have created a new sound of uncompromised work that have drawn
comparisons to nearly every type of underground rock from the last four decades.
To say the singer-songwriter is a star in the making would be a severe
understatement, and she has only just begun to scratch the surface.
recent addition of drummer Joey Russo and bassist Scott Brown for finally
bringing her songs to life, the trio have been building a reputation with their
ferocious live performances. And lyrically, Celent’s angst-ridden tales of dark,
frank, and deeply personal stories recall the glory days of the riot grrrl
movement. This is ironic, however, because the singer-guitarist only began her
musical journey early this millennium after abandoning her previous passion:
Although the Brooklyn-based trio remain the epitome of a struggling artist, travelling from gig to gig in Celent’s brother’s aging Jeep Commander, they refuse to sell out. Not that they would turn down a manager’s assistance and a few dollars, but they continually donate their time to benefits, including the recent Elephant Talk Festival (for Autism research) and the upcoming American Dissonance Festival in Trenton, New Jersey (which will support the current legal battle involving the notorious “NJWeedman,” a well-known marijuana activist). Since beginning work under the Castle Black moniker (which was inspired by the also notorious structure to the North in Game of Thrones), Celent has independently released five EPs. The latest, Dead In a Dream—the first to feature Russo and Brown—is available at the band’s live shows, through the Bandcamp site (or app), and can be streamed, along with previous EPs, on Spotify. Recorded by Michael Abiuso at Behind The Curtain Media in Brooklyn, New York, Dead In a Dream was mixed by Mark Plati, who has previously worked with David Bowie, The Cure, and Prince.
During a break from recording their next EP and after an evening’s rehearsal, Leigh spoke with The Aquarian about creating music and the struggles of being an up-and-coming, independent, DIY artist.
How long has Castle Black
The first EP came out
in 2015, but the current lineup has been together for less than a year. I had
been songwriting and there were different versions of things before that, but
things [started to come together only four years ago.]
Dead in a Dream is the
trio’s fifth EP. Why haven’t you recorded a full-length album?
Are we supposed to
follow a specific model where we must release full-length albums? Listeners’
attention spans have changed. Also, we do not have enough time or money to
record anything but EPs. We have the material to record 10 songs at a time, but
there is something about this shorter format that I’ve latched onto. I like
telling short pieces of a whole story.
Do you consider Castle Black “DIY”?
It is by necessity.
You do everything yourself until something else happens.
Castle Black has been
building a loyal following. Why not hire a manager?
At this point, we are
still losing money. Our show attendance is inconsistent, which is why we tour
so much; to play shows in New York City less frequently. I’ve been told that
managers will approach us and that is what we hope will happen.
Were you raised on a diet of independent music?
As a kid I was
dancer, so I listened to music you danced to, like big band. I didn’t get into
indie-rock until the early 2000s.
Given the current state of music
and your indie approach, do you consider yourself “born late”?
I was told that this is my first time on Earth by someone who believes in reincarnation, but I have always felt out of place. A lot of those themes are in my music.
You also sing about other
people who are misfits.
I may be singing
about other people, but the lyrics are about me. I often use pronouns when I
simply can’t use “I.”
Did you write poetry before
composing your first song?
I did. As a kid,
when I wasn’t dancing, I was writing poetry.
Every music critic has had a
different take on Castle Black’s music. I wonder why everyone seems afraid to
say that the trio is original?
I understand people
need to classify things, but it can become frustrating. Scott jokingly refers
to our sound as “Math Grunge,” because we have so many signature and tempo
Lyrically, the band has been
compared to the riot grrrl movement of the nineties.
Although I wasn’t
into it when it was happening, I have since gone back and listened to Bikini Kill,
but otherwise, I am still learning about it. I get [what those artists] were
doing. It stood for something and their words meant something; they weren’t
Dead in a Dream is the
first Castle Black EP to feature Joey and Scott. How have they changed the
Joey and Scott
have brought the music to life. Before, the songs may have been good, but there
was nothing special about our live shows. Something was missing. The vibe just
was not there. Our sound has changed, and we’ve become more interesting
to watch. Joey and Scott have helped take Castle Black to the place I had
always envisioned it should be.
Castle Black’s music is not
readily available to casual listeners.
We hope that will happen
at some point, but for now our music is available at our shows and through Bandcamp
These days, it is hard for an
indie artist to get exposure. Touring is one of the few avenues available.
I guess. At this
point in our career, we still haven’t been offered anything else (like a record
How difficult has it been for
Castle Black’s members to undertake extensive tours with no financial support?
We were driving around
in a car that eventually died, so we are now using my brother’s Jeep Commander.
Scott is really cramped in the backseat, especially when we travel with a few
of our dogs.
Not only are you wedged into the
vehicle with your gear and clothing, but you also bring your pets along?
We don’t bring them
along on the long tours, but we do take them along on shorter [jaunts]. Joey’s
mixed dog is under 25 pounds, while Ranger, my Boston Terrier-French bulldog
mix, is under 35 pounds.
Was you dog named for the New
I am not a sports
fan. The name was inspired by the rangers in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Although, Ranger does have a New York Jets jersey. My mom, who often watches
him, has bought random jerseys for him. She also bought him a Dallas Cowboys jersey.
What inspired the name Castle
Even before the
television show debuted, I was a Game of Thrones fan. I had read the
books and I took the name from one of the castles.
No promoter, club owner, or
concert goer ever thought you were a heavy metal band?
I don’t believe we’ve
ever disappointed anyone when it turns out we [play music other than metal]. We
did play somewhere recently where the soundperson told us that we had to ‘turn
it down; turn the volume down.’ I said, ‘What do you mean? How is Joey going to
turn down the volume on his drums? He is a hard hitter and we’re a rock band.’
The soundperson said it was going to be ‘soft set.’ And I explained ‘We don’t
play soft.’ And we didn’t. I guess we were louder and harder than some people
Castle Black is performing at the
American Dissonance Fest in Trenton.
People we know in
Philly are throwing a fundraiser for the “NJWeedman”—a well-known pro-marijuana
activist who is having some legal issues. It is happening at Weed Man’s actual
place in Trenton.
Castle Black has performed at a
variety of benefits.
It has, and I still
feel that we’re doing not enough of them…. We do benefits whenever we can,
especially if we believe in the cause. It also helps if the benefits are close
to where we live. When we released the song “Sierra,” we donated a portion of
sales to an organization that sends educational help to underdeveloped African
countries. The organization teaches kids from a young age, for instance, that
rape is wrong, and the song is about sexual violence against women.
Castle Black play at
the American Dissonance Fest in Trenton, New Jersey on August 24. For more
information, please visit castleblackmusic.com or americandissonancefest.com