Communication is key—especially when you’re getting shaken down by Spanish police on your way to headlining a gig.
Toronto singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle found herself in that no bueno situation last month while touring through Spain for her latest album, Pink City. Her driver lacked the proper licence, the policía were taking their sweet time coming up with a fitting punishment, and she was due on stage soon.
“They searched everything,” says Castle, now safely back in her Toronto home with her dog bouncing around her excitedly. “I couldn’t quite explain that I was on my way to a show that I needed to play. I had to eventually show the flyer of the town we were going to, to try to put it together for them, and see if they could rush things along to process our fines or whatever.”
Luck smiled and she made the gig. There’s a lot going well for Castle these days—Pink City, for one. Her fourth album, released last September, is deceptively simple on first listen: gently soaring folk songs with clean, minimal production that puts her gorgeous voice high in the mix. That scrubbed production gives it focus, with Castle’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics floating into your brain like your own imagination.
That, Castle says, was by design. Working with high-profile Toronto musicians, like Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy) providing string arrangements, she worked to create a musical space that was both intimate and expansive.
“I wanted it to be stark and very simple at the same time—but I wanted hallucinogenic ornamentation,” she explains. “It’s like somebody is singing alone, that feeling. It’s like your inner dialogue, but also this massive illuminative presence looming around you.”
That massive presence is a slight feeling of unease, a vague sense that the world is a bit off. It’s like a beautiful sunny day that’s been tilted slightly off axis: it’s still gorgeous, but it’s now unsettling and more interesting.
Castle says that was also intentional. She wanted to communicate that, yes, Canada is a place that is rich with environmental treasures and freedom, but those treasures are also under attack by regressive political policies the and cynicism of the economy.
“I’m at a place right now where I feel the pen is mightier than the sword—I feel like somebody with a sword in my hands, like I hoped a writer would feel,” Castle says. “Lyrically you can be anywhere—at different places at the same time. When you do that right, you feel kind of high.”
She’s the kind of performer that doesn’t hide. Along with her stripped-down production and incisive lyrics, Castle almost always performs solo. That means her message comes at you unfiltered.
“There’s something more direct when I play solo,” she says. “I absolutely love to play with other musicians. But I’m really sure-footed about being able to play my music on my own.”
Sun, May 10 (8 pm)
With Marlaena Moore, Feverfew