They’re Going to Need a Bigger Moat
Castledoor have kept things from capsizing. Is it finally time for their ship to come in?
One day two years ago, Silver Lake’s Castledoor came to Long Beach and ended up marooned on a squishy little life raft somewhere between the beach and the oil islands, and a daring, low-budget video shoot for the song “Zaika” suddenly demanded unexpected daredevilry. There they were: All six Castledoors in Victorian drag, pretending to paddle with their instruments while the waves rose ever higher. (Yes, lead singer Nate Cole has seen Titanic more than any other movie ever, but just because he was dating a certain girl in high school, he explains.) Once they got the footage, however, they realized they’d floated out a little too far. Suddenly, they had to use those guitars as paddles for real, and the gallant men of Castledoor (Cole, guitarist/co-founder Gabe Combs, bassist Brandon Schwartzel and drummer Joel Plotnik) had to flop overboard in full costume and tow the ladies—keyboardist/singer Liska Cole (wife of Nate) and synth player/singer Coury Combs (wife of Gabe)—to shore.
It must have made some kind of impression: Listeners can hear the ocean lapping at the limits of Castledoor’s newest album, Shouting At Mountains. (Not to mention their ’Til We Sink EP on Long Beach’s Seven Inch Project!) The lyrics of these ferociously precious indie-pop songs teem with waves and anchors and sunken treasure (sometimes obliquely explained, sometimes not)—along with a comradely sense of “don’t worry, we’re gonna get through this.”
“It kind of shows where we’re coming from,” says Nate Cole now about the oceanic imagery on Mountains. “We’re really ambitious as a band. We sing about these things that are ‘big,’ and a lot of people relate it to youth and these fairytale ideas of going on adventures. The excitement and the pain and exploring new spaces—the sea fits into that. That’s us experimenting and exploring.”
And the day in Long Beach when the lyrics of Shouting At Mountains’ first track—“You traveled out to sea with a heart so wild and free”—came true?
“Life imitating art,” laughs Cole. “If I’m gonna sing like this, I gotta know what I’m talking about!”
But he already does. When Cole and Gabe Combs started Castledoor in 2004, they were embarking with even less of a guarantee—and an almost certain chance of capsizing into cold water. Postadolescent Christian rockers or diligent Googlers may remember them from the colossally popular Backstreet Boys-style Christian boy band Plus One, whom secular readers may know from the South Park episode in which Cartman starts his own Christian boy band, Faith + 1. (Says a gracious Cole now, “I watched it when it came out—when the band was just ending, which is probably kind of connected.”)
The change from Christian megastars to Castledoor couldn’t have been more drastic. “Straight to the top at 17, straight to the ditch by 25,” wrote one particularly blunt magazine. But if it were a safe choice, it wouldn’t be an adventure.
“We said to ourselves, ‘You know, this could take five years before anything even happens,’” Cole recalls. “There’s a certain excitement when you start from scratch—the anxiety isn’t so much. But then it sets in: ‘I’m almost 30 now—does that matter?’”
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If anything, it helps. Castledoor write from the place where youth’s sensitivity to sentiment fits into experience’s capacity for sophistication, where love songs, sad songs and frustrated songs crystallize into something more than just the venting of a kid and his id. The music recalls the moment when the ambitious pop of 1967 (McCartney, Wilson, Zombies) exploded into inspiration for the musicians of 1997, and bands from Athens and Silver Lake and Seattle dissolved themselves in melody and personality. Cole names this mood explicitly in “Hush,” in which Elliot Smith’s music helps him learn to sing just for “simple joy.”
“A lot of times,” he explains, “the most heart-wrenching lyricists write the things that make you feel the best!”
They might still be a little bit out to sea these days—Castledoor were tipped for national breakthrough by critics such as the LA Times’ Kevin Bronson, but that breakthrough hasn’t quite happened yet. So Castledoor mostly do it all themselves—Shouting was self-released; even the photo for this article was taken on tour with a self-timer. But if they got something lasting from that dunk in the water—don’t call it a baptism—here it is: No matter how far out they get into the unknown, they can make it through on their own.
Castledoor with the Black Hollies, Cazador and the Shys at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Thurs., Dec. 3, 8 p.m. $10-$12. All ages.