Dark Castle's Stevie Floyd on the genius of Death, her band's artwork and Woven Hand
Dark Castle (due tonight at the Larimer Lounge, with Yob and Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire) from St. Augustine, Florida, is often lumped in with doom or death metal -- or whatever heavy music seems to be at least a few steps removed from mainstream metal. But the eclectic blend of sounds and influences heard in Dark Castle's songwriting ensures that it will never quite be pigeonholed by an even passably discerning listener. The band's 2009 album Spirited Migration, especially when witnessed live, often sounds like incredibly dark space rock, with a raw energy that much of that music never really achieves.
The group's latest effort, Surrender to All Life Beyond Form, is a leap forward, with the non-Western and electronic elements of the duo's music fully integrated in ways that expand the palette of what a band of its ilk can do and still be accepted by metal fans. We recently spoke with the gregarious and insightful Stevie Floyd, Dark Castle's guitarist and singer, before she left on the latest tour, and discussed the influence of Death, Woven Hand and the songwriting process of the new record.
Westword: You recorded Spirited Migration with Phillip Cope of Kylesa. How did you meet him, and how did you come to record with him?
Stevie Floyd: He just approached us and said, "I really want to work with and record you guys." Kylesa lived a couple of hours away -- them, Baroness and Mastodon. They played a couple of house shows with my old band. I sorta knew them from that, and he asked if he could record our next album. He has a really good grasp on getting the vibe of a live and raw recording.
He hears a lot of things a lot of people don't hear. There were moments when we were struggling, and he'd come in and say things like, "What is this song about? Tell me where this comes from. Go to that place, and don't even worry about what you're playing." We'd play it again, and it would turn out awesome. He has a way of pulling that out of you.
In a number of interviews you often cite the band Death. How did you find out about them to begin with, and if someone wanted to explore that band's music, where would you tell them to start?
Not only are they my all-time favorite death-metal band, but the reason they're so special is because when I was a kid, I lived in kind of a crappy, poor neighborhood, and I didn't have a lot of access to metal and stuff like that. So I used to ride my bike a couple of miles to this record store and buy shit that looked cool, you know? If the album cover pulled me -- and that was one of them -- I'd go home and listen to it. There wasn't the Internet then, obviously, so I tried to keep researching how I could. The reason I liked them so much was because every album is of the time.
Leprosy is super death-metal and old-school-sounding. I like Human because it has them branching into being a little more forward-thinking. And then I like the albums after Human a lot. A lot of people that are a little older than me who grew up on Death are like, "No, it's all about the old albums." But once they started having more exotic, crazy time signatures combined with the riffs and the composition of the albums and the songwriting techniques -- they were always ahead of their time, regardless of when the album came out. After Human, I'm really into Individual Thought Patterns, Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance. I love all those albums. There's nothing like them, and no one's ever come close to doing anything like that.
As for where to start, I don't know, maybe get Symbolic, maybe Individual Thought Patterns and Human. Definitely get Leprosy. The stuff he did right before he died is really out there. Maybe just go buy all of them. [laughs] Chuck Schuldiner is a genius; it's everything. It's his songwriting, the way he writes riffs, his melodies, the way he leaves space vocals and where they fit in -- where the drums fit in. His lyrics and how he annunciates his lyrics. He's all-time for me, for sure.
You did the artwork for Spirited Migration?
Yeah! I'm actually standing in front of it right now. It's a painting on a big piece of wood.
Was there a particular theme you were going for with that image?
All the albums sort of have a theme. The EP was sort of the flight of Pegasus, as in flight, and we were taking off, because it was our first EP. With that album, we were both searching for a lot of stuff, both individually and with our music. We were digging deep and trying to draw influences from all directions. That's why it's called Spirited Migration.
The girl covering the horse's eye, a cap on her head behind her -- it's symbolic. But it's also sort of whatever everyone wants to take from it. For me, the art and lyrics are deep, but in terms of whatever anyone else wants to take from it, I like to keep it simple and minimal so people can take what they want from it.
Did you do the artwork for Surrender to All Life Beyond Form as well?
Yeah. I was trying to go pretty far out with that. Art is so important to me with music. Music, obviously, you only hear it, but with the art and the lyrics, it is all-encompassed into this one piece of art. I wanted to do a painting for each song to resemble what that song was about and have a theme, and every time you turn the page, the lyrics go all around it -- especially on the vinyl.
I did eleven paintings on that album. So there's an album cover, a gatefold and I think a nine-page booklet. Then Orien did the layout, and he nailed it. I wanted it to look like an ancient book with the pages all weathered. Bleach stains. Then I wanted symbols and mandalas all burned into the pages. There are watermarks. I wanted it to look like an old Bible or something.
Did you start doing visual art before you started playing music?
Pretty much at the same time. My dad has been an artist since he was a kid. He does mixed media. He's an amazing photographer and an amazing painter, and he's a graphic designer now. Since we were little kids, he always had art stuff everywhere, so I immediately took to that. As I got older and started doing tatooing and art shows, it was all day, every day. Then my mom got me started doing piano lessons when I was four or five, and I started doing that seriously, with recitals and competitions. I was in choir and stuff. I'm from the South, so I was in church every Sunday. It's kind of funny, but I was actually in a touring choir.
Right when I started finding out about metal and punk and stuff, around twelve years old, I got a guitar and didn't want to play piano anymore. My best friend, Christina, and I started playing, and her parents had old Spanish guitars lying around, and we'd mess around on them and go to the store and buy guitar magazines and try to learn the tablature. There wasn't Internet then, so that was all we could find. It'd be like Pantera, Metallica and Megadeth and stuff like that. Shortly after that, a lot of grunge was going on, like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, who I still listen to.
For the website Jersey Boot, you listed bands you were listening to, and you included Woven Hand. How did you hear about that band, and what is it about them that you find interesting?
The first time I heard them, I didn't even have words. They're so heavy and so deep and honest. Doing all these things I've never heard anyone do, other than, maybe, Dead Can Dance, with all the eclectic instruments he plays. And when that guy sings, it's like hearing some old man from a long time ago, far, far away. It sucks you in right away. It's almost like God himself is singing to you. I've tried to see that band live many times, but every time they came through, I was gone, and I missed them by a day in Chicago and a day in Portland. The first person that got me into that band was Sanford Parker from Minsk.
Did you ever hear 16 Horsepower?
Yeah. I haven't heard them as much as I have Woven Hand, but I like 16 Horsepower a lot.