Damon Castillo Band

All that & extra jive.
Central California's groovinest. Photo by Barry Goyette.

Central California's groovinest. Photo by Barry Goyette.

Recordings:
Laurel Lane (2008)
Live @ Concerts In The Plaza [7.14.06; 2CD] (2007)
Revolving Door (EP; 2005)
Enhanced (EP; as JND, 2001)
Grip (as jivendirect, 1999)
Then When (as jivendirect, 1997)

Online:
http://www.myspace.com/damoncastilloband
http://www.facebook.com/Damon-Castillo-Band/
http://www.damoncastillo.com/video/
http://store.damoncastillo.com/ (buy their stuff!)

Damon Castillo Band didn’t always use to be. But they still are and have always been one bad-ass band. They’ve gone by a few different names but have largely remained the same – soulful, jazzy pop/rock served up with a heaving helping of phenomenal musicianship (and a side of funk).

I remember my introduction to them very well – it was May of 1999, and I was struggling through a rough end to my stint in grad school, far away from home. A relatively new friend of mine from California (hey Jena!) sent me a tape in the mail. Yes, a cassette – remember those? Jena and I had bonded over our mutual all-consuming love of music, and she had a feeling I might dig this album. She was dead on. She labeled the tape “Jive N Direct – funky, jazzy & cool”. It was their first record, Then When, and I wore that tape the fuck out over the following summer (lots of that time was spent blasting it in a van, making loom runs for the Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association‘s 1999 conference in Lewisburg, PA. No joke. Picture lots of old ladies making rugs and shit.) Still got that tape, too.

thenwhen

I was immediately hooked on this fresh, jamming music with jazz roots and smooth vocals. I was about 4 years into my Dave Matthews Band obsession and the touch of sax solos and horn arrangements on this record hit the same kind of spot. They can really lay down a mean groove (and proved this with two instrumentals on the record!) The drums on this CD are also really good – funky and sharp, with great hi-hat work. If there’s one sure-fire way to my heart, it’s syncopated drums underneath a saxophone solo. There’s also plenty of subtly good piano/organ riffs and fat bass lines. They’re pretty much the complete package – topped by some sweet vocal stylings and great melodies. Dig in for yourself:

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“Around”
This laid-back gem opens the record, and I like the lyrical tone quite a bit. And it’s funky. Cool little keyboard solo, too.

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“Mexico City”
This one’s a slow-jam with some serious groove. Love the bass line. Great cross-sticking/kick drum combo. “Loyalty… you can buy in any pet store” – I dig that line. Who doesn’t need love?

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“Then When”
This song fucking moves. I can’t get enough of the stop/start stutters, and the drums are crackin’. Swingin’ sax solo!

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“On The Throat”
Some of the lyrics leave me puzzled, but I like “love of a Latin kind, you might find, smooth as satin fine”. Kick-ass guitar/sax twin riff going on. Great, great drums, too.

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“In The Wash”
I especially like the off-beat rhythms in this one (more cross-stick/kick drum action) and the congas, too. I like how the guitar plays against the horns in the chorus. Great jamming coda to end the tune. It’s just funky. Is that a bong in the background?

It’s been a while since this record came out, and they left the name “jivendirect” in the dust some time ago (along with those albums; more on that later), but they will still play a bunch of those tunes live, including all of those I just posted (except for “In The Wash”), though with some serious tweaks to a few of their arrangements. When I first heard their live record, I had some trouble adjusting to the new versions – the originals were fully integrated into my double helix – but I’ve since come to appreciate the updates, and realize how long ago those songs were written and understand the need to mix things up.

Damon Castillo - guitar, lead vocals, songwriting.

Damon Castillo - guitar, lead vocals, songwriting.

[Incidentally, my CD copy of Then When doesn’t have the album title on the cover booklet, but it IS on the CD itself and on the inner flap of the liner notes. The spine of the CD jacket (that you see when you put it into a display rack) also only has the band’s name, but the title IS printed vertically in the clear part of the case, to the left of the cover. Were they undecided about just self-titling it? Hmm. The picture above has the title on it, but it must have been added after at least the first pressing, or possibly just because this is from the digital-only version (without any other images). Just thinking out loud.]

It also just straight up sounds good. Then When and their 1999 follow-up, Grip, were both self-produced by the band. And they look so damn young in the photo from the liner notes, it’s ridiculous. So they’re practically kids, self-produce their own damn records that come out sounding killer, and they can flat-out fucking play! Damn, they are all impressively skilled on their respective instruments. It’s very jealousy-inducing. Luckily for me, they really embraced the internet back in the late ’90s, and they were one of the first non-national bands I knew of to sell their merch online. That, and they were quite responsive to yahoos from the east coast who wanted to mail-order their stuff, and responded to emails with quickness and friendliness (thanks to Kristian). Because I was salivating by the time their 2nd record came out, and I had. To. Have. It.

grip

But Grip never had a chance. Oh, it’s good. But that first CD was so ingrained in my DNA that I don’t think whatever came next could ever top it. It’s still got that groove, that jam, that freshness that I liked from the jump. There are a lot of sonic similarities… but there’s also a little more going on – what seems like more horn arrangements, as opposed to just the single sax; more backing vocals, whereas the first album was largely just Damon’s vocal alone. They venture out a bit, too – acoustic guitar shows up for the first time on “Lie With You” (which has no sax at all?!), and one tune (“Losing You”) prominently features a muted trumpet – it’s a funky-ass tune, too, but that trumpet kills it for some reason. I hate to admit it, as much as I like bands that try new things (making the same album twice is never a good thing), I wasn’t really feeling these new twists from my boys in JND. Maybe overall the songs just weren’t as good to me as the previous; some perhaps weren’t quite as jazz/funk and leaned more R&B. Maybe it was that 4 of the songs were less than 3 minutes long. I would have liked hearing Larry’s sax by itself more. And if there was one thing about their sound that maybe wasn’t quite “phenomenal”, it may be Damon’s vocals… which I always liked, but he appeared to be straining a bit on this second record, at some points more noticeable than others. His voice is really smooth, especially in the lower part of his range, but I think it got a little overworked or something, here. I will also say that I especially liked the cover art of Grip; that image is gorgeous, along with all that it implies. Great title. Here’s the best of that record:

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“That’s Me”
This should have opened the album, but it’s track #2 – a great, driving tune. Nice horns. Congas in the bridge. Funky, funky beat.

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“River 101”
This song had me obsessed with Highway 101 on the California coast for 10 years before I finally made it out west. I had this song playing in the car when we finally hit it (for all of about 2 minutes, unfortunately). And it’s a cool tune, too.

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“Knock Yourself Out”
Rapid fire vocals in this one, a sweet funky bass line and some great organ fills. I think you can hear a little vocal strain in the higher notes of this one (and “River 101”), but probably my fave tune on the record.

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“Can You Dig?”
This one’s a little left-field for them, and it surprised me a bit. Those backing vox threw me off. But it’s still funky as hell. Swinging tune. Love the off-beat hi-hat!

There’s also a great unlisted track at the end of the album, an instrumental apparently titled “Barilla Bounce” (I just found out the title while researching this article). Great interplay with the sax and guitar, which has a bit more distortion than it had before, too. And as much as I described the things about this one that I don’t like, I still like it quite a bit – it’s just that compared to Then When‘s super high score, it still comes in 2nd. Incidentally, while they play out a bunch of songs from the first record, they hardly, if ever, seem to play any off of this one (far as I can tell, which isn’t really saying much). I would be happy to be wrong.

Jennings 'JJ' Jacobsen - drums, vocals.

Jennings 'JJ' Jacobsen - drums, vocals.

Then, something happened in the meanwhile after that 2nd album… I have no idea what exactly, or why, but “jivendirect” ceased to exist and they were now “JND”. I guess you could argue that “jivendirect” is potentially confusing, or hard to pronounce exactly, hell it’s not even really a word (I’m pretty sure it’s a play on the phrase “live and direct”). Plus, even they themselves spelled it differently sometimes (Grip lists its producer as both “jivendirect” and “jive-n-direct”, which was also how their original website spelled it out, and their email came addressed from “JivenDirect”.) So in a move to simplify, they became JND (as did their website become www.jndlive.com). And they put out an EP as JND in 2001 called, simply enough, Enhanced (which was enhanced with content for your computer). They even simplified the album packaging, down to a cardboard sleeve with only red print.

I’d heard a couple of live songs posted to their website that I was really looking forward to hearing on their next record. What confused me the most was that while one of them (“Our Love”) made the EP, the other one (“When We Fall”) did not, while a re-recording of “Lie With You” also did. That was borderline annoying… re-making an already fine song a 2nd time and keeping a great tune hidden in the vault. They never did release a studio version of that song, and my live version of it died in an old computer. But, there was also another great new tune on the EP (“Try”) and a couple of solid others. The one they were really pushing was “Nothing Ever Changes”, which not only had a major part in the song for a drum-machine-loop (so not organic!) but also featured no saxophone whatsoever and lots of distorted guitar. It was practically a straight-up rock song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But they also made a cheesy video for it (included in the enhanced content) and frankly, I didn’t really care for the tune. “Try” was also very much a rock tune, devoid of sax, but I loved that one. I also really liked the chorus to “Someone” but thought the verses (lyrically and musically) were a little half-baked. Hell, only one song on that whole EP actually had any noticeable horns in it (me=confused again). Maybe Larry was otherwise occupied? Maybe Damon was in a non-horn writing phase – 3 of the 4 new songs were very guitar-heavy, and the guitar was heavier than usual. And to be honest, I thought Damon’s vocal strain was even more apparent on this record. You can try to hear what I’m hearing on this one:

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“Our Love”
The live version I first heard was tons better than they were able to capture in the studio, but it’s still a funky little tune. Great lyrics, too.

I thought (and hoped) the EP was just a teaser to hold us over until JND came back in full with a proper album. But the following year, the ultimate tragedy struck. Matt Taylor, the band’s founding bassist and close friend, passed away to cancer in 2002. It devastated the band. Damon said, “When Matt told me he had cancer, I couldn’t believe it. He was so young and so alive. We were all fans of his before we were a band together. His life was and is an inspiration for how and why we made and continue to make music.” Dealing with that personal and professional loss kept the band out of the spotlight for another full 3 years, and they finally resurfaced in 2005 – with another teaser EP… a very different sound… and a new name? Sort of.

revolving door

As a fan, it was painfully rough to wait 4 years in between releases (and small releases, at that), and the musical change was also a bit drastic. For the recording of Revolving Door, Damon had ventured to NYC to work on some tunes with a heavy-hitting rhythm section (Mike Visceglia & Doug Yowell, who’ve both played with Suzanne Vega, plus Norah Jones, Shawn Colvin & Jackson Brown between them). From the band – Kristian & Larry, and Damon’s brother Dominic, also contributed to the recording. But it was more of a side project, sort of – it was brought to life via a production deal Damon had which included a solo EP. As he says, “I’ve written a lot of songs, and not all of them are right for the band”. These songs were also his most overtly pop, non-jazzy music to date. There’s mostly acoustic guitar as well, which I have no problem with – it just doesn’t seem to be as much in his pocket as the electric guitar. Overall, I was a bit disappointed in this EP… the first track, “Weird World”, has a nice little groove (horns are back!) and a cool drum beat (and interesting lyrics), but the rest tend to lack some sense of urgency. It seems to lean towards more of a soul/R&B feel, away from the rock-leanings of the last EP and decidedly lacking in funk. No sax solos whatsoever. There are more drum loops, too. It’s still a pretty decent recording, and sounds good… but I admittedly don’t listen to it a lot, and I wasn’t sure which way Damon was going or why he felt the need to go solo for a minute. He also put out a video for the title track that was strictly footage of Damon playing acoustic guitar (to a full band track), which seemed a little odd. Even more so, he seemed to practically disown his time in Jivendirect, as well. The EP was described as a “debut”, and he eventually even stopped selling their back catalog CDs. What up with that?! Why would you abandon that kind of history?

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“Weird World”

It seems to be purely out of his prolific songwriting output – he can’t not write songs, and not all of them are going to fit within the band framework. But as he also says, “we’ve always been family, and just like any family, we’re not always perfectly in sync, but I think I speak for everyone in the band when I say that no matter what side projects any of us do, we have a singular voice when we play together.” Amen to that.

The best thing about that EP, though, is that Damon’s voice was back and stronger than ever. I was pretty psyched to hear much more confidence in his singing again. Whatever happened during the hiatus, the time off served him well. And even better – the band fully “reunited” the following year. But then they had to deal with yet another near-tragedy… their touring van flipped over FIVE TIMES on the highway en route to a gig in 2006. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt. They even put a picture of the wrecked van on a t-shirt (I bought one in ’08) and got a song out of it, “Close Call”. Damon said:

“The scene was littered with glass and band equipment, so we went to work salvaging our gear as the paramedics arrived. That’s when I had one of those life-defining moments. I found my vocal microphone out in the middle of the freeway, and I knew right then that music was what I was supposed to be doing. The mic still works; I sing on it every show.”

Kristian Ducharme - keyboards.

Kristian Ducharme - keyboards.

They survived a death in the family and cheated death themselves, but the guys pressed on, taking what seemed like forever to craft their tour-de-force album Laurel Lane… first, they recorded a couple of covers and put out a fantastic live record. I only just realized they had done the covers for a CD project back in ’06; I bought it 2 minutes ago. They did one of my all-time favorite songs, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and also Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” for a compilation called UnderCovers : Smash Hits Volume 1, featuring up & coming talented artists recording some well-known songs.

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“Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers cover)

The live album was released without a lot of fanfare; it didn’t even come in a an actual case or with any artwork whatsoever. Pretty lo-fi, but not all that unheard of for an independent band, especially if you’re trying to ramp up the cash flow to finish making your new record. I was also glad to see the addition of the word “Band” at the end of Damon Castillo, and it’s been there ever since, as have all the fellas in the band (well, mostly – the bass position is still a work in progress, though at the time of the live record, Brian Lanzone was the new guy on bass). While Damon admits to being a control freak, I was so happy to see the acknowledgement of this group of musicians as a group instead of him just continuing to act as a solo artist, because the sum of their parts is far greater than their individual values… even if it meant yet another band taking their name from their lead singer and then adding “band” to it. So, so cheap.


Laurel Lane album promo.

The live album, simply called Live @ Concerts In The Plaza, is a complete show on two discs, recorded during the summer of 2006 in their hometown of San Luis Obispo, CA. A full 18 songs deep, consisting of tunes from their beginning to their future, this album really got me pumped. Not only did they play a solid helping of older tunes, the newer ones sounded so, so good. And having never seen them live, I was severely impressed by how tight they sounded on stage. This thing restored my faith in DCB like you have no idea. Six of the songs would end up on the new record. Four of them would criminally remain unreleased!! (One of those was technically a cover of a song written by Damon’s twin brother Dominic, a fine songwriter in his own right and band leader of Ravishers, formerly known as The Rock Savants; another song by Dominic (“Is It True?”) would be recorded and released by DCB on Laurel Lane, as well).

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“Heavyweight Love” (7.14.06)
This is one of the songs that remain unreleased… a cool little jam of a tune, I like the sort of funny theme and soaring chorus. Great keyboard solo.

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“Secret” (7.14.06)
Opening their latest record is “Secret”, which often is a rousing set closer (like in this show), and was still a work semi-in-progress here, and whose version I prefer. (Album version still kicks ass, though).

In addition to this treasure trove of music, they would occasionally put out live, as-yet-unreleased songs available for download online, on their website or on MySpace. Of course I snapped them up… but some of these (not unlike “When We Fall”) end up not making any record, and thus remain somewhat “lost” – even to some members of the band.

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“Almost Found It” (Live @ Mother’s Tavern, February 2001[?])
I really like the funky little guitar riff here, which is mimicked nicely by the sax. Short but sweet, clocking in at only 3 minutes long.

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“Trouble” (Live, unknown date, downloaded in April 2006)
I absolutely love this jamming, free-wheeling song… the jumpy sax riff, the great sing-along chorus… bliss! Massive guitar and sax solos… it’s like 10 minutes long!

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“Encore” (live, unknown date, downloaded in December 2006)
Great rockin’ guitar riff in this song, which would make their new record 2 years later. Cool lyrics, funky bass. Ironically, they often open a show with this song.

Having been in awe of them for so long, it often frustrated me how widely unknown they seemed to be outside of central California. Statistically speaking, the number of “friends” they have on social websites is staggeringly low for the quality of music they produce, especially compared to some of the over-hyped crap online these days. They typically don’t play a lot of shows outside of California, though in recent years they’ve been up to Oregon and Washington state somewhat regularly, not to mention their yearly jaunts out to Yellowstone area spots. I was somewhat resigned to never being able to see them play unless I went out west; indeed, I even sort of attempted to plan a trip to San Francisco with an ex-girlfriend under the guise of visiting a friend of hers, so I could make the trek down to SLO for a show! But that fell through, and I had to continue to bide my time… until one glorious day in 2007 when they announced an east coast summer tour!! Damon recorded the Revolving Door EP in New York and specifically mentioned being excited about getting back to the Big Apple again, and thankfully they had included a gig in Philadelphia the next night. But of course, I wasn’t going to let this pass by with just ONE show! The NYC gig fell on a night that I could afford to drive up for, so I was able to catch two sets in two nights! The New York show was a bit surreal… I got their early enough to catch half of the set of the band playing before them, which was fronted by Fred Norris of the Howard Stern Show (which I didn’t know until the day after the show). He was being filmed, but there were literally half as many people in the film crew (3) as there were in the crowd (6). I was a little scared for my boys in DCB and the lack of reception for which they seemed to be in store. I was also just so damn excited to finally see them play, when I walked down the small flight of steps into the venue and saw Larry (sax) walking up, I was like a deer in headlights and looked straight at him and said “Larry Kim!”

Larry Kim - saxophone.

Larry Kim - saxophone.

God bless him, he was awfully nice and super chatty, seeming somewhat shocked that someone thousands of miles away from their home would know who they were. He also seemed pretty psyched that I was so psyched. We talked for a minute, I told him I was up for the show from Philly, was very excited about the next night, and I think he mentioned his sister was going to school in NYC and was bringing some friends to the show. And either she knows a shit-ton of people or swing dancers travel in packs, because by the time they were a song or two into their set, there must have been 100 people there, at least. That little club was packed, and most of the folks were doing elaborate, choreographed dance moves. Very strange, but very cool, and I was pretty happy for the band. Everybody there seemed to be having a fabulous time. I don’t remember much about the show, other than it was over very quickly, and they covered Prince’s “Musicology”, which I didn’t know they’d been playing. It all happened way too fast. I also needed to jet as quickly as I could, to get home at a decent hour, so I bolted as soon as they were done… long drive back home, and I’m not much for a “hang out” after shows, anyway.


Live medley with some great footage, circa 2006.

The next night here in Philadelphia was a much different show… they were playing for free in an early evening slot upstairs at World Cafe Live, which is SO not a dance club. I sorta dragged my friend Anna to the gig, though she did like their stuff I had played for her earlier (and enjoyed the show). I asked for a table up front and they put us smack dab in front of the stage, about 2 feet away. I brought my camera and my camcorder – and my very own setlist. I came prepared. So as you can tell by now, I’ve been somewhat stalking this band for a while. To know their entire catalog inside and out and then finally see them play, after 8 years, is a bit overwhelming. I desperately wanted them to be accepted and adored by the audiences out here, and just as much I wanted to somehow let them know how much their music has meant to me. But how do you do that without coming off as a weirdo? I don’t know that you can! Anna kept rolling her eyes at me, but I broke out my setlist anyway. I spent a lot of time crafting this carefully edited list of my favorite songs of theirs, in a very specific order, encore included, comprising songs from their entire history, making sure to include several that were never recorded – to best show my hardcore fandom.

When the band came out to set up, just as we were sitting down at our table, Larry saw me and came right over. He wondered why I didn’t stick around after the show in New York, mentioning he figured I probably had to catch a train. I showed him my setlist, he was highly impressed and immediately called to Damon to come check it out. He got a kick out of it, too. They were both like, “wow… how did you even KNOW that song?” Damon said “you went deep!” Larry even said about one… “I remember the hook to that, but that’s about it”. I jokingly said something like “you know, it’s more of a suggestion“, but I also seriously wanted them to play all of those songs, though I knew it would never actually happen. Damon sort of played along… and he took one of the setlists (I made enough copies for the whole band) and set it down on the floor next to his mic stand, next to the actual setlist he had already prepared. Nice gesture.

DCB @ WCL 8.16.07

Live @ World Cafe Live, 8.16.07 (click for more).

The show was great. I was really glad I went up to the NY show, though, because it ended up being a good 15-20 minutes longer than their set here, and I got to hear at least 3 or 4 different songs each night. The Philly set was also in front of a crowd that was eating dinner and only sort of paying attention; it was a free show at a place that is not often free (why, I’m not sure). I got it all on tape, wrote down the setlist as they played it, and took a nice handful of pictures. They soundchecked 3 songs, two of which didn’t make the set. And we had a front row seat, which seemed a little awkward (it was still pretty bright outside when they were soundchecking and we were sitting there staring at them), but it was still pretty damn cool. They played fantastically well. JJ looks way too relaxed when he’s banging out those beats, and Damon is way too skinny. And Brian was nowhere to be found… another new bassist?

I was also determined to give them more of my money. I understand all too well from my lifetime of loving local music how hard it can be to survive as a touring band. This being their first tour outside of the west, I was looking forward to spending money on them. Since I already owned all their records, and especially since the Philly show was free – I needed more reasons to give them cash. I used to be all about buying concert t-shirts, but I had sort of gotten over that by then… but wanted to get one from DCB mostly so I could contribute to their travel expenses. To make it even harder, they didn’t have their merch table out in Philadelphia. They had their shirts for sale in NYC, but no one manning the table before their set, and I wanted to wait until the 2nd night, anyway. But they never brought out the gear – they just sold CDs from the stage after they were done playing. So when Damon came over to say hey after the set and thank me for coming out, I mentioned something about buying a t-shirt – I was worried maybe they had them packed up in the van. He said they had them in the green room, and invited me back, so I just kinda followed. So I’m hanging with the band backstage. Right. Talk about awkward (and surreal!). Plus, I had totally forgotten Anna and completely left her sitting there by herself at our table. Woops. (Sorry, Nanner). Damon went rifling through their merch trunk trying to find a shirt in XL – I went with the brown (they had men’s black and brown) – and he couldn’t find one in that size. He just kept pulling shirts out, one after the other… shooting the shit with me the whole time, and the other guys are slowly making their way back there, and it’s pretty much just the band and me… he finally found a black shirt in XL and so I was good to go… though I severely overpaid for the shirt and he initially didn’t want to take my cash, but I told him in no uncertain terms that I was disappointed I couldn’t pay for an actual ticket and that I wanted to help pay for van gas money. He kept refusing quite nicely, so I think I said something like “you gotta take my fuckin’ money” because I’ve been waiting for a long time to give them more of it… he relented, I think only because I freaked him out when I said that. My bad, D.


Damon Castillo Band: now, award-winning!

Then I got to officially meet Kristian (who remembered my name from emails I’d sent them over the years) and JJ, and Larry came back in and so I’m just kinda standing there, grinning my ass off and talking like a jack-ass, and they’re just kinda all looking at me, smiling themselves, and it’s a little weird and I feel like such a dork because I’m just so happy to have been able to see this fantastic band play for the first time ever after years of being a huge fan, and I’m hanging out backstage with them. Wacky. If I was a normal human being, I probably could have had another hour’s worth of conversation with them about anything, but I felt like an idiot so I just kinda thanked them and left, and that was that. I told you I wasn’t good at hanging out. The video sounds great, too. Anna said she really enjoyed the show, but was mocking me severely for being a stalker the entire time. And it turns out that the t-shirt I bought (that Damon spent so much time digging for, and which was wrapped in tape with a big XL written on it) was actually a size SMALL, which I find very amusing… but that means I can’t wear it. It fits my wife nicely, though, and it looks better on her, anyway.

DCB in San Diego, 2009 - photo by Kabir.

DCB in San Diego, 2009 - photo by Kabir.

I also asked about the whereabouts of Brian on the bass… even going so far as saying I was afraid to ask (given their history)… Damon said not to worry, he had gone back to school and the new guy (Forrest Williams) was filling in on a sort of temporary basis. Brian was the bass player on their upcoming album and was still listed as being in the band on their website, but shortly thereafter would be removed, and that spot hasn’t officially been filled. They’ve been playing with fill-ins from then on, including Forrest and at least one other guy (pictured above). Incidentally, they’ve had a couple of other different, additional band members listed in the liner notes of older albums, one each on their 2nd and 3rd CDs, and in fact – for the latest album’s press photo? There are two versions, the one at the very top of this article, and a second that has another person in it, but who was apparently photo-shopped out! If you look at the edited picture closely, you can even tell where it was fixed by copy and paste. Drama! But the four still remaining have been there since the beginning: Damon, Larry, JJ and Kristian. Well, sort of. Because while researching this article, I found an album that predates even Jivendirect! Damon apparently put out a “post-bop jazz” CD in 1996 called New Dialectic as the Damon Castillo Quartet that still had Matt on bass but also included different personnel on drums and sax. Now I’m on a mission to actually find that. Wish me luck.

But back to the tour… I’m pretty sure that east coast jaunt was supposed to be their way of getting their superb new record out to as many people as they could… and I know they’d been working on it for a long time, and it didn’t get finished in time for the tour, which I’m sure was some kind of a letdown. They did say that they definitely were planning on coming back to the area in the spring after the record comes out in the fall, so I shouldn’t have to wait another 8 years. Although, the album wasn’t done until the following autumn (a year later) and they haven’t been back to the east coast as of yet. But they finally finished that record, and it came out in October of 2008.

Laurel Lane

Laurel Lane was well worth the wait. It’s perhaps a song or two too long (in my opinion), but it’s pretty damn good. It was actually produced by an outsider for the first time – Ross Hogarth. They’d previously self-produced all their other records. I don’t necessarily hear anything radically different than I would have expected from their crew, but it is sonically crisp and solid. Hogarth also brings some weight with his name, having produced records by artists such as Ziggy Marley, Melissa Ethridge & Lyle Lovett. He was also once the chief engineer at John Mellencamp’s personal studio. They were also able to convince guests like Shelia E, Sean Hurley (Vertical Horizon) and Rami Jaffe (The Wallflowers) to lend their talents to a few tracks. “Secret” opens the record and sets the bar high, while “Encore” and the sweet, crowd-favorite “One Life Stand” wrap it up rather nicely. In between, they run the gamut with songs about music, love, friendship… “love and life and death, and all the rest”, like Damon sang back in Then When‘s “Rolling and Tumbling”. It’s all in there. All the while backed by an amazing 5-piece ensemble that can play the shit out of anything. The album only ended up having six completely new songs (to me), and three of those ended up being some of my favorites:

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“That Ain’t Love”
This is a throwback track with some great drum work, reminiscent of old school JND. Lovely sax solo. Cool guitar riff, funky bass. Nice.

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“Radio”
A love song about music itself, I can totally relate to this one – and it captures it in a radio-ready 3 minutes flat. Great pop chorus.

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“I Know You Know”
A heartfelt tribute to their fallen brother, Matt Taylor, to whom the album is also dedicated. You can feel the pain in Damon’s lyrics. This one really grabs me. Great piano lines in there, too.

I also especially liked the highly artistic cover art, lovely in its own right and not just a big fat picture of Damon’s face. The band also gets props for continuing the lost art of the music video. From this record, they’ve made two – for “All I Know” and “One Life Stand”, and though having some questionable acting, they do have pretty high production and creative value coming from an independent band. They’re nothing if not earnest.

While they have steered a bit away from their jazz-leaning roots, I’ve learned to appreciate Damon as a songwriter devoid of genre; he’s able to write good songs without regard to how they should sound – he lets the song be the song, and the guys in the band do what they do to make it come alive. They certainly have the skill to pull off just about any kind of sound they want to make. And they haven’t completely abandoned their history – while I’m still bummed they don’t sell any more Jivendirect CDs, they finally did put their back catalog up for sale at most digital music sites, including iTunes and Amazon. And like I said, they still play out a decent amount of those old tunes on stage.

DCB w/SLO Symphony - 9.6.09

DCB w/SLO Symphony - 9.6.09 (photo by Lani)

And in September of 2009, Damon was able to realize a long-held dream of his – the band played an entire show backed by the SLO Symphony! It must have been a bitch to prepare for, but also pretty damn gratifying to pull it off. Right on the beach, too. Check out one of the songs below… it sounds pretty darn nice. Life is good for DCB. As it should be. They also very recently recorded a TV special of the band playing live in the studio that will probably air sometime this spring. Brian was back on bass (for the moment), Dominic was helping out on guitar, and their frequent collaborator Jordan Katz was sitting-in on trumpet (he’s on the live record, too). They hope to release it as an EP and DVD as well. DCB on DVD! I’m totally down for that.

Now, if they’ll only make it back to the east coast…


“Your Fool” with the SLO Symphony.

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