Interview: Jose De Castro

Guglielmo Malusardi: Well, let's start by introducing you to the readers. How does a Spanish boy from Avila, in the region of Castilla Y Leon, move to Madrid to follow his musical dreams about music, and release his first instrumental guitar-oriented CD ("Un Poco De Lo Mio")?

Jose De Castro: Actually, my parents moved to Madrid and I've lived all my life here. I started studying classic guitar when I was 10 and when I was 16 I already had a band. We recorded a disc and won some important prizes. Since then, I started to learn how the record label world works from the inside out. Moreover, we played gigs in so many places and we were paid for it!

I started to combine this band with some other projects playing versions of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Steve Salas, and SRV and it really was funny. We learned a lot.

I also played in some bands that went all around Spain doing many concerts each year, and playing all kind of music from "Pasodobles" to '70s music.

When I started my solo project, I did it because of the necessity of bringing to life all the music that I had in my head in that moment. I was 26 years old and I was starting to work with important pop artists in Spain. I felt that if I didn't start recording my music, I would drift away from it, as have other musicians I know.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's jump to "Music Guitar Box", your second album. A more elaborate project in which I'm sure you invested more energy in terms of time and money.

Jose De Castro: On "Music Guitar Box" my ideas and the styles that I wanted to play were really clear to me. They are songs written in around one year, and you can see a clear direction. Thanks to a couple of good friends that wanted to invest in my project, I could enter a professional studio (not a home studio as in the first one) and I used Simon Phillips on three songs and Melvin Davis (bass) on all the tracks. The CD was recorded in 10 days and mixed in 5. There was no more budget.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I have to tell you that if I listened to your music without knowing who it was, I would have certainly thought you were Texan. How is it that you sound like you are from Austin?

Jose De Castro: Ha ha ha... from Austin! Really close to Madrid, Spain! The types of music I listened to included Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Supertramp. Later on, I went crazy listening to Joe Satriani and all those incredible American guitarists that played blues and rock. From then on, these influences marked my style.

Guglielmo Malusardi: And what about your flamenco roots? Do you have a relationship with the most famous Spanish music in the world?

Jose De Castro: Sincerely, I don't have any flamenco influence. I studied classic guitar, but I have never played flamenco. I can play rumba-pop, but nothing else. Because of my work as session musician, I have met very good flamenco guitarists and the level is really high here.

Guglielmo Malusardi: And your third release, "Conversation" - why this title?

Jose De Castro: I wanted to create a record where the melodies were like having conversations with the guitar. The melody is really important to me. I think that this CD is a better one to define my style as guitarist and composer. I really like the type of sound I got and I feel amazing playing these song live.

The first album is always a letter of introduction, the second one defines me a little more as a musician and the third one is the one that shows if you've already offered up all you know how to do, or if you have new things to express.

Guglielmo Malusardi: All three records, like a river, ended in the musical sea, represented metaphorically by this very recently released double live CD entitled "Live".

Jose De Castro: You have defined it really well with your statement. I think that this is the result of the natural evolution that is inside the songs, when you have been playing them live for some years.

I needed to do this CD because I wanted to deliver my songs with the energy of a live performance. This one has been the most difficult disc to produce, mainly due to the logistics.

Firstly, I needed to find a place to do the recording, and both the Leganes City Council and the Clave 3 school were very helpful. Next, I needed to rent a good mics, sound and recording gear, to avoid any technical problems, and make sure that on the day of recording everything was in its proper place. Then, the human factor came into play, as I looked for good stage technicians, P.A. technicians and recording technicians, moreover some good friends and they all charge a good price. And finally, the most important thing, arranging the rehearsals with the band in order to have the best sound.

Another issue was to do enough promotion to have a sold out theater. After that came the mixing process, mastering, the cover, making the copies, looking for distributors, etc.

But finally everything goes perfectly, and you realize that many friends took on this project as their own, and helped all that they could, but I can assure you that I would have really liked to have a manager to make all this work for me. It was very hard, but gratifying.

Guglielmo Malusardi: So it was difficult taking on the whole project?

Jose De Castro: An absolute crazy thing. You must realize that I do all the promotion by myself, and if I didn't do it properly, all the work would have been for nothing.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What did you use to record the sets?

Jose De Castro: I used three Suhr guitars. One guitar Strat style with three single coils pick-ups, the second guitar in the same style but with a humbucker in the bridge position, and the last one for "Atmosphere" with two humbuckers. With this combination I get the sound I need.

To amplify I used a Custom Audio OD100 Classic with three cabinets with the same brand. One 2x12 for the clean sound and two 1x12 for the effects.

I also used a W-D-W system with an Eventide Eclipse and a TC Electronic D-TWO for effects. Moreover, I had a tray with some pedals, such as "Fulltone", "Xotic", "Ibanez" and "Analog Man".

Guglielmo Malusardi: Talk about the musicians that played with you.

Jose De Castro: The musicians that played with me are really good ones and also, they are good friends of mine. Enzo Filippone is on drums. He is a really experienced musician with a good tempo, sound and timing.

Jose Vera is an amazing bass player with a supernatural groove. Besides, he has a very good solo disc and he will soon release the second one. Alexis Hernandez is a great Hammond player.

Enzo and Jose are regular players in my band but Alexis only played six tracks during the recording. There are tracks that are supposed to be played only with a trio, but it felt a little empty, and it was important that this wasn't the case on the live disc.

They all are musicians with whom I have shared tours with in years past with different pop artists, and we are all very good friends.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: How much time did you dedicate to rehearsing before the double gig?

Jose De Castro: We rehearsed for 10 days, apart from some gigs we did before the shows that were to be recorded.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Three CDs, eight songs on each one. What criteria did you follow in putting together the set list?

Jose De Castro: After a lot of concerts (and after listening a crazy Italian friend), I analyzed how the order of the tracks works. The idea is to try to make sure the concert doesn't sound boring and to get the attention of the audience during the whole gig. I think that the order works very well to achieve this goal, and it's the same set list we used on the gigs.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Briefly describe each song.

Jose De Castro: "Atmosphere": It seems to me the perfect track to open my concerts.

"For You": We really wanted to play this track, it is really rhythmic. This is one of the songs I most like.

"Pasos En Las Cuerdas" / "Trains": I decided to mix these songs and to take the parts of each one that I really liked the most.

"Conversation": I have some ballads and I especially like this one very much because the main melody is simple and not pretentious.

"Hot Sounds": This is another track I really like.

"When She Walks": This is one of the songs that can't be left out of our repertoire. It really likes me.

"Tic, Tac, Time": It's a musician's track and really fun to play.

"Entrando En La Noche": This one is a little different from the other tracks, and I thought it was appropriate to put it in the repertoire.

"Pasion": It really amuses me to play this track and every night the central solo is different.You never know how it's going to end but we do really put a lot of "passion" into playing it.

"M.K.": It is a tribute to the musician that inspired me to play guitar for the first time. Mark Knopfler is one of the guitarists that makes my hair stand on end, despite having listened to him millions of times.

"The Crazy Chicken": It's pure amusing and chicken-picking everywhere.

"Lullaby": This is the lullaby that I wrote and dedicated to my son, and, in my opinion, it's one of my best songs.

"Groovemania": It mixes funk and groove. It works good live.

"Thousand Words": this is another track that I like, and Enzo's and Alexis' moment.

"Dynamic": This is the "darkest" song of the repertoire and we never know how the thing will end.

"Tornado": The perfect track to end the shows.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You play about 100 concerts each year in the bands of famous pop artists like Melendi, Chenoa or Monica Naranjo, so being on stage is a natural situation for you. I'm sure that when you're on stage playing your own music, you have a somewhat different sensation in your head, heart and musical soul.

Jose De Castro: It's a very different sensation. You have to think that, when you play with somebody else, you have to worry about playing well and being in your place at every moment. When you play your own songs, in any venue, you show how you are, because they are your own work. Moreover, the audience that comes to see the kind of music that I play are musicians themselves, and more knowledgable and critical. Also, the places where you play are smaller, and everything sounds closer than when you are in a stadium in front of 40,000 people.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Does this live record draw a line between the past and the future musically?

Jose De Castro: This live record marks the end of an initial period, allowing me to face new instrumental projects in the future.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When you play your music live, do you play the solos like they sound on the CD?

Jose De Castro: I try to play as close to what I've recorded as I can, because when I go to concerts, I like to listen to the songs as they sound on the CD. But I change some solos; and some songs simply match the recorded version.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I've spoken about this point with several guitarists. The improvisers can't understand how can it be possible to repeat the same sequence of notes night after night, year after year. In my opinion, fans do want to listen to the tunes as they sound on the CD. What's your point of view?

Jose De Castro: I think that there are some songs that are written to be improvised over, and others that you must play exactly as you've recorded them because all their parts are very concrete. I do like the balance.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How much of your life is in your music?

Jose De Castro: I think that music and playing style are directly related to one's personality and the way people are. You play as you are.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What does it mean to be a professional guitarist in Spain? Is it a good life?

Jose De Castro: I think that this profession works in the same way all around the world. If you work as a pop guitarist on tours and recordings, you can earn a lot of money. If you try to play jazz, blues, heavy metal, then everything changes totally and you have to do alternative things (such as give classes) to earn your living.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Which guitarists and musicians inspired you the most at the beginning of your career, and which ones do you admire the most now?

Jose De Castro: When I started playing they were Mark Knopfler and David Gilmour. Later, I listened to "Surfing With The Alien" by Joe Satriani and this track changed my live. I started practicing like crazy, trying to play things from Jake E. Lee, Paul Gilbert and Vinnie Moore. Afterwards, I listened to Eric Johnson, Andy Timmons and others.

Country style guitarists such as Brent Mason drive me crazy too, and I try to take some things from them. Reinhardt, too. But now I have gone back to Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, etc. They are the TONE.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You are often on tour playing guitar for some Spanish singer. Is this job useful for your own music, or is mostly useful to your bank account?

Jose De Castro: Both things. I do love going on important tours, recording CDs and making music for advertisements on TV. Thanks to these things, I can do my own projects, so I am very grateful. Moreover, you can play with great musicians and you learn a lot.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's end the interview talking about your projects for the near future.

Jose De Castro: I'll keep on recording and playing on tour with several artists in Spain, and I'm finishing some songs to release on a new disc in 2010.

Excerpts of this interview appeared in the original Italian language one in Axe Magazine n.125 October 2007 - © Guglielmo Malusardi / Edizioni Palomino

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It's hard to avoid stereotypes. Think about Spain, a lot of people think it's an eternal sunny country, where the only music is flamenco. Well, the northern part of the country, from the western Galicia to the eastern Basque region, is closer metereologically speaking, to Ireland, and the nylon string guitars disappear under the mighty sound of pipes (gaitas, in Spanish).

Focusing on electric guitar music, a remarkable number of Spanish guitarists have released high quality, instrumental, guitar-oriented records in the rock, metal and fusion genres. Led by veterans Jose De Castro and Tony Hernando, musicians like Tony Baena, David Garcia, Manu Herrera, Porty (Antonio Portillo), Robert H. Rodrigo and David Valdes are waving the Spanish flag in the guitar world.

Jose De Castro is not only a great musician, but a great guy as well. A touring musician, on stage more than 100 times a year, he is able to keep two separate careers going - one being a famous solo artist, and also being an in-demand session player and live musician for blockbuster Spanish pop singers like Melendi, Chenoa and Monica Naranjo. He very recently condensed his solo career into a just released double live album, simply entitled "Live".

Guglielmo Malusardi spoke with Jose De Castro about guitar music and his latest project.