Earlier this year, the gifted Canadian singer-songwriter Jennifer Castle tweeted something that spoke to her unconcern for the music industry. “Each time the music business spits me out,” she wrote, “I wash up on the shore of song humming a merry, merry tune.” And while the songs on her new album, Angels of Death, might not be exactly jolly, they come from a poetic, melodious artist who handles the topics of grief, mortality and songwriting itself with graceful introspection. In advance of a tour with a seven-piece band, Castle spoke to The Globe and Mail about her balancing act as a creator, a career musician and a part-time birth coach.
Songwriting, for me, grew from being a secret or an alternate personality almost. People in my life didn’t know I was writing. Writing a song is almost like scratching an itch. I know it’s done when it’s done. I don’t have to build it any more – I get to sing it. There’s a great relief in that. You’re thinking, “I knew there was a bone under there.” And then you go stash that bone with the other bones. It’s weird.
I pay attention to the song more than I pay attention to the business side. I dip in with a record, then I try to remove myself in many ways. I’m not great at self-promotion. But I have a manager now.
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It feels best when I’m playing my guitar. I feel like I’m rejected from a business that is built on this infrastructure that doesn’t have any relationship with this thing that I do. I do know I have this career, and I’m trying to wrap my head around that. But, really, I feel like there are singing humans in this world, and I’m just one of them.
The other thing I do is being a doula [also known as a birth companion and a post-birth supporter]. It gives me purpose when I’m not on tour. There are these press cycles and album cycles with musicians, and there’s a crash when they come home. We question ourselves: Am I useful? Being a doula keeps me embedded in a community that doesn’t change and doesn’t get celebrated all the time.
As a doula, every word counts. You have to speak clearly to someone who is uncomfortable or who is being tested with all of her patience. Sometimes that’s a good spot to throw in a wordy person who doesn’t have a fear of intensity. I’m built for this kind of work – I walk with light-swords on that level.
The title of my album Angels of Death comes from the song of the same name. I always say, the only thing messier than death is life. I feel very fortified by the families that have let me into their lives at a really intense time. It’s about forging connections. It’s not commercial work, and it doesn’t matter who you are. It depends on your calm sense and your ability to be a guide at that moment.
It’s good practice, especially as a musician and a performer, where a lot people tell you how great you are. A lot is projected on you, and I’m suspicious of that.
Jennifer Castle plays Bon-Fire, at Rideau Pines Farm, North Gower, Ont., on Aug. 18.