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July 24, 2007

Damon Castillo Band, Hollywood, CA, July 21, 2007

In front of a very lively standing room audience at Hotel Cafe' in Hollywood late Saturday night, Damon Castillo Band took their place on stage. The band was about to embark on a high energy, eclectic nine song set to coincide with the release of the band's live CD that night. I finagled my way into one of the venue's front row seats so that I could focus on the band and not be so concerned with how I fit in with "hipster" crowd in attendance. With all the side conversations, pervasive schmoozing, and one loser walking carrying a notebook (me) surrounding the stage area, I wondered how any band was going to capture everyone's much divided attention that night.


Thankfully, Damon Castillo Band had the formula to turn a crowd full of random conversation into a captive audience that couldn't take their eyes and ears away from the stage. In all, Saturday night was a funk and rock inspired return to very real music. All of us in attendance were given an intimate look at a band putting on an unreal on-stage jam session. After the show, I told the band that this might have felt like the fastest hour of my life, and without exaggeration, it probably was.   

The band opened up with "Surrender," which featured Larry Kim on the saxophone. It was an interesting choice to open up the set with a non-conformist, jazz-influenced song that had lead vocalist Damon  Castillo singing in a near spoken word-like style for the first half of the song. When Damon opened it up with his great singing vocals, the audience was instantly brought to life. Following up with "All I Know ," the band switched gears and performed a more contemporary rock track that could be compared to a really good Rob Thomas song melded with the style of an upbeat John Mayer track. Whatever marriage of sounds this song represented, the percussion-like piano accompaniment by Kristian Ducharme had the voluntarily captive audience doing their best bobblehead impressions to the beat. I kept finding myself rocking back and forth in my non-rocking chair to the band's infectious sound, a dangerous situation for not only me, but those around me as well.


Through the first two performances, instead of feeling like I was at one of the cooler, more intimate venues in Hollywood, I loved the fact that the Damon Castillo Band made the audience feel like we had the opportunity of sitting in(in a non-voyeuristic, Disturbia, and/or "peeping Tom" way) on a really high quality jam session, where none of the musicians had to hold anything back . It was an absolute joy to watch the band interact with each other on stage and give each other a nod that said, "Damn, that was good" after any of the numerous improvisations that band members had the opportunity to perform throughout the night. All of the band's talented musicians seemed to really vibe off each other and their mastery over their instruments made it look like they were having the time of their lives on stage, a feeling that was infectious for the night's audience.


Next, the band performed "Your Fool," a mellow song with a simple guitar melody that really spotlighted the emotion that Damon puts into every note. The band followed up with "Weird World," a song that is a quintessential example of much of their funk/rock sound and my personal favorite Damon Castillo Band track. When you listen to "Weird World," you can't help but think that it would translate incredibly well to a television or movie promo (really, give it a listen at the band's website and you'll think the same). Afterwards, Damon informed the audience that it was saxophonist Larry Kim's "birthday eve." While we wished Larry a happy birthday, little did we know that Larry would saxophone the crowd into a frenzy with one of the sickest solos I have ever heard in my whole life just a few songs later (more on this).
After a very strong performance of the upbeat funk track "Encore," which is going to be on the band's upcoming studio release this fall and features a memorable guitar solo by Damon, the band's next song, "One Life Stand," did the impossible - it completely silenced Hotel Cafe' for the first time all night. Opening up the song with just Damon's voice accompanied by his guitar, only to be progressively joined by other members of the band, the moving ballad had the audience snapping to the beat and aggressively  "SHHHHH!!!"-ing anyone's voice who threatened to take any of the attention away from the non-traditional rock ballad.


By far, this was one of the moments that really stuck out in a set that already had so many incredible performances, even within each individual song. It would be hard to find anyone in the audience who didn't get a little "emo" from watching that performance. Even a guy like me, generally an stoic who merely blinks when Mufasa dies in The Lion King (I apologize if you have never seen the movie and I just ruined it), managed to be incredibly moved by the performance and overall arrangement of the song.
After performing "Close Call," a song written after three of the band members survived a horrible car accident on their last tour, the band busted out of the gates with "Secret," a hard strumming funk track (courtesy of bassist Brian Lanzone) that got everyone in the Hotel Cafe' moving. Both the trumpet and saxophone complimented the guitars and Castillo's lead vocals extremely well. While Damon let loose a guitar solo that was worthy of the studio, the performance of the night goes to band saxophonist Larry Kim, whose family was seated right next to me (most Korean people ever at a funk-rock show? Probably).

Kim absolutely let loose on a saxophone solo that got everyone cheering, even before he was finished, proving that saxophones are more thancapable of working a crowd into a frenzy. With reckless abandon, Kim attacked every note and went off on some incredible runs that no doubt made his family happy that they came and paid for those saxophone lessons, rather than Kumon math lessons, when he was wee lad. Seated next to his family, I almost wanted to scream out, "THAT'S MY BROTHER!!!!" thinking those words might compel a throng of groupies to instantly "make it rain" women's panties and perhaps one or two pairs of sweaty, soiled XXL boxers that would inevitably engulf my face like a poorly fitting luchalibre wrestling mask. I looked back in my notebook after the show and my notes for the song read, "un-freakin'-believable." So let's stick with that, it was unfreakinbelievable.


The band closed out the set with "Claim to Fame," a mellow track that featured Damon's vocals on some very big verses. Again, the band, who shared the small stage well all night, just really brought Hollywood back to some very real music tonight. This was an unbelievably talented group of musicians who knew exactly who they were in terms of their identity and nothing about the band was not genuine. From their music, to the fact that they even unloaded and set up their own instruments, to how they joked around with one another on stage, it was truly a privilege to catch the Damon Castillo Band's show on Saturday night. As the band embarks on its nationwide summer tour, I look forward to more people getting the opportunity to sit in on the band's jam sessions turned concerts that will not only find a way to silence even the busiest of venues, but manage to gather the biggest cheers of any night.

I had the opportunity to sit down with lead vocalist and guitarist Damon Castillo and drummer Jennings Jacobson before the show on Saturday to do a brief Q&A. In an industry where you expect to run into a lot of egos, it was refreshing to be able to just sit down and have a conversation with a couple guys who make great music that you'd just enjoy hanging out with beyond everything else. The band was incredibly gracious and for me, as a fan, it was a real thrill to meet with them.

DC: Thank you guys so much for taking the time to sit down with me tonight. The band is about to kick off a nationwide tour and is unofficially getting things rolling with this show tonight at Hotel Cafe' in Hollywood. Could you guys tell us a little bit about how the band came together initially?
Damon: We all live in a small town in the central coast of California called San Luis Obispo and we met from around town - different jazz jams and jam sessions. It's a small enough town that you get to know all the musicians around town.
Jennings: Initially, we wanted to make a band to make money, but ten years later, here we are *laughs*.

DC: It's working out a little bit though, isn't it?
Damon: Well, we're making a lot of good music *laughs*.

DC: In terms of your music style, you guys describe yourselves as a bit of a rock-funk-soul mix, with a California feel, who would people best be able to compare your sound to?
Damon: I think that's the question that every band has trouble answering. For us, we just try to mix up all the stuff we grew up listening to - whether it's rock, jazz, funk, soul, or R&B. We just try and meld that with good song writing and I think what comes out are solid songs. For us, all the guys in the band can stretch and improvise as well, so it gives us the opportunity to mix it up.

DC: I got a bit of a funky Jack Johnson or John Mayer feel from your music, but in terms of the artists that are your band's influences, where are they going to come from?
Damon: All over the place. It's just all over the map. I was huge into Tower of Power when I was in high school. The rest of the band has a really broad spectrum of music that they listen to as well. I think that's what really makes the band interesting. It helps our band become something that I hope is just every uniquely us. I grew up with a lot of Beatles and my older brother gave me all his punk rock hand me downs, so I had a lot of that too. I listened to a lot of jazz. I grew up wanting to be that next Pat Martino or Joe Pass, but things kind of took another turn when I got into songwriting.
Jennings: I used to rock Kool and The Gang all the time when I was a little kid *laughs*.

DC: You guys had a pretty unfortunate van accident a few years back that seemed like it was a bit of a turning point for the band. Tell us a little bit about that.
Damon: *Laughs* I feel a little uncomfortable talking about it seeing as we are heading out on the road this summer. We were doing a few shows in California and we were going up I-5 and we had a tire blow out in our tour van, and it just got us rolling. It totaled the van, but luckily, me, J(ennings) and Larry, we all got out ok and walked away.
Jennings: There was a lucky instance of the whole thing because there were only three of us in the van and the others were driving separately. We got very lucky.

DC: You guys have a live album coming out today and then a new studio album coming out in the fall?
Damon: Exactly. We're really excited about it. We're working on the album with Ross Hogarth, who is a Grammy winning producer. He's done so many great albums. We're heading out on the road for a quick tour, throughout August, come back in September and release the album.

DC: Compared to your first studio album, what should fans expect from this next CD?
Jennings: In my opinion, it feels like a return to what we've done in the past in a lot of ways. We did have a bit of a departure from what we did in the second and third albums compared to what we did in the first album. This one comes from the heart and I think people who like our original album will identify with this album a lot.
Damon: Compared with the last CD [Revolving Door], which was driven a lot more by acoustic guitar, this one is definitely electric guitar with a ton of horns on it.

DC: I like when you guys throw the horns into the mix.
Damon: Us too. Even on stage right now, you can hear everyone stretch and everyone's been growing. The whole process of the album has been a real growing experience for us all. I'm really excited about it.

DC: You guys are all talented musicians, how does the writing process work when you have this much talent together in one place?
Damon: It can happen in different ways. Most of the time, I'll come in with a song at varying degrees of completion. Some of them will be kind of fleshed out and I'll have a good idea on what we're going to do. Others, all the band guys get in there and we hash it out and fight about it, but hopefully what comes out of that is something that's very unique for us.

DC: Does it ever stray really far from your original vision?
Damon: You know, sometimes, it does. There's a song on the new album called "Claim to Fame" and I actually wrote that maybe more than three years ago. I remember bringing it to the band, but it was a song that never really happened with the band. This last time, I brought it back and it just popped. The song just needed us in a different stage and in a different place.

DC: You guys just finished up a pretty big show in Pasadena, any unusual stories from the road already?
Jennings: Yeah, we just played there last night. There was a guy last night that really wanted us to look at the man on the moon. He was very interesting. He told us that we should bring a broom so that we could sweep the stage afterwards.

DC: Oh, that's kind of sweet. That's useful advice, right?
Damon: *laughs* Unfortunately, they don't make [travelling] cases for brooms.
Jennings: This band attracts some interesting people, not in a bad way, but we love them all.
Damon: It was a really cool show though because it was a real listening audience, so we could bring a song down pretty low and knew that they were there with us. It was a lot of fun for us.

DC: Do you guys like playing in the LA area? Or do you guys prefer doing shows back in the hometown?
Damon: We just did a big show last week that we do every year in San Luis Obispo called Concerts in the Plaza. A couple thousand people come to this outdoor concert and it's a lot of fun. Playing in our hometown is always great. We love playing here at Hotel Cafe' because it's a listening crowd too. It's a fun night tonight because we're actually playing with some good friends and we get to hang out with our bros tonight, not lugging it across town.

DC: If people want to check out your music, where can get check out you and your band's music?
Damon: MySpace is going to be a good place to check out the music. Our website is a good place as well. You can hear our last studio album, Revolving Door, on iTunes and there will be more info on the website for the new CD as well.

DC: Well we're really looking forward to the show and thanks so much for taking the time out to speak with me today.
Damon: Thanks for having us.

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NICE REVIEW! (yes all caps). I love the interviews keep up the good work.


dave if you DO in fact ever become a wrestler, would you PLEASE wear a pair of XXL Boxers on your face for you mask?? Please? Also, i think its gerat that you keep getting one on one interviews with peeps! Good work brother.

Pastrami on Ry

Nice interview, and hooray for sax-playing Koreans.

Nati G.

YOU are UNFREAKINBELIEVABLE.... I can't believe you've covered sooo many artists already!! can't wait till the next...I think I'm going to print all of your writing and make a coffee table/bathroom buddy book!!


You need to find a band that has a chinese lead singer!


mufasa dies?? jk. but great interview. sounds like a good time.


the most Korean people ever at a funk/rock show = amazing....nice write-up...nice interview as well..


sounds awesome! can't wait to catch another show with you!


Gotta love the Korean sax players. Nice review man, I'm impressed at how vivid a picture you paint of all these concerts. You really bring out each musicians personality and make me feel like I'm there. It's a pleasure reading your stuff.


I need some live music in my life... It's been too long!


Hmmm... I've thinking of the Key Club with tiny-bopper girls dancing. Don't know why, but somehow they'd fit right in with this post.

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