by Lou Albano
December 15, 2014 – Coconuts Manila
Singer songwriter Clem Castro has gone a long way since Orange and Lemons, the band best known for the controversial hit “Pinoy Ako” for Pinoy Big Brother series.
Since then, he formed and fronted The Camerawalls, for which he released a full-length and then an EP; put up his own recording company, Lilystars Records; dabbled in producing concerts; joined — and won — the John Lennon Birthday Songwriter competition.
He eventually disbanded The Camerawalls, traveled the disappointment out of that disbanding, and finally, he is here, ready to be the one-man-band he always seemed poised for.
Clem is releasing his first solo record, The World is Your Oyster, in digital form come January. He’s dropping the physical records (CDs and vinyl, of course) a month later.
He gave Coconuts Manila an exclusive listen to the record, and we’re happy to report that as all Clem-related releases, it’s refreshing, conceptual, well-executed and, most importantly, feels like a complete and solid album. Clem took the time out to answer our pressing questions.
Clem! Couldn’t help but hear some similarities between your last release, Pocket Guide to the Otherworld, and The World is Your Oyster.
Actually, my last proper release was the five-song EP “Bread And Circuses.” It’s by Camerawalls, too, in 2010. (Pocket Guide was released in 2008). I agree about the similarities with Pocket Guide and Oyster. Oyster, as my producer puts it, is like a storybook with lunar and solar properties. The songs were written in 2013 and 2014, after a careful decision to try a solo path.
Yes, we’re curious about what happened to The Camerawalls. Why did you disband?
Line-up changes, life and familial obligations happened. The differences in status, goals and mindsets of individual members all contribute to a band’s longevity. This is especially true if the main interest is to make money out of it and, on the extreme, not to take it seriously as a business. The pressure of getting paid gigs was also a factor. It became stressful rather than enjoyable. After touring with the single “Wanderlust” with The Camerawalls in 2012, I called off all commitments and went to the US for a three-month vacation during winter. I did a number of gigs there. Hiked in national parks in California and Utah. Drove with my brother and his family from LA to Georgia and back, taking the famous Route 66. I came back with a fresh perspective, a new man. By then, I knew I was ready to go solo.
That’s a pretty long absence.
Oyster was proudly crowdfunded on Pledgemusic last August. After a two-month campaign, I was able to raise enough money with a little help from friends, family and music fans from different parts of the world to be able to record and release a well-produced album. I was supposed to launch the crowdfunding campaign December of 2013 after the release of my debut single, “There Is No Remaining In Place,” but sadly Typhoon Yolanda happened. I held off my project, which gave me time to come up with better songs, like “Dragonfly Collector” and “Darkness Is My Candle”.
Who is your backing band?
Yes, as mentioned earlier, this is my debut solo album. Finally had the guts to do it. Most of the songs in this record, in their early stages of conception, I collaborated and jammed with the Gatmaitan brothers, Vengee (bass) and Jojo (drums). They were my neighbors in Bulacan and my first bandmates during high school. Passion-wise, I admire them both. They introduced me to the music of The Beatles and the rest was history. It feels like I’ve come full circle with them and the recording of Oyster was like a timely and very creative reunion.
For the rest of the rhythm section, Kakoy Legaspi played electric guitar, slide and lap guitars and mandolin on some of the tracks. Jonathan Ong, my producer, added some nylon and electric guitars, too. He was also responsible for all keyboard tracks and post-production in the album, like intricate icing on the cake.
Employing the rondalla in Pocket Guide is one of the coolest things I’ve heard in OPM in recent years. Did you do anything similar this time again?
Initially I wanted to use rondalla instruments in some of the tracks. But Kakoy Legaspi, my session guitarist, brought in a mandolin and an eight-string Ukelele (a sweet item he bought in Canada), inside the studio. I liked how they sounded and, personally, I like to try new things so we settled for it. The most memorable addition to this record was the use of an accordion for the title track, contributed by a 70-year-old Italian American named Salvatore Lombardo. It gave so much justice to the intent and mood of the song, it transports me to a café in Italy or France, enjoying coffee and a cigar in a lazy, sunny afternoon.
What is Oyster all about? Is there a theme here? Is it safe to assume this is a concept album?
Oyster documents my most recent writing inspirations about life and love in general, including my travels, hiking trips, and the people I met along the way. Each track is special and very personal. It never occurred to me to put up a concept album aside from the fact that this is my first solo record under a new moniker; a concept I find amusing and mysterious. I even have a song with the same title as my artist name. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of anyone who pulled that off.
The title single is so whimsical and rather French. How did you go about writing it? Was there an image, a movie, a phrase, or even a progression that inspired you?
My hiking buddy from Winnipeg, Christine Mazur, blurted it out while traversing Joshua Tree National Park in California. It was a life-changing conversation producing the urge to write a song with the idiom in mind. I also added the Latin phrase solve et coagula, a term in alchemy which basically means to break down the elements and then come together into an integrated whole as a new synthesis. I believe it applies in people too, that we need to be broken to rebuild ourselves to a finer state, the perpetual goal of spiritual growth and human evolution. For that, a touch of madness is essential.
The music and chord progression came out naturally as I wanted it to sound as traditional as possible without losing its contemporary appeal.
Dude man, your lyrics. Sorry to pry, but are you in love?
Yes, I am very much in love with life and the possibilities it can bring us. If only we desire to break the bonds of social conformity and traditional roles in society, I believe we can get more out of our mortal years. Love for women or the opposite/same sex is overrated. I believe travelling and doing the things we really love will make us wiser and help us find ourselves and fulfilment in life. For that, courage to take necessary risks is essential.
Is “Cows Come Home” a duet?
It’s a virtual collaboration with the American singer-songwriter Franki Love. She discovered my work when my song “Birthday Wishes” won the John Lennon 71st Birthday Songwriting competition. We corresponded and I offered to write and sing a song together with surprising results!
Why did you choose Dragonfly Collector as your lead single?
It’s not really a lead single, but rather an introductory piece to the album and the artist. A prologue perhaps. I find it difficult to pick a lead single in this album.
Your narratives, man. Do you have a favorite storyteller? Or one who heavily influenced you here?
I’m currently discovering the literary/musical works of Leonard Cohen. In the past, the works of Pablo Neruda, Paulo Coelho, and ee Cummings, among others, fascinated me. A few years ago, I started listening to modern folk American bands like The Decemberists and Fleet Foxes and their storytelling.