As most of Arcane’s readers know – the site has been on a hiatus since the beginning of the summer. I had planned to come back sometime this fall, that is, until I received an email not too long ago.. For whatever reason, you guys have stuck around and I’d love to think that it’s because of the artists I have been able to introduce to you since the site’s start.
About a week ago, I was contacted by an upcoming artist from New Jersey. About four years into his career, rapper and producer Phil Castillo has released an overwhelming amount of music, his latest releasing being a rendition of SLCHLD‘s “Wednesday Girl”. As a songwriter, I (obviously) gravitated towards his full-length production projects Heartbeats and Touch – but Castillo is more than just a talented producer.
He is an artist in in rawest form and hopefully that is able to come across to you readers throughout this interview. I got the chance to speak with him about his beginnings, getting help from bigger platforms, and much more.
Q: Before we begin, would you like to introduce yourself?
A: Sure. My name is Phil Castillo. I’m a 20 year old independent rapper & producer from New Jersey. Thanks for having me.
Q: How long have you been interested in music? Was it something you always saw yourself doing professionally?
A: I’ve been interested in music for as long as I can remember.
My family has always been lively when it comes to music, whether it’s having the radio on full blast, collecting CD’s and vinyls, or watching music video based channels on TV. It’s always been an influence ever since I was young.
I remember thinking as a kid that I wanted my life to be related to music somehow; if not in a creative way; like collecting albums like my dad, becoming a manager of a famous band, or owning a music store! [laughs] I don’t know, anything that had an outlet for music, I wanted to be a part of. I wasn’t sure how far i thought about becoming an actual artist.
Q: I know that you are both a rapper and producer, which came first? Is either lane more natural for you?
A: I started rapping around 2010. Nothing special was made around that time, it was just me messing around in GarageBand on the family computer with an iPhone microphone while no one was home, rapping over beats I found on YouTube in the style of artists like Eminem, Kid Cudi and Drake, to name a few. I didn’t take it seriously until I released my debut album Wallflower in 2014. That was when I knew I matured as an artist.
Then came producing- which I dabbled in here and there, but didn’t fully pick up on it until 2017 where I released multiple full length instrumental albums. Though I love both rapping & producing, both lanes are the same to me in the way a love-hate relationship works. Some might even say I work too much as a perfectionist does.
Q: As you mentioned earlier, your debut project was released over four years ago. Did you have any fears/concerns about how it would be received?
A: Yes, of course. It may be hard to tell now, but back then, I was extremely shy to even share my music with anyone. I used to overthink every little detail, especially because Wallflower was an album all about a reckless lifestyle I experienced while I was young. I feared people would get the wrong impression of me because I was around people that were influenced to do the wrong things.
Q: What was your creative process like throughout the creation of this project?
A: While I was still in school, I would constantly play music or write notes and drafts throughout classes to kill time. One of the albums I would constantly play that inspired the story behind Wallflower was Because the Internet by Childish Gambino because the concept ties in with a script that goes along with the album. I was blown away at how he brought a universe he created through music to life.
After school, I used to spend hours, days even, in my old friend’s home studio. I basically lived there. There wasn’t a second that went by where we weren’t away from the studio. We would spend hours working on songs and listening to the music we would create until the break of dawn came by. Then the day would just go by as normal. Wake up, school, home studio, get little sleep in, then repeat.
Q: Do you think as time has passed, has it become easier to make a cohesive project, or does it become harder with every release?
A: It becomes harder because with every release, as you take on many topics, you have to make sure you’re not running out of things to say while trying to grab the listener’s attention. You have to keep people on their toes, and make them wonder “what’s next?” instead of “really? that’s it?”
Q: A while back, I interviewed an audio engineer and they explained that there is somewhat difference between engineering and producing – do you take on both roles or do you focus solely on producing? Can you briefly explain what exactly the role of a producer is?
A: I take on both roles, and there is a difference between the two. The role of a producer is to build the song’s body. It’s what holds the song together. Engineering is about keeping the song and it’s volumes in a balance without having anything clash or clip and keep a smooth mix throughout the song where you can hear everything that it delivers. Engineering is not only about controlling the levels, but compressing it.
Q: As I mentioned earlier, you’re a rapper as well – have you produced all the music you’ve recorded to thus far?
A: No, I haven’t. I wouldn’t even call the songs I’ve made songs. They’re more like renditions, you know? Coming off of albums like Wallflower and The Blue Room Project, that was a time where I didn’t know a single thing on how to produce beats. What carried the album was the stories and the lyrics it held on each song. I think that’s what made albums like mine so special. I know some can call it unoriginal, but it’s my point of view I’m speaking about through my songs. No one can ever take your point of view from you.
Q: How long does it usually take you to complete an entire song?
A: When I make a song, the beat comes first. I have to think how the song should sound like. It could take hours to find the right sample, the right set of drums, and so on. When the beat oss finished, then come the lyrics.
I listen to the beat more than once to craft ideas, hooks, and flows. As far as recording goes, I have to be in a certain mood. It comes with it’s good days and it’s bad days. Some days, i can spend hours recording, and it doesn’t turn out the way i want it to, and then i put it to the side for a while.
I may not like my cadence, I may screw up a line, or I don’t say it clearly enough. It’s key to be comfortable enough for you to like it, and not just one take it. Anyways, mixing and mastering takes me a couple more hours to get it just right. To sum it up shortly, it would take me about a day to finish one song. I repeat the same process with others.
Q: When it comes to what your beats sound like or what you write about, are there any musicians or bodies of work you are influenced by?
A: Too many to name. I listen to a lot of rap, R&B, and Pop. Kanye West is like an idol to me. Childish Gambino, he’s an all out renaissance man. I love the way artists like Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar & J. Cole write. They all push me creatively.
When I first started producing, I was heavily influenced by Joji, Knxwledge & 9th Wonder. When I produce now, I’m influenced by Elijah Who, Aso, Tomppa, Sleepdealer, Jinsang, Idealism, jhfly, and Piglet Spacey…
Recently I’ve been inspired by Sango, Monte Booker, and ICYTWAT. I also love vocalists like Clairo, mxmtoon, Sophie Meiers… There’s a whole lot, [laughs] I can really go on.
Q: Are there any upcoming musicians you would like to work with in the future?
A: I can’t think of anyone at the moment, but i’d love to work with more rappers & vocalists!
Q: Has it been easy for you to find work/opportunities specifically when it comes to getting your beats out there?
A: It’s not. It should be so much easier. So many collectives and brands are only looking for one specific kind of sound that matches what they’re looking for, and it’s so boring. It’s like they’re not bringing their full potential to the table. There are so many artists like me that are so underrated and are overlooked that have amazing songs that are barely even hitting 5k. We need bigger creators to help branch out to smaller artists that deserve it for the work ethic they put in.
Q: What would be the best way for an upcoming musician to connect with you in the future?
A: Just message me directly! [laughs] I’m usually active on my Instagram. I try to respond as quickly as i can to all messages that i receive.
Q: You’re a somewhat “seasoned” artist, what has this journey been like so far? Do you think you’ve grown with every project?
A: I like to think my career grows every time I release a project. They’re like stepping stones to my history. For example, I made Wallflower when I was just 16. Listening back to that album, there were a lot of things that stayed true, and a lot of things that changed within time, and it showed on my future projects. I can’t compare an album like The Blue Room Project to Wallflower, because I was in a different headspace back then. I feel as if I learn and advance more with every one, and i try to show that.
Q: Have you developed a signature sound yet? Is there any kind of advice you would give aspiring musicians when it comes to developing their sound?
A: I don’t think I have, because I don’t want to stick with the same formula on every project. I like to stay experimental and try new things. The best advice that I can give towards aspiring musicians is to always stay out of the box. Create music that’s out of the ordinary and stray from your comfort zone, and everything else will follow your way.
Q: What are your hopes for the rest of 2018?
A: My hopes for the rest of the year is to just grow. As a person and as an artist. Become more widely known, be more consistent in releasing music, connect more with my fans, do more collabs, write more, perform more especially! Recently, I did a couple of shows with a band where I performed my 2017 album A Work in Progress front to back, and it was such a heartwarming experience. I’d love to do it more frequently!
Q: What was your experience like performing for an audience? Were you nervous?
A: Oh yeah, I was so nervous! [laughs] I was too paranoid thinking I might have a panic attack on stage. Even when I have so much fun performing, I feel like my inner shyness acts up, and as soon as I get off, all I can do is just sigh in great relief.
Q: Is there any event you can see yourself performing in the future?
A: If I could, I would love to tour! I’ve only done shows on the east coast around Jersey so far, so I would love to get familiar with more of the east and experience the west for the first time. I haven’t been to a festival in years either! I don’t even remember the last festival I’ve been to, that’s how long it’s been [laughs] but to be a part of a big festival line-up would be crazy to me.
Q: Overall, what is the message that you hope to convey in your music?
A: The message I hope to convey is that you are not alone. I make my songs for people who are just like me, in hopes that it reaches to those who don’t have a voice to express themselves or find anybody else they can relate to.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to tell your supporters?
A: Thank you all for listening! Words cannot express how much i admire all of you that take the time out of your day to press play on my songs, for it is more than just music to me. It’s love.