Listening to Alexis Castrogiovanni’s debut EP, Someday My Thoughts Will Be Like a Range of Mountains, is the sensory equivalent of seeing Yosemite or the Grand Canyon for the first time. The ghostly plucking of an upright bass is the first sound you hear on the opening track, “Ex-Girl,” over which Castrogiovanni breathily proclaims, “Ex-girlfriends are a particular breed of ghost.” This menacing bassline is closely followed by an equally alarming drum pattern with pronounced snare accents, and blaring saxophone lines. Castrogiovanni drives the cacophonous mayhem home in the climactic chorus, repetitively wailing “I wanna go, I wanna go, I wanna go.” It’s a progression so unpredictable and alien that I may have a better chance of seeing Big Foot than determining the exact time signature.
This unsettling and wonderfully esoteric output runs consistently throughout the EP, recorded with Polaris Prize winner Jon Kaspy (Jeremy Dutcher), mixed by Grammy winner Mark Lawson, and mastered by Harris Newman (Wolf Parade, A Silver Mt. Zion). Drawing influences from a diverse array of sounds including trip-hop, art pop, folk, and punk, Castrogiovanni utilizes her classically-trained chops as a seasoned cellist to set herself apart from her rising indie counterparts. She follows in a long line of talented singer-songwriters like Mitski, Regina Spektor, and Tori Amos, who use their classical training to subvert the standard conventions of indie rock.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Alexis Castrogiovanni to discuss the intricate process of creating the EP, preferring CDs over vinyl, and why Nina Simone is the most powerful titan in music.
Hi Alexis! Welcome to A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents! Would you tell me a little about yourself?
I am a classically trained cellist, but I think my true aim was always to learn as much about music as possible in order to become a singer-songwriter. I am from London, Ontario, and I grew up between Ontario and Quebec in a family with music constantly on the stereo and playing loudly in the car, as well as dancing and books. My bone-deep love for poetry and short fiction is a good key to understanding my music. I am releasing my first EP, called Someday My Thoughts Will Be Like a Range of Mountains on September 21st.
How and when did you first start making music and what styles were you predominantly drawn to?
I can remember the overwhelming intensity of emotion that music gave me as a kid and thinking, “I need to know how to do this… I need to know how to make other people feel this way.” I don’t think I was ever drawn to one style, I feel that I am drawn to a profound and honest feeling. If there is deep emotion in a song, you know it. Human beings are hardwired to understand a quaver in the voice, we somehow understand the language of music. I’m committed to chasing and honoring deep emotion, in art and in life.
How would you classify yourself musically at this juncture? Who are some of your favorite musicians who’ve shaped your output?
I don’t think I’ll try to classify myself, I like to leave that to other people, but I can feel myself being placed in a musical family tree slowly but surely when people explain to me who they hear in my music– Tori Amos, Portishead, Regina Spektor, Colin Stetson, Agnes Obel… I feel I’m in good company, with artists who feel like family, when people place me with those writers. In terms of artists (and not only musicians) who have shaped my writing, it’s a long list that begins in childhood, but these days I would say I often look to Feist, Pina Bausch, and Nina Simone. They guide me, and I find inspiring answers and good questions in their work.
You’re currently based in Montreal. What are the local music communities you’re a part of like there?
I lived in Montreal for about 18 months before coronavirus locked us all inside. For that reason, I will be dead honest and say I don’t particularly feel part of a music community. The most precious form of musical community I have found so far is through Kick Drum. They are just two people named Liz and Felix who love music and put on concerts, and that profound and honest feeling that I talked about before in art, they have that when they shape a night of music for other people.
When you walk into a record store, what is the first section you’ll start browsing in?
Record stores still feel like a boy’s club, plus I’m a CD person, I know I’m weird. There’s no section I start with, but there is always something I’ll find that usually has sentimental value that I’ll walk around with in my sweaty paws, and then put back because I remember I have a terrible record player at home. Right now, my entire wishlist for CDs to play on my CD player in my kitchen consists of Nina Simone albums. She is a titan. There is just nobody like Nina.
I really love your singles “Someday My Thoughts Will Be Like A Range Of Mountains” and “Ex-Girl,” especially the latter since it’s the perfect combination of haunting directness and witty lyrics. Can you tell me a little about “Ex-Girl” and how the song came about?
“Ex-Girl” was written during a period of time when I had fallen madly, head-over-heels in love with someone when I lived in Ottawa. For some damn reason, they kept talking about their ex, and I got sick and tired of that real quick. I found it rude and it made me angry, mostly because I was deeply in love with them and wanted them to stop talking about another girl, so I wrote this song when I was disgruntled one night and the rest is history. It has taken on a life of its own and means different things on different nights now, but that is the true story of the writing of that song.
As a cellist, you’re already working from a unique angle as an indie musician. How long have you been playing and how does it enhance your music?
I started cello when I was about 12 years old, after starting on piano and violin. I think if I’m really honest, I play the cello because of a band called Stars, and a few years later around grade 9, that was cemented by Lisa Hannigan and Damien Rice. But I also think I wanted the cello more than any other instrument because it is extremely physical–I like the effort and extreme precision of playing my instrument. I also thrived in a classical music culture as a student, the devotion and dedication it demanded throughout my studies felt good. Sitting in a cello section in symphony orchestras taught me a lot, and so did the classical repertoire for the cello and the string quartet. I feel like that has all translated into my taste and my writing. Also because of the bass. Bass is moving, powerful, bone-shaking. More bass, always.
When did you initially start working on the EP and what has the process looked like for you?
I started this EP a long time ago, years ago now. It took me a long, long time to complete, it went at its own pace. This process was the wackiest, longest, hardest artistic undertaking I have ever seen through from beginning to end, maybe because it mattered to me more than anything I’ve ever done. I’ve learned everything I know about recording from ground zero, and I feel proud of how far I’ve come making this EP (though it wasn’t always elegant). I look forward to feeling like I have some language and a small amount of control over the process as I peer into the future at what could happen next.
What was the most memorable songwriting experience you had working on the EP?
“Someday My Thoughts Will Be Like a Range of Mountains.” I heard saxophonist Colin Stetson for the first time live in Montreal in December 2019, in a small concert venue in Little Italy. After the show, I felt like my mind had been opened to a different way of writing on my instrument. I went home for the holidays, and wrote music for some lyrics that had been waiting for an appropriate setting. That is how Someday was born. That song was a joy to write, I thanked the universe for that song when I played it through the first time, and I also tip my hat to Colin Stetson for showing me a pathway.
What does the rest of the year have in store for Alexis Castrogiovanni?
Probably a show in Montreal in November with Kick Drum, because they have my whole heart. There may be a few other cities before the year is up. Nothing I can officially report, but that never means nothing is happening… I’m a slow-moving person, in every way, but it’s tectonic, and things are shifting. I’m proud of my slow pace, I trust it. But do find me online if you’re curious, I’ll let you know what’s going on: @alexiscastrogiovanni
Thank you so much GTSC!
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