It's hard to know where to begin with someone like Robert Castillo. In addition to being a recognized composer, multi-instrumentalist, and visual artist, Castillo is also a dedicated community organizer. He has led the Kansas City-based jazz ensemble The Sextet and has released music as a solo artist under the Blob Castle moniker. Enjoy our interview with the fascinatingly diverse artist.
Please introduce yourself and describe your music for new listeners.
I’m Robert Castillo, I play several instruments, compose and arrange music, and create visual art. My formal education is as a jazz bassist, and along the way I picked up composition lessons. For a long while I led the groove jazz ensemble The Sextet. I played bass and composed or arranged most of the music on the three albums we released. I really enjoy composing and writing for three horns, that amount of intricacy options is pleasant. Aside from this group, I’ve also started releasing electronic music I make at home. With all the time available during shut down, I realized the dream I’d had of creating electronic dance inspired music. I’m so fortunate to have a music studio in the basement, so I hunkered up down there and got at it. The electronic music is on streaming services under the artist name “blob castle.” I’ve also written music for full on wind ensembles, and avant garde pieces for smaller ensembles.
How has your upbringing as a first-generation American born to parents from the Dominican and Mexico influenced the music you write?
As the years progress, I’m learning more and more how being first-gen has influenced who I’ve become. There’s a particular story that comes to mind when I think of how being first-gen influenced my interest in Salsa music and dancing to it. In the home I lived in during my high school years, my room was in the basement…which was the same room my parents had their sound system in. They loved to dance, and have won trophies and all this. There were some nights where I’d have to wait until they had worn themselves out dancing until I could go to sleep. But, that’s the culture in Latin American countries. Time is lax, and dancing takes precedence. Personally I do greatly enjoy dancing to Salsa music, and all other types of music to be honest. Yeah, the lackadaisical approach to time is probably one of the biggest influences being first-gen has had, for better or worse hahaha.
You compose for all different types and configurations of ensembles. Do you have a favorite type of group to compose for? Why?
I’m not entirely sure I have a favorite ensemble formation to compose for. As stated earlier, I’ve been making electronic music which is a blast. I love getting down in the music studio, which has no windows, and getting lost in time recording and editing audio. More than composing with pen and paper, producing songs using a digital audio workstation (DAW) feels like sculpture, or architecture and construction. There’s a similar energy to adding and editing layers, looping and trimming parts. Recently a friend and I started up a groove jazz hip hop duo. We’re just starting to release content, you can keep up with that project on instagram @thesurroundingarea.
Do you find that your creative process to make visual art is similar to how you compose music? I'd love to know more about how creating for these two different mediums compare and contrast for you as an artist.
The processes for creating visual art and composing music, for me, are so vastly different. I taught myself how to paint watching YouTube videos. There’s such a wealth of information on that website, a person could learn anything they want if they’re dedicated enough to devoting the necessary time. I was very interested in learning how to oil paint, so I watched a bajillion videos, picked up the supplies, and practiced. I started painting in the Spring of 2018, and began using oil the following year. Now we contrast this with playing the upright and electric basses in formal settings for fifteen years, along with a Bachelor’s degree and there’s a whole other relationship to creating. When I create music, there’s not really much of a way to divorce it from an academic perspective. Which is totally cool and fine, it is what it is and I embrace this. The only art class I ever took was a trimester in seventh grade, in which I got a C, maybe/hopefully a C+. I’m very glad creating visual art entered my life again, because it’s really become one of my deepest passions.
What music are you raving about right now?
I subscribe to Apple Music and there’s a curated playlist on there that keeps it coming with the banging tracks! It’s called New Latitudes and plays music from the emerging genre known as Crossover Jazz. The music isn’t improvisation based, as most jazz music is, though is certainly influenced by the harmonies, instrumentations, and approaches to playing. One of my favorite albums this playlist has shown me is “Relief” by Ralph Heidel, a Berlin-based artist. The first track “Haut” is on a whole other level of chill. There’s something about the mellowness of this song that really assists in slowing me down. Aside from this I’ve also been loving loving loving the album “Un Canto por Mexico, Vol. 1” by Natalia Lafourcade. Each track is such a beautiful landscape painted by Natalia’s voice and instrumentation. A true masterpiece.
Robert Castillo's recommendations from Johnson County Library's catalog:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda
The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov
Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen
The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten