Hello Beauvais and Jonathan! I’m so elated to connect with you about your enthralling, enigmatic aural effusion, debut album Eora, which was released this past August on Time No Place. Beauvais and Jonathan, you’re both based in Australia, relatively near Sydney, and Liela, I’m assuming, is still located in England. How did the geographical distance and differences affect the creation of this album?
Thank you for your powerful response to our music, it’s really interesting for us to hear how it is received in other parts of the world. Our aim has always been to create a representation of our country within the music and we never really thought about if it would translate anywhere else, or even in Australia for that matter. Vast distances are a big influence on our music, stretching plains, sprawling empty landscapes, so the physical distance between us as we created these songs also informed the album but probably unintentionally. We were all in a room together when we were recording Liela’s voice so there wasn’t really that disconnect during the recording process but the fact that she comes from the other side of the world certainly brought a different perspective to some things.
Beauvais and Jonathan, you formed Castratti in 2007 during a physically and/or emotionally-challenging time period in your lives. You had heretofore been strictly visual artists, but you then ventured into sonically creative territory. How did you make that leap from the visual field to the aural sphere? Did either or both of you previously have a background in music-making?
We have both been making music from a young age, it wasn’t like we just decided to turn our hand to a different medium but we are definitely interested in seeing how a visual idea or subject can be expressed through sound. Is it possible to take a physical thing, a landscape, a river or a horrible period in time and then find a way to paint a picture of it aurally? That’s what we’ve tried really hard to do.
Leila is mainly known for fronting the U.K. indie rock band The Duke Spirit, and I would think she would have her hands full with that band. How did she end up a member of Castratii in 2010?
We have always felt that the female voice is a lot more expressive than a male voice. There are some exceptions, Scott Walker, Bowie, Peter Murphy, Perry Farrell, but the female voice is somehow able to tap into a different emotional place that most male voices can’t reach. On our first two EPs we tried to make a male voice sound female and managed to convince some people but when it came to the songs on Eora we felt we needed the real thing. We’ve known Liela for a long time and have always loved her voice. We just asked her if she’d like to make some music with us and amazingly she said yes. Her voice is such an amazing instrument, capable of so many different things. On a lot of these songs she’s singing in a much higher register than perhaps she would naturally and it kinda adds a fragility to her voice that we found complimented these songs perfectly.
You released two EPs prior to Eora; The Music Of Chance in 2009 and Telling of the Bees in 2010. I had thought it was Leila singing on Telling of the Bees, and I’m not sure who is singing on The Music Of Chance. I’m so confused, since the EPs were out Leila joined Castratii… And there’s even a song titled “Leila” on this first EP!
Actually, Liela didn’t appear on the first two EPs at all. Up until Eora it was all Beauvais voice. We manipulate it as best we can to sound more female or interesting, with varying degrees of success. It is funny that the first EP had a song called “Liela”. We like to think it was a premonition.
You are known for performing in total darkness for the duration of your shows, with the intent of immersing the audience in an absolutely aurally-oriented experience. The creation of this blank or blind milieu would seem to be counterintuitive from the visual artist viewpoint. Don’t you feel compelled to have some type of light show or screen-projected imagery to match or enhance your sound?
We have only performed a couple of times and the totally darkness approach was just something that we felt complimented the music. A lot of the songs are very dense and multi-layered. Any kind of light show would only add distraction. We will most certainly do something visual in the future given the time and resources but up until now keeping things visually simple has felt like a nice counterpoint to the music.
In listening to your album, I’m hearing a sublime Cocteau Twins influence on some of your songs, like the guitar chime of “Eora”, the ‘empty room’ vibe of “Low Profile”, and in Liela’s sharp vocal lines on chorus segments of songs like “Limits” and “Kingdom”. Was this band on your collective, or individual, mind(s) when working on Eora?
We do love that band and perhaps having a female voice on this record has made their influence more apparent. Overall though there was never a particular sound we were trying to replicate, we are much more interested in finding the sounds that have been present in our heads for as long as we can remember.” Limits” is probably the most obvious ‘pop’ song we’ve written and we were definitely aware of the Cocteau’s influence on the layered guitars. It was actually a song that we considered not finishing because of that but we were really trying to create that landscape with the guitars and that particular sound was what worked for us. After Liela sang on it it felt so exciting that we couldn’t believe we nearly abandoned it.
Shadows and light inform Eora in equal measure, with some songs distinctly leaning towards the crepuscular and the introspective (like the aptly-named “Descent”), and others radiating a severe brightness amid the darkness (like on the chorus “Limits” and “Kingdom”). Did the crafting of these songs affect your mood or was it the reverse situation, where your frame of mind altered your output?
The recording process is never serious, the intent behind it is but the process can’t be or it would be incredibly boring. If the songs were having an effect on our mood during their creation it would have been impossible to finish them. The light and dark of the music though is incredibly important. Treating the sonic spectrum in the same way as colour is what we are all about. In the same way we were always thinking about the album as a whole, where songs would fit, their rise and fall so that not only the songs had a balance but that the record felt that way too.
As a member of Castratii, Liela has gotten the chance to explore her vocal range even more than with The Duke Spirit. Do you know how demanding it was for Liela to employ a higher register and sharper keen on songs like “Limits” and “Kingdom”?
Liela has an incredible range. There are some vocal harmonies that we recorded for “Limits” and a couple of other songs that didn’t end up being used in the final mix that were amazing. It was exciting to hear her sing in a different way for our music, not just in a higher register but also her phrasing too. The vocals in the chorus of “Others” (B-side to “Kingdom”) is such a bizarre approach. It has this stabbing, monotone thing going on that was almost reminisent of a bird call. We both lost it when she did that. It is just so strong and commanding.
Who is singing on “Monolith” and the male vocals of dark duet “Kingdom”?
That is Beauvais. He also sings on “The Hanging”.
For all the nocturnal sonic diffusions, this is not a somnambulistic album. You’re not afraid to run a current of scouring distortion through several songs, like on “The Hanging” and “Kingdom”. Where does this penchant for industrial noise come from? Are you into certain industrial bands from the 80s?
We probably take more influence from the 90s than the 80s. There’s some really abrasive production on some records from that time that comes from new digital gear of the era. Some of it sounds horrible now but the studio gear used to create some of those records is cheap and easy to get because no one wants it. We collect it. Plus we love distortion and spend hours trying to distort sounds.
Who is the songwriter of Castratii or do you all take turns writing lyrics?
We, Jonathan and Beauvais, write all the music. Sometimes together, sometimes stitching different ideas we’ve written alone into something else. Up until this record the words have all been ours too but Liela brought a lot of lyrical content to these songs which was really cool. Her vocals were recorded over a series of days. We became the producers at this point, shaping the vocal and lyric as we went. Songs like “Kingdom” and the title track are virtually first takes. We’d discuss the song, figure out some words (Liela had reams of lyrics from her notebooks) then we’d press record and Liela would sing. We’d maybe change a few notes, say ‘go higher here’, or ‘try lower there’ but mostly she’d just open her mouth and this incredible thing would happen. In fact the vocal for the song “Eora” is her rough first take, singing along to the track and figuring out the phrasing. It sounded so accidentally good that we ended up using it even though it was just a sketch.
The epic “Kingdom” is the first single from your album and you released it with another tune titled “Others”. Why didn’t this song make the final cut for the album, and do you have other songs floating in the ether that are not committed to disc yet?
Initially we had 11 songs for the record but it felt too long and too draining. We wanted something that could be listened to in its entirety, which meant it could only be so long and so heavy. We had to drop a few tracks and some instrumental segues to make it work.
I’m a bit hesitant to ask this question, but how did you come up with the name Castratii? Whenever I think of this word, my mind goes to the sporadically fascinating film Farinelli, about the real life castrato opera singer from the 1700s…
We wanted something beautiful and disgusting at the same time. Castrato voices are incredible but to create them requires an act of horror. It’s the same juxtaposition we try to create in our music.
Continuing with the movie-related theme, and the fact that the Australian landscape and lifestyle has influenced your sound, are there any Australian (or British, or other) films, that inspired you while creating Eora?
There is an incredible Australian film from the 1960’s called Wake In Fright which was a big influence on the record as a whole. Also The Proposition, Bliss and Picnic At Hanging Rock are three other great Australian films that had impact on the music. Blade Runner and The Dark Crystal also had a major influence on a couple of songs.
Okay, sorry to get deeper into movies and TV, but I’m an entertainment junkie – to a point. One of my favorite performers is Australian actor Matt Day who made his name internationally with Muriel’s Wedding. He currently resides in Sydney and co-stars in TV shows Tangle and Rake (with Richard Roxburgh). Have you watched those shows or even know who Matt Day is? Just curious!
We don’t know him personally but he was in a great band in the 90’s called The Verys. If you haven’t heard them you should check them out. Dream pop/shoegaze band.
Crossing an ocean and a continent to view what’s on the tube in England, I was wondering if any of you caught the 3 latest episodes of Absolutely Fabulous, and if you’re into Eddy and Patsy’s antics at all. The show’s jokes have always been hit or miss, but I thought these episodes were an appropriate send-off for AbFab, especially the last scene with Patsy lighting up her cig with the Olympic torch.
That is an amazingly written show, uniquely funny but not in any traditional sense. The characters have kind of become impersonations of themselves now which is to be expected but it’s still mad. Personally we love shows like Nathan Barley, Snuff Box, Peter Serafinowicz, Mighty Boosh, League of Gentlemen and The Office. We also contributed some music recently to a sketch-horror show here called Watch With Mother.
Moving back to music, have you played any shows in support of Eora or are you planning to in the near future?
We haven’t played any shows yet but are planning to this year.
Can Castratii followers look forward to more collaborations from you as a trio? I hope so!
We (Jonathan and Beauvais) are currently recording songs for a new EP which will come out early this year. At the moment these songs are just the two of us although we may bring in a guest or two. Hopefully the planets align again with Liela in the future.
Lastly, please list your official site(s) where we can find out more about your music.