Interviews

David Castillo (Primitive Weapons, White Widows Pact, Co-owner: Saint Vitus Bar)

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

David Castillo is one of the busiest movers and shakers in the New York City metal and punk communities. As a co-owner and music booker of Greenpoint, Brooklyn bar/music venue Saint Vitus, the 33-year-old has lined up packed gigs for the likes of Carcass, Descendents, and Refused, just to name a few.

Outside of his time dealing with booking agents and artist managers, Castillo also fronts two bands: Primitive Weapons and White Widows Pact. The latter released its debut album, True Will, in 2015 to critical raves. After issuing an album (The Shadow Gallery) through Prosthetic Records in 2012, Primitive Weapons just dropped its sophomore album, The Future of Death, via Party Smasher Inc.—the label owned by Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Primitive Weapons writes material that is both atmospheric and sludgy, retaining a metallic edge while leaving enough space in its arrangements to give the listener some breathing room.

I spoke with Castillo about his Latino background, Saint Vitus, and both of his musical projects.

Where did you grow up and what were your parents like?

I grew up in Wantagh, Long Island, New York, with two wonderful Colombian parents, Dee Dee and Julio. For different periods of time, I got to live with my older siblings Javier, Andres, and Adriana.

My father was born in Colombia, so I dealt with a lot of culture clash stuff, and I wanted to see if you had the same kind of deal going on as a kid.

My siblings dealt with the culture clash way more than I did while growing up because they were actually born in Bogotá and I was born in New York. That being said, I definitely had my moments. My neighborhood was predominantly Irish and Italian, and although I am very light-skinned and blended that way, as soon as I spoke Spanish that turned a lot of heads.

When did music start mattering to you? What kinds of music styles did you get into?

Music mattered to me as far back as I can remember. I was absolutely obsessed with Michael Jackson when I was a little kid. I would try to imitate his dances and sing his songs 24/7. Then when I got older, my brothers showed me Led Zeppelin and Guns N' Roses. That was major for me. A few years later, my buddy Josh and I joined those BMG clubs to start exploring a lot of the grunge bands and classic rock.

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What were some of the shows that you remember going to when you were younger that had a big impact on you and why?

Wow. There were a lot. I will pick out a few.

One major one was going to Coney Island High to see the Subhumans in high school. Coming in from Long Island and just being in that room with all the other weirdos really made an impression on me. I pitted all night in creepers and bondage pants. I remember just losing my mind in the best way. I also drank like five Long Island Iced Teas, that may have helped. Sorry, mom [laughs]!

Another would be the first time I saw Silent Majority at Ground Zero on Long Island. That was my first exposure to the underground hardcore scene closer to where I lived, and it felt like I stepped into another world. I was immediately fascinated by it. Shout out to Kelly and Tara King for taking me out that night.

You've been booking live music nights for years now, but how and when did you start? Did you learn any huge financial lessons early on, or did you dodge that bullet?

I threw my first show when I was 15 at Ground Zero in Bellmore, Long Island. I always loved the magic of live performances and was drawn to it immediately. I never intended to do it for a living, it just kinda happened organically. I took some lumps along the way, but like anything else hopefully you learn and get better.

Arty Shepherd is not only your bandmate in Primitive Weapons, but he's also one of your partners in Saint Vitus, the bar/venue you book live music at. How did you guys initially meet and why do you think you hit it off so well?

Arty was in an incredible post-hardcore band called Mind Over Matter from Long Island, and I had been following his music for quite some time. One night, Chris pointed him out to me when we were out and said, "Yo, do you know who that bartender is? It's Arty Shepherd from Mind Over Matter!" So, I went over to the bar and struck up a conversation with him. A few weeks later, we asked him to play with us and the rest is history. Arty and I's friendship is fueled by a common love of weird, fucked up, and usually heavy music, and it has grown into so much more than that. In him I found a real kindred spirit, and he really does feel like an older brother to me. He is fantastic.

What was the first bill you booked at Saint Vitus, and how did it do?

The first bill I booked at Saint Vitus was Liturgy, White Ring, Lichens, and Terrence Hannum with my friend Brandon Stosuy from Pitchfork. It was sick! A ton of people came out.

SEE ALSO: 2016 interview with Andrew Orlando (Black Army Jacket, Reservoir Records, Monkeybite Zine, Milhouse).

At what point did you know that Saint Vitus was going to be successful?

This is a weird question because I think the concept of success changes over time. I definitely think when we had Tony Iommi walk through the door for a book signing it felt like anything was possible. It was a very inspiring moment.

Justin Scurti (ex-Primitive Weapons), Tony Iommi, Arty Shepherd (Primitive Weapons, co-owner of Saint Vitus), George Souleidis (co-owner of Saint Vitus), Saint Vitus, 2010. (Photo: Samantha Marble)

Primitive Weapons began in 2009, and you were brought in to be the singer, even though you never fronted a band before that. Were you wary at all? That must have been a lot of pressure to take on.

I tried to play it cool but I was super fucking nervous. Arty, Chris, and Eric have all made records I am legitimately a fan of, and then I just saunter in there with no experience to sing for them. It was intense. The first recording felt especially terrifying. Over the years, there has definitely been a learning curve, but I feel really good about where I am right now fronting the band.

What was your first show like fronting the band?

We played with Yuppicide at Santos Party House and I just went for it. I feel like I have a switch that kinda flicks on and I just go. I am better with checking my nerves before a show now, but before that show I probably paced around the club 50 times.

SEE ALSO: 2015 interview with Sunny Singh (Founder, Hate5Six.com)

The first Primitive Weapons album, The Shadow Gallery, was produced by Alex Newport of Fudge Tunnel and Nailbomb fame. What was it like being in the studio with him? How did you handle tracking the vocals?

Alex Newport is the fucking man. He is grumpy, funny, tells awesome stories about Nailbomb, and is amazingly talented. He recorded us completely analog and it really forced us to be at the top of our game. It ruled.

As far as handling the vocals specifically, there was nothing too out of the ordinary from a production standpoint. What I do remember is the booth, which was this closet that has a drape with pentagrams all over it in there and no window. I felt like I was going into some sort of solitary confinement each time I stepped in there. It was great!

After the album came out, your bandmates, Eric Odness and Chris Enriquez, also got involved in the bar and restaraunt world. Did they turn to you and Arty for any insight on the business end of things?

Not so much, because Montana [Masback] runs Montana's Trail House while Chris works his day job at Revolver magazine. Eric has as much experience, or more, than Arty, and opened up a Midwest-themed neighborhood bar named Lake Street. Being on the venue side of the business, Saint Vitus is pretty different from the style of bars they run, but we all definitely share stories, tips, etc. I love their places, and if you are ever in Brooklyn you should check them out!

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Another thing that happened after The Shadow Gallery touring was done was that you started a band called White Widows Pact. Since that project definitely falls into the more metal side of the sound spectrum, was it a matter of you just wanting to branch out in a heavier direction?

To be honest, at that time, Primitive Weapons was kind of a mess. I was frustrated and my friend Nick Emde had just moved up here from Texas, and I started assembling a band of some of my favorite players from Brooklyn to join up with us. Nick is a phenomenal guitar player, and we had talked about doing a project if he ever came up to New York. The timing just worked as Primitive Weapons sorted its shit out.

I knew that sonically White Widows Pact was gonna be more on the death metal, sludge, metallic hardcore level, and I really welcomed that. To me, what White Widows Pact does is a completely different thing than what Primitive Weapons is doing. They are two different states of mind.

Going back to Primitive Weapons, the band was previously signed to Prosthetic Records, a label based out here in Los Angeles that is known for acts like Skeletonwitch, Animals as Leaders, and Trap Them. The new album, The Future of Death, is being released by Party Smasher Inc., a label owned by Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Why didn't it work out with Prosthetic, and what is it about Ben and Party Smasher that made it the right home for Primitive Weapons?

Party Smasher Inc. is the right home for us. Ben is one of my favorite musicians, and the fact that he would put this record out alone makes it a success to me. Ben's approach is rooted in D.I.Y. and it just feels natural. With Prosthetic I feel like they are looking for these career-driven bands, while we are just four fucked up older dudes that make this weird heavy music, and it wasn't an easy marriage.

By the time you entered the studio with Dean Baltulonis to track The Future of Death, you had much more experience under your belt. Did you feel that once it came time to track vocals?

I felt 100% more confident in certain areas because I knew I was better, but I also felt 100% nervous in other areas because I was trying a lot of new stuff. I like that feeling, though, I never want to be too comfortable.

Listening to both albums next to each other, I'll say that I found the material on The Future of Death to be better balanced between the harder-edged and more atmospheric stuff. How would you compare the two albums?

Arty made a very conscious decision to let there be more space and dynamics in the songwriting. I think that balance you speak of will allow some of the bigger moments in our songs to feel a little more special and stand out more. Trimming things down to a four-piece also made us have to emphasize the rhythm section more, and they were certainly up to the task. I love what Chris and Eric do on this record.

With Saint Vitus as popular and busy as ever, how will you balance the touring for the new album?

We are ready to roll and play out some more. Hopefully we can get to some places we have never been.

I've always wanted to ask venue bookers who also play in bands how tough is it to restrain yourself from adding yourself to every killer show? That must get hard at times!

I always give this piece of advice to local bands and I try to take it myself: don't overplay your home city!

Primitive Weapons during their NYC show opening for Refused, 2015. (Photo: Facebook)

The bar is going to celebrate its 5th anniversary this year. Thinking back, what do you think has been the best live set you've witnessed there to date?

That one is really hard to do, too many to count! I will say one of the most surreal and visually stunning sets I have seen at Vitus was Cult of Fire at Signature Riff's Martydoom Festival. Insane.

Also, on this day three years ago my friend Ed at Wendigo and I did Diamond Head at the bar, which was sick! Am I evil? Yes, I am.

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Primitive Weapons' sophomore album, The Future of Death, is out now via Party Smasher Inc. and available on iTunes.

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