July 7, 2014 by The Dirt Factory
If you live in Corona, Calif. – the southern most edge of Southern California’s Inland Empire – chances are you know Castle Pines frontman Leandro Barrientos. Or at the very least, you know someone who does.
Barrientos, who named the band after his neighborhood street, does it all – musician, songwriter, promoter. Not because he’s a megalomaniac hell-bent on dictatorial control, but because he understands the reality of independent music today: do it yourself because no one else will.
Nowhere was this more evident than Castle Pines’ CD release show for Summer Blood at Rockefellas in Corona last month.
As we chat before the release party, Barrientos dutifully untangles a string of Christmas lights destined for several merch tables on the now-closed outdoor stage (numerous complaints from a woman at a nearby trailer park forced Rockefellas management to mothball outdoor music acts). Meanwhile, Barrientos’ girlfriend, Madison Chinn, along with several friends, arranges t-shirts and stickers around a tres leche cake adorned with the band’s CD cover art.
Until showtime, Barrientos shakes hands, exchanges hugs, talks to friends old and new. If someone didn’t know any better, he could be running for mayor. And it makes sense. You want Barrientos on your team. Friendly, but never fake, he thinks local, buys local and promotes local. Need band tee shirts? Use the neighborhood shop. Need cover art? Find a local artist. Putting together a show? Plug in local bands.
While the band’s love of Corona is well chronicled, Castle Pines’ ultimate destination lies 70 miles east down Interstate 10: Coachella. Having recently finished a month-long residency at Rockefellas, a string of shows throughout Southern California and finishing Summer Blood, Castle Pines’ hard work is paying dividends. Summer Blood charted briefly at number 44 on iTunes indie charts a week after its release.
Along with his brother and lead guitarist Nick Barrientos, long-time friend and drummer Sterling Fairfield and bassist Jesse Briseno, Castle Pines churn out infectious melodies and anthemic sing-alongs with frightening facility.
Barrientos took some time from a well deserved vacation this week to discuss popping musical cherries, existentialist fry cooks, the concept of “making it,” and of course, their first full-length CD, Summer Blood.
Q: Summer Blood was inspired by family trips to Palm Springs when you were a child. What music did you listen to on those trips and how did it influence this album?
Up until Nick and I were about 12-years-old, we were on a heavy rotation of cheesy 90s pop-Christian music and the occasional classic “golden-oldies” stations. I remember vividly the first trip to Palm Springs that my brother brought a burned copy of a Nirvana CD. He snagged this beat-up looking silver disc from a friend at school and stashed it along with the many other burned CDs we had. This was the late 90s, so CD burning was the biggest craze. My dad would take my brother, mom and I to Palm Springs once a year. He worked for a major potato chip manufacturer and he was always in the running to win an award at their annual banquet gala kind of thing. It was always bullshit because he never won anything, but my brother and I were free to roam around Palm Springs and eat any kind of junk food we could get our hands.
Palm Springs was special to us because on that trip – the “Nirvana” trip – I remember me and my brother swimming all day and then heading back to the hotel room and listening to the entire Nirvana CD in the dark, over and over again. He had one headphone and I had the other. It popped our little music cherries.
Q: You played your first out-of-state show in March. Flagstaff, Arizona, to be exact. How would you contrast that with playing in Southern California?
It’s funny. We have been playing shows in Southern California for years, and although I love it here, it has been a battle to wake up the concertgoers out here. There are pockets of really great and thriving music scenes throughout Southern California and they are awesome and gritty and grass-roots. But all these other cities tend to be the popularity contest that got us into music in the first place. We LOVE our fans, I try and be as personable and interactive with all of them because they make me the performer I am. And they give us the energy that makes us thrive off of them. But Southern California can be notorious for apathy when it comes to music, and unless it’s on the radio or on a commercial, or their favorite song is by “that” band, then the crowd can be overwhelmingly disinterested.
Flagstaff was an interesting experience, besides the artistic liberties that tour entail, partying etc., we found a group of individuals that were genuinely curious about music. There were people coming in just to see who was playing. They had never heard of Corona, or Castle Pines, or any of that crap. They were just there for the music. I think Flagstaff is a beautiful city and amazing place to play.
The memories are definitely of being on the road and bonding with Sterling, Jesse and Nick and sharing some amazing moments with our brother band Ghosts in Pocket.
Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe everyone in Castle Pines did time in metal bands at one point or another. How does that inform what you do now?
Nick and Sterling were the only two that were in “metal” bands. Jesse has gigged in everything from emo to scream to space-rock. I started off playing punk and then I realized my fingers weren’t as quick as I’d like them to be. The metal influence is definitely present, moreso the hardcore influence. You have to remember, we were all in high school before Myspace and iPhones and Facebook and social media, so the only time we could see our friends, if we had any, was at a show. Nick and Sterling played in a hardcore metal band called Elohim, and they definitely took a lot of the old-school hardcore mentality into our approach as an indie band.
When people ask me what kind of music Castle Pines is I am always reluctant to give a genre. Indie nowadays sounds like reject-Disney Channel songs with heavy drums and synthesizers and/or banjos. Originally indie meant “independent,” so when I say we are an “indie” band it means we run our own show. We don’t rely on a label or a manager, or anyone else but our core group to promote and publish our music. So as far as bringing the “hardcore” mentality into the music we are currently performing, I think it is reflective on how we approach it. We are grittier than the average indie band, but we can still sound pretty when we want to.
Q: The Southern California music scene is notoriously self-involved. Bands routinely play sets, pack up and leave. What do you think breeds this mentality and does it need fixing?
One word: media. Kids pick up a guitar for many different reasons. They are forced to by their parents, they are lonely and have no friends. Whatever it may be. Commercialization of such a simple thing is a multi-billion dollar industry and it puts these little eggs in the ears of all these kids. These eggs hatch and make them think that just because they can play the guitar, or sing beautifully that they are better than other people. Horseshit.
I have seen so many bands come and go. Good bands, bad bands, everything in between. What stands out as an audience member, as someone in the crowd, is how much they connect to other people. And that means sticking around and personally connecting to the people at the show. I don’t know what to tell these people, with their egos and inflated pride and personal agendas, but all I can do is stay humble, stay friendly and give a damn about the other musicians scrounging to make a dime in this fucked up industry.
Q: Castle Pines embodies music’s post-label, DIY ethos. What advice do you have for teenagers writing music in their garages who want to roll out their equipment in hopes of “making it?”
You are never gonna make it. If you ever feel like you made it, if you sold one million albums and you are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you still never make it. You make yourself. “Making it” entails an artist filling in another party’s agenda, usually for their own gain. You should always feel like there is something left to do, that it’s never perfect. Being content with “making it” means that you are okay to just meet “their” standards. To hell with their standards and to hell with this tired American dream rock-star crap that we are feeding all the kids that walk into a Guitar Center.
We are musicians, yes. But we have to make music to make a living. Like a fry-cook at a restaurant on a busy night, does he think he made it? All he wanted was to be a cook his entire life and now he’s 15 orders deep during the dinner rush and he has this frightening moment of existentialism: ”Did I make it?”
No matter what your calling is, if it’s music, or film, or frying food at a restaurant, figure out a way to communicate through your job. Make the work speak for you, and not the other way around. Be the best damn fry cook the music industry has ever seen.
Stay focused and stay humble. There are a TON of outlets for musicians to get out there. If you are trying to make it rich and live like a rockstar, then this is not the right business for you. It’s a poor-man’s industry. You got to pay your dues before you sing the blues.
Q: Recording is a tedious process and every project is its own organism. What were some of the more imposing obstacles when recording Summer Blood and what will you do differently, if anything, next time around?
Summer Blood was an arduous and amazing process. The only thing I would change is work schedules. Every member of Castle Pines works full-time apart from the band. So this balancing act of figuring out the right times to make a weekend out of a recording session was tedious and very mundane at times. It was hard. Luckily, we had an amazing sound engineer and producer who worked diligently and laboriously for us. Matt Faulkner – if it weren’t for that saint of a man and his hard work, we probably wouldn’t be doing this interview right now.
Any album we do from now on is gonna be done like this: Wham. Bam. Thank you, ma’am.
Q: Let’s pretend that you could go back in time and give six words of advice to the 16-year-old Leandro about life, music and love. How does that message read?
If I told the 16-year-old me a quarter of the shit I have been through in the last 10 years, he’d probably develop severe depression and never leave his room.
I would tell that little guy to be patient, be happy no matter what, and to not take shit from people just to make them happy.
And then I would tell him to get voice lessons and to practice his scales. And then I would tell him to hang on tight.
Castle Pines’ music is available at http://castlepinesmusic.com/.