Interview: Madeline Castrey
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I was born in Surrey and I’ve always been a lover of music from a very young age. If you’ve heard my songs, you might not believe it, but my background is actually in classical singing. I have a strong background in West End Theatre and television, but then I fell in love with opera and began to train as an opera singer.
I was seriously ill as a teenager, and the silver lining of this was being able to spend lots of time on music and finding the style I really loved. I was thrilled to become the first-ever 16-year-old admitted onto an undergraduate degree course at The London College of Music, and I then went on to gain a distinction in my master’s degree specialising in opera.
Over the past few years, I’ve been using music as a means to fundraise for the charities that helped me as a teen, and I was thrilled to receive a Princess Diana Award for my work.
If I wasn’t a musician, I would 100% be a lawyer! I’ve always fancied myself a bit of a barrister! I’ve been trying to find a way of combining music and law, but somehow I don’t think a singing judge is going to catch on in this century!
What do you like to do when you’re not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Alongside producing my own music, I am also a published author and about to finish my PhD in music…safe to say, I don’t cope very well when I’m bored!
In studying for my PhD I’ve found that I’m always analyzing music on quite a profound level, and I suppose hearing traits in music I like has helped me develop my own sound and understanding of what I want my music to be.
If I’m feeling really blocked creatively, I’ll put my trainers on and start running – I’m a bit like Forrest Gump in that way!
How long has your band been around?
Well, it’s just me, and whilst I’ve been performing from a very young age, I’ve actually only been writing and releasing my own music in the last year – so I can’t wait to see how it develops!
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m a Surrey girl, born and raised just south of London. Coming from a small village, the music scene is basically just me making lots of noise, and if I was taking influence solely from my local area, I’d have a lot of songs about trees!
Obviously, the jazz scene in London is much more vibrant, and I’ve really fallen in love with the city and it’s vibrancy. You can hear a lot of that influence in my lyrics, and in fact, my second single ‘London’ is written as a bit of a love song for the city. In terms of how my style has come out of London, it’s the very same mix of new groove and classical style that makes London loved by so many all over the world.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you.
As much as I wish I had a groovy band name…it’s just me! I’ve left the middle name off though – With two left feet, I’m the least ‘Grace’ful person in the world!
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
Well some of my favourite live performances have been as part of West End productions, and I’d say that all of my best (and perhaps more hairy moments) have happened whilst performing in The Lion King in London. As you can imagine with a Disney production, the magic that is created and achieved is wonderful to be a part of, but with so many complex costumes, props and bits of scenery, there is so much that can go wrong! I’ve fallen over a fair few times in that show, amongst other things!
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
My favourite venue that I have performed at was The Twickenham Stadium Live Room – and it’s even better when it was full of rugby players! In terms of where I want to play in the future, Ronnie Scotts is the ultimate dream, but I’d also like to play at The 606 Club and The Jazz Café in London.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
Hmmm…in terms of artists that I feel I would work well with, the answer has to be Norah Jones, Rumer, Melody Gardot and Jools Holland.
What would be my ultimate collaboration…well the answer would have to be Queen!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
Celebrate and challenge yourself, and never feel like you’re wasting time. So many musicians put their creativity last and particularly during these difficult global times, it’s not been easy to allow yourself space to create. At the same time, don’t feel pressure to fit the mold or to sound like the commercial music that’s already out there. By all means draw influence from other artists, but remember that your music is an expression of yourself, and I believe everybody has their own uniqueness.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
You are good enough – why not you?! It’s so easy to write yourself off and suffer with low self-esteem. Try to adopt the mantra “why not you?!” What’s stopping you? Because I guarantee that the hurdles aren’t as big as you think they are.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
All of my songs are deeply personal and reflect my thought processes or experiences at one time or other, but whilst they all mean a lot to me, I’d say my newest song ‘Brand New’ is the one I have become most attached to. This song talks about finding new love ... (who...well that would be telling!) but the underlying message is one of empowerment, excitement and that rush of cautious thrill at facing the unknown - something I think we’re all seeking to find after this year! For me, it’s not only marked a shift in my musical style, but also a shift in my outlook which I have found particularly refreshing.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Well as much as I love performing my own new original material, people love to hear the classic jazz standards and it’s just magical to see people’s faces light up when you start performing a song that reminds them of a time in their life. I’ve done a lot of work with charities, attempting to use music as a means to improve mobility and memory, and it’s amazing to see people who have suffered debilitating neurological conditions suddenly light up when they recall a song or even a small fragment of a melody.
Music has such a power to be able to move people in this way, and this is what I really thrive off when performing live.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
At the risk of sounding cliché, my experiences drive much of my creative output. It’s so hard to sit down with the mindset of “I have to write a song now” and if that’s the case, the result is never as good as stumbling across a lyric or a melody from exploring how you’re feeling at that particular moment. As a classical musician first and foremost, I’ve found that I have a tendency to get carried away with instrumentation and textures so sometimes I do have to reign myself in a little bit – otherwise you’ll be listening to a symphony and not a song!
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Relatability is key for me. My songs are very lyric focused, so I’m always thrilled if listeners can relate to my own experiences through my lyrics. With my style of jazz that combines modern pop beats with more classical elements, I strive to keep my music uplifting – and so I hope that my music inspires a message of joy and empowerment for all.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Well as it’s just me, I luckily don’t have too many people that I can fall out with. I do beat myself up a lot, so I’m not sure if that counts?! How do I get over that, well I’m a big “lister” I love making lists and having the satisfaction of crossing things off. I actually have 2 list books; one is a “to do list” and the other is more of a “brain dump” where I write down whatever’s in my mind so I can digest it more easily. I’ve often found that once you can actually “see” your worry, it’s much less than what it is in your head, so I suppose that’s my way of giving myself a talking to!
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
I’d love to release an EP in the next year alongside a few more singles. Then looking ahead to 2021/22, I’d love to think about getting a label involved…the sky’s the limit really!