Words by Jason Lee
Still image from “Bright-Eyed” music video shoot directed by Jen Meller
Note: Interviews with the band and with the music video’s director can be found below after the jump!
Some songs just have *that* riff, you know the one, a riff that hooks you right from the get-go—hook, line and sinker—-a riff so sturdy it easily serve as the foundation for an entire three-to-four minute song with some subtle variations and layerings thrown in for good meansure but still THE RIFF REIGNS SUPREME like with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” or White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” or Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” to use three not quite contemporary examples…
…but now you can add Castle Black’s “Bright-Eyed” to that list which is a contemporary song no less seeing as it came out a week ago, and like the White Stripes we’re talkin’ a two-piece “power duo” here (about maybe their only similarity!) but even if you’ve already heard the song we’re willing to bet you haven’t seen the music video yet as directed by friend-of-the-Deli Jen Meller since it’s not even officially available yet but guess what we got the EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PREVIEW right here so take that MTV (!) or at least take that “MTV” pre-Punk’d, Pimp My Ride, Teen Mom, Date My Mom, et al…
…but we digress cuz the subject here is Castle Black’s “Bright-Eyed” which opens up sounding rather bleary-eyed actually with a single-note serpentine baritone guitar riff played by Leigh Celent whose vocal line coils around the guitar melody like a strand of double-helixed DNA as she declaims “find me / too late / for this life / in your eyes” which even tho’ it’s somewhat eerie and downcast-sounding it’s also equally seductive-sounding plus catchy-as-all-get-out so good luck extracting the riff from your auditory cortex for the next couple days…
photo by John Morris
….and it gets wedged in even deeper thanks to the snake-charming sinuous riddims played on tom-toms by one Joey Russo that is until the first chorus hits with the figurative cork finally popping off from all of the built-up tension as he suddenly takes a liking to the kit’s crash cymbal and same for Leigh’s distortion pedal and even tho’ not even a minute has passed the overall effect is seismic and suddenly “the song “Bright-Eyed” sounds downright wide eyed as Leigh describes how “back then I was bright eyed / carried away in your eyes” and “in your mind”…
…alongside some stirringly yearning harmonies courtesy of one Lisa Low, and having seen Castle Black play this song live not long ago I can just see Joey vigorously bobbing his head as he bashes out the heavy beat over the sludgy guitar with guest bassist Nick Kelly making the refrain sound even bigger still with the melodic riff from the verse is stretched and warped like you’re listening it played on a vinyl record accidentally left out in the high noon sun before the duo reign things in again in the second verse (more emphatic thanks to some snare drum hits) lather, rinse, and repeat…
photo by VANGELISM
…so really that’s more than enough from yours truly cuz I’m sure you would much rather hear from the song’s creators and the video’s director and we got some great insights from both below in the form of comments kindly provided by Castle Black in response to a few queries and some paraphrased observations courtesy of Jen Meller who kindly took a few minutes for a phone convo so read on cuz there’s still much to be revealed about this catchy-as-hell little ditty called “Bright-Eyed”…
All questions answered by Leigh, except the one noted as Joey
Random thoughts on the video making and concept…
Jen [Meller] was so amazing to work with. We felt really comfortable working with her. She brings a very calming and confident energy, which is undeniably important when dealing with all of the logistics and planning that go into making an independent music video. She initially came up with a few ideas for us to consider–clowns, a game of telephone, or a jump-scare–and we ambitiously said let’s combine all three. We ended up dropping the jump scare because it was just too many themes.
I did have some hesitation on the concept of clown—people call people clowns as a derogatory term, you know? To come to grips with that idea, I needed us to make the concept our own. I was insistent on finding a look and creating a type of clown that was not stereotypical. When we were looking for extras for the clown scenes, I half-jokingly described the role as that of a transcendent clown. Whatever that is, Jillie Laper, who did the makeup for the video, completely nailed it. We were a group of clowns saying it was OK to be a clown.
One might see clown life as positive or negative or somewhere in between but we wanted the clowns to be equally as compelling and interesting as those having fun and telling secrets at the party.
Why’d you choose “Bright-Eyed” as the first advance single from The Highway at Night?
Joey: We hope “Bright-Eyed” serves as a worthy introduction to the upcoming album. The song has dynamically low, slow, simmering verses that ramp up to catchy choruses, a danceable rock-out bridge, and a heavy, kinda math-y outro. The baritone guitar throughout lends itself to an evolution we’ve veered into that evokes a heavier sensibility, especially when compared with our earlier EPs. The time signature switcharoos at the end will hopefully have you tapping your foot, even if it’s on the off-beat…or is that the on-beat…hard to say—that’s why ya gotta give it a listen to find out!
That main hook is so freakin’ catchy. Did it just pop into your head or any story there? Anything you wanna share about the songwriting process?
I wrote “Bright-Eyed” on baritone guitar. It was the second song I had ever written on baritone (The Highway at Night has one other song written on baritone). I had the lyrics and vocal melody in my head, for the chorus, initially. Then I think I started vocalizing the main hook and verse melody and then I just worked everything backwards from there to the baritone. It’s a common way for me to work – I usually hear an idea in my head and vocalize all of it on a phone recording before even picking up a guitar. I wasn’t planning on writing the song on baritone initially, but I was digging the sound of the other baritone song, and just decided to see how it went for “Bright-Eyed.”
Once I had the main song parts, I recorded a rough take on GarageBand and gave it to Joey for drums. Once Joey had the song draft and added those boomy drums, he had the idea to hang on that one rhythm repeatedly at the end; that change really added a dramatic finish. We wrote the basslines once we had the guitar, vocals, and drums pretty much settled.
If you had to choose a key line, couple lines, or entire stanza in the lyrics what would that be? And why?
Find me too late for this life in your eyes
Short time to be one to be free in my life
So long to this sky to that day to my side.
These are the lyrics from the first verse. They set the entire tone of the song. It’s kind of a good-bye, an ode to something that is fleeting and passing.
I see Joey hasn’t always been your drummer. How’d y’all come together? Any more backstory you wanna give on the formation/evolution of the band?
In 2018, I asked a band in Detroit, Bear Bones, to play a show with us there. That was Joey’s band at the time when he was living in Detroit. We kept in touch after the show, and he ended up filling in for another Castle Black tour that year in exchange for Bear Bones coming along. It was an alright deal.
Since we didn’t have a permanent drummer at the time, he decided to give it a go and come to Brooklyn later that year. He has been here ever since despite occasional grumblings about the weather not being cold enough.
And finally, some comments by director Jen Meller, paraphrased by yours truly from memory and a few notes:
The songs on Castle Black’s upcoming album The Highway at Night (2024) are all about things that the pair fear to some extent or another. For instance, Leigh is made uncomfortable by clowns (coulrophobia) and for Joey it’s deer (elafiphobia). I threw out various ideas for the “Bright-Eyed” music video and clowns was the last one I suggested and we started there. We were all interested in the music video creating a kind of counterpoint to the song and not trying to reflect the lyrics or the theme of the song directly.
The basic gist of what’s happening in the video is rooted in the two main groups who Leigh interacts with in a dreamlike scenario: costume party people vs. clown people. The “costume party people” are wearing your typical masquerade masks like in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut if you’ve seen the movie. The “clown people” are wearing what we called “sad mime” outfits, in other words, the more identifiable, humanized form of clowns versus the more outright scary or comical ones.
The masquerade people are passing secrets. Playing a game of “telephone,” furtively whispered from one to the next in the circle cutting Leigh out of the picture entirely which makes her feel paranoid, uncomfortable. It’s like a scenario from an anxiety dream. So Leigh goes off with a group of neon face-painted “sad mines” which is fitting since this matches her own appearance and that’s where the sequences comes in of her and Joey bashing out the tune.
Then, at the very end after the outro section, there’s a wipe and suddenly it’s morning instead of dark, inky night with Joey and Leigh sitting at an apartment table with a painting of a “sad mime” clown girl propped up on the table’s edge—an image that’s already popped up a few times during the latter part of the video
So it’s like they’ve just woken up from a collective dream but they’ve still got remnants of their clown makeup on their faces and are still wearing the red-and-black striped clown pants (purchased by the pair in Nashville!). Not to mention their cute pet dog is also wearing a clown outfit and then there’s the painting, showing how their dream life follows them into daytime and the real world.
The video was shot at McGolrick Park—the sequence with the masquerade group playing the game of telephone—with the Castle Black rocking-out sequence filmed in the band’s actual practice space at Danbro—which is remarkably large for a Brooklyn practice space so there was enough room to maneuver the camera and add various set dressings.
And speaking of set dressing, one last anecdote, when I [Jen] was set-dressing the spot where we we shot in McGolrick Park, stringing up lights in the trees, I totally expected get stopped by a Parks employee and told to take down the lights. But instead, a random woman came over and started touching the “birthmark” of one of the trees. She’s looking around and then she tells me she’s visited the park every day for five years straight and this one tree in particular. And says it’s the best the tree has ever looked. I took it as a good omen.