Photo credit: Brandon Dacosta
The first time I heard Castlefield, I was driving home alone from therapy, mentally and physically drained. It was dark outside, and I tried to drown out my own thoughts with my music.
I’d created a playlist to shuffle whenever I felt down, and wanting to branch out for once, I decided to give my “playlist radio” a shot. That’s when “Broken High School Mascot” came on.
Immediately, I was addicted.
You know those songs that strike a chord in you from the start? You don’t even need to listen for more than five seconds to know it’s your new favorite track. I felt that connection right away.
I judge bands based off the amount of chills on my arms while listening to them. So, when I shuffled their other two songs at the time, “Lifted” and “Good Job, Rover,” I knew I’d discovered a special group.
It wasn’t just the profound guitar licks or powerful build-ups; it was the honest lyrics and raw emotion I could hear in every beat, in every note. It was the way each instrument meshed, crafting art so heavy I felt it in both my bones and my heart.
When I reached out for a potential interview with the band, I didn’t expect them to give me the time of day. I mean, they’re these successful musicians who clearly deserve more than an abandoned pop-punk blog previously created as a college project.
But they agreed anyway. In fact, they even expressed gratitude.
Castlefield consists of four members: Ryan Fitz, 19 years old, on the guitar and vocals; Connor Neilson, 20, lead guitar; Jonathan Reid, 20, drums; and Matt Spafford, 18, bass.
The guys have been making music since high school, each highly involved in their local scene in Ottawa, Canada, where they met. Their name inspiration actually came from the street they grew up around, where they spent much time writing and playing music.
“Castlefield is a project that is always growing in different ways, and I guess the jams I had on Castlefield Ave. remind me of humble beginnings in a place where I would dream of doing exactly what we are doing now,” Fitz told me.
Growing up in such a tight-knit music community allowed them to develop both as individuals and artists. They adopted their own tastes, eventually merging their preferences and uniting as a diverse band.
“I personally listen to a lot of the usual emo and pop-punk stuff, and the furthest I really stray away from that is some more ‘sad’ indie rock and a little bit of hardcore,” Fitz said. “I really just find comfort in those genres, so when I am writing the base of a song, it starts out pretty generic and then starts to flourish once I bring it to the rest of the guys.”
Adding to the mix, Reid is passionate about technical and experimental music, like Radiohead and The Contortionist; Neilson grew up with punk music, like Rancid and Black Flag; and Spafford, though a “pop punk kid at heart,” might just be Kendrick Lamar’s No. 1 fan.
“We draw influence from all over the place and try to not put any limits on what we write, so that really helps our creative process,” Fitz said. “At the end of the day, we just write according to how we feel and for what we want to listen to.”
Fitz writes most of the lyrics, previously with their old bassist, Dexter, who was a great soundboard to him.
Castlefield’s lyrics are what attracted me in the first place. They’re not afraid to bare their scars for the sake of a song, and that’s what makes true artists. Every line feels like a confession, an explanation that begs forgiveness and empathy.
“Everything we write is from real-life experiences because I really like using writing as a way to cope with my mental health, and other hardships that come along and aside,” Fitz said. “It’s a form of therapy that I feel really blessed to be able to use to help myself and to potentially help others.”
For instance, “Joyless,” their top song on Spotify right now, is packed with gut-wrenching lines stemming from Fitz’s personal adversities.
“‘Joyless’ … is about a very specific point in my life where I felt really overwhelmed with everything and put it all into one song with complete honesty,” Fitz said. “It’s about falling in love for the first time while struggling to graduate high school because of a lot of anxiety and pressure about the future, mixed with using some pretty unhealthy ways to cope with it.”
Castlefield’s most recent EP, “Tunnel Vision,” includes four unique tracks. But possibly the most harrowing is “Escape,” the song’s rhythm matching its intense lyrics:
I can see the look in your eyes
Never been the one to fight, just fly
They say my wounds can heal if I take my time
But in the end, I’m not worried about mine
“‘Escape’ is about being in a relationship that you aren’t happy in, but you feel stuck because you don’t want to hurt the other person,” Fitz explained. “It’s by far our best live song and one of the most emotional in the set.”
Fitz added that performing such personal, evocative tracks, though difficult at times, often helps him cope.
“If lots of people are singing along and having a good time, singing those emotional songs make me feel better than ever. It’s really a day-to-day thing, but when it is hard, I just remember that everything I’m singing about is in the past now and … I don’t specifically have to feel that way anymore.”
When asked about the future as a band, Fitz said they simply want to play as many shows as possible while creating new music.
“I feel like doing these DIY tours and releasing music we like is already everything we’ve dreamed of, and anyone can do it if they want to put the work [in].”
Though they’re only in their late teens/early 20s, they’ve accomplished their goals by simply being themselves and following their passions. From here, they’ll continue doing what they do best: making music, performing, and inspiring others to do the same.
“It’s never too early or late to start a band or learn an instrument,” Fitz said. “And if that’s not your thing, it’s never too late to learn how to shoot photos for bands, tour manage, run merch, etc. Life’s too short, so just go out there and play the shows with your buddies and have fun.”
While I might’ve assumed Castlefield was a hotshot band who wouldn’t dare be bothered with a writer who cries to their music twice a day…I was clearly wrong. They’re much more awesome than that.
“We’re really just a bunch of awkward kids from Ottawa who like to riff.”