Castle Black, on Making Surreal ‘Dream’ Music and Hunkering Down During the Traditional Season of Rebirth

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

Brooklyn trio Castle Black’s music is hard to define, often evoking multiple genres, from math-rock to melodic post-punk, as Vents magazine recently noted. Case in point: “A Cigarette, Saved” is simultaneously moody and frantic, channeling Nine Inch Nails one moment, then swinging into something akin to pre-goth Siouxsie Sioux. One has to listen a few times to a Castle Black song to let the poetry of the lyrics sink in, and even then, the moment is open to interpretation. 

Yet, the Castle Black live experience is consistently intense and fantastic. I know this, having seen Castle Black in more than one state, and in more than one nightclub. The combination of singer Leigh Celent’s mesmerizing vocals and effects-laden, arpeggiated guitar riffs — layered over thick, powerful rhythms courtesy of bassist Scott Brown and drummer Joey Russo — get me every time.

The band’s latest video, “Dead in a Dream” (from their EP, Take Her my Life), which premiered on April 8, offers just one small glimpse of their upcoming livestreamed set, to be held on Friday, April 17, as part of The Cellar on Treadwell’s “Dinner & a Show” event — which benefits the nightclub’s Employee Relief Fund (music begins at 7:30 p.m.)

We recently interviewed the band — pre-coronavirus — to talk about their latest EP, live music and future plans.
Rockmommy: How would you describe your music style?

Leigh Celent:  I let everyone else do this!

Scott Brown:  Post-punk indie rock I guess?

Joey Russo:  As a band, we’re some kind of rock. Math-grunge, some have said!

Rockmommy: You have a new record out. What can you tell us about it?

Leigh Celent: Take Her My Life represents this band’s journey up until now. It’s representative of the new line-up of the band; it is the first record made with Joey and Scott. Take Her My Life pushes the boundaries of our sound. We broke the album into two thematic parts — “Born in a Dream” and “Dead in a Dream” — where there is this relentless push and pull between themes of life and death. Themes of beginning/end, and hope/despair become blurred concepts. We had a burning birthday cake at our release show.

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Castle Black: Joey Russo, Leigh Celent, Scott Brown

Rockmommy: Who is the most inspirational live performer you’ve seen lately?

Leigh: I saw Thee Oh Sees last year in Brooklyn, and that was a really inspiring show. Their energy and intensity was infectious, and their show was captivating to watch.  Also, I recently saw David Byrne’s “American Utopia” on broadway, which was completely inspirational — he’s hypnotic to watch, authentic in his approach, and his longevity and evolution as a performer is inspiring.

Scott: So many of the bands we end up playing with are amazing. It seems like every show there’s something I hear or see that inspires me in one way or another. As far as shows we’re not playing, the Misfits at MSG most recently was one of those shows with a special energy in the air.

Joey: Thrice, which I recently saw in Brooklyn! I’ve seen them a few times and they always inspire something in me. Their seamless incorporation of odd times on groovy and heavy music with the catchiest riffs and hooks. So emotive and special.

Rockmommy: Do you think a lot changed in the past 15 years, in terms of female rockers becoming more visible?

Leigh: Things are constantly evolving and getting better, and that’s due to the number of people who have stood up for what is right, spoken out for what they believe in and just persevered in light of obstacles. I’m extremely grateful to women performers going back decades who faced different challenges and to everyone who is a decent human being in the world, who paved the way for change.  Of course, there are still people who aren’t decent human beings and who think women are objects, things not to be respected, things made for their imminent pleasure, not deserving of the same respect they would give a man etc. Do we still see that? Unfortunately, yes. But we see that in other facets of life living on this planet, unfortunately, and it’s a fight that continues — and not just for women, but for all beings.

Rockmommy: Being an independent artist isn’t always easy. You’ve gotta balance lots of stuff. What’s your best advice for making time to rock?

Leigh Celent: I make time for what’s important to me. I prioritize this band as much as I prioritize the other important things in my life. If something goes on the calendar, it’s on the calendar, and oddly that’s a very simple tool that I would be lost without! Some weeks are really hectic and stressful, where I’m not sure how I will do everything that needs to get done, but those weeks pass and things are back to feeling manageable, at least for a little while! All of that effort is so very worth it, because we are doing what we love, especially once we are the road for a few weeks, everything that went into making that happen is worth it.

Scott Brown: Playing and making music is an important part of my life and a great outlet that helps me deal with work and daily stress, so I prioritize it pretty highly. I believe that if something’s truly important to you it’s not really that hard to find ways to make it happen, even if it’s just a few minutes here or there. Those little spaces can add up to a lot if you’re dedicated to them.

Joey: Gotta be devoted to your craft! Make time for what you love.

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

Rockmommy Joanie Leeds’ New Record and Message of Empowerment Celebrates ‘All the Ladies’

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

As a former Brooklynite, I thought I knew Joanie Leeds. When I interviewed the singer and performer in 2017, chatting about raising a tiny person in a busy but super-creative borough, I thought to myself, “yes! That’s my girl. She’s bright, happy, and living the mom life I would’ve lived if I hadn’t transplanted to the suburbs of Connecticut.” 

I also thought I knew her music — wonderful, insightful, high-energy kindie rock with a touch of sass — that was perfect for dance parties with my toddlers (who are now 6 & 7). Adorable songs like “I love New York,” made complete with fun, colorful videos.

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Joanie Leeds

[SEE RELATED: Singer-Songwriter Joanie Leeds on Motherhood, Her Summer Tour & ‘Brooklyn Baby’]

So when I heard that Joanie had spent the last two years channeling her emotions (and some life hard experiences) into a record that celebrates women’s empowerment — and features women instrumentalists — I was pleasantly surprised. At the same time, it made total sense. Based on Joanie’s previous work, it’s pretty clear she’s a creative, multifaceted rocker mama — a lyrical badass who writes songs that are universally catchy and relevant.

Joanie’s latest record isn’t just fronted by a female singer. It’s infused with ladies, and all about the #girlsplayinstruments movement. An added bonus: Today, April 3, she is part of an hours-long, all-women Facebook Live show (12:30 to 4 pm EST on the @alltheladiesmusicfestival page on Facebook). As such, her record is created for women by women.

We recently caught up with her to talk about her new album “All the Ladies,” motherhood, life in New York and everything else. 

Rockmommy: I love the concept of “All the Ladies.” Was this inspired by the 2016 election turnout, or the #metoo movement, in addition to a desire for true equality in the music industry?

Joanie Leeds: Thank you. Actually the idea came to me as I was sitting in audience of the 2018 Grammys Awards. I had just separated from my husband about three months prior and felt a rush of creativity flood within me ignited by my newfound freedom. At the ceremony however, I felt enraged by the underrepresentation of women at the Ceremony and those nominated. While it may have bothered me a little bit before that night I felt the need to take action. I took out my phone and started typing all of these ideas about an all-female performed, produced, engineered, mixed and mastered album. I even starting making a list of women I wanted to work with right there, at Madison Square Garden.

I sat on the concept for a year because I just started a grown-up music project Joanie & Matt (coincidentally, music from THAT project was inspired by the #MeToo movement). In March of 2019, I had lunch with Lucy Kalantari and whispered my idea for an all-female album for kids and she said she was actually looking to produce someone and liked the idea. It was the meal that changed everything. With that conversation I went home and over the next three months wrote all the songs from the album. In July, we started recording at her studio. Often, I would walk directly out of the court house during my divorce trial and head over to Lucy’s to record. The entire process was emotional and cathartic all at the same time.

Rockmommy: The last time we chatted you had a kids’/family record! Is ‘All the Ladies’ for the mamas (or can kiddos listen along too)?

Joanie Leeds: For the past 10 years I have written kids songs focusing on the 2- to 5-year-old audience. While my own 4-year-old loves all the songs from “All the Ladies” as well as many other under 5’s who have heard the tunes, I really wrote these tunes with older kids in mind. While the album non-apologetically carries themes of feminism through out, it is not just for young girls and women. It’s for every age and all gender identities. Someone once asked me, “What about the boys? I answered, “Anyone who has ever had a mother, sister, grandmother, aunt or a daughter will find value and joy in songs that honor and respect their family.”

Rockmommy: You relied on other females to make your record. I gotta say, even in NYC, it is damn hard to find women (other than singers and guitarists) for the purposes of collaboration. Why was that so important to you? 

Joanie Leeds: EXACTLY! I wanted to challenge myself and I couldn’t do it alone. Lucy put all of the instrumentalists together. I had a list of singers in mind but she did an incredible job finding string players (Nelly Rocha, Libby Weitnauer) a bass player (Caylen Bryant), percussionists/drummer (Rosa Avila, Lisette Santiago, etc)… I had been playing with an all-male band for 10 years and whenever one of them couldn’t play a show and I needed a sub, I would ask for their short list — it would ALWAYS be ALL men. I was just sick of it. The only way to bring women into the room and into the conversation is by making change, shaking things up. I say this with my own band in mind but it’s true of ANY profession, at any level.unnamed

Rockmommy: Can you tell us more about the virtual live show on Friday?

Joanie Leeds: One of the singers on the album, Tina Kenny Jones, reached out to me after my album launch concert (and entire tour) was canceled due to COVID-19 and suggested I hold an online music festival. I called up my publicist right away and was like ‘Do you think it will work?’ After I heard a big yes, I asked all of the singers on the album and they were all in too! It’s been a wonderful thing for me to throw myself in to help take my mind off the crisis here in NYC. I need to stay busy. Between creating all the artwork, media, taking zoom tutorials and all the logistics of producing an online festival, and telling the world about it, it’s been quite a ride already. It will be Friday April 3, featuring all the incredibly talented ladies below: 12:30-4 pm EST on the @alltheladiesmusicfestival page on Facebook.

Rockmommy: How are you making time for music with the kids home?

Joanie Leeds: It is NOT easy. With deadlines looming and online concerts to prepare for and perform each day, every moment of each day is a balance. The day usually starts out with ‘school’ and playing in ‘centers’ and then eventually I have to get work done. Sometimes that is an epic failure and the iPad comes on so I can practice or hold an online show and sometimes, my daughter surprises me by building or playing solo with toys in her room. It’s not easy being one on one but we have a lot of fun with daily dance parties (tonight was Phish, last night was Tom Petty, most nights it’s Brandi Carlile. We love screaming and playing cowbell out the window at 7 PM to send love to the first responders.

Rockmommy: What words of advice or inspiration can you offer to your fans and rocker mamas in NYC and beyond?

Joanie Leeds: Maybe this comes with age but to the all the amaaaazing rocker mamas, I am most recently living in a constant state of NOT GIVE ANY *&^%s. I don’t know if it’s being in your 40s and finally knowing who you really are or if it’s being a mother, but I couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks of me and at the same time, I have never been as comfortable in my own skin as I have been over the past few years, gray hairs, readers and all.

For the kids: When I was in middle school, the kids gave me a very hard time at school as well as my sleep away camp. As a result, I had little confidence and was filled with anxiety about just showing up at school or entering a room. I know it’s cliche to say but it does get better. To all the kids struggling, there are many things I would to say. First, believing in yourself can only come from within so find the things you love about yourself and share those things with the world. Do your best not to compare and despair. Elevate your friends by cheering on their accomplishments and always try your best to make everyone feel included, even when it’s not the popular thing to do. As it relates to the album, I want to see young girls putting themselves out there more with the confidence that you can be ANYTHING — raise your hands and help each other out. It’s important to stick together. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy. 

MILF & DILF: Brooklyn’s Most Charming Rock-n-Roll Duo

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

One of the greatest things about love is that it spurs creativity. Brooklynite and personal trainer Sharissa Reichert and her artist/musician hubby G.F. Newland (“Gerry”) embody the idealized vision of having a band with your lover. Shortly after falling in love five years ago, the single parents of grown sons created MILF & DILF — a cabaret-punk-style/keys-washboard duo that dispatches tons of blunt but beautiful music that is as eclectic as the New York City borough in which they dwell.

band Milf and Dilf, musicians, Morbid Anatomy museum. Gowanus Brooklyn NY

MILF & DILF

We recently caught up with Sharissa (MILF) to find out what’s next for the band. Read on and feel inspired on Valentine’s Day — or any day, really:

Rockmommy: So. MILF & DILF’s been doing this cabaret mom-and-pop/antifolk thing for a while now. How would you describe the music you make with Gerry?

Sharissa Reichert: Screw Wave or Art by Misadventure. But, deep down our music really ’60s punk, because Gerry is into ’60s music and the Beatles and I am into punk. Some people compare us to the band Suicide, but that is way too flattering, although we may be as screwed up as those guys.

Rockmommy: Could you tell us about the songwriting process?

Sharissa Reichert: DILF is a brilliant songwriter. It is almost annoying that he writes a song about EVERYTHING. When we are at home I say to DILF (Gerry)  ‘Gee, honey I am glad you liked the dinner I made or the sex we just had — you wrote a song about it!” There are also many songs written about my butt. We both write the lyrics and come up with the song ideas, and I write a little bit of the music. “Rendalsham Forest,” our classic UFO hit, was created when I was just goofing off, banging on the washboard, and imitating Siouxie and singing about a famous UFO case. The rest of the song fell into place. “Charmless” was written when Gf and I had a big fight about an ex-boyfriend of mine being in town. We were so mad at each other in the Studio and wrote “Charmless” on the spot in 10 minutes. It was one of the Golden Moments in ROCK. The video of that songwriting moment is on our Facebook page. I wrote the song “VD” about Gf asking me to be in an exclusive relationship.

Rockmommy: What’s it like balancing a band with your partner, parenting your son and step son, and working as a personal trainer? What advice do you have? 

Sharissa Reichert: Only a sick mind would attempt such a feat LOL. I love my job — I am probably at the top of my field as a personal trainer for with a focus on seniors and special needs clients and recently expanded into selling exercises equipment online through a website called Plazah.

I have an online essential oils store though Young Living, and am sending out other trainers to clients and training an assistant.

Our Adult offspring live next door to us, they are roommates. Our kids and my son’s girlfriend are over all of the time. We have these big family dinners together where my son and I cook. It is very fun and cool to have the youngsters around.

Being a couple and in the band is fine, we each have a role. I do all of the promotion and booking and DILF does most of the songwriting and our fliers. Our very intense chemistry shows through on stage I think.

How do I get through this all? I am into Buddhist meditation with the SGI USA group. I got the advice from a Buddhist perspective to bring as much humanity as I can into everything I do. People ask how do I do it all, the answer is by Chanting and Buddhist meditation. You also need to take the time to refresh, take an occasional nap, get enough sleep, eat properly. I also have a wonderful Massage Therapist Lindai to help me with the physical stress of work. Being in good shape helps too. DILF is also my running partner. It’s kind of embarrassing though, because I am a professional exercise instructor but he kicks my ass at running!

Rockmommy: You and DILF married in October. Has anything changed, musically, as a result of going to the next level of commitment?

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Washboard player and singer Sharissa Reichert of MILF & DILF

Sharissa Reichert: There is really no difference now that we are married and the commitment and the officialness of us. We are getting older, I mean how many more people do you need to date at a certain point, I mean really? We have been together five years and we are such a good match.

Rockmommy: What are your plans for 2018? 

Sharissa Reichert: We are recording our first album “Live from the MILF-ferd Plaza” this year. I am hoping Dean Ripsler, who used to be in Karen Black and the Dictators, will produce us.

We are gigging at Arlene’s Grocery with wonderful YOU, ROCKMOMMY, on Sunday, May 6, 2018. Even Twice is also on the bill for that night. We want to expand to out of town gigs too.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy