by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter
Dan Reifsnyder: How did you get started in music?
Troy Castellano: I think it was this radio and old record player that we had at home – one of those big consoles. I actually still have it! It’s been in our family from the time I was a kid, I could barely see over the edge of it to see the record spin. But that was it, that made me just want to be around music. I think when I was very young I told my mom and dad I wanted a guitar for Christmas. The first one they bought me was more like a toy and I was really depressed. I was like “This isn’t a real one!” But next year they made up for it and got me a Sears Teisco guitar! You remember those?
DR: I do!
TC: I was all smiles. That was what started it. What got me the bug was just hearing music. I was lit up by the sound before I even knew what words were. You know when mom is singing you songs as a baby it kind of seeps in and doesn’t ever go away.
DR: Who are your musical influences?
TC: I gotta say, I’m no spring chicken and I’m in the middle of life here, but Cheap Trick was one of my favorites. You know the old standbys from the 70’s – KISS. I used to like to dress up like Ace Frehley, I think a lot of us did back then. Even as stupid as it sounds, Barry Mannilow. He had this song I bought on 45 called “I Write The Songs”. Maybe that was all part of it too.
DR: Very cool.
TC: I think where it starts for a lot of people is just wanting to sing. I believe totally that music is something born into your human nature. It’s just communication.
DR: I agree! On top of everything else, you also run a charity. Can you tell us about that?
TC: Yeah! Instruments for Education! To begin with, for a couple years I was thinking of trying to find a way to give back. I felt like I was always imposing on people. And then just by chance, a songwriter asked me if I had a spare keyboard. I said “Sure, what do you need it for?” It was actually Victoria Banks and Dave Petrelli – he was looking for a keyboard for his classroom so he could make up songs with the kids and teach them with music. I gave her the keyboard and he sent me a video back of him teaching the kids the phases of the moon to the melody of “Blue Moon”. They were all engaged! And I went “There’s something I could do ask people if they have any old guitars, keyboards, percussion stuff. Maybe some of these starter instruments.” I started it that way by collecting an inventory. I built a website and started marketing and putting word out. To date, we’ve given away about 80 instruments to Middle Tennessee schools
DR: How can people get in touch to donate?
TC: instrumentsforeducation.org. There’s a receive form if you want to request, and there’s a donate form. You can donate instruments or you can donate monetarily. The monetary part covers my cost of driving around and picking this stuff up and my time to do it. But that’s really all that comes off the top. The main push for that whole thing is I want kids to have the ability to explore guitar or keyboard. Just have it in the classroom, like you would have with science equipment. I want to inspire them to pick it up. For me, I picked up a guitar and I was hooked. My older brother had a guitar and I would play it in his room, and he’d kick me out whenever I was in there. That hooked me, and if it hooks other kids…the big picture is you’re giving them a way to get off the screens – Netflix, YouTube. It’s therapy. You can vent. Go vent on your guitar. There’s so many ways it can help your soul.
DR: That’s very cool. So you always run a recording studio, in addition to being a songwriter.
TC: Yep! My Blue Heaven Studio. I write here, I do my own demos, and I do demos for other people here. It’s basically a shed, but it’s pretty tricked out. I customized it so I could be comfortable here all day. I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t have to use the bathroom! It’s a pretty cool little spot – it’s away from my house about 50 yards so I can be making music all night if I want.
DR: So why do you call it My Blue Heaven Studio?
TC: Two reasons. While I was building it, someone said “So what are you gonna call your little piece of heaven?” And I’m a big Rat Pack and Sinatra fan and I love that big swing stuff. “My Blue Heaven”!
DR: I had wondered if that was the case, because I know that song.
TC: Very old standard from the 40’s! Then there was that movie with Steve Martin!
DR: That was hilarious. So you’ve had some cuts, some holds, some success as a writer.
TC: Yeah! I had a hold with Keith Urban which was really exciting. And that was a little validation. The word was he heard it, he liked it, and that was really cool. I’ve had a bunch of independent cuts with artists in town that I write with. Getting some Canadian cuts now – I write with Doug Folkins a lot and he’s very active up there. We’ve had some singles go to radio and satellite up there. Of course you want the major cuts, but I like all of it. You just never know. This is my analogy to songwriting. It’s just like planting seeds and some of them grow into weeds, and some become big trees. You want to see one become this big oak tree that stands the test of time. That’s the goal.
DR: That’s awesome. How did you get hooked up with GSC?
TC: By word of mouth – somebody said “You need to go talk to Sheree Spoltore”! She’s so super one on one personal, she wants you to succeed, she won’t blow you off. That was within the first 3 months of living here. I had that first mentorship meeting and she filled me in on the ups and downs of it…how tough it is…and steps to take to get out there and get noticed by publishers. I haven’t been quite as active as I wish I could be, but she’s the reason we got that first hold too. I love what she does, and every time I’m feeling down about what I do, she’ll get back to me and say “Don’t sweat, this is stuff everybody goes through. Just keep doing it.”
DR: She’s a great encourager!
TC: She was at my very first Bluebird gig too!
DR: So what are some of your goals for 2019?
TC: Well, finishing Project 52, which is my YouTube show that I started. It’s a bit daunting because you’ve got to shoot the interview, record the song, mix it all. But I have to do those once a week and I’m trying to do it without fail. I can’t call in sick Sunday night! And another one of my goals at the beginning of the year was put on the blinders and focus. I’m just gonna do my thing and hopefully people will like what I do and get on board. The goal obviously is to get a publishing deal. I’d love to write for a team that I can contribute my assets to and help them meet their goals. To sum it up, just make the best music that I can.
DR: Back up just a bit and tell me about Project 52
TC: This year I realized we write all these songs – you post it on your socials “Hey I wrote a great one with so and so today” and your friends and your fans will go “Can’t wait to hear it!” For the most part, we never do – we either don’t demo it, or the co-writer doesn’t want it played. So I’ve written enough songs with enough people now that I can invite my co-writers and we can do an interview and we both have content. It’s just a couple guitars and a voice or two, but people can see what we do. It’s not always perfect, but that’s what we wrote in the room that day and that’s what it sounded like. It’s fun! I’m also learning about producing a show!
DR: That sounds like a lot of fun!
TC: It’s great. And sometimes you get some of those hit writers in here too like Steve Dean or Keesey Timmer, or a lot of those GSC connections. I’m so grateful because I’ve met so many people through there, from hit writers on down.
DR: What are some songs you wish you’d written?
TC: “Live Like You Were Dying”, “House That Built Me” – still makes my eyes water. I like those songs that really say something and move me every time I hear it. My favorite artists are like Keith Urban, John Mayer. Keith Urban is the reason I’m here…what he did is kind of what I was doing in the 2000’s.
DR: Nice. Do you have anything else you want to add?
TC: I just want to give a big shoutout to Sheree and Lou and the whole team over at GSC for always making sure we don’t give up. And the advice, and info and opportunities…the introductions, the mixers.
DR: Awesome, man. Thanks for sitting down with us!