Cellist Alexis Castrogiovanni emerged from years of classical training to create pared-down, emotional musical landscapes with a wide range of elements, from classical and folk, to trip-hop and punk. Her vulnerable vocal delivery and poetic lyrics explore themes like alcohol, jealousy, a search for spirit, and learning to love. Originally from London, Ontario and now based in Montreal, Quebec, Alexis performs regularly both solo and with her band (drums, baritone sax). She is currently recording her first EP, for release later in 2020 and we are definitely looking forward to that.
Alexis was due to open for Pray for Sound during the Ottawa leg of their tour that has now been cancelled due to COVID-19. As she prepared for that show we caught up with Alexis and asked her to pick three albums that have influenced her and her music. She not only shared her three album picks but she also shared her writing process and what writing and music mean to her,
“Although I tried writing songs before my undergraduate, I think I really started writing my own music in earnest as an escape and response to the very structured, strict environment at classical music school, and as a way to set the poetry that I was writing in a context that wasn’t a poetry slam or reading. I started off wanting to write “stupid-simple” music, which was my way of revolting against the virtuosic (read: ego-heavy) playing I was immersed in for many years, at the same time wanting to be as honest as possible with the words I was writing and making into songs.
Writing has ended up being my go-to when I am processing ideas and events in my life, and the way I understand myself and the world around me. Sharing my music is my way of reaching out to others and saying “I have the same insecurities, the same nightmares, the same dreams… we’re alive together. We’re not alone.” Below are some albums that have made me feel part of something bigger, and that continue to demonstrate to me that no matter who you are, there are other brains and other people who are trying to communicate their thoughts and experiences with us, and if we find the right ones, we can spend time with their work and feel maybe we aren’t so weird or alone after all.”
Check out her picks below.
The Chieftains – The Long Black Veil
The Long Black Veil was part of my parents’ CD collection, and it was played pretty much on repeat throughout my childhood. I was raised primarily in touch with my Sicilian culture, but I feel like through The Long Black Veil I was given a sense of pride and a little window into what it meant to also be half Celtic. The album opens with Sting singing a line of Gaelic a cappella. I had no idea what Gaelic meant, but I knew the language had a feeling of the ancient about it, and it felt important. I first heard Sinead O’Connor and Mick Jagger’s voices on this CD, and I have always been totally in love with the sound of the harp, which figures throughout the album. Maybe this was the beginning of that love affair. The great Celtic poetry and folk songs are so exciting and eternal to me. I am not ashamed to say I cried when I returned to this album a few months ago, after years of not hearing it. It runs so deep and is so full of memories and dreams.
FKA Twigs – LP1
I have loved FKA Twigs’ music and visual language since I discovered her LP1. The first songs I listened to were ‘Water Me’ (actually from EP2), ‘Pendulum’, and ‘Two Weeks’. In LP1, I felt that FKA Twigs was writing from a place of being a woman in her twenties, and the writing sounded a lot like thoughts and formulations about sex and erotica, love, and relationships that I was mulling over too, at a time when I was starting to realize that these were not always the same things.
FKA Twigs is brave and insistent, from the music video for ‘Pendulum’, in which she ties herself up Shibari-style in her own hair and insists that the camera work be done from the point of view of the female gaze, to her classical-baroque sounding vocal treatments paired with heavy beats. I feel the transparency and vulnerability in her voice allows her to say things others would sound heavy-handed trying to pull off. In LP1, she sings these ultra-honest lyrics like “I can f*** you better than her” or “so lonely trying to be yours/when you’re looking for so much more,” and puts them with this amazing production that is alive, visceral, powerful, and does not stand down. I see the idea of balance in her world, like the yin and the yang, or the masculine and the feminine. A lot of her work seems to me to be a very public artistic commentary on her journey toward what it means to be an empowered, successful, autonomous woman who also explores themes in her work like sexual submission, fantasizes about pregnancy, and experiences feelings of unworthiness in romantic relationships.
It feels so good hearing material like this coming from someone in my age bracket, especially in a world that seems to be built around sexual rigidity (I’m looking at you, North America), everyone pretending they know what is supposed to be going on in relationships (I have no clue), and capitalist “lean-in” branded mixed-messaging aimed towards women, as if we have to choose between motherhood and building transcendent careers and bodies of work (never, never, never).
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
I remember my first MP3 player with all the titles from You Forgot It In People and Feel Good Lost scrolling by with “.mp3” at the end of each one. I was so taken with the lo-fi feel of Broken Social Scene, with their pitch bending, distortion, textures, chaos, yells, moments of quiet beauty, and of course, the lyrics.
‘Lover’s Spit’ and ‘Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl’ are on this album. Leslie Feist, Amy Milan, Emily Haines… these were the women at the core of BSS at the time, and really the people and their respective projects who raised me musically from about the age of 12 onward. (Tangentially, I think the opening cello lick from Stars’ ‘Your Ex Lover Is Dead’ was the first pop lick I ever learned on the cello).
It feels obvious to me now that You Forgot It In People is a starting point in my music journey. It was music that wasn’t obnoxiously squeaky-clean, talking about giving head and drinking spit and hoping that tomorrow you’ll be better and different than you are now. It was amazing-yet-familiar to me that it was coming from Canada. It felt like I saw these people and albums coming out of Toronto and Montreal, and from my childhood homes in London, Ontario and Beaconsfield, Quebec during the early 2000’s, I thought—“Wow. Maybe I can do that.”