So what’s your story?
I was born in London but moved to the Suffolk in the East of England when I was 9. I first picked up the guitar when I was 13 after being inspired by Jimi Hendrix.
In 2002, after playing guitar for a year, I was selected as a grand finalist in the Young Guitarist of the Year competition. It was there that the great Eric Roche came along to watch at the side of the stage. Although I didn’t have the confidence to speak to him at the time, I saw his performance afterwards which blew my mind and turned me on to the world of modern fingerstyle guitar. That same month Eric had transcribed his tune ‘Roundabout‘ in Guitar Techniques magazine so I dutifully went home and learnt that piece!
I was also featured in the Guitarist of the Year finals as an electric guitarist again the following year in 2003 as I was 16 by that time and too old for the youngster category! The competitions were run only once more in 2011 where I was once again very lucky to be included in the Acoustic Guitarist category. Needless to say, I am very grateful for every time I have been included in the finals and I was a wonderful opportunity to meet some excellent guitarists along the way.
I studied at Colchester Institute in Essex for 5 years and it was while I was there that I studied composition, performance, arranging, theory, classical music, jazz, pop and world music among many other subjects. It was during this time that I made more of a shift to playing the acoustic guitar as my first instrument and began working on my solo set. One of my tutors there at the time, Tim Pells, had booked Thomas Leeb to come and play in the concert series where he set me up as the support act – I learned so much from that experience!
Last year, I released my debut album entitled ‘Stickman’ which you can get from my website along with soundbites and videos.
Seven Questions with Robert Castellani
1) When you pickup the guitar right now, what is the first song that comes out?
I’m currently working on my second album, so when picking up the guitar I’m usually noodling through a new track ahead of the recording. At the moment I’m working on a little Celtic inspired piece called The Wedding Song.
2) Who is your favorite Modern Fingerstyle Guitarist at the moment? Which guitarist/musician are you most inspired by?
I have always loved Thomas Leeb‘s playing so he’s right up there. His tone is awesome every time I have heard him and he always has a knack of writing wonderfully catchy melodies along with monster grooves.
Jon Gomm is another favorite just because he’s so musical, tasteful and at one with his craft. This coupled with flawless and innovative techniques and beautifully sculpted lyrics makes him the complete musician.
Of course the list could go on for ages with other musical influences, Hendrix, Zappa, Jeff Buckley all spring to mind there along with a myriad of other composers across every genre of music out there.
But I’m also inspired by non-musical things just as much as musical ones. The relationships you have with others or experiences in your life are a prime example of this. These are the things that make you unique whereas if you rely on being inspired by only musical influences, you run the risk of sounding like a copycat.
3) What is one piece of gear you can’t live without?
There’s a few pieces of equipment I can’t live without. Firstly my Lowden O23 is a vital part! It was built in 1995 but I acquired it around 2009.
Also I use Elixir strings which are a massive part of my tone. I have used them exclusively for around 13 years now and wouldn’t give them up for anything else as they sound awesome and last forever. I use the 13-56 Phosphor Bronze sets.
Especially with a lot of my folk and Celtic music I capo the guitar reasonably high so my G7th Performance 2 is perfect for that, plus it’s really easy to use live.
Finally, my Boss OC3 is a key part of the live sound where it can be used to add an octave below on just the bass frequencies which helps the guitar sound huge!
4. Aside from the fact that you are a great guitar player, what is something else that is surprising or interesting about you?
I grew up around motorcycle racing as my Dad used to run a team in the 80s and 90s. I was first at the Isle of Man TT when I was 9 months old so motorsport is in my blood almost more than music! Had I not found music, I probably would have looked to got into some kind of job in racing.
5. What’s a normal day like for you? School? Job? Music?
I work at Suffolk New College in England where I teach music, so during the term time I spend 4 days a week travelling in, teaching classroom lessons, going to meetings and doing lots of paper work. The evenings I spend looking after my son and usually more paperwork or gig admin and a bit of guitar practice later into the night.
Luckily though the holiday periods mean I get more of a relaxed time where I can spend time with the family and practice a bit more freely.
6. How much time do you spend playing guitar a day/week?
My work schedule is usually very hectic so I never get as much time to play as I like. Usually it might only be an hour a day, if that. But during holiday periods I can get 3 hours in a day.
I tend to spend a lot of my time either working on new pieces or if there’s a show coming up I might run though the set. In an ideal world I would like to spend a bit more time working on classical technique and ear training as well.
7. What’s on the horizon for you in playing and life?
I’m working on my second album so I’m really trying to up my game in terms of musicality and quality of the compositions and arrangements. So in a few months time you can expect some new recordings, videos and TABs.
I would love to travel more and take my music further and to a wider audience. I have had such a great time in the past visiting other countries and would learn so much from the different people and cultures you meet along the way. So, stay tunes for some tours in 2016!