Though he didn't win the seventh season of American Idol, third-place finisher Jason Castro was an enduring fan favorite for his sweet demeanor and soaring performances of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and his own ukulele-accompanied "Over the Rainbow." Both songs appear on "deluxe" versions of Castro's self-titled debut album, which released two weeks ago. (Our review.)
But mostly, Jason Castro is about, well, Jason Castro. The fresh-faced, dreadlocked singer/songwriter wants the world to know about the second part of that description—songwriter. He's not "just" a singer, like most Idol alums. Castro penned seven of the eight songs ("Hallelujah" is the eighth) on the more widely available version of the new album—mostly poems about love (he just got married in January) and friendship.
A committed Christian, Castro talked to CT about his new album, how his faith informs his songwriting and his performances, and his long-term plans for those terrific dreads.
It's been two years since you were on Idol. You must be stoked to be finally releasing your first album.
Jason Castro: It's very exciting. It's been a long year waiting and working and wondering when it's going to happen. So it's very exciting that the day is finally here.
You've kind of separated yourself from other Idol alumni by writing your own songs for your album. Talk about that.
Castro: After Idol, I spent a year and took my time; writing was my main priority. That's what I've always dreamed of being. That's why I started singing—because I wanted to be able to write those stories. I'm very proud of this work.
But you weren't alone; you collaborated with some other veteran writers. How did you like that process?
Castro: I love the collaborative process. I love the magic of how a song gets from here to here: You start with melody, music, and words, all to say something. Collaborating is like having conversation—just throwing out ideas. Sometimes [your co-writers] pick up on what you think is a junk idea and they find some life in it, or vice versa. Or sometimes I'd write a song and be missing just a couple words, and I'd labor and hunker down for weeks. But when you're collaborating, you have two minds that work in totally different ways, and it just helps to get through songs faster, I think. That's another thing about collaboration—you can work from other people's stories, a new thing for me. I'm used to just writing and reflecting on stories out of my own life. But it's cool to write about other people's experiences too.
It's mostly an album of love songs. Is that by design?
Castro: I didn't set out with an intentional theme, but that's where I am in life. I'm just recently married, so that's been what's on my heart. It was a long-distance relationship, a lot of yearning and reflecting on this relationship, so that's what came out in the songwriting. And a couple of songs are about different types of love, like friendship love. My current single, "That's What I'm Here For," is about a friend.
How does your faith inform your songwriting and performing?
Castro: My faith makes me who I am. That's my rock, and it influences everything I do. People comment a lot on the passion in my performances, and that passion is something I've found in God and in my faith. The passion of Christ, that that kind of love would come to die for us—that's inspiring. That's in my heart always. Everything I do, I want to live a passionate life.
People ask me, "Why didn't you do a Christian album?" I prayed about it and thought about it and I tried writing songs, but worship songs weren't exactly what were coming out. At the same time, I don't there should be lines of "Christian music" and "non-Christian music." You know, the music doesn't make a decision to follow Christ! In my music, all the themes are things that are good.