Last week, just a few days before dropping her new EP the voicenotes, Alaina Castillo shared a fuschia-bathed flick for the EP’s lead single, “just a boy,” which shows the LA-via-Houston singer-songwriter struggling to overcome past heartbreak.
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“[The song] is basically about overthinking,” Castillo tells American Songwriter over the phone. “You get hurt in past relationships, and then whenever you get in a new relationship you’re not sure if you can trust because of damage in the past. I overthink a lot and I always go to the worst conclusions–I hate it but it happens. So the video concept is me in my head thinking through everything that I’m feeling, bringing up all those problems, trying to see what’s gonna happen. It’s basically my headspace.”
Musically, “just a boy” is a smoldering, stripped-down R&B number that pairs Castillo’s sensual vocals and vulnerable lyrics with smooth guitar and atmospheric production. The EP’s three other tracks–“pass you by,” “sad girl,” and “voicenote”–see Castillo and her producer RØMANS using the same elements to haunting effect.
“It’s all guitar, acoustic vibes,” explains Castillo of the sound she and RØMANS were going for on the voicenotes. “I don’t really like to talk about my feelings, so whenever I sing I want to make it super mushy. [The EP] has the guitar, so it has that slowish soft vibe, but there’s also little darker elements that we put in to give it that full, spacey, escaping-into-another-world vibe.”
In addition to that “escaping-into-another-world vibe,” the four tracks on the EP are marked by Castillo’s most vulnerable songwriting to date. “The idea behind voicenotes is that it’s those vulnerable little thoughts that you have,” explains Castillo. “Some people write them down, some people sing them really quickly. I like to take out my voice [memos app] on my phone and just track something really quickly. So we got a lot of the ideas from those–either I’m singing or talking about things that stress me out, things I’m struggling with.”
On “sad girl” Castillo sings of “sad hours” that “won’t go away.” On “pass you by” she sings of “waiting to be loved.” And on the EP’s closing number, “voicenote,” she goes down a dark path that should be familiar to anybody who’s ever been wronged in a relationship: “Are you leaving me? Are you needing me? / Are these words the last you’ll speak to me? / Is it jealousy? Infidelity? / Are you sleeping with the enemy? / Are you done with me? Had your fun with me?” But the next lines hit hardest: “Always thought you were the one for me / How’d I get so weak? Hurt so easily.”
“[The EP] goes through a lot of problems–social media problems, love problems–just getting over stuff that’s happened in the past that you struggle with or deal with on a day-to-day basis,” says Castillo. “It’s a lot more vulnerable than my past music. But with music, for me, I don’t have to overthink. I don’t have to be scared. Usually when I talk I overthink everything that I say, but when I’m singing I don’t have to do that. It’s that outlet for me to just let everything out.”
Castillo and RØMANS wrote and recorded the EP in just a week. “We wrote everything at night,” says Castillo. “It’s all my late-night thoughts, but he played guitar and produced it all.”
Next month Castillo will also release a Spanish version of the EP. “The thing that I wanted to do with the Spanish version was [make sure] that other people could understand the meanings as deeply as the meanings are in English,” says the bilingual singer-songwriter. “It also adds a different kind of beauty, because a lot of times when you’re speaking in Spanish it has a poetic sound. So whenever we crossed over to Spanish we were able to write the dark and vulnerable sections so that each person who listens to [the EP] can feel those things.”
Though Castillo grew up in Houston, she moved to Los Angeles in January. She’s currently “co-quarantining” there with RØMANS, and the two are already working on new material. “We get to be in the studio every single day,” says Castillo.
Asked if there is anybody she’d most like to share a bill with when it’s safe to tour again, Castillo has a few acts in mind. “There are so many amazing artists,” she says. “I feel like it’d be super dope to do something with Rosalia, SZA, or H.E.R. I guess we’ll have to see when the time comes! Anything could change in the next couple of months.”
“I feel like I’ve become so much more confident than I was a year or a month ago,” she says of her current approach to songwriting. “I’m putting out all my feelings into what I’m writing, and I want to make sure that each time I make a song that I’m truly, truly writing what I feel and what I think. For this EP I want it to be an escape–so people can listen to it when they want to get away, when they want to just vibe, when they want to just listen to something that they can relate to.”
the voicenotes is out now.