In the studio with Toronto’s Castle If and her beloved houseplants

CASTLE IF and LAURA SWANKEY as part of Emergents III at the Music Gallery (197 John), Friday (April 7), 8 pm. $8-$12. And CASTLE IF with TASSEOMANCY on April 29 at the Yorkville Public Library (22 Yorkville) as part of Live In The Stacks, 7 pm, all ages. Free.

Jess Forrest lives in her studio. It’s a complicated set-up but it seems to work for Forrest, who records under the name Castle If, and her boyfriend, up-and-coming rapper Sorry.

“My studio is in my one-bedroom apartment with my sweetheart,” she says from the space located between Yorkville and Rosedale. “We both make music, so we made the bed into a giant couch, and then we have a big bedroom that acts as both of our studios. We sleep in the living room.”

Having to share living space with such an intrusive workspace may be hard for some musicians, but Forrest prefers it this way. 

“The studio is more like a special place,” she explains. “It’s weird, we don’t ever hang out in the studio unless we’re listening to each other’s mixes or talking about our music or just actively working separately. It’s really nice to have that space in your home that is just for working.”

As Castle If, Forrest composes interplanetary electronic music using her arsenal of analog synthesizers. Unlike a lot of musicians in the synth game, Forrest isn’t a gearhead. The confines of her studio certainly restrict the size of her collection, but she feels quality is more important than quantity.

“I’m not much of a gear junkie,” she says. “I like to get really nice things and just stick with them. I like having a small amount of gear, because it’s very limiting, and I feel like limitations are really good for creativity.”

One thing she is a junkie for, though, is the analog synth. Her first was a Moog Little Phatty that her father bought for her when she was a teenager.

“I’m not an analog synth snob, but I prefer it,” she explains. “I never really got into the softsynth [software synthesizer] thing they’re a bit too complicated for my brain. That sounds really silly, but I like the tactile knobs and buttons on the analog. It’s a lot easier for me to think of that in a musical way. When I work with a computer, it doesn’t feel musical to me.”

Castle If’s exploratory synthesizer music has been called everything from “cosmic exotica” and “library pop” to “kosmiche” and “New Age.” But another description that might be more suitable, thanks to her latest release, is “plant music.” Her new cassette is titled Plant Material, and it’s inspired by her extensive collection of houseplants.

“Recently I’ve had 30 to 40 plants in my house,” she says. “I like to try them out, so I have all different varieties. Over the last three years, I’ve discovered which kinds of plants enjoy the atmosphere of my studio and my apartment.

“The album made sense to me because the plants have helped me so much with my art, so I thought it would be nice to dedicate it to them,” she says. 

“Music is scientifically proven to help plants grow. There is a therapeutic drone track for plants, but the rest of it is more musical portraits of my more cherished houseplants.”

For her performance at Emergents III, Forrest is planning to “transplant” a number of them to help give the Music Gallery the right atmosphere.

“I’m going to bring as many plants as I can,” she says. “Some are too large and too delicate to bring, but Hazel, the fern on the album cover, will definitely be in attendance.” | @yasdnilmac

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