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The Interview – Josh Hwang of CASTLEBEAT and Spirit Goth

todayAugust 18, 2022 176 1 5

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With the release of Half Life, the new album from CASTLEBEAT I was dying to find out all about it. Luckily, Josh Hwang was available for a chat. We had a great conversation about the album, CASTLEBEAT and his label Spirit Goth.

If you want to know how he honed that signature sound and what bands he has coming up for release on Spirit Goth then read on!



Marky: Hi Josh! The new CASTLEBEAT album is here. Can you tell us a bit about Half Life? What can we expect to hear this time around?

Josh: Hey Marky! Yeah – Half Life is finally out. I had been working on it for the past year and a half. This time, I wanted to revisit my older sound (from my debut album & VHS) & sort of expand on it. There’s plenty of jangly guitars & a lot more synthesizers than before with styles ranging from bedroom pop / dream pop to 00’s alternative rock to post-punk/shoegaze.


Marky: Your record label Spirit Goth has been going for six years now. Can you describe what it was that made you want to start your own label and what ethos and guiding principles did you set for yourself?

Josh: I started the label for fun as a way to promote my S/T debut album in 2016. I really liked hand-dubbing my cassettes one at a time to sell online. I think new artists can achieve better results by having a third-party like a label supporting since it seems more impressive & deserving of attention. Knowing this, I figured I could help other artists in the same way & it has grown since then. Traditional record labels don’t have the best reputation & I wanted to create a modern-day indie label that is for artists & run by artists. But yeah, there really wasn’t a business plan or anything like that, it just sort of happened organically.


Marky: There is a defined sound you have crafted through your albums as CASTLEBEAT. What influences led you to the sonic palette you use?

Josh: I think my sound is defined by home recording/production & not really knowing what I’m doing. The end results of all of my albums so far have been like a home-made pie. Maybe a little rough here and there but at least you know that it’s all coming from one person. I don’t think a polished studio sound would suit my music style – I like to blur things with reverb & FX which I’ve found allow me to get away with some more poppy melodic ideas.


Marky: How do you approach writing and recording these days compared to when you started work on your debut album & VHS?

Josh: Back in the old days, the way I did everything was really raw. It still is but even more so back then. I really had no audio training or even past experience to draw from. Everything I did was by ear & I just went with what sounded good to me. Nowadays, besides melodies & choruses, I’m putting more emphasis into planning arrangements & creating space for each instrument to live in. I feel like I have a better ear for production especially after working on Half Life, so I’m excited for whatever comes next.


Marky: If you had to pick one song from Half Life to give to a new listener, which one would hook them in and why?

Josh: I think it depends on the listener since there’s a spread of different styles on the album. For example, I’d probably recommend ‘Cinema’ or ‘Home’ to people who prefer easy-listening dream pop. Then I’d recommend ‘Looking For Something’ or ‘Spill’ for listeners who prefer darker post-punk / shoegaze styles.


Marky: As a fellow gazer I’d be really keen to know more about the gear you use to create your beautiful noise?

Josh: Since I started this project, I’ve always used a cream-colored American Stratocaster for the majority of my guitar parts. I usually don’t use too many effect pedals for recording, but sometimes I will use some light distortion / compression pedal going into the DI. Most of my sound design comes from working in Logic Pro. The first 2 albums were only using stock plugins. Now I’m experimenting a lot with 3rd-party plugins & even recording parts on a Tascam tape machine to later transfer into Logic.

Marky: Spirit Goth has both a Cassette Club and an offshoot label called Birthdiy. Can you tell us how those both came to be and why did you feel a second label was needed?

My main goal for starting the label was to help diy musicians because, being one myself, I know how hard it is to get attention from labels and get music heard (especially nowadays with so much new music). As Spirit Goth gained momentum, we could only take on so many releases that needed our full attention which meant having to pass on songs we liked from a lot of diy artists. I thought we could start a net-label called BIRTHDIY to still work with these artists on digital releases & develop/promote them through Spirit Goth.

Cassette Club formed as a fun way to get more tapes to our fans. I noticed the same people buying every tape that we pressed & decided to try a tape-of-the-month club where members receive a new cassette each month. Sometimes we feature a Spirit Goth release, another label’s tape, or even an original Cassette Club pressing. With the costs of production going up, we’re not sure how long we’ll keep it running but for now we enjoy doing it & it’s something our fans and artists look forward to.


Marky: You’ve introduced so many amazing new acts to us through Spirit Goth, like Atmos Bloom, Hause Plants, Cathedral Bells and Sea Lemon. Is there a new band or artist you’re working with at the moment you’d like to tell us about?

Josh: We’re currently talking to a couple potential artists who we’re really excited about. Our next label release will be a jangly dream pop album from my good friend Karim a/k/a Soft Pastels. He played guitar with me for a small east coast CASTLEBEAT tour we did a couple years ago. We haven’t yet announced this anywhere but we’re also going to be working with Orchid Mantis on his upcoming album. We’ve been fans of his for quite some time now, so we’re really happy to finally get to work together.


Marky: Do you have any plans to play live shows to promote the new album?

Josh: Probably not – I’ve played a few and realized that live shows just aren’t something that I enjoy. It doesn’t quite fit my personality. I’m really just a normal guy who likes to record music in his free time, not necessarily in hopes of becoming a professional touring musician. But at the same time, I’d be open to playing shows if things feel right & I find a cool drummer.


Marky: Finally, if you had to pick one song that sums up the spirit and heart of what Spirit Goth is all about which one would it be.

Josh: Actually, one of the first songs I ever recorded was called “Downtown Spirit Goth” which I had on my SoundCloud when I was starting out – it’s not available anywhere since it’s a pretty bad song, but I really liked the name. It was a really grungy distorted track that had a very “home-recorded feel” which I think goes well with Spirit Goth’s ethos.

I’d like to thank Josh for taking the time to talk to us and a big shout out to my buddy Sonia over at Spirit Goth for making all this happen.

Half Life is available now via Spirit Goth or from the CASTLEBEAT Bandcamp page. Make sure you follow Castlebeat on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Written by: Mark Anderson

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