QSC Aspiring Interview: Don Castor on freedom and Black Panther

Los Angeles-based singer, composer and actor Don Castor discusses the creative process on his latest musical project FREEDOM, how he came to star in the 2022 Marvel blockbuster Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and more.

What’s been keeping you busy lately?

I’ve recently released a brand new project, entitled FREEDOM. It's a full length project that I've been working on pretty much throughout the pandemic. It's my statement to myself and to the world of my liberation and freedom as a person and artist.

Tell us about your musical background.

I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. My parents kind of forced me and my siblings to be active in music. Although they never intended it to be anything more than an extracurricular activity, I remember falling in love with music at the age of five or six. By the time I was seven or eight, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I would just be singing around the house all day; I was playing piano and attempting to play the flute. Music was all that I ever thought about and all that I ever wanted to do, and that remains true to this day.

I grew up very religious, so firstly I was listening to Christian contemporary artists like Sandi Patty. Over time, I started to become influenced by voices like Lionel Richie, Whitney Houston, and Mary J. Blige. And then also Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Freddie Mercury. I have a wide range of influences, and I feel like I can take inspiration from all music.

Tell us more about your latest record, FREEDOM.

When I started recording FREEDOM at the start of the pandemic, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to say. As it was nearing completion, I recorded a song called Finally Free. It was about a relationship, but also just about life; so many times we fall prey to all the different labels and things that we think other people expect we should be doing. I thought about how we never take a moment to have a conversation with ourselves and get in touch with who we really are and what we really want. That sparked a conversation with a friend, and he was like, ‘this project feels like freedom’. As I sat there reflecting on what he said, I realised that it was true. Throughout my whole life, one of the biggest things I’d been searching for was freedom.

Growing up, my childhood was very regimented. My parents were very strict and didn't allow me to really colour outside of the boundaries. I innately wanted to be free; I was the kid that had his own ideas about things, and was brave enough to pursue it. Even though sometimes I've been very scared about putting myself out there and really believing in myself, I've always been on my path in spite of that. So this is a statement to myself and to the world that this is how I'm living from now forward, in freedom.

When I'm writing or working on a song, I feel like it's being channelled through me.

How about your creative process?

For me it varies. Sometimes I’ll be out on a walk or in an airport or in a coffee shop, and I'll see something, or I'll hear something that someone says and it will inspire a whole song. From there I’ll just record it into my phone or whatever, and then later on put some chords to it and work with a producer to develop it more. Sometimes I'll have writing partners that will have ideas, and we'll collaborate on that. Other times, a track will just speak to me, and I'll write the lyrics based off of that track. So it’s not a uniform process; it's very much fluid and changes depending on who I'm collaborating with.

As artists, sometimes we turn into perfectionists, and we start trying to make the perfect song. It's good to aspire to that, but sometimes when I do that, I end up feeling like I’m watering down the song or taking away some of the beauty of the imperfections, if you will. I really try to be open with my writing process, because if not it becomes stagnant and I want to always allow new things to flow to me musically. It honestly speaks to me and when I'm writing or working on a song, I feel like it's being channelled through me.

You appeared in last year’s Marvel blockbuster Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. How did that come about and what was it like working on a film of that scale?

It's actually kind of crazy. He probably doesn’t remember this, but I met Ryan Coogler about 10 years ago at a film festival in Deauville, France when he was a brand new director. He was there to promote Fruitvale Station, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really like this guy, he's so cool and down to earth, and one day I'm gonna work with him’.

Fast forward a few years; I wasn’t even really pursuing acting at the time, but I had an agent call me up to tell me about this opportunity. They wanted me as an extra but wouldn’t even tell me the title of the movie they were filming. I rather reluctantly agreed and ended up going to Puerto Rico where it was being filmed. On the day of the shoot, Ryan and his assistant had everyone lined up, and I was one of the few who were picked. I'm in a scene towards the end of the movie; Ryan asked me to sit in the front of a car and say a few lines. After that moment, I became a cast member! There was a beautiful serendipity to it, because I truly believe in manifesting positive energy; it almost never comes the way you expect it to, but you have to be open to how it will unfold and get outside your comfort zone. So that is a perfect example!

Listen to the full interview with Don Castor on Headliner Radio, here: