In Japanese culture, there’s a special method of repairing a broken object. Known as Kintsugi, the art form uses lacquer mixed with gold to not only mend broken pottery, but celebrate its imperfections, incorporating the broken pieces into the object’s history. The art from continuously revealed itself to Kristen Castro – singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist behind Wild Heart Club – while in the writing process for her new album Arcade Back in Manitou, released November 12. “That was a visual I had the whole record,” Castro tells Audiofemme. “I was like ‘Okay, maybe I’m on the right path.’” But before she could walk the path to her destiny, she had to embrace her own brokenness.
Growing up in Simi Valley California, Castro always had a deep sense of observation and empathy. “As a kid, I was always weird,” she confesses. “I could always tell when people would click, the popular kids. I was really empathetic and I could feel when people were lonely and I was like ‘you’re just as important.’ Quiet people are usually weirder. There’s a lot going on in their head. Maybe they’re not as confident, but they’re just as important as the popular people.”
Embracing her weirdness is a habit Castro carried into adulthood, particularly her career as a country artist. After moving to Nashville, Castro joined country trio Maybe April in 2013, their sparkling harmonies and bluegrass-infusion scoring them opening slots for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Kris Kristofferson, Gavin DeGraw, Brandy Clark and others. But in spite of their growing success, Castro still felt like an outsider.
“I wasn’t like everybody else. I struggled with being confident, and I really want to uplift others who struggle in that same area,” she professes. “If I have this ability to make music; why not make it to connect with other people who can’t create and want to connect. It’s nice to be heard. I have a duty to myself to be honest. It took me a long time to get there though.” Amd it wasn’t without a personal toll – what got her to the point of being honest in her music was “constantly letting myself break, which was really hard,” she says. “Every time I’d put myself first, it would break something.”
The first break came when she departed Maybe April after six years, realizing she was not speaking her truth through the music. She also ceased co-writing with other Nashville songwriters as it began to feel “artificial,” the blossoming singer-songwriter drawn more to connecting with people through the power of music rather than chasing a number one song. Then, Castro experienced another break when she endured a devastating breakup with her girlfriend. At the time, she thought, “I need to grow and I need to figure this out or else I’m not going to get better.”
But those moments of darkness put Castro on a path of truth and honesty that inspired her to launch a career as a solo artist. With only her guitar and a slew of ideas and emotions waiting to be turned into songs, Castro flew to Los Angeles to stay with her brother, where she created Wild Heart Club’s exquisite debut. “It was a lot of healing. No one’s around me, I get to make this music for nobody right now,” Castro describes of making the album in solitude. “This is just for me.”
But the song that started it all was written years prior. Castro penned “Rainbow” when she and her ex-girlfriend starting dating. The couple was part of a now-defunct band, Mountain Time, and after a show in Colorado, they attended a bonfire where Castro saw a shooting star race across the sky, wondering in that moment if it was a sign from the universe that her then-girlfriend was “the one.”
“When you’re young and in love, you’re looking for any sign to tell you you’re on the right path. I saw so much magic in that moment and in that person, and looking at myself now, even though I miss her, I feel like all my favorite parts of her are part of me now,” Castro reveals. “I love when the sky is crying and all of a sudden you get a rainbow. For some reason, I felt like that sky, and I was like, ‘I deserve a rainbow. Is she my rainbow?’ I’ve had a lot of sadness in my life, so it’s just looking for signs.”
In the live acoustic video, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, Castro strips down the upbeat pop number that appears on the album to the bare bones. With just an acoustic guitar, her soft voice and the gentle sound of the waves crashing along the shore behind her, Castro maintains the song’s dreamy element as she sings, “Break down like a waterfall/When your tears dry there’s a rainbow/Lost in love, lose yourself/When your tears dry there’s a rainbow.”
“It talks about this magical moment with a person, [and] it alludes to toxic moments,” she notes of the lyrics. “That relationship had so many beautiful parts to it and also so many negative parts to it where I would cry if I was happy, I would cry if I was hurt. But at the end of it all, she was always there.” As songwriting partners, the couple would write verses back and forth to each other. One of the verses her ex wrote foreshadowed a breakup where one partner encourages the other to go to the beach to find peace.
When Castro’s friend and videographer suggested they film a live version of “Rainbow” on the beach, it marked a full-circle moment for the singer. “I think it honors the song in the way that we used to play together,” she observes. “It was honoring what she wanted for me and what I want for myself.”
Castro received yet another sign from the universe that she was where she was meant to be while filming on the remote beach in California. A bystander approached to remark on the “beautiful” song. “The first thing she says is ‘I could tell it was a really hard song for you to sing. It sounded like you were in a toxic relationship.’ It took everything in my power not to cry. It was again this full circle feeling, these little moments where you’re like ‘I’m on the right path’ and respecting your life guides,” Castro observes. “I needed somebody to be that rainbow for me and now it feels like I’m my own rainbow.”
Castro continues to walk a path that is deeply honest, living fully in her truth as she works to pass on the core message embedded into her music: it gets better. “Something I kept thinking about was if I could talk to my past self who was going through all of this and let her know that it gets better, because so often it feels like it won’t. This album was more than just a breakup. I finally lost myself and gave myself the ability to find myself,” she proclaims. “I think lyrically [and] sonically it was me being honest for the first time, and being honest let me start to find myself, my truest self.”
As for how she defines her truest self? “Someone that’s free. Free of self-judgement, others’ judgment, free of being critical of yourself, free to create. It’s to find the beauty in the little things,” she expresses. “I think it’s letting yourself go through it, even though you know it’s going to be really awful. If you feel a pull to something, sometimes you need to walk through it. There were so many red flags where it was like ‘don’t do it,’ but if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have this album, I wouldn’t have broken. It’s being grateful to others and myself for letting myself go through that.”