Interview: Nashville’s Cecilia Castleman Is Raw, Unfiltered, and Definitely Not Viral – Yet

Cecilia Castleman © David O'Donohue
Cecilia Castleman © David O'Donohue
Singer/songwriter Cecilia Castleman sits down with Atwood Magazine (twice) to discuss growing up in Nashville, working with music industry legends, and her recent duet with Benjamin Francis Leftwich, “Can’t Escape a Broken Heart.”
Stream: “Can’t Escape a Broken Heart” – Cecilia Castleman, Benjamin Francis Leftwich

I’m experiencing so many new things, and I’m only 23. I have a heck of a long way to go, but I’m trying to enjoy every moment.

Cecilia Castleman became aware of her life’s purpose at six years old,

when she first picked up the same Epiphone Elitist guitar she played during an opening set for Sheryl Crow last year. She remembers her initial moments with the instrument fondly, yet with a twinge of regret.

“I remember thinking it was really dirty, so I rubbed off the dirt,” Castleman tells Atwood Magazine. “It turns out it was Neil Young and Emmylou Harris’ signatures. Don’t give a six-year-old a signed guitar.”

Instrumental sacrilege aside, the music industry – from Big Yellow Dog in Nashville to Don Was in Detroit to Henson Studios in Los Angeles – has put its full faith in the now 23-year-old Castleman. While that might feel like crushing pressure to any other twenty-something on the planet, it seems to roll right off Castleman’s back.

Castleman gets to the cafe where we planned to meet ten minutes early, with a suitcase and backpack practically half her size in tow. She is kind, but quiet at first, and looks down at the table as we make small talk. She lights up when I ask her about music, and how she got to where she is today. “We grew up pretty poor,” she recalls, “but music was free.” Amid the chaos and loneliness of her early years in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee, Castleman played music in her room and lived in record stores, seeking solace in the familiarity of the lyrics and melodies she loved. “I’ve had my doubts about everything,” she tells me, “but music was never something I doubted. Really!”

Cecilia Castleman © Chase Denton
Cecilia Castleman © Chase Denton

I believe her. Castleman’s soft demeanor and no bullshit attitude are just as convincing as her music itself.

One stream of her debut single, “Lonely Nights,” is more than enough to explain why Castleman stands out among a sea of talent in Music City, and was able to secure the same manager as Paul McCartney and U2 at the age of 18. At the time, she already had seven years of songwriting experience under her belt. “I started writing when my parents split, so I was 11,” Castleman shares. “They weren’t the best songs, but it was something, and it mattered that I was growing in that way.”

She writes constantly now, sometimes up to four songs per week. Her process, Castleman tells me, is a little bit like sending envelopes to herself over and over again, waiting for a letter of acceptance. “I think it’s a feeling,” she explains, “like you’re hitting the bullseye on the emotion you’re trying to get. I think it’s the truest thing to magic that I’ve ever encountered.” That magic secured her first publishing deal with Big Yellow Dog Music and introduced her to her current co-writer, Grammy-winner and longtime Kacey Musgraves collaborator Daniel Tashian.

YouTuber Rick Beato recently shared an in-depth look at the pair’s seemingly effortless songwriting and jamming process in Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios. The resulting song, “Mid-Air,” could be plucked right out of an episode of Daisy Jones & The Six. It feels like the result of a decades-long partnership, not a one-off track from budding co-writers.

But Castleman, as I’m quickly learning, is timeless – an old soul stuck in the body of a 23-year-old. Growing up, her car’s six-CD-holder was filled with everything from Brian Wilson, to Prince, to The 1975. Her genre-bending preferences bleed into her personal sound, birthing songs that transcend eras.

“I never want to put a limitation on anything, but my upcoming record in particular is super raw,” Castleman says. “The guitars, vocals, bass drums, that’s pretty much it. It’s simple, and each instrument complements the others and there’s not too much going on.”

Singer/songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich, whom Castleman has been a fan of ever since she was 15, happened to join one of her Zoom calls during the pandemic.

The pair instantly clicked, finding in each other a like mind to bounce song ideas and random lyrics off of. Castleman and Leftwich wrote their first song together shortly after their first meeting. “I was so happy about it,” she gushes, “and I thought about it all the time.”

The two musicians kept in touch throughout the years, and each time Leftwich came to Nashville via London, they would find time to play the track. When they realized the song wasn’t leaving their minds anytime soon, they decided to record and release it as a duet. Out May 31, “Can’t Escape a Broken Heart” blends Castleman’s soulful voice with Leftwich’s unique way of playing the guitar to create a heart-wrenching, but sticky, ballad.

Cecilia Castleman © David O'Donohue
Cecilia Castleman © David O’Donohue

The artist’s current catalog is introspective, focusing on those early days spent in her room and at vinyl shops.

“I wrote a lot about myself growing up, cause it’s all I knew,” she confesses, fidgeting with a slice of ricotta toast. “I’m like, man, I really gave all of my secrets and my thoughts away in this first record, but I’m glad I did.”

On her next record, she would like to include more outward observation. She is thankful to Tashian and Leftwich for pushing her outside of her comfort zone and making that a possibility. “Tashian taught me to try everything,” she elaborates, “He reminds me that every idea is worthy. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, let’s try something else.”

Leftwich taught her to sit with her thoughts while songwriting, contrary to her usual process of writing with her heart first. Walking into a room armed with the ability to say whatever and play whatever she wants, but taking the time to get there, is both validating and freeing for the singer/songwriter.

Castleman is on the path to greatness, but she’s taking the scenic route. In an era of one-hit TikTok wonders, she wants to be remembered as “the one who didn’t go viral, who didn’t play into all the games, but still won in the end.” Working and playing with icons such as Don Was, Scott Roger, and Benmont Tench has kept her grounded, but motivated. “

​If everything was easy, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Castleman asserts, “and I have a long way to go, but they push me to grow.”

For now, she wants to focus on touring and putting out more music. Her recent stint as the opening act for Patrick Droney taught her just how much she loves being on a stage and on the road. She’ll leave the rest – reception of her upcoming album, name recognition, and a tour of her own – up to fate, and extremely hard work.

Cecilia Castleman © David O'Donohue
Cecilia Castleman © David O’Donohue

I really gave all of my secrets and my thoughts away in this first record, but I’m glad I did.

Even in Nashville, elementary school career quizzes did not feature “musician” as an option.

That frustrated (but did not deter) Castleman who, by that point, was inseparable from her Epiphone Elitist and notebook. Since then, she has been living life with the idea that everything you go through leaves a permanent and indispensable trace.

“It’s like a fingerprint or a handprint and it doesn’t go away,” she clarifies. “I’m experiencing so many new things, and I’m only 23. I have a heck of a long way to go, but I’m trying to enjoy every moment. I know I’ll look back and think, ‘wow, that was kind of cool.”

For now, she’s looking ahead, with the faith of a few music industry legends to guide her.

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:: stream/purchase Can’t Escape a Broken Heart here ::
:: connect with Cecilia Castleman here ::
Stream: “Can’t Escape a Broken Heart” – Cecilia Castleman, Benjamin Francis Leftwich

— — — —

Can't Escape a Broken Heart - Cecilia Castleman, Benjamin Francis Leftwich

Connect to Cecilia Castleman on
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Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
? © David O'Donohue

:: Stream Cecilia Castleman ::

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