Interview: Hether Sets Out on His Own with ‘Sticky Thumb’

Hether © Joaquin Bartra
Hether © Joaquin Bartra
Hether’s ‘Sticky Thumb’ shows how important intent and passion are in music, joining the worlds of musicianship and artistry in a beautiful, compact EP.
Stream: ‘Sticky Thumb’ – Hether

What I hear that’s missing from music now, including mine and just like all younger artists, I guess, is the lack of appreciation of digging further back, you know…

Paul Castelluzzo is far less concerned with precision as much as he is with intent, something that shines in his January 15th EP Sticky Thumb.

This attitude is seen throughout his Hether persona, a project of his that sees energy and vibe take the front seat, with concern for detail and structure left by the wayside. Done for the most part in one day, Sticky Thumb goes against all musical hinderances, whether that be managers, labels, or self-doubt. While it could be seen as a risk to do something so hastily, clearly it isn’t for Hether.

Sticky Thumb - Hether
Sticky Thumb – Hether

Originally titled Whooops Demos (the title when our interview was done), Sticky Thumb shows that overanalyzing ones’ work is often detrimental, that acting on atmosphere is a more desirable approach than being what Castelluzzo calls “precious.”

“Everything on this record was pretty much done in pretty much a day, man. It’s just weird. That’s why I’m calling it a demo EP… I just wanted to not be precious about it… I’ve always liked to make music really fast, otherwise I just end up hating everything as fast as I make it.” One of those songs happens to be on this EP (one of my personal favorites): “Twinkle”.

“Twinkle”, one of the project’s singles, has what Castelluzzo estimates to be forty different versions, and even still he calls it a “boring, three chord song” that he had to “make a little more interesting” because his label thought it’d be good to have it on the project. It was almost refreshing hearing him discuss the song, a left-turn from the ever-performative self-plugs widely seen throughout the music industry. The songs the listener might take seriously, Castelluzzo isn’t as a fond of, and what might appear genuine could easily be something he gave little thought to.

The foremost example of this perspective is Castelluzzo’s stage name Hether. “There’s absolutely no depth to that. I think that’s the point is I wanted to just like run away before I was Hether.” But even still, this name with supposedly no depth has some meaning behind it: “But I was a jazz guitarist, like full on, like I was playing in bars and I wanted to go to school for and do that whole thing. I was super into modern jazz… I just wanted to run away from that because my name started becoming synonymous with that in the music community. So, I was like, I’m going to pick a random name. And I was watching that movie Heathers with Winona Ryder. And I was like, cool I’m just going to call it Hether and sing like a girl. I was going to pitch my voice up and make weird music. And then the label I was on was like, ‘Dude, you got to put your face on it and use your name.’ So, the secret’s up.”

Hether © 2021
Hether © 2021

While the Hether name did release a six track EP titled Hether Who?, Sticky Thumb feels like his coming out party.

Longer than some albums nowadays at 28 minutes, this EP still only feels like a snapshot of Castelluzzo’s talents despite the vast variety of content on the project. His guitars are as entrancing as ever, and his pitched-up voice shines continuously, especially in harmonies. The layering of vocals like this shows how comprehensive his talents are. Mix that with fantastic, simplistic base lines and unbelievable drumming by Kosta Galanopoulos and it adds up to a project with no weak links. While so many projects have this sort of formula, Hether’s brand seems distinguished from this ilk of modern singer-songwriter music. The EP is greater than the sum of its parts, like the San Antonio Spurs of modern pop music. You can’t point to one particular thing that makes Hether holistically different from so many other acts, but every element and track assures you he is.

Almost as important as the music on Sticky Thumb is how Castelluzzo discusses music and musicianship. “I was just super lost before I ventured into being an artist or whatever. Music was turning into just a way of making a living. So, I was like playing guitar in a weird Pentecostal church run by like a Russian cult, like weird shit just like make a living.” Castelluzzo turned to the Hether project as a way to reconnect with music and reorient his focus around it. “And then I was seeing people were doing their own things. I was like, ‘Wow, you could do your own thing and like make a living doing it.’ That never really occurred to me. For some reason, I was just like, I have to be like a musical slave in order to make a living.” Hether, and Sticky Thumb specifically, even further justifies how good of a decision going solo was.

Hether © Joaquin Bartra
Hether © Joaquin Bartra

But Castelluzzo still feels like there is stuff missing from his music, something he feels is systemic in the music industry. “What I hear that’s missing from music now, including mine and just like all younger artists, I guess, is the lack of appreciation of digging further back, you know…Right now, everything kind of sounds a little bit similar because people are sourcing their aspirations from things that happened like 10, 12 years ago. But if you like, really go back in time and find some things, I think that’s when artists really stand out is because they’re taking from stuff that not a lot of people have heard from… Like you can hear everybody’s influences. So, that’s why I just like listening to stuff that’s really old because it’s just super inspiring.” This quote brings out the true difference between musicianship and artistry. There are artists who love music and make great songs, and there are musicians who love their craft and make a living being musical journeymen. But it is special when those who truly understand every aspect of the music landscape are able to channel their passion, knowledge, and drive into a solo project.

This is what distinguishes Hether from other acts. Sticky Thumb is by no means a revolutionary project in its production or ideas, but it shows how gifted and multifaceted Castelluzzo is as a musician and artist. As he put it, “I think for a lot of artists…it’s learning to come into their own stand by their shit. And it’s hard to do when you have a million opinions being shoved down your throat.” While this is certainly a beginning for Castelluzzo, he’s already learned to stand by his shit. And whether he stays with this stripped down, demo vibe or not, his Hether projects will almost certainly continue to be a masterclass in how far simplicity and feel can take you.

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Sticky Thumb - Hether

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