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AJ Castillo on Crystal Accordions and Family Legacies

27 Aug 2013

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We talked with rising Tejano superstar AJ Castillo about his musical family and the stories behind his remarkable customized accordions. AJ Castillo is the headliner at the Marfa Lights Festival at Marfa’s Vizcaino Park this Saturday, August 31. The Resonators open.

Tickets are $20 in advance at Ballroom Marfa, The Big Bend Sentinel and Marfa National Bank. They’re also available for $25 at the gate. Kids under 12 get in free. Read more on our AJ Castillo page.

How did you decide that the accordion would be your instrument of choice?

My grandfather played the accordion and introduced me to the instrument at a very young age. Also when I would go to dances with my parents, I was always drawn to the accordion. Around the age of 9 or 10 I decided that the accordion was the instrument that I wanted to play. I practiced on my grandfather’s accordion until my parents bought me my own.

What makes your customized accordions unique? How do you work with an accordion maker?

Before being endorsed by Hohner, I worked with a close friend of mine who would customize his own accordions. I had different ideas of what I wanted and we would work on them together to make it happen. My favorite of them all is my bright green box, not just the color but the way it feels and sounds when I play it. You can see some of my different accordions on my website. My accordions have a following of their own. A lot of people like the green one and the one covered in crystals is another fan favorite. My newest Gold and White accordion was customized by Hohner. I told them what I wanted as far as the color and hardware then I added the gold plated letters before Hohner added the final clear coat.

What did you learn from your experience as a studio musician?

Being a studio musician was a great experience, I met and worked with a lot of people while doing that. Through that experience I also realized that I could produce and record my own record. At first I was going to record just an instrumental CD because I had never been a singer before. In the end I decided I would try singing and it worked out for the best.

What are the advantages of coming from a musical family?

The advantages are that I’ve been around this business my whole life, it’s what I know. Starting off in the family band was an important part of what shaped me to be the musician I am today.

Are there any special challenges that arise from working with family members in making music?

I love having my brother by my side up on stage and as for my Dad, I’ve been on the same stage with him since I started my musical career as a kid. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve been working together so long that there really aren’t any special challenges working with family members. The biggest challenge for me is when it comes time to record a new CD, I have so many ideas in my head of what I want to do and to get those ideas to come to life can be challenging at times.

Which other artists — musicians, visual artists, filmmakers, etc — inspire you?

My accordion influences are my grandfather, Steve Jordan and David Lee Garza. I have a wide range when it comes to the music I listen to. I listen to everything from Jazz to R&B to Tejano to Tribal to Regional Mexican to Country. I’m influenced and inspired by it all.

Have you ever traveled to Marfa before? What do you know about our part of Texas?

I have never been to Marfa before but we do have fans from that area. We are looking forward to visiting there for the first time and performing for everyone at the Marfa Lights Festival.