Every once in a while, a song can stop a listener dead in their tracks and command their undivided attention. More often than not, that song may only be truly heard and appreciated by listeners who dig deeper than the surface of what comes over the radio airwaves and find the hidden gems on an album.
At its core, country music is about storytelling and relating to its listeners. With its songs, such as in real life, not every story is glamorous, but they still beg to be told so they can reach the people that need to hear them.
In mid-1995, Faith Hill was laying the foundation for country music superstardom. By the time her sophomore album It Matters to Me was released in July of that year, she already had two number one singles and a number two single to her name, and by the time the album ran its course, she’d have another number one and four more top tens.
Half of the songs on It Matters to Me were released to country radio as singles. However, track five on the album was not. That song, the heavy-hitting tale of domestic violence “A Man’s Home Is His Castle” just might be the standout on the record. Written solely by Ariel DeSilvis, the song, along with others in her catalog, helped land her a publishing deal, and continues to evoke emotion 25 years after its release, and for DeSilvis, has continued to provide emotional moments with audiences over those 25 years.
Before that deal came to fruition, DeSilvis admittedly hadn’t given much thought to songwriting; getting a late start and only beginning out of spite for a bandmate.
“I came from a musical family, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t sing. It was just something that was always a part of my life. Songwriting was an afterthought; I didn’t write my first song until I was 28 years-old,” says DeSilvis. “A bandmate had written a song for me to perform in The Marlborough Music contest, and I didn’t like his song. He basically told me to write my own damned song, so I did, just to prove that I could. Up until that point, it never occurred to me to do so.”
After realizing that songwriting might be a gateway to a record deal, DeSilvis moved from Pennsylvania to Music City in the early 1990s, quickly hitting the ground running and getting acquainted with the music community.
“I had a country band in the Philadelphia area and was getting a lot of attention and positive feedback. Nashville was seeing a resurgence in the early 90s, and I felt like I needed to take my shot before it was too late,” says DeSilvis. “I drove down for a long weekend and played the only three songs I had written up to that point at an open mic night at The Bluebird Cafe. I got a great response and managed to get meetings with a few publishers as well. I realized that songwriting could lead to a record deal, which is what I wanted at the time. I started writing in earnest and moved to Nashville in January of 1993. It was a very easy place to live and easy to meet other musicians and writers, so it felt like it was meant to be.”
When DeSilvis’s opportunity came, it came fast, and forced her to make an almost immediate impression on Leslie Salzillo, work was forming To The Moon Music, a subsidiary of Sony/ATV Publishing.
“It all happened very quickly; I had been given Leslie Salzillo’s name and number by someone at ASCAP. It was the wrong number and her name was misspelled, but it was the only lead I had, so I tracked her down,” says DeSilvis. “She was getting ready to launch To The Moon, and she said she had 10 minutes to listen to one song if I could come to her office right away. I rushed over and played her a song. She asked if I had anything else for her to listen to, and I played her several more songs, including ‘A Man’s Home Is His Castle.’ She offered me a writing deal that day.”
The song, which tells a story of “Linda” being in an abusive relationship with “Jimmy” in escalating detail almost foreign to country music, stems from the true story of a co-worker and her husband and the real fear that she felt towards him.
“I was waiting tables at a restaurant in Nashville, and one day it was raining and my co-worker said her husband wouldn’t be able to work that day, and she knew he’d be drunk when she got home. The next day she came in with bruises on her arms and said she’d had him arrested. A few days later, she came in very upset because she’d just found out that he was being let out of jail that day and she was afraid to go home. She hid at my house until her brother could come and get her,” says DeSilvis. “I never know where a song will come from, but that song just dropped into my head. There were a lot of emotions to process surrounding this incident, and music has always been my way to get through things. I was obsessed with this song and cried for four days until it was finally finished. I never dreamed that anyone would ever want to record it, it just demanded to be written.”
Because of the song’s detail and true inspiration, DeSilvis was tasked with accurately telling her coworker’s story and capturing the emotions she was feeling without making it too “heavy.” In doing so, it was recommended that she changed the details of the final chorus, something she refused to do.
“I wanted to accurately portray the story, but there’s always a balance between being hard-hitting and being heavy-handed. I honestly didn’t think about it a lot, I concentrated more on the cadence of the lyrics against the melody. At the time, I didn’t think I would ever play it for anyone else, it was just something I needed to express,” says DeSilvis. “When it came time to demo the song, I was encouraged to change the line about ‘Linda’ wanting to buy a gun. I refused to change it because a) in real life, she was so scared that she wanted to get a gun and b) I wanted the woman in the song to have the power to fight back. In the end, the line didn’t keep the song from being recorded, so I’m glad I stood my ground.”
Like Leslie Salzillo before her, the song made an immediate impression on Faith Hill as well, who recorded the song within a matter of days, and landed DeSilvis her first cut.
“Leslie took the song to Donna Hilley at Sony to get some feedback, and she loved it. She took it to Martha Sharp at Warner Brothers who then played it for Faith Hill. Faith had already started recording the album, but I think she was encouraged to include a more serious track. She heard the song on a Friday and recorded it the following Tuesday,” says DeSilvis. “It all happened so fast that I didn’t really grasp how big of a deal it was. I was still a very new writer, trying to learn the ins and outs of the music business, and suddenly I had my first cut. It was pretty crazy, because shortly thereafter, Faith had some vocal problems and had to stop singing for a while. The album was put on hold for several months and we all held our breath until it was finally released.”
In the 25 years that have passed since its release, DeSilvis has performed the song, her only major label cut to date, around Music City, and each time, created an emotional, intimate experience between herself and the audience.
“I’ve performed that song quite a bit around Nashville over the years, and it’s always a very emotional moment with the audience. I truly appreciate that people are willing to take that journey and listen to such a serious song,” says DeSilvis. “I hope it has brought awareness to domestic violence and given voice to those who may not have a way to tell their own stories.”
Presently, DeSilvis is three years removed from the release of her first fiction novel, The Marshmallow, and currently has plans to release a second novel and is working on her first screenplay. However, when the mood is right, she still makes time for songwriting.
“I started writing fiction because there are stories that can’t be told in three minutes and made to rhyme. I self-published The Marshmallow just to get people to read it and get some feedback. It was a great learning experience and has definitely sent me off in a new direction,” says DeSilvis. “I’m currently working on another novel and have a producer interested in my first screenplay. I still write songs when the mood hits, but the music industry is in such flux that I concentrate most of my creative energy on writing fiction now.”
Though “A Man’s Home Is His Castle” doesn’t cross her mind much these days, DeSilvis believes she did her job as a songwriter with the song; bringing an issue that may be difficult to talk about to a greater audience.
“Honestly, I don’t think about it much these days; as you said, it’s been 25 years and that seems like a very long time ago,” says DeSilvis. “Unfortunately, domestic violence is still happening and one song won’t change that or fix anything. All we can do as writers of any kind is bring awareness to what we see in the world and hopefully make people think or seek to change themselves.”
*Feature image courtesy of Ariel DeSilvis Facebook Page*
**”A Man’s Home Is His Castle” is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!**