If you didn’t know any better, as the lead track, “Say It,” from Matt Castillo’s new album How The River Flows kicks off, you’d think it had been released in 1991. It’s got Travis Tritt written all over it, and encapsulates all of the fun that surrounded the 90s country sound.
That same sound permeates all through the album, in fact, as it’s well-equipped with several co-writers of 90s country hits, dripping in steel guitar and twanging telecasters. Castillo knows when to have a barn-burning good time and when to tug at the heartstrings, as he weaves his way through 10 top-tier songs that sound destined for the stage.
We chatted with Castillo all about the album, as well as working with heavy-hitting songwriters, his touring plans, new music and more!
Pro Country: Your new album, How The River Flows, is your first full-length album since 2017. What made you feel that 2022 was the right time to return to a full-album format?
Matt Castillo: The initial plan was to release the full album back in 2020/early 2021, but when we heard the news of the pandemic, my producer and I had to wait it out. We wanted to make sure we were able to have successful release. It’s crazy how everything happens for a reason.
PC: You released “Say It” as the lead single to How The River Flows in 2020. What made you feel that “Say It” was the right lead single and introduction to the album?
MC: “Say It” was catchy for radio. It’s up tempo, and it was the perfect single to introduce myself as an artist. Every now and again, fans will walk up to me and say, “Say It, Say It, Say it!” I love it.
PC: “How the River Flows” is one of our favorite songs on its album and offers a touching piece of advice. What drew you to have the song serve as the title track to its album?
MC: I was at my buddy Drew Fish’s songwriting retreat writing for this album. My producer said I should really write with Luke Reed, who was also at the retreat. Luke and I got to talking about where I was raised (Edinburg, Texas) and those roots I planted as a kid. He also had some of those same memories. Our grandpa’s really shaped our lives, and I always wanted to write a song about them. I poured everything I had into that song and was speaking the truth. There’s a line in the song that always gets the waterworks going; “It’s grandpa’s shadow, it ain’t mine. I know he’s never far behind. Alive and well in my mind down where the river flows.” That line always takes me back home to south Texas, no matter where I’m at.
PC: “Cause He’s a Cowboy” is the current single from How the River Flows, and is nearing the top 25 on TR3. What went into the decision to release “Cause He’s a Cowboy” as the latest single from the album?
MC: “Cause He’s a Cowboy” was another song the aligned with radio. This song is three chords and the truth. It was the third single set to be released after “Say It” and “Leaving Brownsville Tonight.” The overall idea was to showcase different styles in my music and was the perfect song to show that.
PC: “The Man I’ll Never Be” is our favorite song on How The River Flows. Can you take us in the room and talk to us about the inspiration behind the song?
MC: Sitting in the room with some amazing songwriters: Roger Brown, Don Rollins and Tommy Conners, we were already three songs deep and had time for one more before going to dinner. Roger came up with the melody and the first verse starts coming out. My eyes lit up and knew this was going to be something special. Tommy and Don are coming out with lines. I’m trying to keep up and add to what’s already a great written song. There was a moment in the song that we could not get past. We needed a line that was just as strong as the lines above. Roger stands up, starts walking around the room back and forth, mumbling words under his breath. Tommy, Don and I are doing the same thing. Roger races back to the couch picks up his guitar and here comes, “I’ll never be some hero on the news who does the kinds of things I can’t quite do, but she swears I don’t have anything to prove at all. At all.” It happened that fast and it spoke every word I was feelings.
PC: “Leaving Since You Got Here” is the only outside cut on How The River Flows. How did you hear the song, and what struck you about it that drew you to include it on the album?
MC: After writing that day with Karen Staley in Tennessee, we planned to grab dinner. We got to talking about songs, and I might have mentioned that I wasn’t opposed to outside songs. After dinner, I went back to my hotel, and I got a call from Karen saying she wanted to play me a few songs. I walked outside and jumped in her jeep, and she pulled out a CD and played her songs. “Leaving Since You Got Here” kicks off with pedal steel and goosebumps covered my arms, and it stayed like that for a while. The lyrics said everything I wanted in a song. I’ve seen this happen to friends of mine that have been in these types of relationships. I know it would hit with a lot of people out there. I knew this was the song for me. I had to have her song. I told Karen to let me go home, record it on my phone, send it back, and if she liked my version of it, I would put it on my record. She loved it, and well the rest is history.
PC: Heavy-hitting songwriter Roger Brown served as producer on How The River Flows. What was it like to be in the studio with Roger’s level of success?
MC: I was nervous the entire time I was in the studio. It was all brand new to me, and he knew exactly what to say to make me feel at ease. He’s been a great mentor to me over the years, and I’ve learned so much from him. You want to be the guy who is easy to work with, be the guy who shows up and does the work and hangs on tight as he says.
PC: You also had the opportunity to co-write with writers that have written hits for Kenny Rogers, Tracy Byrd, Alan Jackson and more. How much did you enjoy the opportunity of working with writers with that collective level of success? What were you able to take away from the experience?
MC: Every time I left those writing sessions, I learned something new and always came back home motivated to write a great song like them. They have so much knowledge in the business, writing songs, and writing for the songs that I just really tried to soak it in while was in the room.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from How The River Flows after listening all the way through?
MC: How it all flows together. It’s a great introduction to the country scene of who Matt Castillo is. I hope each song takes them to a place that can relate to and have a little nostalgia of that 90s sounds and a taste of south Texas.
PC: You have a pretty full touring schedule through the spring to promote How the River Flows. Given the touring circumstances over the last few years, how much do you relish the opportunity to have a full schedule and to be able to play for listeners regularly?
MC: My team and I have been working extremely hard to stack on dates and spread my music as far and wide as it allows us to. Being independent is tough and can be rough at times, but we know that we have a lot to prove out there. We have a great live show that matches the album, and all we are wanting a seat at the table.
PC: Along with promoting How The River Flows, what are your plans for the rest of 2022?
MC: I’ve started writing for my next project that I’m excited for. I have a brand-new music video that will be coming out soon, and lastly, I’ll be heading back into the studio to record new songs set to be released in 2022. I can’t wait!
*Matt’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*