Alaina Castillo is all about the vibes. She wants her music to set a mood. The artist from Texas is interested in atmosphere, which is perhaps best represented by her new single and music video, “Indica,” which we’re debuting exclusively at High Times Magazine.
Castillo has written her fair share of love songs, but her latest is a love letter to—you guessed it—Indica. “If I want to write something vibey, then I’ll start smoking,” she told us, “and if I want it to be really vibey, I’ll smoke a lot.” Castillo began her musical journey in the choir before she found success on YouTube with popular cover songs, which led to her signing with the record label, AWAL.
Not long ago, Castillo was attending the University of Texas, where she first studied biology with the ambition of becoming a neurosurgeon. Halfway through, given her plans for a music career, she changed her major to linguistics. Once the artist’s career started taking flight, though, she left school for her career. “And here we are,” she said.
Where did “Indica” start?
I’ve always wanted to make a song like that because I’ve just been connected to nature and weird, trippy shit my whole entire life. I was never really able to do that because my parents didn’t, of course, approve. But whenever I started to experiment on my own, it became a big part of me. Not in the sense where I was smoking all the time, but it became part of my little creative process. Now, I’m always going an extra step or deeper with song ideas or lyrics because I’m one hundred percent overthinking all the time.
The song came whenever I started smoking. At first, when I was smoking, I would get sick. My anxiety would skyrocket and I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to smoke. I was like, “Damn, well, there goes that for me.” But then I started to chill and whenever I started meditating more, just thinking about myself and how I don’t have to stress, it helped. That’s why I’ve been able to use it to help me when I need to take a second to chill out, which is why I wrote “Indica” because it’s a chill song that you need to hear in a moment when you’re stressed out.
Do you usually smoke when you write?
I’ll do it on and off. I’m good whenever. If I want to write something vibey, then I’ll start smoking, and if I want it to be really vibey, I’ll smoke a lot.
[Laughs] How was your relationship with cannabis growing up in Texas? They’re very strict there.
Now when I go back, it’s fine. I’ll be with my friends and I’m like, “Oh, shoot. I forgot it’s illegal here.” Whenever I used to do it, my parents made me terrified of it, that it’s going to mess up my life. When I first got offered it, I was down, but my head, because it had heard that, was messed up. That’s why I had anxiety attacks whenever I first started smoking. I was like, okay, obviously this isn’t for me, but then I did it on the low key, that’s where I learned. I grew a little tolerance for it, but I wasn’t smoking as much. Then when I went off to college in Austin, that’s when I started doing it a lot more.
Where did you grow up in Texas?
Houston. South of Houston.
How’s the music scene there?
The group that I grew up with, we were into a lot of R&B and pop, but most of it was very R&B-like, and that’s where I grew from because I would always look up trippy things to sing to or beats that were by Jhené Aiko or Rihanna, things like that. Otherwise, I would have been listening to Christian music my whole life because my mom, she was a fan of that. I think it started with R&B.
Are you still a fan of Christian music?
I mean, yes. I just like music that makes you feel. I used to go to church all the time, that music made you feel, and I first learned to connect to music in that sense. I don’t listen to it anymore, but whenever I go into Uber’s and they’re playing Christian music, I’m like, ugh, just relax to it like when I was at home, the feels.
You started singing in the Church choir, where so many great singers start. What did you learn from that experience?
They teach you proper technique and everything, but I think switching over from that to pop music and to singing how I sing now, it was a lot different because the choir is very loud, but the way I like to sing is kind of soft. It was definitely different, but I did learn the basics for it and how to actually use my voice and project it.
Even then, did you know music was the goal?
I knew it for a really long time and I would always tell myself and tell other people this is exactly what I want to do, but it was hard because you’re with a lot of people who don’t have the same mind as you and they’re just focused on their life and what they want to do. Whenever I said I want to become a singer, they’d say, “All right, how are you going to do that? It’s kind of impossible.” But to me, the path that I wrote in my head made it easy and made it sound simple. That was just what I kept doing until it happened, because I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I would have regretted not trying.
What was the path you wrote in your head?
Starting off on YouTube because I watched a bunch of content creators on there and I was like, “Okay, they’re doing it. Why can’t I?” I just started posting. I remember my parents banned me from posting for a little bit because it’s just a hard world out there. You never know what you’re going to get into. A little bit after that, I was like, “You know, they’re not watching my YouTube channel anymore. I’m going to just start posting on the down low. They won’t see it.” It kind of took off.
I would make mood boards and dream boards and write out what I wanted to do and when I wanted to accomplish it, what I needed to do to accomplish it because I was keeping up with the stats for everything that I was posting. I think that grind and that dedication on my part got me to where I was today. Because a lot of times I would look back and be like, if I had done this, then I would already be further than I am today. I kept wanting more and more and here we are.
How did making those covers help you learn about more song construction and singing?
I think it helped me to find out what I wanted to sing about because after singing so many covers from Ariana Grande’s, Billie Eilish, Daniel Caesar, just a lot of the pop music that was out at that time, whenever I was making covers, it showed me how to sing. Because at first you sing like them because you hear them sing it, and adding your own flavor to it is a lesson in itself.
I always listen to lyrics one hundred percent and I feel them. Whenever I would sing those songs, I got into the mood that they were into. And then that inspires you because if you’re not listening to music like that, if you’re not listening to different music, then your brain isn’t going to know something new to think about. Those thoughts will give you things to think off of. I think it helps in that sense because now I have my own stories to write about, but I also have different ways toward them.
With your first EP, “Antisocial Butterfly,” you said that’s when you found your voice. How did that realization come about?
Even in the very beginning, whenever I was doing “Antisocial Butterfly,” I knew how I wanted to sing because I had been doing it on YouTube with the covers. There was still a time where I had to decide like, “How do I want to sound? What attitudes do I want to put on and continue out to carry?” It never clicked and really hit me until I think recently, recording and thinking about an album. I had released a lot of music. I had seen what I could do and everything and all the different styles that we could do. But I felt like I hadn’t had a moment where I was like, “This is it.”
Then halfway during COVID, though, we recorded a song that I will not say. As we were writing it, I said I wanted it to be the perfect example of me. I was like, “Okay, this is how I want to write from now on. I want to be this confident person.” Because I didn’t really have anybody hyping me up as a kid or telling me like, “Go. Who cares what other people say?” I was thinking about what other people were thinking. For me, it was always like, “Watch yourself, stay in your lane, keep your voice to yourself.” So being able to find that finally was a revelation and now, I think, “I can do it my own way.”
You recently moved to LA, so how’ve you found the music community and business here so far?
I mean, it’s been hard. In the last year, I haven’t been able to go out and meet a lot of people. We had the start off with Spotify, which was a big slap in the face like, “Oh, stuff is going to start happening now.” And then it was a bunch of low key performances that we did. Moving out to LA was something that I needed in order to tell me to get out of my head and get out of the closed off person that I was. I thought that I knew so much and I thought I was an open person ready to explore, but I was not. Now, this is time to learn and to grow and to be the artist that I want to be and create what I want to create.
Since you tilted your first EP “Antisocial butterfly,” how does being antisocial translate to performing on stage in front of a crowd?
Oh yeah, it does. It’s been weird because it happened even way back when. When I would perform in talent shows, I’d be terrified before. I felt like I was going to get sick. And then, I just go on stage and start singing and would be like, “Yeah, this is my moment. I got this shit.” I think it’s carried over to now because for me it’s the thrill.
I can be so terrified of something, but if the thrill and fun is there, then I will forget about the terrifying part and just want to feel that feeling at all times. I get over it in the moment because it’s what I want to do, and I don’t have a problem with overcoming that tiny little thing for just happiness.
That’s great. What do you have in mind for your shows in the future? How do you want to present your music visually?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I don’t know the first thing about getting visuals out. I did a tour back in December and I tried to get the lights vibey and everything. I did good for what I could do, but I think whenever we go back, I’m going to project visuals and melting things. Because a lot of the songs that I’m working on right now and that are on my album are very spacey and they have a lot of talk about space and mind visuals.
I went to Tame Impala one time, I don’t know if you’ve seen their visuals, but it’s super sick, very graphic. That inspired me. The visuals are part of the show as well. You create music so people can feel it, but also so they can see it and just enjoy that time. For me, it’s vibey things, fog, a lot of fog.
No such thing as too much fog at a show.
Oh, yeah. No. It helps with everything. It just sets the mood.
How’d the visuals for the “Indica” video come about?
I wanted it to be simple and showcase a mix of different scenes. So that’s why we have the bed scene at first. But whenever you get into that high state, if you get really, really high, you’re still in your body, but you’re having all these thoughts. For me, I start thinking about space and I start questioning all these things. For the music video, I wanted it to reflect that, but in a simple way, because I’ve just done everything in my room and I wanted to recreate my own little bedroom and that’d be where I’m floating up into space. I wanted it at first to switch between a bunch of different worlds, but then I was like, “No, let’s keep it simple, keep it with the galaxy. That’s good enough.” My cat is in there, too.
Your lates single, “Shut the Fuck Up (I Got U)”… Sorry, I feel funny even just saying that title to you [Laughs].
No, no, no. People will say it on Twitter all the time and I’ll be like, “Wait, are you saying the song or for me to shut the fuck up?”
[Laughs] It’s a good pop song. How’d that one originate?
We were actually trying to come up with something that sounded like the song I was talking about earlier because I just fuckin’ found myself in that song. I wanted to make something that had the same amount of energy. And then whenever I went up to sing, if I was annoyed I was like, “Y’all shut the fuck up.” So it hit. And then, I’m kind of a crazy person when it comes to loving someone and being down for somebody. I do a little Scorpio thing and I’ll get jealous and clingy and needy. I wanted to write about that. We’ll make it romantic so that even if you’re crazy, you can also love somebody, too. I do it. That’s cool.
An inspiring message.
[Laughs] Yep. Crazy people got hearts, too, man.
[Laughs] Like you said, singing was always the goal, but was writing, too? Was being both a singer and songwriter important to you?
I just have to feel everything. If I’m not authentic with myself or with my fans, then I feel very weird, and I get uncomfortable like, I don’t know her kind of thing. For any of the songs that I write, I like to make sure I know this story, and even if it’s talking about another person’s story or things that are relatable to other people, it’s still something that I can express and that I can feel one hundred percent when I’m singing it later.
You’re also a bilingual singer. How do you decide between writing in English or Spanish?
Before it was whichever song we landed on and we were like, “Oh, this has a Spanish feel to the production” or if I started singing melodies that had a da-da da-da-di, it gets you into that Spanish realm. So, you would try to add more instruments that can enlighten that thought. If there’s a creation that we have that sounds a little Spanish, then we’ll step it to the side so that we know this has potential for a different part, a different idea. And then, that’ll sit until we switch over.
What are the little differences between singing in English and Spanish?
You have to have different syllable sounds, like the da-da da-da da-da, in between words. You could fit a lot of Spanish words into a small amount of English words. So, it’s complicated if you have an English melody, and then you’re switching over to Spanish lyrics. You’re like, “Oh wait, this doesn’t fit within that sentence, but in English it does.” You just have to know right away if you’re going to do Spanish or not, because it helps in the melody process. I’m still learning Spanish, so it’s hard to think of them in the moment. But for me, I do the most familiar words and the most familiar scenarios and then it ends up sounding good.
What should we expect from your upcoming debut album? What do you want it to say about yourself and your music?
The album is coming out this year. I can say that. I’ve been waiting long to say that. I want it to be, it can be interpreted in any way by my fans because everybody takes a song as they want it. But for me, this album is an expression of who I am and how music has helped me become the person who doesn’t give a shit. I’m going to speak up about what I want to speak up about. And things that I used to feel weird talking about or crazy, now it’s a part of me. I want my fans to take away the message that if they have felt they don’t have a voice, if they felt they’ve been trapped and inside their head lately, and they’re scared and everything, this album is for them to realize that they’re in control of everything.