Alaina Castillo’s Moody Bilingual Pop Is Influenced By Church Harmonies And Latin Music

Alaina Castillo grew up falling in love with harmonies.

Tagging along with her mother for church choir practices, she remembers hearing the voices meeting in unison and realizing how special it was. “My mom was very involved in churches at the time, so we always sang in the choir for Christmas and things like that,” she remembered when we spoke over the phone last week. “She would have to stay late and sing in the women’s choir. I would always get to hear all the voices and the thing that stuck out to me a lot was the different harmonies, that was something that I really wanted to recreate and something that caught my interest for singing.”

Between the influence of hearing live music in church and growing up in Houston, Texas, surrounded by Latin pop, in high school Castillo decided to start her own YouTube channel, beginning to post covers and discover her own voice. Soon, her following grew substantially, and she began to take the idea of music as a career seriously. Initially drawn to pursue something more stable — like studying to be a neurosurgeon — by the time she was a junior in high school Castillo was set on trying her hand at becoming a full-time performer. Figuring out a way to blend pop, R&B, hip-hop, and sounds from her Latin roots, Castillo’s straightforward songwriting and gorgeous voice are immediately arresting, and it didn’t take long for other people to be interested in her work — and already established following on YouTube.

Eventually moving to LA and connecting with the label Chosen People, particularly the producer RØMANS, Castillo released her debut EP Antisocial Butterfly last November, and the reception has been incredible. This week, Spotify announced their new Radar program, which highlights emerging artists from all over the world, and Alaina is one of their picks due to the millions(!) of streams her songs are garnering on the platform. Talking with Castillo by phone recently about her background in Houston, singing in English and Spanish, and some of her early hits, her excitement about the possibilities of her music career is palpable. Read a condensed and edited version of our conversation below.

As far as growing up in Texas with Latin pop and traditional music from Mexico around, I’d love to hear about what connected to you early on, and how growing up with Spanish is part of your musical life?

My dad very rarely spoke Spanish to us. It was more so whenever we went to see his family or something that they would speak in Spanish and we would always try to understand, but we didn’t really know that much. I think it was middle school when I started to really get into that, and it was with my friends who spoke a lot more Spanish than I did, and because my brother learned fluent Spanish from his girlfriend at the time. It was around me when I went to family gatherings, we had it there and when I was with friends, they had it. It was something that I really, really, really started to incorporate into my everyday life. Because it’s just the vibe when you hear that music you can’t help but move to it. It’s a nice little thing to listen to. So whenever I started making my own music, that was something that I wanted to incorporate. And of course it’s difficult because of the language barrier. I’m learning, I had to learn in high school on my own, speaking to people who do speak it a little bit better so that I could learn it more. It’s definitely something that I want to keep going at and keep incorporating because it is such a big part of my life.

Why is it important for you to be singing in both English and Spanish?

I love languages. It’s been something that I’ve been super interested in for such a long time. But with Spanish, of course, it goes into my family. I am Hispanic so I just want to, even if I’m not 100% fluent, I want to learn, I want to sing, I want to connect with that because it’s so much fun. Whenever you can just switch it up, I feel like mixing the Spanglish, everything like that, that’s important. And for my next EP, it’s going to be the English songs and then the same songs in Spanish, but with their own, not exact translation. It’ll be kind of the same, but just so that you have all those other people that can understand it and relate to it and feel with it. I feel like that’s what I want, something in Spanish. I want other people to be able to feel the music like I do.

When did your interest in music go beyond just singing in church and listening and become something for you, wanted to pursue it with your life?

In high school. I started my YouTube channel and I did like six videos… and then I stopped. I picked back up I think 11th grade and that was the time. You have all those lists of things that you want to be and one of those was a singer for me. But then there’s also like neurosurgeon, things that I could study for and have a set path to get. But with singing, it’s just stuff that you don’t really know what’s going to happen. When I was in 11th grade, that was the time to lock down on colleges, do all these things. But in my head I was going through some dark things or just kind of sad, whatever. And I started feeling like I owed it to myself to be happy. You live one life. There’s things that don’t work out. There’s plenty of bad things that happen. We all go through them, but you can kind of choose where you want to be, happy. What you want to do for your life. That was when I was like, ‘I want to sing, I want to do this, I want to carry on and make this path for myself.’ It would mean making all these covers from my phone and then writing down all the things that I wanted to do, all my goals, my plan for posting and things like that. That was when I was super determined to just go for it.

What was the process behind putting together and releasing your Antisocial Butterfly from last year and how do you feel like that impacted your trajectory?

That was the first Alaina thing that came out. Before that I was just doing covers and maybe assembling a little GarageBand song here and there. But whenever Antisocial Butterfly came out, the whole EP, the idea with it was that I’m very antisocial. I like staying in. But it just depends who I’m with or how comfortable I am to determine how fast I get out of that antisocial stage and go into an extroverted stage. That’s where the butterfly part came in because all the songs on the EP, those were kind of my message to the world. The more extroverted side of Alaina was coming out in the music, because that’s just the one thing that I feel like I can really express myself in.

I feel like making that whole EP, it allowed me to grow and I was constantly looking at myself, looking at ways I could improve, looking at how to make sure that I stay as much of myself as I can. Thankfully, I learned from a young age to determine that on my own. To determine my own flaws, know them and accept them — love them and nobody else can use them against you. Making the whole EP was a boost in my confidence. I’ve always said whenever I was going back and forth from LA that I felt like I was changing for the better. I was becoming more confident and learning about myself more and I feel like that’s because I was writing all these songs to represent who I am as a person.

I really loved one of the newer singles “Valentine’s Day” because I think it pinpoints the thing I don’t like about that holiday. That people are only acting this way for a random holiday? You should act like that all the time. Can you talk a little bit about writing that one?

“Valentine’s Day” is a little bit more out there than I think people who thought they knew me were expecting. I have a bunch of different personalities. It just depends what time of day it is or who I’m with, what I was saying, how comfortable I am and things like that. “Valentine’s Day” kind of captures that moment where I’m feeling myself like a, okay let’s talk about Valentine’s Day and treating that special somebody like a Valentine’s Day every day. It kind of takes a sexual turn, but at the same time it’s just a fun kind of, we don’t need just this one day a year to treat each other special. We can just take advantage of every day. If we’re in love, we’re in love. Every day is Valentine’s Day.

What’s coming next for you and what else is happening this year?

A lot of things. What’s coming soon? We have a voice note EP coming very soon, the one in English and Spanish. That one is all guitar, very vulnerable. We wrote it all super late at night in one week, we wrote this whole EP. It was just all very in the moment, wanting to feel very real like you kind of think of those things in the moment. You take your phone out, you make a voice note and then that’s the idea behind it. It was just those innocent moments that you capture out of nowhere. I’m really excited for that one to come out.