Some bands are hesitant to accept the label “emo.” Free Throw, a Nashville group whose social media handle is “@freethrowemo,” embraces it with open arms, unafraid to get a little vulnerable for the common good. On all of their albums and EPs, they mix a sense of earnestness with a sense of humor in a way that’s totally unique. What kind of band would write a sincere song about body image issues and name it “Better Have Burn Heal,” quoting a character from a Pokémon video game? Or write a song about self-doubt and call it “Cal Ripken Jr. Johnson,” referencing a nonsensical inside joke between friends? Free Throw would, and that’s what makes them one of the boldest voices in the scene right now.
We recently caught up with Cory Castro, Justin Castro, and Larry Warner of Free Throw while they were on tour with Knuckle Puck, Boston Manor, Hot Mulligan, and Jetty Bones. We had a lovely conversation about everything from sleep paralysis to Tears for Fears to The Goofy Movie. Read all the details below.
TYF: What have been some of the funniest, most memorable moments on this tour?
Cory Castro: There’s been quite a few of them so far. Everyone on the tour package seems to get along really, really well. Us and Boston Manor, we hang out a bunch, especially because they’re from the U.K. and whenever we had a day off at our drummer Kevin’s parents’ house, they came and stayed with us so they didn’t have to get a hotel room or anything like that. It’s all around been fun. Watching everybody yesterday play PUBG, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds… It’s a game kind of like Fortnite, you know, the whole craze going on. It’s basically the same game, but they just released it for mobile, so everybody was playing it, and Knuckle Puck were a squad and they were winning and only one of them was left, and there was a whole other team and he took out the whole other team, and everybody just screamed and ran around and going crazy. Uh, there’s been a lot of drunken moments. (Laughs)
Justin Castro: Ryan from Knuckle Puck’s been doing lights for us and it’s been a lot of fun because he’s just kind of figuring it out. Sometimes the stage will go black for like 30 seconds. (Laughs) It’s very funny to see.
Larry Warner: I think he’s done an all right job, though.
Justin: If I had to give him a rating, I’d give him, like, an 8.4.
Cory: I’d give him a 10.
TYF: Now I have a few questions about your latest album. One of the songs is called “Cal Ripken Jr. Johnson”; what’s the inspiration behind that title?
Cory: Well, we were hanging out with the band Have Mercy at one point, a long time ago, and their former guitar player. We were at one of our friend’s houses and both bands were hanging out, staying there, and there was a NASCAR poster on the wall, and all of a sudden he just went into this southern accent, and he referred to himself as Cal Ripken Jr. Johnson, NASCAR Driver. He was just going on about it and we were all just cracking up. We thought it was hilarious, especially because we’re from Tennessee, so hearing people do Southern accents is really funny. But he [was] just cracking everybody up and it became an inside joke between the band. We would always repeat what he would say as Cal Ripken Jr. Johnson. And so when we wrote the song originally—in practice, before it had any lyrics or anything—we called it that as a working title. And it stuck at the time.
TYF: You also have another one called “Randy, I Am the Liquor.” What’s the inspiration behind that?
Cory: It’s actually a quote from a TV show called Trailer Park Boys, a Canadian comedy show. The actor who played Jim Lahey [ed. note: John Dunsworth] passed away recently, rest in peace. But yeah, the trailer park supervisor, Jim Lahey, has his assistant supervisor named Randy, and Jim Lahey, in the show, he’s an alcoholic, basically drinks all the time. And in one episode, Randy looks at Jim Lahey, is like, “Mr. Lahey, you need to lay off the liquor.” And he just looks at him and goes, “Randy, I am the liquor.” That’s the quote. I guess it just made sense with the song. I guess I thought it was funny. (Laughs)
TYF: I’ve noticed that a lot of your songs are very emotional. You guys are very open about talking about your personal struggles. Do you usually write your songs in the heat of the moment when you’re feeling those emotions, or do you like to take a step back and then write?
Cory: It definitely varies. I write all the lyrics. We usually write the songs all together in band practice. There’s only been, like, one time when we’ve come in with an actual subject matter that we wanted to write a song about, and that was for “Weight on My Chest,” which is about sleep paralysis. I was like, “I want to write a song about sleep paralysis. Let’s jam something out.” But usually we’ll just write music and then I’ll pick which songs express the emotions I want for the lyrics that I decided to write. But sometimes it’s in the heat of the moment, like, right when I’m feeling it. “Better Have Burn Heal,” I wrote in the car on the way home from eating with my parents because I’d seen a family member that I hadn’t seen in a while and they were like, “You know, you’ve gained some weight,” and it just reminded me that I’m like, “Oh God, I’m just struggling so hard with this.” With my personal body image issues. And in the car, I wrote all the lyrics along the way home. So yeah, definitely heat of the moment for that one. Whereas with “Dead Reckoning,” it took a while, and also, it’s about my grandfather passing away so I had to… It was definitely like a reflective mirror.
TYF: It’s interesting that you mention sleep paralysis. You’re actually the third band I’ve talked to that has written a song about sleep paralysis, the others being Bad Suns and Creeper. What are your experiences with that?
Cory: Yeah, I suffer from sleep paralysis. It’s been a lot better lately, but it used to be really, really bad. It’s just terrifying. There’s a documentary that was on Netflix—I think it still is—called The Nightmare. They explain sleep paralysis in the best way because they recreate what it feels like, almost. But yeah, it’s, it’s a terrifying thing. I wanted the song to kind of reflect on how before you have sleep paralysis, you’re usually almost going to sleep or waking up. It kind of sounds pretty, but also chaotic. My whole life, I’ve suffered from it. It led to insomnia for a while. I wouldn’t want to go to sleep because I was freaking out about my sleep paralysis. It’s actually gotten a lot better in the last year or two, so I haven’t had it for a while. So I’m like (triumphantly), “Yes.” (Laughs)
TYF: You guys did a cover of the Chance the Rapper song “Same Drugs.” What inspired you to choose that song?
Cory: Honestly, it was the owner of our label, Fred. We’d all heard it, we all listen to Chance the Rapper and stuff like that, but he just out of nowhere suggested that we do it, because he was listening to it and thought that we would be able to do a good cover of it. We kind of looked at him like, “You sure about that? I don’t know if we’re good enough to pull that off.” But it actually, surprisingly, went really well, and we’re super happy with the results. But yeah, it was kind of just a weird spur-of-the-moment thing where Fred was like, “Hey, you guys should cover this song.” Really, when he first suggested it, I was iffy about everything, but when we started recording it, trying to break it down and redo it in our kind of way, it was a lot of fun. I already liked the song, but I definitely like it a lot more now just because I’ve messed around with it, deconstructed it and put it back. It’s like taking apart a puzzle and putting it back together.
TYF: Hypothetically, if you could choose any song for the band to cover in the future, which would it be?
Justin: I know what Larry’s gonna say.
Larry: I want us to cover Tears for Fears. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
TYF: I love Tears for Fears!
Larry: It’s my ringtone.
Cory: That’s his favorite song in the world. He plays it at every sound check. You cannot put a guitar in his hand without him going (mimics the song’s guitar part).
Larry: It’s a staple classic rock jam.
Cory: For me, it’d probably be something weird, like… I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it too much. I guess I’d like us to cover like a really old screamo song or something, maybe like Pg. 99. It’d be fun for me to just really get into the screaming.
Justin: I’m going to stay with what Larry’s doing and say “Cowboy Song” by Thin Lizzy.
Larry: We just wanna do harmonizing guitar solos.
TYF: Who’s in charge of the Twitter account?
Cory: (Raises hand) That’s me.
TYF: So you’re the voice of the Twitter account. So you’ve been to all 48 continental states.
Cory: Yup, as of this tour. Maine was my last one. I was told earlier that the rule is, you can’t drive through; you have to actually get out and put your foot down in the state. So I had to go back and think, Did I put my foot down? and remember every time I’ve put my foot down in a state. I’ve got Alaska and Hawaii left. Maybe someday I’ll get to visit there. I’m not sure what music scenes are like in Alaska or Hawaii. But touring there would be kind of difficult, you know? Maybe if you went through the tundra or took a plane… (Laughs). But yeah, Alaska and Hawaii are my last two.
TYF: That’s pretty cool. Was that something intentional, or did you just start keeping track?
Cory: No. I’d always kind of known that I’d been to like a lot of states. Especially with how much we tour, and how much I’ve toured, because I’m 29 now and I’ve toured since I was 19. It’s been, like, a decade that I’ve just been in a van traveling around and stuff. So I started really thinking about it and going back and remembering a time I’ve had in every state, and I realized that I was really close. I had done a bunch of states. I was like, “All right, so I’ve only not been to Maine, Alaska and Hawaii.” And then this tour got announced, and I was like, “Ooh, I’m going to Maine! I’m finally knocking it off! And around that time, people were doing the Instagram thing where they would like post a picture of the States and you’d tap a little dot on every state that you’d been to. And I was like, “Oh yeah, I want to brag about this.” And so I posted one, and people were like, “That’s crazy.” And then when we got to Maine, I was like, “I finally did it. The lower 48.”
TYF: By any chance, do you guys remember the first time you stepped out into D.C.?
Cory: The first time we went to D.C. was on a day off on tour with Class Picture from Baltimore. I think it was Free Throw’s second tour. It was definitely my first time in D.C. We went and saw everything. We did as much touristy stuff as we could. My Dad sent me a picture of us outside the White House the other day.
Justin: We did that. After that, after the whole tourist experience, now we’re just kind of like…
Larry: “Where’s the closest bar?”
Justin: Dealing with the traffic to get into the city and stuff in the parking is just stressful.
Cory: DC traffic is something else.
TYF: It really is. There’s a lot of cool monuments and stuff around here.
Justin: I always have a great time when I come here. It’s always a really cool city.
Cory: The shows are always really good, too.
TYF: Yeah, there are a lot of venues.
Larry: The Rock and Roll Hotel’s one of my favorites.
TYF: I love the Rock and Roll Hotel.
Cory: The lights there were so sick.
Larry: We were sound checking, and the light guy was like, “Just stand right there. I want to make sure I can hit you with all these lights.” I’m like, “You take your job so seriously and I fucking love it.”
TYF: Aren’t the dressing rooms so nice there? Those red walls…
Cory: And there’s that German pub right next door that serves beers that are, like, this big (gestures with hands). We were on tour with You Blew It and we played there, and me and the guitar player of You Blew It were cheersing big mugs of beer. It was a fun time.
TYF: If there were a Free Throw yearbook, which superlative would each of you get?
Cory: We actually do a game at the end of every tour where we hand out superlatives to everyone. I give Larry “Best Dressed,” I think.
Larry: Oh, thank you.
Cory: He’s a fashionable man. Justin?
Larry: “Most Likely to Succeed” with Justin.
Justin: Yeah, right.
Cory: I think you’d be, like, the class clown guy.
Justin: Definitely. I definitely mess with people.
Cory: I’ll let you guys pick for me. I cannot pick for myself.
Larry: I’m trying to think of a good one. Hmm, I don’t know.
Cory: You know, I should be “Best All Around.” (Laughs) I’m kidding, I’m kidding. What would Kevin be? Do you know?
Larry: “Most Stressed.”
Cory: No. I give him “Most Likely to Succeed.” He’s kind of like a businessman. He does a lot of the business for the band. He’s very focused on it. And then Jake.
Larry: “Most Talented,” all around town. He’s, like, the best guitarist I’ve ever seen. He has a voice like an angel…
Cory: …And he can play the drums. He basically plays everything.
Justin: “Most talented or musically inclined.”
TYF: Earlier, you guys mentioned “Better Have Burn Heal.” That’s a Pokémon reference. If each of you were a Pokémon, which Pokémon would you be?
Justin: So they’re the Pokémon guys. I liked Pokémon, I played the games and stuff, but they have the tattoos. (Larry and Cory show their Pokemon tattoos) I don’t know. I mean, I know a lot of them. I’m just trying to think…
Larry: You’d be, like, Mr. Mime.
Justin: I don’t know, Machamp.
Cory: Machamp’s cool.
Larry: Nah, you’re Geodude. Picking up shit all the time.
Justin: I’ll be Geodude.
Cory: My favorite Pokemon is Arcanine, so I gotta say Arcanine.
Larry: Dragonite for me, because that thing comes from this adorable little thing and it turns into this beast-ass dragon.
Cory: But also kind of looks like a cartoon.
Larry: Yeah. He could totally ruin you with a Hyper Beam but also teach you some valuable life lessons along the way.
Justin: Teach you how to spell.
Larry: Tie your shoes.
TYF: Did you guys use Pokémon Go on tour? Were you on tour at the time it came out?
Cory: No, actually; that was on vacation.
Larry: We’ve used it on tour before.
Cory: For a while, everywhere we’d go, you’d just see us all walking in a line to the Pokestops everywhere around the town. We played a lot.
TYF: Which teams were you?
Cory: Okay. So I was Team Valor.
Larry: I was Team Mystic.
Cory: So I originally started out blue, but I’m a huge Predators fan, and the Nashville Predators posted a thing saying everybody would be team yellow, so I swapped mine and went yellow. I really didn’t care. I just wanted to catch Pokémon. Everybody else… They made memes about it. Everyone was like, “Oh, well red sucks, and…”
TYF: Yeah, when it first came out people were so intense about it.
Larry: I couldn’t handle that.
Cory: I’d meet people and be like, “Yo, I’m Team Valor.” They’d be like, (makes face). I’d be like, “What did I do?”
TYF: Which movie, in your opinion, has the best soundtrack?
Larry: Ooh, that’s a good one. I really like the Garden State soundtrack. Also Friday Night Lights. That’s probably my favorite ’cause it’s, like, a whole entire soundtrack of just Explosions in the Sky. There’s some other good ones too. What’s the movie with John Krasinski? Nick Drake does a lot of the songs. No, it wasn’t Nick Drake. It was…
Justin: Alexi Murdoch.
Larry: Alexi Murdoch! Away We Go. I would definitely say that because that’s how I found out about Alexi Murdoch and also that’s how I found out that John Krasinski looks great with a beard. I would definitely say Friday Night Lights though. That’s, like, the most iconic soundtrack for a movie that’s been used.
Cory: Garden State and Friday Night Lights for me. Garden State… That soundtrack just made me feel things. I was just like, “Oh, it’s so pefect.”
Larry: The Goofy Movie.
TYF: An American classic.
Larry: Our friend Trey, who you’ll see tonight, knows every word and can kind of act it out.
TYF: Have you guys had a tour screening of The Goofy Movie?
Larry: My friend Cody has it on Picture Disk, and we make him play it, and Trey would sing along to it…
Cory: But we haven’t had a screening, haven’t watched it.
Larry: Yeah, we’re totally messing up on that.
Cory: We gotta fix that.
Larry: My roommate has, like, a bajillion VHSes. Is that what you say? VHSes?
Cory: VHSs, or you can just say tapes.
Larry: But yeah, she has a shit-ton of ’em. I assume she has The Goofy Movie. So on our day off in Nashville, let’s sit back…
Cory: …And watch it on VHS? We could just, like, download it or something.
Larry: Nah, man.
TYF: You’ve gotta have the classic experience.
Cory: The VHS experience.
TYF: County fairs: love ’em or hate ’em?
Larry: I like ‘em.
Cory: If they have the Gravitron, then I’m about it.
Justin: I’ve had some bad experiences at ‘em, though. With either being threatened by a carny, or seeing the machine that looks like it’s about to break and then they all got off of it and, like, it actually broke. I’ve seen some sketchy things.
Cory: Also, we were at the state fair one time and a gun fight broke out.
Justin: So I’ve had some rough experiences, but still, it’s so much fun.
Cory: If I get invited to go, I’m definitely going.
Justin: We’re going to do that next time whenever it comes to Nashville. We’re gonna spend a thousand dollars trying to get the ball in the hoop.
Cory: I always try to win those prizes that have like pictures of, like, celebrities. Like Stone Cold and The Rock. I always try to win those.
Larry: I’ll get a Dale Earnhardt one night.
Cory: Maybe we can get a pet goldfish for the van.
Justin: That wouldn’t go well.
TYF: Those die pretty quickly.
Larry: Then we’d feel bad. Like, did we kill it?
Cory: An ex of mine, she won one at a fair one time because she was like, “Oh, you know, I thought it would probably die pretty quickly.” And it lived for, like, 15 years. And it was, like, this big (gestures with hands), and it would swim through the fish tank. And she was like, “Yeah, now I’m stuck with it.”
TYF: A true anomaly. All right, do you guys have anything else that you’d like to tell the readers to wrap things up?
Larry: We’ve got the new EP out.
Cory: Missing Pieces, with the Chance the Rapper cover, is out now. It was really fun to take those songs and break them down and kind of figure out a way to do them differently. We got to feel like an indie rock band for, like, two days.
Larry: We watched Friday Night Lights while we did the whole thing.
Cory: And to everyone out there who likes our music, thank you for helping us get to where we are now.
Justin: We’ll be on tour for the foreseeable future. Come see us. Come say “hey.” Go Preds!