Rising Music Star Tonya Denton of Lydia’s Castle On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
I wish someone would’ve told me at a younger age to start doing vocal warmups daily. I just got into doing that not too long ago, but I wish I would’ve started earlier. You only have one voice and it’s important to be gentle with it. You can change strings on a guitar, but you can’t change your vocal cords. It’s your body. Take care of it.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tonya Denton of Lydia’s Castle.
Tonya Denton is a songwriter and vocalist from Nashville, TN. As the lead singer of rock group Lydia’s Castle, the powerhouse group fuses her soaring vocals with pummeling guitar riffs in a collision of old school blues-soaked metal and rock and roll born from personal struggles.
The band’s debut singles “Phoenix” and “Falling Into Place” were released in February and March of 2022. Following their first singles, the band is positioned to release music consistently throughout the year, maintaining their deep connection to their fans. Tonya and Lydia’s Castle have performed with artists Diamanté, Renee Phoenix from Fit for Rivals and If I Die First in their short tenure together.
Lydia’s Castle’s mission is to encourage and inspire people to take their personal tragedy and build their own “castles” as they’ve built theirs during one of the most difficult periods in modern world history. Out of the ashes, the Phoenix never dies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in a small town called Camden, North Carolina. It was a very simple place, where everyone led a very simple life. The community was very small. I went to school in a few trailers, parked next to a set of railroad tracks and graduated with kids. My father was in the military, so a lot of my childhood I was raised by my mother, who was in the school system, and my grandfather, who was our hometown preacher. Needless to say, my 3 siblings and I didn’t get away with anything!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started really falling in love with music around the age of 15 when I picked up a guitar for the first time. I had always written poetry, but music allowed me to express myself in a more fulfilling way. I started writing/playing country music until I discovered Halestorm in 2013. Personally, I think she really broke the glass ceiling for females in rock, or at least for me. Ever since then, music is all I’ve wanted to do.
I didn’t start actively pursuing music on a serious level until the passing of my daughter, Lydia, a week before my due date. At that time, I was really struggling to define who I was as a person. For 9 months, I had plans and dreams of how my life was going to be and without notice, all of it was shattered. I formed Lydia’s Castle as a way to rebuild myself. The project was built on a foundation of strength, hope, love, and perseverance. I decided to keep moving forward for not only myself, but for her as well.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh, man… When I was 15, I played my very first open mic gig at Muddy’s Coffee House in Elizabeth City, NC. I showed up early to warm up and realized that I had strung the guitar upside down. I had just started learning to play and had never changed the strings by myself before. I started freaking out, but luckily the local music shop was open and they hooked me up! I never made that mistake again!!!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently singing for a band called Lydia’s Castle with my husband, Cody Denton (guitarist), Cory England (bassist) and Jon Wysocki (drummer: formally of Staind, Soil, Save the World). I’m excited because I feel like I’ve known these guys my entire life. When we get in a room together, it amazes me how a jam session can turn into writing a song. I’m fortunate to work with musicians that are so talented. Everything seems to fall into place when the chemistry is undeniable.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Number one, I wish someone would’ve told me that making a living in music wasn’t going to be easy. There were times I pawned things off or worked 2–3 jobs just to get by and make ends meet and follow my dreams. Until you try to produce your music on a professional level, most people have no idea the cost of money and time to record an album, mix it, and master it. Then more cost to release that single, the album art, the ads to promote your music, the marketing material you create to promote it, PR reps, videographers and photographers for content, merch, albums, gear. It is so hard when you’re just starting out and there’s no return on profit. To be honest though, if someone would’ve told me why it wasn’t easy, I still wouldn’t have changed my mind.
Second, I wish someone would’ve told me at a younger age to start doing vocal warmups daily. I just got into doing that not too long ago, but I wish I would’ve started earlier. You only have one voice and it’s important to be gentle with it. You can change strings on a guitar, but you can’t change your vocal cords. It’s your body. Take care of it.
Third, take your time. There are good times and there are bad times, but soak in all of it and enjoy the moment for what it’s worth. Don’t be in such a hurry to go from point A to Z. Take your time, enjoy the ride, and allow yourself to be present in the moment. Time is the one thing you can’t buy.
Fourth, invest in a good pair of in-ear monitors. I grew up singing out of wedge monitors on stage. I remember the first time I used IEMs and thought “this is my voice on stage” or “wow, I can really hear myself”! It made the biggest difference in not blowing out my voice at the end of the night. It’s good to know how to do both, but man, I’ll never go without them unless I have to.
Lastly, take time for yourself. It’s okay to not always be present. Take time to allow yourself to process what you feel and let it out on paper. Self-care is the best care! If you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’ll either end up sick or something worst. There’s only one you! Listen to your body, know your limits, and be kind to yourself. I remember trying to be a superhero and doing everything myself without asking for help. It really changed me, mentally and physically, and I became sick and always tired. I learned that real strength isn’t powering through something, it’s knowing when to ask for help.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Ask for help when needed! Don’t be scared to delegate tasks or hire an extra hand. Most local scenes have a very supportive community because we are all trying to do the same thing.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to start a movement that shines a light on pregnancy loss. I think often there are so many women that go through those situations and they don’t know how to talk about it. Imagine if we broke that stigma and we did talk about it. Imagine if it was like the opioid crisis and more attention was brought to this subject. People, both men and women, could feel more comfortable talking about it and know that they are not alone, that there is a community that understands and is there for you. So many that have gone through this unimaginable loss feel isolated and alone. I remember losing friends because they didn’t know how to respond when I was hurting, so they shut me out and didn’t respond at all. It doesn’t have to be like this. We just need to educate each other more and love each other harder. No one should ever feel alone.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I can truly say that just about every person in my life has helped me along this journey. Whether it was buying us a hot meal, help to pay a bill, buying a piece of important gear that was needed for a show, or fronting us the money for music videos, every one of these acts shown by those that have supported us has been a blessing that has helped us along the way. There’s been so much help that has poured in, all of which I am so grateful for.
We had a different idea originally for the “Falling Into Place” music video and we decided to film it in the location that you see now. It was a sudden change and expensive at the time. My friend Mike Busch was there to help us make the music video possible. He fronted the money to shoot the video and because of him, it has performed well on YouTube.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Recently I’ve been really gravitating towards Mary Oliver.
“Hello, sun in my
Hello you who made
the morning and
spread it over the
Watch, now, how I
start the day
This is more of a poem, verses a quote, but when I read this, I think about the sun on my face and the start of a new day. I think about how thankful I am to have new days and the new opportunities it brings. A fresh and clean slate to go after the impossible and conquer it. To spread happiness and show kindness. I think in a world full of a lot of noise and negativity, kindness is gold.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Lzzy Hale would be my first pick. Her music was such a big part of my life and why I do rock n roll today. Her lyrics helped me through difficult times in my life and I truly just loved the fact that she is a badass chick doing badass things. She’s one of those “cool girls’’ that can hang with the dudes. It’s not girly rock n roll. It has balls, it’s fierce, and it’s not something other girls are doing. She inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. In that, I found a voice I didn’t even know I had. I would truly just love to shake her hand and say thank you. Thank you for helping me find myself. Now I want to use my talent and inspire someone else.
How can our readers follow you online?
We are the only Lydia’s Castle on the interwebs. You can go to www.lydiascastle.com for all of our tour dates, merch, and links to our socials.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.
In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.
Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.
With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.