San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Hardcastle unleashes an authentic rock energy at House of Blues

Graham Laderman’s musical transformation with Hardcastle pushes the boundaries of creativity while reflecting a newfound confidence
Isabella Dallas
Graham Laderman, the frontman of Hardcastle, plays guitar at Voodoo Room on Sept. 20, 2023.

“More rock and more raw,” frontman Graham Laderman said of the new essence of Hardcastle’s music. “And more rock.”

Sitting at a two-top table at the House of Blues a few hours before the show, Laderman radiated all the characteristics of a rockstar. Effortlessly cool with his T-shirt-blazer combination, Laderman sat smiling, eager to share how Hardcastle turned from an idea to a reality. 

Hardcastle’s performance on Sept. 20 marked Laderman’s second show in support of the music group, The Criticals. This wasn’t Hardcastle’s first performance at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego, but a lot has happened since hitting the stage back in 2019. 

Hardcastle started its journey a few years ago in Atlanta with four boys exploring southern rock.

“For as long as I can remember I’ve been playing music,” Laderman said. “At the beginning, it was all ‘Let’s write half a song and book a show.’ I just wanted to play loud music and jump around.”

Laderman soon dropped out of college and moved to Nashville to create music and tour full-time with his original band members. They made music, went through a few different lineup changes and eventually found their voice as a four-piece band. Hardcastle began to put out records, starting with “I Never Knew,” and was quickly welcomed into the music community. 

“I really felt like I learned how to write songs in Nashville,” Laderman said. “If Atlanta was all about getting out there on stage and just rocking, then Nashville was all about writing a song. Learning how to say what I want to say with music.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Laderman knew it was time for a change, and that change was in California. 

Hardcastle’s journey ventured into a solo project for Laderman, but he was lost. It wasn’t until this past year when he caught the attention of Lisa and Rob Cavallo, notable for their previous work with Green Day, and joined Done Deal Management that he found his voice. 

Since this new partnership, Hardcastle has been working on a new EP set to release next year that’s reflective of his newfound confidence and empowerment within music.

“I have the confidence to sing like never before. I write different, I play different, I feel different,” Laderman said. “I was encouraged to do my thing. It’s not really like saying no to things as much as saying yes to things that are weird and off-centered. It felt right, it felt cool. I can feel something is happening.” 

While Laderman joked about being a little nervous about the show, he reminded himself that nerves are just excitement because you care. 

Laderman’s musical fervor radiates, leaving no doubt that this is all he wants to be doing in life. The show was a testament to his unwavering dedication, painting a vivid picture of his passion for music.

Stepping onto the stage as a new three-piece set, Hardcastle opened with an electric performance of “Paranoiac.” There were no backtracks or guides to mask behind, it was just him. 

As the set moved through additional unreleased songs such as “Breaking Point,” “Six Feet Underground” and “Operato,” Hardcastle never lost energy. The performances were a celebration of pure, uncut rock.

In moments like, “Space Case,”  Laderman pushes the boundaries of creativity, singing while playing the guitar and switching pedals, resulting in an authentic and heart-pumping melodic sound.  

“I’m playing lead and rhythm and finding a way to use my voice sonically, and now there’s no option to hide,” Laderman explained prior to taking the stage. “I found so much empowerment in just my voice and three other sounds to create an energy. I’m not playing for perfection, I’m playing for experience.”

Hardcastle does not typically cover songs, but tonight seemed to be an exception and Laderman delivered. 

“Pure Imagination” by Gene Wilder from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” was the surprise song of the night; the once dreamy melody was transformed into a powerful, edgy rendition. Electric guitars replace gentle notes, while the vocals carry a passionate edge, but that sense of wonder and creativity remained.

“I just want to be in a state of wonder for as long as I can,” Laderman voiced. 

While the night was very much a rock concert with guitar riffs and people head-banging in the audience, Hardcastle also took time to connect with the crowd, encouraging everyone to put away their phones and embrace this moment of “collective effervescence” (a line the musician likes to steal from his dad). 

Hardcastle is an ambassador for Unplugged Collaborative, and explained that this feeling of connecting through live music together is his favorite part of performing. Light-up foam sticks were passed around the crowd to fill the place of a phone, and the venue glowed.   

“It’s refreshing to see an artist perform live without all the extra production,” Clayton Stout, a third-year journalism major, said. “It makes for such a genuine experience. We need more of that.”

As Hardcastle delved into the 12-song set list, the singer showcased his talent for stripped-back, raw songwriting in tracks like “Broken (Wide Open)” and “Hostage.”  

While each song was unique, a common theme was self-reflectiveness that touched on real and honest emotions. Even after Hardcastle finished its final song of the night, “Circuit,” and graciously thanked everyone who came out, but the energy of the performance lingered. Laderman’s charisma and willingness to open up through his songs had already won over the audience.

Hardcastle left its mark at the House of Blues in San Diego. With new music on the horizon and a new eclectic sound featuring catchy rock melodies with nostalgic pop-punk influences, his journey as an artist is far from its peak. Hardcastle has the potential to rock up the music scene.

“I would feel proud,” Laderman said, as he imagined his younger self watching his performance in the same exact venue only four years later. “Whether it’s the gear I’m playing or the notes I’m singing, I’m doing it for me now and for me when I was a kid. I would say, which I would even say to myself now, ‘Keep going and stay open… exclamation point.”’

About the Contributor
Isabella Dallas, Staff Writer
Originally from San Jose, California, Isabella is currently in her third year at San Diego State University. She is pursuing a major in Journalism, with a minor in Creative Writing. While starting her third year at The Daily Aztec as a Senior Staff Writer, Isabella has discovered her love for covering cultural events and topics with artistic aspects and aesthetic influences. She writes for the Arts and Culture section, where her favorite pieces focus on live music, pop culture, fashion, and differing lifestyles. She can also be found writing about TV, books, and her many other obsessions. When Isabella isn’t sitting at a coffee shop writing articles or reading a new book, you’ll find her devouring the latest issues of Vogue and Rolling Stones. Her only life goal is to one day interview Harry Styles—any leads are gratefully welcomed.