On October 7th, Ray Raposa, better known as Castanets, will be releasing City of Refuge, which he recorded by himself in a Nevada hotel room. Fittingly, the album is spare, pairing impossibly lonesome folk songs with abstract instrumental passages, but is also the most cohesive album of Raposa's career. We got on the phone with him while he's in Portland, Oregon recording the next couple Castanets albums. He talked to us about Hot Pockets, working with Rafter, and trash can guitars, along with a whole lot of other stuff. Read the interview after the jump and download "Shadow Valley," exclusively below.
Download: Castanets, "Shadow Valley"
Where are you right now?
I've been in Portland for a little over a month now doing some recording out here.
Do you have an apartment out there?
I have a basement out here.
Are you planning on coming back to New York?
I'd certainly prefer being there to being here.
Not into Portland?
It's a small town, you know? The weather just changed literally overnight a couple days ago and it's been pretty gorgeous since then. But you can't go anywhere without seeing most everyone you know. That's not always a treat.
So why’d you decide to go out there?
I started a record out here in February, and came back out here to finish that one, which is pretty much done, and then I'm kinda sort of demoing the one after that. I figure if I work on records for two months a year that's not hardly most of my year at all. But I think I'm also getting more and more restless by the month.
Are you only out there to record music?
Mostly music, yeah. I eat a lot of junk food.
Does the stuff you're working on now sound like Portland?
Yeah, it's possible. It's a lot of live stuff. It sounds like a band playing in a room, which I guess that's a kind of Northwest thing—your good guys in a living room making a Built To Spill record or something. Yeah it's informed certainly by the folks who I'm playing with here. There's a band in Portland called the Shaky Hands, and I stay with them when I'm here. They've played on a lot of the Castanets records, and they're just a really good band. If anything it's by being lucky enough to be friends with them and having rad dudes around. Nathan from that band is kind of the reason I ended up making Castanets records at all. He produced a couple of them.
How did you meet him?
I was doing a lot of improv stuff and went in to do a session at a friend's studio, and he was the engineer assigned to handling that mix for us. And it just kind of turned on from there. I think we were both freshly out of relationships and drinking a lot of wine. You know, Castanets is the logical extension from there.
City of Refuge is the loneliest, most intimate album you've done so far. Would you say that's right?
Yeah, and it seems to be as far in that direction as I'm willing to push it right now. For that aesthetic, I think the pendulum has swung back already in that I just want to listen to rock 'n' roll right now.
You really segment out the songs on this album, like it takes three or four tracks to get to any vocals. Did you have this laid out in your mind before you started recording?
Yeah. It starts shaping up pretty early in the process. There will be a couple things done, and you sort of get a feel for where they might end up in a tracklist and things get slotted in between them. I think early on with every record it starts to take shape, and you start to see the shape, which I know. And I’m self-aware enough to know that the idea of an album as an album...I might as well be in Yes or something. I mean, I like singles—like a motherfucker I like singles—but the way these things get made, it feels natural to me to sort of be working on it longer-scale.
So how did you end up in Nevada to record it?
I was on tour playing in my friend Jana's band. I had been with her for a couple weeks, we had an overnight drive, it was the middle of summer, it was pretty hot. I mean, it was a good tour, I don't want to say it was end of the rope style. But I woke up somewhere in Nevada—we were driving from Oakland to Vegas—at 6:30 or 7 in the morning, and I got the impulse to make a dub record, which never happened. But I started texting the folks at Asthmatic Kitty about it, and within a couple hours or maybe a day at most they found me a motel out there and I cleared up some time at the end of that tour. So I went back to Bed Stuy and got a guitar and flew out to San Diego and borrowed a bunch of gear from Rafter and drove up there and that was that. But I never ended up making a dub record.
Any recordings of the abandoned dub record?
No, it just never happened. It turned into something else. I'll bring Sly & Robbie out next time, try to do it right.
Where were you recording it?
In the motel, at probably the dissatisfaction of at least one neighbor. It's very small, U-shaped, maybe ten rooms in the whole place.
I enjoyed it. It was maybe August at the time, so it was well over a hundred every day. I didn't have a bike. I don't drive, so I didn't have a car. There's only so many directions you can walk before the oppressive heat kinda bites you. I mean I love TV, I never have one, so even just watching CMT and Jeopardy! There's a couple bars in town, and they were hospitable. It might have been the best weeks of my 2007. There wasn’t really anything that was a downer about it.
You worked with Rafter on the recording of some of your other stuff, and this one was entirely on your own. Was this the first time you’ve done it like that?
Well, I've always been kind of cantankerously iron-fisted with the other ones. They've all been fairly collaborative, but I can be a bottom-line motherfucker about mixes and shit like that sometimes. But the good thing about it, what sort of provided me with the illusion of collaboration, before I got a ride up there, I stopped by Rafter's studio on the day that I was leaving and essentially let him pick out the entirety of the gear I would take out there, which was a way of having him involved. There was a baritone guitar with flames on it, not even a flying V but a flying X, like one of those sort of Warlock-shaped guitars with flames. And a couple pedals and an amp and everything. And a guitar that came from the trash—I saw him take it out of a trash can—with four strings that was in some tuning that wasn't a tuning. And apparently he says he's written a lot of his records on it, but I'm not really sure because it was in the trash. It just doesn't sound like a place you put…it seemed a little suspect. So he essentially executive produced the thing by giving me trash guitars with flames. He's a smart guy. I think maybe he knew what he was doing.
You've said you don't really listen to your own records once they're done, but we heard you don't listen to much contemporary music outside of rap and stuff your friends make. Is that still true?
That's pretty well true. I don't know if I said black metal, but that's in there, too. I end up traveling so much is the problem. I'm down to one suitcase. I can't go buy records. I certainly can't buy vinyl. Every now and then I'll go to a record store and get a handful of CDs, but they end up getting sold a month later for Hot Pockets or whatever. It might be circumstantial, I don't have an ipod, I don't have...it's just not practical. I figure if it's not on YouTube, it's not worth hearing.
What rap have you been into lately?
Killer Mike. I finally picked up that UGK record from last year. Other than those, nothing in particular. I'm guilty of getting regional at times, like only Memphis for three months or something. It's been pretty broad lately. There's nothing that's blowing my mind right now, though.
A while back the Tendrils DVD came out with friends of yours covering songs from In The Vines. Granted, folk music has been a part of New York forever, but it captured this idea of newer folk music in new York. Like, no longer is it the West Village, now it's some loading dock in Bushwick or something. Was that your idea?
It was pretty hands-off for me. My friend Mia—fifteen, sixteen years I've known her—she made the thing, edited it, shot it. I was touring at the time. It was kind of a way of extending the idea of a collaborative-based venture. Extending it as far as it can go is me not telling her to do anything. So I was glad to have her to be able to do that, and I was glad to have Asthmatic Kitty get behind it. Mia just moved out to Portland, and we just went over to her house last night and were shooting bottles 'til 6am out on her porch. It was pretty silly. That's how Portland's been.