INTERVIEW: Castanets

The Castanets is Ray Raposa, a San Diego native whose album City of Refuge is an exercise in solitude. Raposa recorded the album in Overton, Nevada, a two-bar town whose average traffic flow has not yet required the installation of a stop light.

The Castanets is Ray Raposa, a San Diego native whose album City of Refuge is an exercise in solitude. Raposa recorded the album in Overton, Nevada, a two-bar town whose average traffic flow has not yet required the installation of a stop light. In the same sense that Overton refuses connecting to a piece of equipment that would blink without function, Raposa resists branding his music towards some larger categorical success. By risking not getting heard Raposa gains the right to say what he wants and the result is a collection of ruminative, hypnotizing folk songs that could make two people uncomfortable together-which is why maybe it’s better listened to alone. Raposa gladly discussed his record, roots, and first riffs learned on guitar with American Songwriter.

How are you?
Good, just getting out of the snow.

Where are you?
Iowa, it’s about 4 degrees here

What’s going on in Iowa?
Just visiting some friends, a little down time.

Wanted to ask you about City of Refuge; it’s an independent album because it’s mainly one person and his guitar but also tracks like “High Plain 1” and “High Plain 2” experiment with electronic noises-distinctively one person’s ideas-can you talk about the pros and cons of being independent versus being in a band?
If this album sounds more barren and solo it’s probably because on past albums I’ve made a more concerted effort to fill them out. I think in the case with [City of Refuge] I was just happy to leave the tracks more unadorned.

So with City of Refuge is it true that your decision to record in Overton, Nevada was on impulse, passing through the city?
Yes. I woke up in Nevada on a car trip and as we were moving I decided this was the place I wanted to record. But Overton isn’t exactly a town you pass through [laughs] I called a friend, we picked the town out, and there was literally only about 4 hours in between the genesis of the idea and the booking of the motel room. I flew back to Brooklyn and had my gear sent to Overton relatively fast and it was pretty impulsive. Kind of like most decisions I make.

On Asthmatic Kitty’s website they touch on the cinematic quality of this record-I think it’s because of your inclusion of multiple instrumental interludes-how do those come to be? Do you get tired of singing and just feel like playing the guitar for a while or is it more after-the-fact?
Definitely after-the-fact. I sequence the songs deliberately and try to put them where they need to go.

I like the interludes.
Yeah, they give the songs room to breathe which is a good thing.

Examples of these interlude songs include “The Quiet” and “The Hum” which sound like intermissions to your narrative but also emphasize Western themes-“The Quiet” is upbeat and jangly blues and “The Hum” sounds like traditional Latin music: can you tell us how the West shaped this record?
I think these tracks would have predominantly turned out the same whether I had written them in San Diego or Brooklyn or wherever. I’m weary of letting the environment in before and after recording.

In Overton, did you do most of your songwriting and playing inside or outside?
Definitely inside-

Because of the cold?
No, it was 119 degrees.

Oh, whoops.
Yeah, it was hot, so it’s not like I ventured out into the wilderness to record these songs. I guess I’m skeptical of regional circumstances [shaping a record].

So who you taught you how to play the guitar?
I was actually talking about this yesterday with a friend, the first songs we learned to play on guitar. The first one for me was [Violent Femmes’] “Blister in the Sun” and the second was a Melvins song. So I’m proud to say the second song I learned to play was a Melvins song.

Yeah “Blister on the Sun” is pretty easy. I think mine was “Come as You Are.”
Yeah, exactly, “Come as You Are” and like I think “Polly,” “Smoke on the Water” were some other [first songs] we came up with.

So you grew up in like the 70s/80s?
Umm, well, I’m 27.

Oh, ok, me too. So who were some of your favorite groups when you were, say, 16?
Living in San Diego, the hardcore scene was flourishing so I grew up in that, it was huge. But also some of the artier punks like VSS and I grew up with my parents so the Band and Dylan filtered through.

How did your parents feel about you in the hardcore scene?
Oh they were totally fine with it. Very permissive.

Cool, so playing in a hardcore band was pretty important when you were younger?
Yeah, everyone was doing it all the time, it was pretty inclusive, practice once or twice a week, everyone got a shot.

What bands were at the forefront of the scene?
Locust, Crossed, Drop Dead, but then you had bands that were the anti-thesis like 3 mile pilot which turned into Black Heart Procession so it was cool.

I thought you used reverb effectively on this record but your music has a decidedly folk-feel to it though-how do you feel about technology affecting your music? You include some exclusively electronic pieces on your album, too.
It’s a halfway point. I would never-there’s enough god-awful noise going on right now. These [electronic] pieces are important to the record but electronic rarely works as the medium-but they’re all gong towards the same goal.

How did you become proficient at guitar?
They travel well.

You’ve travelled a lot?
Yes, but even now, it’s just having one around is important. Theory is still beyond me, training is not-if I got too good at something I might abandon it.

Like you said earlier, you like the impulse?
Yeah and [training] compromises the wonder.