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Interview: Raymond Raposa of Castanets

Raymond Raposa is difficult to pin down. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he does not seek fame nor does he buy into the indie fanboy world created by the internet. When I requested an interview, his publicist initially told me Raposa had too many people in Portland to see and that an in-person would almost be impossible. But, Raposa did eventually agree to an interview and as we stood out of the Holocene, we discussed America, Barack Obama and his latest album City of Refuge.

Though our discussion continued for an hour after the interview, Raposa came off as both eager to talk about his music and guarded. The story goes that he tested out of school at 15 and spent his late teens traveling around America. He has recorded albums in remote locations, his latest in the Nevada desert.

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The publicist I talked to said you consider Portland to be a second home. Do you have a lot of friends here?

Too many. Yeah. Too many, especially tonight.

Thank you for taking the time.

This is the easy hour. It’s going to get worse.

How is the tour going for you?

It’s been awesome. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, who we’re on tour with, just picked him up about a week ago. It’s been rowdy, teenage times. No one’s really acting their age.

Are you on first?

We’re doing back and forth from night to night.

Let’s talk about your music. I don’t want to go down the path talking about how you recorded your new album all by yourself because I’m sure you’re tired of talking about the same thing. I know you’ve lived a life where you’ve gone from place to place, and I read then when you were young, you took a Greyhound bus and traveled around the country. What’s your view on America at this time?

Well, that’s loaded. I’m not crazy about it. It’s a place to be, I guess, but I’d just as soon be anywhere else. But if I am going to be here, it’s in my best interest to make the most of it and see as much of it as I can. There is never a shortage in any given town worth running away from. Like ex-girlfriends.

Ex-girlfriends? Are there many of them?

Too many.

What do you feel is the pulse right now in the country?

Well, the election was huge and I’m actually really, really excited for the first time in awhile. I’m not sure if everyone across the boards will agree on that, but we’ll see how that shapes up.

To me, your new album City of Refuge feels like wide open spaces. When I hear it, I visualize roads and flat, empty deserts. Is that what was going on in your mind when you wrote it?

Uh, no. I was in a desert. Ideally, at the time, I think part of the emphasis was on when you take a ride in the desert and you lose the Las Vegas stations and start picking up other stations and these things start fading in and out. The signal gets intermittent, the static gets heavier. I don’t set out making any of these records with a purpose; there is no specific landscape that I am envisioning to conjure. They come out sounding like they come out. If this one sounds like a desert it’s because it was recorded in a desert. But that wasn’t the guiding light there or anything.

It also sounds like, to me, like when driving and a station fades into another. You’ll have this ambient guitar and then all of a sudden you’ll have gospel. Then it will fade out again into something. The inclusion of “I’ll Fly Away” and “City of Refuge,” which quotes the Bible directly, that leads me to believe they factor into the way you see things going right now.

That’s possible. I wouldn’t speak directly to it; it’s not my place. I wouldn’t exclusively deny it, I guess.

Do you feel like there is a place we actually can escape to?

Hah. Lord no. Not for years and years and years. No.

On the flip side, things are bad economically and maybe morally in this country, but on an individual basis, through your travels, I bet you met tons of people who are great.

That’s true. That’s just the support system. It’s impossible to get by without that. If I didn’t have my good, dear friends from city to city.

The country is more divided than it has been for years. Coming from a blue state, I know I have preconception of people living in red states.

Sure, sure. Would you say less so now than four years ago? I was in Ohio when the election happened.

Well, when it went to Ohio, I said the election is over for McCain.

Yeah. So now, I would say less so.

Yeah, but now it’s almost a North-South sort of thing almost.

I thought this one was the end of the red-blue myth.

I really hope so.

That was the angle that I kept hearing.

That is what Obama is pushing: reaching across the aisles.

At my most idealistic, I would say less divided than it has been in the last couple of years.

Yeah, but here is what I’ve been thinking: we are so idealistic about him coming, but I can’t think of a president in my lifetime has gone out where we’re not pissed at the end of it.

Right, yeah.

It’s going to take a lot to keep that flame going.

Yeah, it’s going to be tough. The fact that the last eight years were able to inspire even Clinton nostalgia, feverish Clinton nostalgia, kind of speaks to how poorly things were going. But we will have to wait to ’09 to see how that shakes out.

To what extent do politics inform your songwriting?

None.

So what does?

I’m sorry, is it cold out here?

I’m fine.

I might as well be writing about myself if I have to think about things on those terms. Maybe politics as much as sex. It’s tough for me to say that because I think it’s corrupting the thing that I do if I have to look into where the motivation is coming from too deeply, it sort of kills the thing. The purity of thing. I used to surf competitively when I was in San Diego and I started making money as a kid. It turned out that this thing that I very much enjoyed doing was sort of being spoiled by having to talk to sponsors or do a contest every weekend. I started thinking about the thing so much it sort of destroyed the thing, which is not to say that most of my time doesn’t go into thinking about this, which it does. If I talk about it too much, that’s the end of it.

I’m glad you brought up the sponsorship. One of the reasons I didn’t want to ask you about your time by yourself because with your record and the Bon Iver record this year, the record companies like to sell it like these guys went out into isolation and came back with this completed piece of work. It’s just interesting how different they sound.

I haven’t heard his record.

It’s very gentle. His came from heartbreak and it came out as something positive. Are you a Nick Cave fan?

You know, I didn’t realize at all that he had done “Refuge” until I read a review. I am. I don’t have any of his ’80s records. The first one I bought was The Boatman’s Call. I kinda worked forwards from there, but never backwards.

Some people think his stuff before that was his heyday.

Right, exactly. There are probably right.

The album with “City of Refuge” on it is called Tender Prey.

Is it good?

I think it’s a great album. It’s a different take on the song than yours. It’s driving, it’s angry and it’s not as ominous. Well, it is, but it’s more of a, “Oh, look, we’re trying to be ominous” take on it than yours.

I really need to hear it, I guess.

Was it a conscious decision on your part to not put the vocals until later on the album?

I think once the record started taking shape, the way that worked out felt really natural to me. It wasn’t a distancing move and it wasn’t a “fuck you” move, but when I got around to sequencing things it felt like the right way to do it. The way those first four flow together is important to me. It’s terribly antiquated and prog-rock of me to believe in records as records but I like to listen to things start to finish. I guess the way these records end up is born of that. I think there is an arc. It makes sense to me, at least. Again, I like singles too. I also like albums.

You have that dub thing that just came out too. Is that a completely different thing?

It’s track-for-track the Refuge record. Ero, who did the dub version and also did the final mixes on Refuge, he had the files and I assume it would be the natural thing to do. It’s a very small run. It’s not on CD. It’s a special thing. It’s his record; it’s not my record.

Do you like it?

Yeah.

Back to songwriting. Are you one of those guys where songs just come to you or is it something you have to work at?

I guess it’s a bit of both. There is a record coming out next year (that I wrote most of it on my cell phone. I would write text messages and then I would save them for myself. Then my phone died for a very long while and I was worried it would never turn on again and that the whole would be lost. It turns out, I figured out how to turn my phone back on. But, there’s a little bit of both. There are weeks that call for discipline and routine. Then there are weeks where you end up in Portland. That’s not very disciplined.

Do see yourself as just a musician or is your creative palette wider than just that?

I would hope so. I watch more movies than I buy records. I read more books than I listen to the radio. I go to more strip clubs than I do shows.

Any movies or books that recommend lately?

No.

Nothing? You’ve seen a lot but haven’t liked any of them?

Here and there, but not any one above the other. The last movie that I cried at in the theater was Mister Lonely, but that was back in May. Cried. Last thing I would expect at one of Harmony Korine’s movies. I think there are things of value in all of those things. Like every movie I see, there’s something. I couldn’t direct a film to save my life. You give me five years and I still probably couldn’t direct a film. I think that medium is just a motherfucker.

Are you going to keep travelling? Is Portland calling to you?

It’s not. I guess so. It’s a sorry lot in life.

by David Harris

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