Ray Raposa, frontman of the pioneering folk outfit Castanets, rarely stays in one place for too long, and his band's ever-changing lineup is reflected in music that never bows to genre conventions. City of Refuge, their latest offering (out Oct. 7 on Asthmatic Kitty) took a different tack with Ray sequestering himself in rural Nevada for a month to probe the southwestern aesthetic.
When Paste caught up with Raposa, he was waiting in Portland to kick off his early-fall European tour, and let us in on the recording process behind his new album, how his boat nearly sank in the Intercoastal Waterway and the state of freak folk today.
: You’re about to kick off your sixth tour in Europe.
Castanets: It might be closer to the tenth. We’ve been there a lot.
Paste: Does Castanets have a strong following over there?
Castanets: It seems to be pretty steady. It’s kinda country-by-country. Certainly as much or more that we do over here.
Paste: Any one country more than the others?
Castanets: Not Germany.
Castanets: Eh, it kinda seems like we always go into battle mode at some of the shows there.
Paste: There’s an interesting backstory to the creation of your newest album, City of Refuge, can you describe what went down in that Nevada desert and on that overnight drive that inspired you?
Castanets: I was on tour with my friend Jana Hunter. We’d been out for two and a half weeks, and I’d been traveling a good deal before meeting up with her, it had been a couple months of moving around quite a bit which wasn’t unusual. It was summertime, and I was getting weary. It was something about the landscape there when we were pulling through early in the morning, and after walking around the area for a day I fell in love with the idea of setting roots there for a month to record the album. I had Michael Kauffman at the label find me the most out of the way place he could in Nevada, and he did, so a couple days later we booked the hotel to record the album in, and after the tour I flew back and dug in.
Paste: Was Sufjan Stevens easy to work with with?
Castanets: Pretty easy, this is the third record of mine that he’s been on. He doesn’t mess up, it’s really fun to track with him.
Paste: A perfectionist?
Castanets: He is, but I think that with these things it kinda gives him a chance not to be, a more casual way of doing things. He still nails his parts, they’re gorgeous.
Paste: Do you ever see yourself sticking with a single lineup, or is a fluid lineup more important?
Castanets: It might be in the cards. The other route is getting exhausting. Organizationally it can be a nightmare, trying to keep tabs on anyone I might want to tour or record with me, figure out where they’re going to be in four months. At the same time, the notion of a really tight, rehearsed, and professional unit was never appealing at all, but I’m more comfortable with the idea now than I was two years ago. It might be a fun way to do things for a couple of years.
Paste: Speaking of collaboration, what was it like touring the Intercoastal [Waterway] with Peter & the Wolf?
Castanets: Well, we certainly crashed the boat. We hit a buoy outside Baltimore and had to limp back into the harbor while we were taking on water.
Paste: That’s a nail-biter.
Castanets: Yeah, it was a hell of a thing to wake up to at four in the morning. We sat in the harbor for a couple days and decided to finish the tour, but the boat was definitely beyond our means of repair. We finished it in the car, but we ended up having too much time on our hands. We had scheduled three days in between shows to accommodate for sailing time, but when you’re driving from Baltimore to Norfolk it only takes a couple hours. It was good though, it was the middle of summer and we had five people on a 28-foot boat, it started to smell awful after a couple days. The trip was totally worth it, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Paste: How do you feel about where freak-folk is heading these days, now that it’s making inroads into pop?
Castanets: I don’t mind a bit. Freak-folk wasn’t as cohesive as a scene as it was made out to be, a lot of people are friends, but there wasn’t any grand unifying focus or anything. It makes total sense to me that Devendra Banhardt would be making pop records, and it makes total sense to me that Gogol Bordello would be working with Madonna. Those seem like natural arcs. I always got mad when people were calling my friends freaks anyway. I don’t have any grievances, I think the more magazines I open with my friends in them, the better. In an airport bookstore, not a police blotter.