Sole constant Castanet Ray Raposa sports one helluva biography: After testing out of high school at the age of 15, he carted around the country by Greyhound bus, eventually splitting time between San Diego, Portland and Brooklyn. He's toured the Intracoastal Waterway by boat, and I once saw him play beneath the moon and Christmas lights as dogs howled at the Piedmont Biofuels plant in Pittsboro. Dude gets around.
Raposa recorded his fourth LP, City of Refuge, in Overton, Nev., after he realized he needed to sit still and solo, at least for a bit. After awaking from a nap in a tour van in Nevada and realizing he wanted to escape to a "city of refuge," he decided to return to the state and set up studio in a hotel room. The road, he says, sometimes wears him thin, something that "Refuge 2"—the record's second song to use the chorus "I want to run/ to a city of refuge"—explores intimately. Listen to the geographic clues in the song's first verse. They reflect a particularly exhausting tour through Florida with Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck. Houck's elliptical, alluring folk majesty seems to grace the track, too, which moves through and around its gorgeous refrain with a discursive motion that befits such a constantly traveling sort.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: This song mentions Ybor City, Fla. Ybor City's sort of experienced a hipster rebirth, which is odd.
RAY RAPOSA: Oh, really?
Thanks to the The Hold Steady, yeah. Have you heard that song?
Hipster sounds pejorative, but I don't mean that. The band has a song called "Ybor City Almost Killed Me." And so it's interesting to hear it mentioned in a song again. What was the big thing that happened down in Florida for you guys?
It's, uh, it's a really fucked up place. I mean it's never been anything less than that. I guess it's about as rollercoaster of a state as a state can be. And on that trip, I think it was just the end of ... Matthew and I had been had been out for about five weeks or something, so it was kind of like a home stretch, but it didn't feel like a home stretch. That was actually a good while a go, that trip. We've done quite a few down there, but that one in particular was a couple of years ago.
What aspect of the song came from that trip, what feeling?
Well, I think maybe specifically that verse sets up the need for a refuge in life, specifically.
Do you find that touring does that to you?
No, no. Rarely, you know? I think it's more of a safe place than almost anywhere else. Sometimes, you know. But it'd be just as easy as complaining about not doing it. But in that instance, it may have, yeah
What was particularly hellish about that trip?
Hellish is sort of the wrong word, man. I feel like I said that out wrong. It wasn't the worst part. But it was the kind that called for some rest afterwards, I guess. But, no, nothing in particular. A good long run had come to its close.
Do you remember what you actually did after that trip was over?
Back to the city, I believe. I was living in Brooklyn at the time and then I think that I probably had maybe a week or two off before Matthew and I went back out to Europe after that, so... I didn't really get the time.
There are some extra elements here just besides guitar and your voice. How did this one come together?
I was sending files from the library there out to folks. So I sent it out to Jana [Hunter],, and she got her parts back in a day. I sent it out to Adam [Mitchell], and he did likewise. So it was already mixed by the time I left. With regards to the other songs in the album, I went out to Brooklyn specifically to track six parts. But that one was wrapped up by the time I got out of Overton. Adam lived out in Arizona for a long while so I felt like he was—well, he doesn't now but he had prior—so he felt like the go-to guy for that kind of thing.
And who all ends up on "Refuge 2"?
Just Adam and Jana.
You mentioned why Adam made a good fit. What about the song suggested Jana?
You know, there's something in the chorus that's kinda hymnal. Girl
could have been ... She's got the gospel in her. Just that feel, even just that scale. I think it is exactly what it would have needed. And she's pretty intuitive about that stuff. She doesn't really need a talking through on it. She has a good feel for how those things go.
How about the setup for the track? What were using in that hotel room?
Before I went up there, I stopped by [fellow Asthmatic Kitty artist] Rafter's studio in San Diego. I didn't have any gear with me at all so he set me up with the entirety of what I brought up there. So he's kind of the executive producer. I mean, he gave me broken guitars and he—
He's like your Dr. Dre.
Ha, sure, yeah. To my Game. [He gave me a] couple pedals, a Vox amplifier. It may have been an entirely different record if he had given gave me an entirely different set of tools for it.
The record and this track have their own sonic space, an atmosphere. How long did it take you to find that, or did it come with the room you rented?
I think it was very much just the room and the space. I mean, it wasn't anything too difficult to strive for. It's sort of what ended up happening. I mean, it's going to be cohesive. There's only so many things that I could throw into a track. It's gonna have a pretty well-established mood. It wasn't a stressful thing to pursue.
"Refuge 1" is the second track with lyrics, and "Refuge 2" is the penultimate track with lyrics. They obviously share a chorus, but how did they connect for you thematically?
I would say the first one is more, ah, at the end of its rope, right? Or close to it I feel like. Uh, the second one gives it an opportunity to reconcile itself.
What do you hope people take from it in that sense, from "Refuge 2"? That there is a chance to move on from difficulty?
Sure. I mean, I wouldn't say that explicitly. I wouldn't suggest that to anyone. You know, if that's what gets read into it, I wouldn't tell them no, either.
How do you handle this song on stage every night, especially since two tracks share the chorus?
Like a rock 'n' roll dance. Miles [Benjamin Anthony Robinson, tourmate] has been singing it with us, too. It gets a little bit louder. I guess it's less of an implied catharsis.
You mentioned when the first verse came together. How about the rest of the song?
It's very sexual. You don't have to look that hard. I mean, not you, the narrator there. It might be closer than I woulda guessed.
It might even be in the grocery store, you know?
[Laughs.] It could be, man. It depends on who you're with, you know?
Castanets plays with Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson at UNC-Chapel Hill's Union Underground Rehearsal Lounge at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22. Tickets are $5.