Despite frequently including other musicians, Castanets is essentially one man: Ray Raposa. The recordings, the concerts, and the music itself all come from his current interpretation of his own ideas. I spoke to Ray over the phone right before the release of City of Refuge. We talked about what that album signals for the direction of Castanets, as well as his thoughts on live performance and on his other new album (which is already recorded). During our conversation, Raposa was lost in Rhode Island, sitting in a coffee shop and wondering where he was going to go next.
Your album’s coming out Tuesday. Are you doing anything special to commemorate it?
No, not at all. This album was done a year ago, so I can’t even begin to relate to who I was when I recorded it, let alone get excited enough to do something significant regarding its release.
Is that a strange feeling, being detached from something that is old to you but new for everyone hearing it for the first time?
No, it’s fine. It’s a matter of taking responsibility for what I’ve made. It’s not a turning point or anything significant. It’s just something that happened a little while ago.
You recorded it in a motel, which doesn’t seem like the most ideal recording situation. What was that like?
I wouldn’t describe it as not being ideal. It was in the middle of nowhere in Nevada, so there was nothing going on outside. It really couldn’t have been more low-key. The records before were in places where I had a lot of friends — San Diego being one example — so it was easy for me to get distracted or for things to get out of hand. Being in a motel was perfect – I didn’t know anyone; I didn’t want to call anyone; I couldn’t go meet with anyone. It was just me. I was grateful for it.
How long are you in Rhode Island for?
No idea. A day, a week, I hope. I don’t remember why I came. We’ll say a week.
Then will you go back to New York?
For a little bit, and then back out on tour with Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson. A lot of people are writing about him these days. He has at least one song that’s an absolute motherfucker, probably more, but there’s definitely one that’s just unbelievable. So that tour starts in a couple weeks, then to Europe, and back out here again. It’s pretty busy, but that’s to my advantage – I get restless otherwise. I end up in places like Providence, with no goddamn idea what I’m doing here, barefoot in the rain, asking people for maps and trying to find the coffee shop my friend works at. Turns out this is the wrong one.
Your tours often incorporate several other musicians. Will you be bringing many people with you on this one?
I think this tour’s going to be a four-piece. I like having people on tour with me because it frees things up – I know what songs would sound like if it were just me playing them, but that’s not exciting for me or for anyone to know exactly how they’re going to sound night after night. When I have folks with me, especially when they’re smart thinkers, I feel like it adds a capacity for expansion. That’s something important to me.
Increasingly, I feel like bands these days are very well-rehearsed, doing their thing the same way night after night, and that works for them. I have a certain admiration for that, but I can’t envision wanting to pursue it. I would feel like a con artist. I think it’s a matter of being honest with the songs. There’s a big difference between playing DC on a Tuesday and Brooklyn on a Friday, and I would feel like I was cheating people if I did it the same way both times. That’s my issue and not anyone else’s, but it’s important.
Personally, I do get disappointed when I leave a show feeling like I could have just sat at home and listened to the record and gotten the same thing. Is that what you’re trying to avoid?
Yes, definitely. I wish that more musicians were on that wavelength for shows. That’s the difference I want to make, to avoid sounding like that.
Did you have many other people playing on this record with you?
There are people on it, but it’s a much more solitary record than the others. By nature of the circumstances – I was alone in a hotel in Nevada – it was done mostly by myself. I sent things out to Jana [Hunter] and Sufjan [Stevens] for them to use in their parts, but it doesn’t sound like a band record or anything. It was just a function of the fact that I couldn’t exactly fly everyone out to where I was. This is as far as I’m interested in pushing my music in that direction. The record coming out next is already done, and it sounds very rock ‘n’ roll in a good-time kind of way.
So it will have a much bigger sound?
Certainly, the next one and probably the next couple of records. I like loud guitars and big beats. I want to represent that in some fashion. That’s what I listen to, and I really like hip-hop and rock ‘n’ roll and metal. None of that is one dude in a room; there’s a lot of interaction. At the end of the day, that’s what captivates me, so it’s a natural progression and not a conscious pursuit.
But at the same time I’ve been vigilant, bordering on militant, about not letting my listening habits get in the way of making records. When I’m recording, I don’t allow myself to listen to music because I’m very wary of subconsciously being influenced by it. I can tell you it would be really bad if hip-hop showed up somewhere in Castanets. I hate white people fucking with hip-hop. That’s not my place.
Also, I’m pretty sure Larry Clark just walked by. And if that’s not him, it’s the deadest ringer you’ll ever see.