Luke Redfield: I was off the grid for the sanity of my soul
Photo by Darin Back
Luke Redfield is a hard man to pin down. A self-proclaimed wandering soul, the singer has emerged with his newest album, East of Santa Fe, a compilation of songs that tell the story of his travels over the last year. The record is at times so sparse that the listener is worried that Redfield could fall apart at any moment, but Luke pushes on to rebuild the pieces into a kaleidoscope of emotions.
Before his album release at Icehouse on Saturday, bringing Luke back to his old stomping grounds, Gimme Noise spoke with the singer about his musical journey out west and what drove him to write his new set of songs.
Gimme Noise: Your life has changed so much since we last spoke. Can you tell me a few of the things that have stood out for you that you feel were turning points in the last year and a half?
Luke Redfield: I don't even know where to begin. I've been in a total free fall, really -- all over the map, sleeping in the car, camping, doing a ton of busking, trying to be off the grid for the sanity of my soul, and spending lots of time in nature, while also trying to bring music to the masses. It's been a very introspective time for me. The new album has a line that goes "These are my Holy Ghost Canyon days." Holy Ghost Canyon is a place in New Mexico where I wrote the album's title track, but it's also a metaphor of beautiful dichotomy -- an integration of light and darkness, eerily comforting and haunting all at once.
Gimme Noise: You have moved around a lot recently. Where do you call home these days?
Luke Redfield: Home is where my heart is -- wherever I am in the moment. We never leave ourselves, you know? I still have an affinity for Minneapolis, and the upper Midwest in general, as well as the entire Southwest and California coast. I've been living in Austin, and it remains the most livable city for me in the U.S. People are friendly, food is great, rent is cheap, and swimming in Barton Springs is a great way to start the day. I miss Minneapolis all of the time, but I've spent seven years of my life there and feel the need -- not the wanderlust or desire, but literal need -- to continue traveling. I have nomadic blood in me and trying to stay put somewhere is just suppressing my true nature. Traveling inspires me to write. If I get writer's block, I take a trip or do a little tour, and suddenly I'll write four or five new songs. These are songs I feel have been stuck in my subconscious for a while, and I just needed the road to get 'em out of me.
Gimme Noise: What's your favorite thing about being a traveling musician?
Luke Redfield: My favorite thing about being a traveling musician is the people I meet and true human connections I make, getting to sing songs and tell stories, making people smile, laugh, cry, inquire, as well as experiencing diversity in culture and landscape. I just had the amazing time of going to Mexico. Anytime I go somewhere new, my perspective on life, and the human condition, shift, generally for the better. The more I experience, the more I realize we're all in this together. We're all born, we all need to eat and sleep, we all long to love and be loved. We all die, we all partake in the human condition, regardless of affiliation with any religion or political ideology, regardless of race, gender, orientation, class, or status. The more we can focus on our similarities, I think we stand a chance at peace.
Gimme Noise: A lot of your songs, "West Texas" and "Fields of Idaho," talk about being on the road. When were these songs written? What prompted you to pen these songs?
Luke Redfield: It's interesting you should bring these two titles up! They're somewhat related, though only for the fact they're both love, and travel, songs. Love of the road, love of the self, love of another; both songs were written in the vicinities of where the titles suggest. "West Texas" was actually written in Austin, but with a recollection of being somewhere out where the desert and mountains meet, around Marfa and Alpine. It's a longing for a love in the northland, trying to get back to her, while not knowing if it's in the cards.
"Fields of Idaho" is as dichotomous as a song can be. It's a happy and sad song all at once, about parting ways with one you love, only to realize you'll carry that person with you in your heart for the rest of your life. The chorus goes, "We'll marry on the day we part." It's very poignant in the fact that it says you cannot own the one you love -- you cannot possess -- rather, in letting go of what isn't meant for you, you may remain as instruments of love together, in more expansive forms. The song starts with a Jack Gilbert line The Great Fires, "Love lasts by not lasting." It's pretty true of life, too. We've all gotta give this up someday.
Gimme Noise: Any favorite tracks off the new album?
Luke Redfield: Yes, and I generally don't play favorites since my songs are like my kids -- which I don't think I have, knock on wood -- but "Holy Ghost, NM" is arguably the best song I've ever written. It's the album's masterpiece, if I dare critique my own work. I wrote the song after playing a desert festival outside of Albuquerque, where the ashes of Timothy Leary are spread. A couple days later, I was shacked up in a solitary cabin near Pecos, NM, where my guitarist Glenn has family. I was without wifi and cell phone service and really felt completely isolated, in the barren wilderness of New Mexico. I couldn't get ahold of my partner at the time and just sensed that the relationship was dissolving. This song poured out of me and I couldn't stop singing it for three days. I had goosebumps all over and felt truly possessed by a ghost. Maybe it was the holy ghost, maybe it was the ghost of Buddy Holly. He'd stayed in that place before. I don't think I ate or drank or did much of anything other than sing this song for a few days. I remember Glenn saying "Whatever that new song is, I like it," because he could hear me shouting it through the canyon.
I ended up editing and cutting the first couple verses which referenced Tim Leary and Oscar Wilde, who I'd been reading around the same time. The Wilde verse talked of going where his body lies innocent, like a child, in Pere Lachaise cemetery, in Paris. There was a beautiful sense of surrender in the song. It still haunts me to this day. The recording reached my full vision when my friends Sam Rae and Elin Palmer agreed to sing on the instrumental breaks. I had originally sang the part falsetto, in a poor man's Bon Iver kinda way, but it was inconsistent. Sometimes I'd hit the notes, sometimes I'd fail miserably. The ladies came into the studio and nailed the part so well.
Gimme Noise: What do you feel you were able to tell on this album that you weren't able to on the last album?
Luke Redfield: That's a good question. I feel that these songs are more lived-in and more authentic. I feel as if, sometimes, I'm my own muse and my own chronicler. It's all my ego, I know, but it's fun to wake up in the morning and have a laugh about my transcendent spirit. I don't know where the optimism comes from, but I've got the heart of a lion. There's way more transparency and vulnerability now. I've been shattered and broken. I've had to learn true autonomy for the first time. I understand the human condition a little better.
Overall, I'd say I'm just wiser, more accepting of myself and others, and really, really, really hard on myself as a writer. I've edited these songs for months, whereas previous releases contained songs which were mostly stream of consciousness, like this interview.
But I digress. Either Mark Twain or Hemingway said something along the lines of, "You're only as good as the lines you throw away." That made me think a lot. If you think something is good, wait a week and listen or read again. Then, wait another few months. I only want to release material that'll still be good 100 years from now. That's my bar and I'm setting it high. A lot of good material will remain in the crates, but so be it. The world deserves classics.
Gimme Noise: Can you tell me about your Indiegogo campaign? Why crowdsource on this album? What is your plan with the money?
Luke Redfield: Well, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long, plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs," and I'm a broke ass. I don't have a trust fund or a a college degree or a big savings account; I don't have a record label or manager. I've done service industry my whole life, paycheck to paycheck. I'm in the 99 percent, well below the poverty level. I'm grateful to be an American, but there are things that need to change. I'm not looking for handouts; I'm the hardest working man I know. I work 30-40 hours a week at a "day job," spend at least a few hours each day reading and writing, playing guitar, exercising, doing yoga and trying to keep my body healthy. I busk when I need to. There have been several days I haven't eaten along the course of this record making process. I devote 100 percent of my time and energy to writing songs and making records. My whole heart and soul. I went weeks, sometimes months without talking to another human being, other than at work. I've truly been living in a canyon.
And yeah, I made it way harder on myself than necessary, I know, but I practice tough love with myself. I'm here on planet earth to write songs and travel. This is my soul's work, not some hobby. Those who believe in me and want to support this lifestyle can do so. The critics can laugh, but I love my life and wouldn't trade it for anyone's. I'm so grateful for the friends and fans and family members who believe in me. I wanna give a shout out and special thank you to my folks and siblings and extended family, as well as friends Chad Deal, Brian Chaffin, Katie Bishop, Travis Button, Adam Sommer, Josh Swenhaugen, Glenn Alexander, Robert Yorga and Gina McKenzie, and Gary Calhoun James -- just a few of the folks who have felt the impact of my songwriting and understand that this needs to be taken to the next level.
I didn't come here to mess around. I want to be in the lineage of the all-time greats. This is all I've devoted myself to since I was 13, writing rap songs because I couldn't play an instrument yet. Mikey Larsen told me, before he passed, that my song "Silent Afternoon" was as good of a song as anything Kurt Cobain ever wrote. He said it gave him goosebumps. I'm not asking for fame and fortune. I've devoted my life to songwriting. I'm asking for my daily human needs -- rights -- to be met, so that I can give back to life what life has given me.
We're in a new day with the music industry. Artists need to speak up and look out for themselves. The major label is a thing of the past. My fans are my record label. I'm putting out quality material and am proud of it. I hope it reaches all the open hearts of the cosmos. Or just that guy in the corner drinking a PBR, wearing flannel, looking at his iPhone.
Gimme Noise: Why return to Minneapolis for your album release show? What do you feel draws you back to the Twin Cities?
Luke Redfield: Well, I'm only coming back to Minneapolis because I want to go to a T-Wolves game and give Kevin Love a real high five -- unlike Spike Lee. Kidding, kind of.
Minneapolis is my springboard. It's where I cut my teeth. City Pages, The Current, Chris at the Star Tribune, and my old studio mates in Alpha Consumer, Haley Bonar, etc., engineers like Tom Herbers and Chad Weis have always been nothing but benevolent towards me. I love you guys. I love Minneapolis. Let's have a ball. Plus, these guys in Murzik wear nice suits. They're really the main event. I'm just there for show.
As for Minneapolis musicians, we had a bunch on board, but ended up cutting a lot of the tracks. Again, I was hard on myself with editing. The only MPLS peeps who go East of Santa Fe with me are guitarists Ryan Paul, who kills it on a couple of the electrified alt-country tracks, and Jeremy Ylviskaer, who makes a cameo. All my favorite guitarists in the world are on this album. People might dig the songwriting, but I'm just into the guitars.
Gimme Noise: How did you come to choosing Icehouse to have your album release?
Luke Redfield: Interesting question. Mostly because I've never played there before. I have been to a couple Fat Kid Wednesdays shows there and really dug the sound and ambiance, and it's in Uptown, where I lived for most of my Minneapolis days. My sister and her family live around the corner. Spyhouse is my favorite coffee shop in the world, Pho 79 serves up a legendary vermicelli salad -- it's where I always replenish after kicking Chris Koza's ass in one-on-one basketball. I've had a ton of friends go to MCAD, and let's not even get into super heroes at the Bad Waitress...all of my old favorite haunts on this block. This is the block I used to walk as a 19-year old, looking at the gorgeous Minneapolis skyline, while pushing myself to write, to travel and see the world. This block is as home as home gets for me. After spending the past year and a half in a canyon, I'm bringing it all back home -- and I can't wait.
Luke Redfield will release East of Santa Fe at Icehouse on Saturday, November 16, 2013 with Murzik.
21+, $7, 11 pm
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.