Luke Redfield's nomadic ways make for memorable debut
As the title of Luke Redfield's debut album handily suggests, Ephemeral Eon is the product of an eternally restless man. Drawing heavily on his experiences over the last five years living all across the States—Alaska, Arizona, California, Texas, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, with periodic returns to his native Minnesota stomping grounds in between—and busking across Europe, Redfield's songs are indelibly stamped by the drifter lifestyle. Whether he's espousing the merits of living lean ("I've got some beans and rice to cook/And a campfire light to read my favorite books") or recalling troublesome makeshift accommodations ("On the night I slept outside, there was torment in my mind"), Redfield's tales resonate with a sense of lived-in truth that comes from living on the road, not reading On the Road.
"The songs are about 80 percent autobiographical," says Redfield, when pressed as to how true to life his nomadic tales should be taken. "It's a pretty stream-of-consciousness process for me and I don't spend much time evaluating what comes out. So in a song like 'The Night I Slept Outside,' I didn't actually sleep outside. I was walking around in some Arizona national park and this horrible thunderstorm just struck out of nowhere. The rest of it I sort of visualized based on what it would have been like if I spent the rest of the night there. Many of my songs stem from desires to do something that I've just sort of taken the first few steps into in my actual life. Usually something else comes up or I'm too inhibited to go all the way, so I end up doing that in my songs.
"Traveling has always been my main songwriting influence," continues Redfield. "Every time it's a new adventure. I never have a set itinerary when I leave for somewhere. I just drift and go with the flow. I don't have long-term plans, but my songwriting is always at the forefront of my mind and giving me a sense of purpose as to why I'm out there. I just try and stay inspired and open to whatever comes my way."
What's come Redfield's way on Ephemeral Eon is a gripping collection of world-wizened tunes spanning 13 tracks split roughly between gently strummed ballads and ragged alt-country dust-ups. Every shift in melodic mood is mirrored by Redfield's unconventional and elastic singing voice, which veers from sounding like Mason Jennings at his big-hearted, elongated-pronunciation best on "With You in MPLS" to a breathless, strangulated tenor on "Who's Gonna Hold You?"
"Finding my singing voice has been an ongoing thing the last few years," admits the 26-year-old Duluth-born wanderer. "When I first started getting into the notion of making records and performing live, I struggled to decide whether I should stick with one sort of vocal approach or just try as many as possible and see what works. There's definitely a few different 'voices' on this record."
Serving as the polished counterbalance to Redfield's rough-around-the-edges windpipes and gritty stories are a crack band of collaborators, including Andrew Bird's guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, local jazz luminaries Chris and JT Bates, and Minneapolitan-turned-Portland songbird Haley Bonar, who contributes gorgeous harmony vocals to much of Ephemeral Eon. By all accounts, it's an enviable list of musical guests for a debut album, and Redfield is quick to give his collaborators their due.
"I'm a fan of all their stuff, so it was very easy for me to give them the freedom to do whatever they wanted while contributing to my songs," he says. "I was still a 'solo' musician as I was writing this record, but after going through the process the songs I'm writing now are very much with a band in mind. The whole experience making Ephemeral Eon has helped give me a vision of what I aspire to sound like in the future. There's an energy I get feeding off playing with other people that makes it a way better experience than going it alone. I'll still play solo gigs here and there, but I love the whole team effort aspect of having a band."
Now that Redfield's stopped roaming long enough to release his debut and assemble a talented crew to play at his release show (his gig this weekend features a backing band of Ylvisaker, Brett Bullion, Chris Koza, and Chris Bates), it begs the question: Is he ready to give up the globetrotting game?
Redfield answers quickly. "No way. I get the wanderlust and itch to travel all the time still," he says. "I can settle down for a month or two but then it gets difficult. I've been back in Minnesota for two months and was down in Austin for a few months before that. I'm living here on a month-to-month lease and working on booking a summer tour for the West Coast. I really love and respect the musical people I've been able to link up with here in the Cities and definitely see Minneapolis being a hub of mine for the foreseeable future—but the nomadic lifestyle is in my blood."
LUKE REDFIELD plays a CD-release show with Puppy Dogs and Ice Cream, Greycoats, and Aria Souder on SATURDAY, MARCH 20, at the Fine Line Music Cafe; 612.338.8100
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