Luke Redfield spills Willie Nelson and Ke$ha run-ins, explains Tusen Takk
The album emanates love and care and affection for life, for the world, for music itself. Forget what you're told: this is what loving music sounds like. Never heard of Luke Redfield before? Well now you have, so keep your eye on him -- big things are soon to happen for this Minnesota boy.
Gimme Noise caught up with Luke before his CD release at the Varsity Theater on Friday.
Studio: Jeremy Ylvisaker, Haley Bonar, JT Bates, Brett Bullion, Peter Pisano, Mike Lewis
Live: Ryan Paul, Eric Struve, Chris Hepola
Your music has some southern-bluesy qualities to it, especially on pieces like "Don't Care"; where does a Duluth-born boy come up with songs like these?
Back in '07, I road tripped south and really absorbed the heritage of places like Memphis, New Orleans, and backroads Mississippi. I was reading a lot of Faulkner and listening to a lot of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson, so I think those influences were bound to seep into my process -- if even subconsciously. I also think "Don't Care" has some gospel and Native American elements in it, as well as this anarchist "I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do to get free" vibe. But at the end of the day, yeah, it's all about the blues. I went to the crossroads once.
What does Tusen Takk mean and was there some significance in using that name for the new album?
The title is Norwegian and translates "A Thousand Thanks" in English. I'm of Scandinavian decent and have spent a good deal of time in Norway. It's such a beautiful, serene country. I chose the title as an expression of gratitude for all who helped make the record, and for all the people I've met and places I've visited along my journey. So many little things have influenced songs over the years, from tiny little towns I'll only ever see once to passers-by on the street who I'll only ever exchange a few words with. Tusen Takk tries to give something back to whoever, wherever you are.
I also can't thank my band and engineers enough for working with me. They're all so great. More than anything, it's a gesture of infinite gratitude for those who love me because I wouldn't be where I am today without their help.
There's a lot of storytelling elements in your songs; where did you look to when writing pieces for Tusen Takk?
It's funny you ask, because I really don't know. Most of the songs just write themselves. I think I channel a lot of different muses I run into along the road, and sometimes not until years later.
Tusen Takk's closing track, "Eden," was literally stream-of-consciousness and I wasn't quite sure what it was about 'til a few hours after I'd written it -- I looked at a newspaper and saw that it was the anniversary of D-Day. I wrote the song on June 6th, 2010, unconscious of the fact it was D-Day. When I typed the song out and saw lyrics about Provence and Normandy, I realized it was describing events that happened on the same date 66 years earlier, albeit somewhat fuzzily, like if a war veteran was recalling the day in the present moment. It was really eery, but really sacred at the same time. It's moments like that which I live for as a songwriter, and just try to get out of the way of whatever it is voicing itself through me.
More than anything, I'd say rather than looking to something, I try to stay open by reading a lot, going for walks in nature, taking time for contemplation and being ready to write when the song presents itself. Once in a while I'll get it delivered to me on a silver platter, but most of the time I've gotta meet it halfway. I'll get a great idea for a song and about half of it will come stream-of-consciousness, and the other half I'll have to work for. Traveling is definitely the biggest inspiration. Every climate and terrain inspires me differently and that's what I like to bounce around a lot, not only because it keeps me sane, but it keeps the creative process fresh. If I'm in one place for too long, I'll go through a big songwriting drought.
What was the story that you wanted to tell with the new album?
Again, no real conscious effort to tell a story, per se, though I think what all of my records are and ever will be about is the monomyth, a term which James Joyce coined in Finnegan's Wake and Joseph Campbell conceptualized more. It's basically the hero's journey told the world over in different cultures, both in historical fact and literate fiction, wherein a person leaves his/her home, encounters all kinds of trials, finds some kind of reward and/or redemption in oneself, and returns home with a message to share. You see it in the stories of Odysseus, Gilgamesh (namesake of Tusen Takk's track #2), Moses, Jesus, Buddha, even Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are based on this cycle of birth, journey, death and rebirth.
I relate to the monomyth because I'm constantly traveling and because I view a new record like a death, in the best sense of the word. A particular season of songs have been written, this record is done; it's time to move on, reinvent myself again, and give birth to the next project. But the odyssey is never over. It's circular. There's always a new place to go and new stories to tell, and that's the beauty of life, never allowing the well to run dry. And if it does, that's when you just sing about the well bring dry.
How did you meet Jeremy Ylvisaker, Gary Calhoun James, and Brett Bullion, and how did you come to choosing them when working on this album?
I think I first met Jeremy through my brother, who has been a friend of the Ylvisaker family for years. I remember going to his old recording studio when I was like 10 years old and dreaming of the day I could record there. Detroit (Ylvisaker's 90s rock band) was my favorite band in the world growing up. Fast forward about 15 years, Jer came to see me perform at the old Acadia during one of my first-ever live performances. He approached me after the show and told me that he loved how quietly I was playing -- I was probably just nervous! Then, he and JT Bates asked if they could record some of my songs. Naturally, I was interested, and the rest is history. We've worked together on three projects now and he's just gotta be the best dude in Minneapolis.
Gary and I met while I was living in Austin a couple years back. He auditioned to play bass for me and passed with flying colors. We've been pals ever since and will be working on a new EP together over SXSW -- I'm really excited about that! Interestingly, Gary and Jeremy both have Chicago and Andrew Bird ties, but I met them both independent of each other.
Brett's been a good friend for a few years now. He's played drums at some live shows and has excellent ears for a young engineer. His recording space is great and really comfortable to work in. He's a consummate professional and I'd recommend him to anyone!
It started pretty small and grew to include the 20 or so musicians who ended up on it. Initially, I had plans to release an EP in 2011, but there was so much material, I knew that if I could wait til 2012 I'd have an LP to release. This project has taught me great patience. There were songs that would sit for 6 months before getting a new part added, and then another 6 months before mixing. It was delicate, but worth it. I don't think the collaborative vibe was conscious at the beginning, but after a while, I though the more the merrier with this one!
It's not 4 dudes in a studio cutting a record over a weekend, but it somehow manages to be cohesive. Each song got what it needed and nothing more, so there are some stripped down singy-songwrity songs here, as well as some multi-textural, more ambient soundscapes in which my lyrics have a lot of room to breathe. It strikes a nice balance in the end, I think. Each guest brings a different energy and different talent to the record, so it makes it real novel for this genre whatever you want to call it, indie folk, alt-country, etc.
The other thing I love is that if you listen to the stories as if they are, collectively, a monomyth, each voice or instrumentalist becomes a character I meet along my odyssey, which ironically culminates at D-Day, but more transcendentally speaking, "Eden," which is, to me, that timeless place beyond war and loss. A utopia of sorts, but definitely not one without some dichotomy.
You've eaten ice cream with Willie Nelson and attended church with Ke$ha -- obviously not at the same time -- can you elaborate on these stories?
I must be the luckiest kid in the world, 'cause my number of celebrity crossings are pretty high. Willie and I enjoyed some vanilla ice cream together after his show in Austin. An ice cream truck was giving out free samples and I was lucky enough to get Willie to come out and join a few of his fans in the parking lot. He is a genuinely beautiful being. Very down to earth, exactly what you'd expect, and, in case you're wondering, his flavor of choice is vanilla.
I met Ke$ha at a Honky Tonk in Nashville before she had a dollar sign in her name. She and her family put me and my buddies up for a week at their house. They were super kind and treated me like family. They took me to church, out to eat, and rock climbing. We went backstage the Grand Ol' Opry. I was like a kid in a candy store wondering how much more charmed could my life get. She and I played a show with Townes Van Zandt's producer at some dive bar that was located in a strip mall. Pretty surreal in retrospect, but I'm so far out of pop culture that I didn't even realize she was super famous 'til I saw her in a Rolling Stone magazine I picked up out of boredom one day. It's all relative to me. I still remember her as Kesha Sebert, the girl who said she wanted to sound like Arcade Fire.
It's tough for me to call anywhere home. I moved a lot growing up and I've moved a lot as an adult. There aren't really specific places I long for other than Austin, because I love the food, music, and warm weather, and Duluth, because Lake Superior is such a mystic beast to me. I've been living in Portland, OR, and am itching to go somewhere new pretty soon. I like the northwest but the weather gets me depressed after the long stretches of no sunshine. I went and cheered the Wolves on against the Blazers the other night, and I still get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever the Vikings and Twins lose, so I guess you could say I'm a Minnesotan for life.
What are your plans at SXSW this year?
I'm excited to showcase Tusen Takk, attend Bruce Springsteen's keynote speech, and take in a bunch of great music while hanging out with great friends from all over the map. I'm also looking forward to the Minnesota Remembers Vic Chesnutt showcase at Lamberts, and I'll be hosting a showcase at Hole in the Wall with Stuart Davis, Rogue Valley, Me and My Arrow, Sleep Study, Gabe Douglas and more of my Minnesota friends.
What can we expect at the show at the Varsity?
At the Varsity Theater this Friday, you can expect to hear an even split of songs off of Tusen Takk and my previous record, Ephemeral Eon, which featured production and mixing by my dear pal, Eyedea, who passed a couple years ago but stays with me wherever I go. Just the other day, I was feeling down so I did something I never do -- went shopping. I walked into a shoe store and the song playing overhead was "Smile" by Eyedea & Abilities. A big smile overcame my face and the rest of my day was great because of that.
I'll most likely be backed by a 4 or 5 piece band. I'm sooooooo looking forward to seeing my Minnesota family and friends, so I'm expecting it to be a magical night. Ben Kyle will be a great opening act and Me and My Arrow will play after me, so plan on getting there early and staying late!
Luke Redfield will release Tusen Takk at the Varsity Theater on Friday, March 9, 2012 with Me and My Arrow, Quiet Corral, and Ben Kyle.
18+, $8, 7 pm
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