On his new record as RF Shannon, Shane Renfro condenses his sprawling desert blues into tender, searing monzogranite ballads.
Your first record, Jaguar Palace, is made up of long-player desert blues and more droning instrumentation. Your latest release seems to be more succinct in its arrangement. Was there a focus or intention to have your new songs shorter and more direct in their delivery and energy?
There was definitely an intention to have the songs hit their stride at a much quicker pace. Not necessarily for any reason. I think the earlier material was more accidental in its length and breadth, we just really liked the way that Luke, our pedal steel player, added an element of tension and atmosphere, so we rolled with it and explored that expansiveness. Fundamentally, we all enjoy falling into a pocket and having a simple groove, so our new material is just us having fun with that element and seeing where that goes for a change.
Trickster Blues is your second record as RF Shannon and your first since relocating from Austin to LA. How did the move impact the record and your songwriting?
I actually wrote and recorded all of the material for Trickster Blues before moving to LA. I don't know that I technically live in LA, to be honest, but I know in the process of trying to tell a quick blurb about someone, that's how it's ended up being told, this whole story of the move, because it's such a typical migration and its easy to latch onto. I have been working on some new material since spending time out there, but mostly in Landers, a little desert town outside of Joshua Tree. It feels like a clean slate.
Trickster Blues was recorded in Marfa, TX. What made you come back to Texas to make the record?
We recorded the demos in Marfa. The basis for the vibe of the record was definitely born in Marfa, but we recorded the album in Lockhart, TX. I did choose Marfa to write and demo the record because it's one of my favorite places in the world, and I knew if I just had room to breathe and live well out there, then something good would come about. But we lived in Lockhart in this big old Victorian house on the city square before I came out to LA, and thats where we recorded it.
The first single “Cold Spell” stems from a pivotal moment in a relationship you were in where you and a significant other expressed deep sentiments for each other and then stepped away to figure each other’s hearts out. How did those feelings define the songwriting process and what role did your emotional attachment have on the making of the album as a whole?
Yes, "Cold Spell" is based on a pivotal moment in my life and it's certainly changed the course of things. It's been pretty mind-blowing to see how a situation like that can open an entirely new path for you. I wouldn't say those feelings defined the songwriting process for me, it's pretty specific to that song. Each song is sort of its own slice of life. They are largely unrelated to me expressing myself or to emotional attachments and more about trying to translate ephemeral qualities of existence and otherwise grand narratives into a tone or a mood. I try to write songs to reflect on a way of being that is less emotionally attached, in general, but I understand the need to explore the heavy hitters like love and loss as they come.
The recording pace for Trickster Blues was quicker than that of your first record. What prompted the fast-paced recording process and how was the record affected by the time constraints?
The pace was largely set while we were demoing the material in Marfa. My friend and fellow songwriter Jesse Woods joined me out there for a few months and we used his tape machine in this old adobe casita. The house had faulty power and was located next door to an old Catholic church. Often, while recording, the power would surge and fade and the recordings became warbly and imperfect. Then, when everything seemed to be getting back to normal the church bells would start ringing. So we had these sort of random boundaries that presented themselves and we decided to work with the best stuff we could get in between these limitations.
We threw perfectionism out the window, and started to have fun, almost like a game, seeing how much good shit we could lay down before the next interruption. When we finally went into the studio in Lockhart to record, we kept this motto, to work fast and stay true to the pace we had developed in Marfa. I can't say I would continue to work this way, but I recognized at the time that it felt really natural and important to work that way.
What’s the meaning behind the albums title?
On a physical level, all the stuff going haywire while we were working on the demos had us scratching our heads and feeling like some weird trickster spirit was playing jokes on us all the time. Added to that, I am deeply interested in the Trickster archetype. I feel that I encountered it in a deeply personal way while working with San Pedro medicine just prior to beginning work on the record. It's the chaos of creation. It's a trans-moral attention to goodness, the quality of goodness, not the normative value of it. It's not always pretty. It can look filthy but its a love-affair with the sacred.
I feel that I live in a time where meaning is kinda out the window. It seems chaotic, exhausted, almost hopeless. And that gives me the blues. But I have this pulse in me that feels just fine. I have fun with my friends playing music. It's just fine, it doesn't have to be fucking amazing or hip, it's just part of the noise, the chaos, the blues. It's something for a human to do, to create in times of chaos, to chaotically create, it's working. It's gotten us this far as humans, you know? The funny part is, it's trying to teach us how to keep chaos from taking over at the same time, to find a balance.