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Luke Redfield may have been born in Duluth, but he calls the open road his home. In between bouts of cross-country touring and recording sessions, Redfield has hung his hat in no less than seven states beyond his native Minnesota. He emerged onto the local scene back in 2010 on the strength of his ragged-but-right Americana-leaning debut, Ephemeral Eon. He currently lives in Oregon (but probably not for long), and the troubadour returns to town this Friday, March 9, at the Varsity Theater to celebrate the release of his sophomore album, Tusen Takk. Once again calling on an impressive lineup of local scene luminaries to help flesh out his hazy folk-rock ruminations (Jeremy Ylvisaker, Haley Bonar, Peter Wolf Crier’s Peter Pisano and many more), Tusen Takk finds Redfield’s elastic twang set to increasingly ornate arrangements, with ambient studio-sculpted sounds that fit in surprisingly well alongside organic acoustic elements. Redfield took time out to talk with The A.V. Club about his time in the Alaskan wilds, his highly collaborative approach to recording, and his insatiable wanderlust.
The A.V. Club: You’ve made it a point to live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle throughout your 20s. What’s the strangest place you’ve ever called home?
Luke Redfield: I was staying in Homer, Alaska, back in 2008, just wandering around, really, with no real plans other than to see the world and write some songs along the way. During the six months I was there I made friends with other musicians, just busking around. This one dude I befriended told me he was leaving town for awhile and had a cabin I out in the wilderness I could crash in. That sounded pretty sweet until I got there and realized it was more of a 7-by-7-foot shack without running water. [Laughs.] It was actually great. I ended up living there quite a while and all kinds of people rolled through. At one point there were four of us wandering musicians living in it. I’m glad I had the experience—it was amazing waking up every day and getting to look right at the mountains and the ocean—but I wouldn’t want to do it again. I came down with mono shortly after living there. I did write a lot of songs; that was about all I did [while] living there.
AVC: Your wandering ways have also extended to the creation of Tusen Takk, which was recorded with eight different engineers in multiple studios across the country. Despite those jumbled origins, the album sounds remarkably cohesive. Was finding that continuity a challenge?
LR: I made it way harder than it needed to be. I don’t want to make a record this way again. I like residing in different places, but this one was recorded in so many different places it was just crazy. I tried really heard to make it sound like a real record and not just a collection of songs—I had to cut quite a few tracks and messed around with the running order constantly. Even though it was recorded in many different studios and states I had one consistent mindset creating it, wherever I happened to be. Not that I expect anybody else to understand that. [Laughs.]
AVC: Tusen Takk features 20 guest musicians in prominent supporting roles. You’ve always favored this kind of collaboration rather than going with the one-man-band acoustic approach. Why the eagerness to enlist so many other talents?
LR: That’s what I love about both the records I’ve put out so far; it’s more than just me. I personally don’t even like listening to ‘one guy and a guitar’ records, so I don’t intend to make them. I feel like for me to make something special, I have to go outside myself. So the typical process for me is to write a song in my journal, sing it a few times, and then go in and record vocals and guitar, and decide what else the song needs and who to call in to deliver it. I play it pretty loose, occasionally I’ll have a part written for someone else to play, but usually I just have faith that whatever person I trust enough to bring in will help fulfill the vision of the song. And they almost always do.
AVC: While Ephemeral Eon employed a similarly large cast of characters, its sound was much sparser overall.
LR: It was a very different process. I sat with most of these songs for a long time, whereas with Ephemeral Eon we just kind of showed up and played and that was the song. On Tusen Takk there are layers upon layers, and textures upon textures. Even on songs where there aren’t many parts, it was a process. I would add one part three months later, then something else a year later, and then we would finally mix it. Almost every song on there had an 18-month or two-year recording process. It was kind of ridiculous.
AVC: How did you know you were finally done?
LR: I think when you’ve listened to it a thousand times and are sick of hearing it you know you’re done. [Laughs.] If it’s good for a thousand listens on my end, it’s got to be good for at least a few more spins for someone else. It’s never done in my own mind, of course. I still hear more parts in my head, tweaks I want to make to the mix. It always feels open-ended because you can always add something to the canvas. I said I was done with this record a few times and kept being wrong—eventually there were so many other songs I had written I knew I had to move on and get this record out the door. I’m actually already going to start recording the next record down in Austin during SXSW. It’s come time to devote energy to new songs.
AVC: When interviewed at the time of Ephemeral Eon’s release, you claimed “the nomadic lifestyle is in my blood.” Any urge to settle down yet?
LR: It changes every day. There are certain days where I feel like I’m ready to settle down and spend some time in the same spot, then I wake up the next day and realize there’s still more wanderlust in me. I moved out to Portland about six months ago as I had some friends out here and it was a place I’d never been before, but I’m already ready to move on. All the rain and clouds aren’t for me. I’m ready for some sun. I think if the right stars align I could see myself hunkering down somewhere for the long term. Ideally I’d like to live somewhere six months of the year and then travel the rest. I’ll be in and out of Austin and the Twin Cities for a long time because I just love both those places and the musical relationships I have there.