Luke Redfield On Being An American Songwriter: “I Think of the Land First”
by Adam Perry for Westword, 4/3/2015
Delicate-voiced Minnesota singer-songwiter Luke Redfield, somewhat of a nomad, has spent a lot of time in Boulder and Denver over the years. January found him headlining Shine and the Walnut Room, with his sometime-backup singer Patrycja Humienik, a University of Colorado graduate who lives in Denver, opening both shows as kismet&dough, with help from local collaborators Shilpi Gupta and Irene Joyce.
Jack Kerouac once wrote, “I pictured myself in a Denver bar, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was ‘Wow!’” Redfield, who draws as much from Kerouac and other classic American writers as he does Bob Dylan and other legendary songwriters, had quite a few more words than “wow” in a Westword conversation earlier this week about his brief upcoming Colorado-only tour. Redfield plays the Walnut Room on April 7 with kismet&dough as support, and opens for Nora Jane Struthers at the Fox Theatre on April 9.
Adam Perry: Is it still winter in Minnesota?
Luke Redfield: The sunshine made me think today is maybe the first day of spring. Our local celebrity, Scott Seekins, this kind of cult hero everybody follows, wears all black in the winter and all white in the summertime, and it’s always a suit. I saw him today in all black, which means it’s technically winter.
How does the change from winter to spring affect you as a writer and performer?
It greatly affects my levels of spontaneity and happiness overall. Whenever it goes from below zero to thirty above and suddenly it’s warm [in Minnesota] I’ll pick up the guitar and write some happy songs; all winter I’ve been singing depressing shit. It’s like the song emerges from the cocoon on the first day of spring. I know as a writer and just a creative person, spring puts a jump in my step.
I just listened to your recent Daytrotter session. Do you think their images of you are getting more accurate or less accurate?
[Laughs] I think this is a pretty decent one. They’re all caricatures, so I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I’m glad the hat is on this one, because I’ve been wearing this one for a while.
Is Jack Kerouac a big reason you feel so connected to Colorado?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t know if that was always a conscious thing on my part. I read On the Roadforever ago, and Dharma Bums and all those other classics but, even though I remember him mentioning Denver a million times, I never even really thought about him. But in the past few months I’ve been kind of noticing that connection, that Kerouac really did enjoy hanging out in Denver. And then Townes Van Zandt, who I also admire, he spent part of his childhood in Boulder, and then he went to high school in Minnesota really close to where I grew up. I didn’t realize until recently that Townes and Kerouac and I have shared some of the same haunts.
You identify so much as an American songwriter; you identify so much with iconic American writers like Mark Twain. What’s it like to identify as an American songwriter right now?
I think of the land first. I kind of gave up on politics six or even years ago. In terms of the state of the country right now, at least socially and politically, I think we’re pretty lost in general. In terms of the natural splendor and diversity that America has in terms of the land and different types of people and ways of life, I think it’s like no place the planet has ever seen. We’re still in the process of seeing what the American experiment really is; it’s still a very young country. I like guys like Whitman because they tend to be microcosms of the greater country. Whitman said, “Because the poet lovingly absorbs virtually all of America’s tastes, he in turn will be absorbed by his country.” All of the great ones absorb all of the taste of the country and are absorbed.
Who’s an example of that right now?
There’s a lot of great ones; some of them we don’t even know who they are. Back in the day, if you were a poet or musician and you had a hot record or book, it got out there because there just weren’t that many. I still like the classic bards that are still living, like Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen or Neil Young, even though those [last two] are Canadian. I can’t think of any current guys that are in that tradition.
And it might be a girl, not a guy.
Absolutely. Can you think of one?
Well, Neko Case, I think…she might not go down in the pantheon of Dylan and Neil Young, but she has one foot in tradition and one being musically and socially progressive. She’s amazing.
Yeah, I love Neko Case. She’s cool. I agree.
Your last time through Colorado was your first time on tour with a backing band. What was that like?
It was interesting. It was a lot of fun and also challenging, because everyone’s on their own schedule. It was super fun to not travel alone, that’s for sure. You get to share some of the good stories with other people. I’ve had a lot of really hilarious things happen to me while I’ve been touring solo, but when someone’s there to experience it with you it’s a whole other story.
Was it easier or harder musically to play with other people?
Just different. I enjoy both for different reasons. Certainly I feed off of other musicians; when there are other musicians on stage and good synergy, then the energy is shared, so I prefer to play with a band for that reason.
What’s it like having Patrycja Humienik singing with you?
It’s cool, man. We actually had her work out some three-part harmonies with a couple other [band members] for some of the shows, so that got really fun. We had four people singing on some of the songs; I’m a big fan of harmonies.
What’s it like seeing a member of your band flowering on stage as the opening act?
I’m a big fan of her solo act [Denver-based kismet&dough] that’s being birthed. It’s really good. There’s a lot of potential there. I love it. I want everybody to flourish and to do the projects they’re compelled to,
that their hearts are telling them to do. I think every one of my bandmates has a solo project. I’m very supportive and encouraging them all.
What’s it like transitioning back to doing solo performances?
Like nothing had ever happened. Like back at home. I’m pretty versatile in that regard, I guess. I like to do both because I like variety, and I think other people do too.