Delivering pensive Americana tapestries woven with a heavy dose of Texas reverb and desert melodies, RF Shannon – the moniker of Shane Renfro – was a welcome addition to the Fuzz Club family when we co-released his new LP, Trickster Blues, earlier this year. Here he is in conversation with Lindsay Krause on recording the album and drawing inspiration from nature and the tail-end of a good shrooms trip…


Where did you grow up, and what are some of your earliest musical memories?

“I was born in Plainview, Texas. When I was around 3 or 4 we moved to Grapeland, a really small town in the pines of East Texas, so that’s where I grew up. I remember my brother and I going back-roading with my dad when we were pretty young and he was always jamming Creedence Clearwater Revival and Viva Terlingua by Jerry Jeff Walker. This was in the era of cassettes. It’s firmly imprinted in my memory, the smell of the fields and trees, picking wildflowers for my mom, sometimes chasing storms. He would blast those tunes and drink Coors Light and teach my brother and me how to drive down old country roads. I think that’s when I realised how music could be a good soundtrack to life. He also played an acoustic guitar for a while and I remember him learning ‘Pipeline’ by The Ventures and showing me how to pick that out when I was 10 or so.”

The sound of 2017’s Jaguar Palace was very reminiscent of a deep connection to the land. What locations speak to you as a storyteller?

“The album cover was a photo taken by my friend Logan Lewis on his property out in Alpine, Texas. It’s far, far west Texas. Most of my material is drawing from an expansive quality that I feel when I’m out there in the high desert. It’s otherworldly. The song ‘Hotevilla’ is specifically a reference to the four corners area of the Southwest US inhabited by the Hopi. Most of the album is definitely a desert vibe but the song ‘Jaguar Palace’ has a more lush feel, inspired by the mountainous high plateaus of central Mexico. Anything to do with swampy, marshy land is more emotional for me, the desert inspires a more pensive, transcendental vibe.”

How did the recording process differ for Trickster Blues compared to Jaguar Palace?

“It was much faster, for one. We demoed the material over an extended stay in Marfa, Texas, and then later recorded it in just two days in Lockhart, Texas. Jaguar Palace took almost a year to complete tracking. There were a lot more over-dubs and layering, and much more complex and spacious arrangements. With Trickster Blues, I wanted to track it all live and keep it very simple and straightforward. So, that’s what we did – only overdubbing vocals, pedal steel and some piano. There were even two or three songs that the band had only heard me play on guitar at that point, they had never written parts. I just kind of nudged them to feel it out and keep it simple and not overthink it.  I think half of the songs were laid down in one take. We were happy with the result but part of me wishes I had spent more time on it, but mostly I’m glad we kept it true to the moment.”

Let’s talk about gear, were there any new additions equipment-wise you feel contributed to a shift in sound on the new record?

“Definitely Jesse’s piano. He has this mini-upright that sounds so raw and clear. He plays it very much behind the beat, like on some earlier Neil Young albums, with chord phrases akin to Carole King. It sounded really 70s. So I think that’s the main difference. In the past we used more atmospheric synth sounds for texture, but this record has a more driving but mellow piano fixture. I used a 72’ Telecaster almost exclusively on Jaguar Palace but on Trickster Blues I used an old Gibson ES-125 that I feel gave a more gritty, bluesy sound. I wish I owned it! Maybe someday.”

You’ve mentioned that the themes on this release are reflective of archetypes – ‘Trickster’ in the album title, ‘Madonna’ in ‘Black Madonna, So Divine’ – what other characters make an appearance on the album and on which songs?

“Most of the songs are about self-sabotage on a personal or societal level, so I sing largely as a witness to these. The Trickster is a many-faced archetype so it’s all under that umbrella. This mental chatter, this chaos, this profound lesson that’s right in front of your face that you can’t quite grasp because you’re so attached to your own suffering. The only time the smoke clears is when I touch on the divine feminine archetype, the Black Madonna. That’s the source, there’s not really any shape-shifting Trickster energy there. That’s like the void where the Trickster drops you off and says “okay, now deal with this, good luck trying to reason your way out of her lessons.” And she shows up again in Silver Woman. Ultimately there is no grand design, it’s just kind of a reference to the type of vibrations you feel when you approach that threshold on a mushroom trip and feel like you’re about to meet your maker and no one shows… just the shadow of leaves dancing on the earth in the shape of a spirit, and you smile for hours knowing that’s enough to mean everything.”

Trickster Blues is out now and available on vinyl and CD via Fuzz Club.

 

Words: Lindsay Krause // Photo: Jess Williamson

(This article was originally taken from the first issue of the Fuzz Club Magazine, which is available to buy below)