Americana singer/songwriter Shane Renfro sat down with Popdust to talk about his new album, his grandfather, and how RF Shannon has changed over the years.
"I'm just trying to live simply, spend less money, and give space for my music to come from a fundamentally grounded place," says Shane Renfro, otherwise known as psychedelic Americana virtuoso RF Shannon
RF Shannon - Angeline (Live in KUTX Studio 1A) www.youtube.com
Renfro, who grew up in the tiny religious town of Grapeland, Texas, picked up the guitar in his late twenties after moving to Austin to farm and be closer to friends. As a result of Renfro's semi-isolated beginnings, RF Shannon has never fit within the confines of one genre. Each of the singer's three projects, the latest being Rain on Dust which was just released this summer, are drastically different from one another. Each carries with it a sense of place and transports the listener to wherever Renfro wants you to be, whether it be rural Texas, Louisiana, or beyond. "I feel like my work is to keep some small thread of connection to a physical, visceral experience of the natural world," says Renfro. "The awe and invigoration I feel in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest, the swampy thickets in East Texas and Louisiana, there is healing energy there. I use my music as offerings to this healing energy." We sat down with Shane to talk more about life as RF Shannon, and why he feels such a profound connection to his geography.
You mentioned that you opened a cafe because you weren't making enough money solely off music. How are your finances now? Do you still run the coffee shop?
I am making more money from music than I was, which is to say, I'm not making enough solely from music to live off of. So I'm having to continue to find creative ways to hustle while allowing myself the freedom to stay active with music. I save resources by choosing to live a very minimal, borderline ascetic lifestyle in order to avoid getting a J-O-B that would demand most of my time and energy. So I get by. I don't run Chaparral Coffee anymore, I really just helped to build it out and get it off the ground a few years ago.
You seem much more grounded on Rain on Dust, and it's much "folkier" than previous releases. You're an artist whose transitions and growth in honing in on his craft can be seen pretty clearly from album to album. Can you take me through the process between your last two projects? How did you center in on Rain on Dust?
I wouldn't say I've found a "center" for what RF Shannon is just yet. I think this has all just been testing the waters so far. I'm just now starting to figure out how to do this. It's cool that you've noticed the transitions. Rain on Dust is definitely an extension of Trickster Blues in terms of process. Both albums were mostly live-tracked, and it was basically the same crew. We recorded the albums with Will Patterson, and we kept the same approach to making a sonically raw and warm recording. I think the big difference between the two albums was using a lot more acoustic guitars: 12 strings, nylon, etc. this time around. In general I've tried to make each album more clean and simple than the last.
RF Shannon - "Had a Revelation" www.youtube.com
You've always described your music as having a sense of place. How have you come to associate RF with geography? Was it always like that?
I think I feel the need to infuse my music with a sense of place because of the "placeless-ness" of everything now. The residue of the Anthropocene is the "internet of things." I see my songs as these oneiric spells that I want to release into the natural world to sort of transmute that [geographical] energy, help move it along, and resolve something, if that makes sense. I see my work as just another piece of the puzzle to help us get unstuck where we might be hung up on some darker energies that have recycled themselves into our shared experiences.
Does the name "RF Shannon" carry the same sort of weight?
RF Shannon is a name I chose to use because it was a scrambling of my own identity into my grandfather's name: Robert Frederick Shannon. I didn't know him well, and from what I do know, it seems he lived a rough and tumble life and maybe didn't pass on as the happiest soul. In some way, I feel we inherit the unresolved issues of our family dramas, consciously or unconsciously. I use my music as offerings of this healing energy, and I try to interpret the feelings these places give me into sounds, sort of like sympathetic synesthesia.
You said that you cut Trickster Blues really quickly. Did you take more time on this album?
I think it's about the same. I think we were done with live tracking and vocals for Rain on Dust in 3 days. I spent a day on overdubs, and one with Luke Dawson on pedal steel. So, hell, maybe this one was even quicker. It's been fun to work fast, but I think moving forward, I want to experiment with letting it all simmer a bit longer.
How was your tour? What are your plans going forward?
Tour was amazing. We were out with Molly Burch, she's the boss. She's such a dear friend and she and her band are just the most talented and sweet people. You can't beat that combination. We hadn't really spent much time on the East Coast so it was nice to play to packed rooms out there and meet so many new people. Moving forward, we'll be playing some select shows in Los Angeles and Texas, and looking into a European run this spring. I'm cooking up a new album right now, so we'll start recording that soon.
Rain On Dust