(This Q&A previews two shows with Luke Redfield. One is at the Bourbon Theatre on Wednesday, July 13 at 7 p.m. with Running with Nails. The other is in Alliance, Neb., at the American Legion Post No. 7 on Saturday, July 16 starting at 7 p.m. with Tinshaw, Hara Kiri and Kanata.)
by Michael Todd
Thirteen minutes and 41 seconds is hardly enough time to get to know someone. Yet, in this business of music journalism, that's about all you get with busy schedules, readers who want you to get to the point and low cell phone batteries.
Most musicians will leave it at that, too. That's more than enough to work with, right? Well, every so often there comes along a fellow like Luke Redfield with a little more on his mind than what a few of my questions can scrounge up. He has novels of things to add, all packed into a handful of crisp stanzas sent in an email a few hours after the interview:
"I busked my way through Europe in 2006.
"Lived in a 7-by-7-foot shack in Homer, Alaska, where I played with local musicians, including Jewel's family.
"Been homeless on the streets of San Francisco, where I sold my bike and car so I could eat.
"Slept on the floor of a recording studio in Austin, Texas, for a couple months."
Just a little more info to toss in, you know. And to think, Redfield also managed to fit six years of living in Alliance, Neb., my hometown of less than 10,000 that doesn't offer much in the way of wild adventures. This guy has been everywhere, man, and you know what they say about what goes around. It comes back to spill its soul for the culturally impoverished panhandle after filling up on Lincoln just a few days before.
Hear Nebraska: I’ll start by saying I’m from Alliance, and from Facebook, it looks like we’ve got some mutual friends including my old neighbor and bandmate and my old babysitter. When did you live in Alliance, and what did you do?
Luke Redfield: I lived there when I was a child, from the ages of 7 to 13, so I was a little kid. My dad was a preacher there. We moved around a lot, but I was born and raised in Minnesota and lived in Alliance those years.
HN: So having lived there, what is it about Alliance that made you want to go back just a few months after your last show?
LR: Well, I hadn’t been back in about 10 years. It’s great little town in the middle of nowhere. I played at 1910 [the Secret Coffeehouse] in the spring, and I saw a bunch of old friends, and everyone was really appreciative. Do you know Timm Hoff?
HN: Yeah, I do.
LR: He treated me really well, and we had a good turnout, so I wanted to come back and play another in Alliance.
HN: How do shows in small towns like that compare with ones at theaters, like the one you’ll have here in Lincoln?
LR: When I went to Alliance, it was sold out and, like I said, everyone seemed to like the show. I’ve also played shows in small towns where there are just a few people, though. If they promote it enough, it’s always a good time because small towns off the grid don’t get too much talent coming through, and when they do, they appreciate it. Alliance, Scottsbluff, Chadron, that whole area is kind of special for that fact. They respect the arts, and whenever touring artists coming through, they patronize and respect them.
HN: Now just talking about your music in general, do you have a favorite song to play?
LR: I’ve been writing some new ones lately, but in terms of playing live, I don’t know if I have a favorite. "Down the Line" is a fun singalong, a railroad hopping anthem. There's one about the working-class family on the range up near where I was born, too, that I like quite a bit. Those are special because they recall a place that’s dear to me, and they all have catchy choruses (laughs).
Lately, I’ve been writing more poetic, little bit darker stuff. I’m working on a new record now, and I’m done recording. But I’ve been writing more stuff the past couple weeks, just more literate, a little weirder avant-garde, not typical straight-up traditional folk, but folk with elements of art folk, for lack of a better term. It’s stream-of-consciousness where I strum some chords and say whatever’s on my mind. Sometimes the words won’t make sense as much as they describe a feeling. Some of my stuff now that I play is very literal in that it describes a story, while this is more fragmented, open to interpretation.
HN: Do you have an idea why you’ve drifted more to that style of writing now?
LR: I don’t know why, I’ve always written that way every so often, but those songs haven’t made the album in the past. Sometimes i’ll just write about towns and people I’ve met. But I’ll do a lot of reading poetry and novels, and I’ll channel some of those authors. If I’m traveling, I’ll sing about experiences and if I’m reading, I’ll write about that.
HN: Are you reading anything right now?
LR: I’ve been reading The Sea-Wolf by Jack London. That’s it right now, just Jack London. In the past, I’read a lot of psychology, Joseph Campbell, Albert Camus, philosophy, some English and Spanish poets. I read a lot of Keruoac and Mark Twain when I was younger that got me inspired to travel the world.
HN: Do you think you were always meant to see the world, or was it something in what you read that brought that out of you?
LR: Yeah, subconsciously I think I always wanted to travel, but it didn’t really strike me till my mid-20s that I should see the world. I had a longing, but I pretty much stayed put in Minnesota and Nebraska before I decided to really see the world for myself. But I was pretty content to be wherever I was as a kid.
It was the travel journals of other authors, vagabond authors of America that really got me going. And once you’re on the road, it gets addicting, and you have a lot of experiences, some not necessarily great but you grow from them. There’s that sense of adventure most people miss in their day-to-day lives, seeing the same friends, driving the same route to work.
If you subject yourself to the mystery of life to see what happens when you open yourself up to the road, there’s a lot of great experiences traveling. Especially if you’re a songwriter or an artist of some kind, traveling will push your art to new boundaries, from I’ve seen at least.
HN: And having seen the world, how does Nebraska stack up with everywhere else?
LR: It gets made fun of a lot in other places I’ve been (laughs), but I have a soft spot for it. Coming back to it now, I love that people are laid-back, friendly, with not a lot to prove. It’s not the hustle and bustle you see in New York or London, and the heartland is a great place, cornfields and prairies, people just loving life especially in the summertime, around the Fourth of July. Since I lived here as a kid, and I’ve had fun playing, I hope to continue the tour through there and play at least once a year as long as I can.
*Or RSVP for his concert across the state in Alliance. (You could see Carhenge while you're there.)
Michael Todd is a summer intern for Hear Nebraska. He played his first show at the American Legion in Alliance where Luke will play July 16. Here's hoping the girl who wore an "I *heart* Michael Todd" shirt to Michael's concert won't break it out for Luke's because that would just be insensitive. Reach Michael at email@example.com.
Wait, where is Alliance?
View American Legion in a larger map