just released his latest album Animal Feelings
on Asthmatic Kitty. But there is more to the eclectic electro-pop artist than meets the eye...
The man behind the project is actually quite a prolific producer on top of his solo efforts. Last week Rafter Roberts (his name is Rafter!) took a few seconds to answer some of our questions via email. His (really great) answers are below.
What was it like growing up with the name 'Rafter'? Did you ever need a nickname?
I got teased but it made me strong. Rafter lends itself easily to making new nicknames, but it already kinda sounds like a nickname so I haven't got them too often.
You've been playing in bands since the age of 2? Explain.
You've been lied to. I was hard into painting and sculpture until a late-teen hard turn into music. When I was 2 I just liked to wiggle. Then when I was a young adult I fell deep in love with listening to music, and decided I wanted to learn how to make albums. Harmonica -> keyboard -> guitar -> 4 track -> moog -> space echo -> 8 track -> computer -> infinity -> human voice.
What was some of your earlier work in New York like?
Super short, spastic pop songs... kinda like my album SexDeathCassette
but a little more noisy and chaotic? I brought a very limited range of instruments with me and a tiny cassette four track, and just holed up experimenting.
Your bio mentions living in a "communist apartment", does that reference the infamous Stalin building on Houston? If so/not, can you explain all the communist stuff?
Haha &mdash not that stalin building &mdash it worked like this &mdash I have a friend who at the time was very active with the Worker's World Party (revolutionary communists), and they had invited her to go live in NYC for a couple months volunteering. I needed to get away from a bad breakup, so I tagged along - helped get the revolution going and played in the communist band. They were mostly super nice rad people with hearts on fire for good things. Plus they let me record using their insanely wonky mostly broken drum set :)
What was the most shocking thing about living on the East Coast after growing up in Cali?
I grew up in rural northern California, and there were not a lot of people there. When I went to NYC, there were a lot lot lot of people. I was taken aback by the amount of unhappiness in the people of the city, the poverty v.s. the insane wealth / gross displays of excess. Also I was amazed by how much was going on in film/music/art - I would just open up timeout and pick stuff and go check it out, and had a great time.
What eventually drove you to San Diego?
I was not thrilled by rural northern California, NYC was too expensive and far away from family, San Francisco was kinda a bummer and hard to make connections.... San Diego worked great for me because I knew a lot of great musicians there already (Three Mile Pilot, Heavy Vegetable, Rocket From The Crypt, Boilermaker, Powerdresser, etc.) so moving to the city was really comfortable. It's kinda outta the way in the world of US cities, but I really felt affinity to a lot of the musicians I knew there.
Can you tell us about the formation of Singing Serpent?
Glen (Soul Junk) and I made a record together (called 1956
), and it was really fun to do. He worked at the time for a commercial music making company, and we did a little bit of work for that as well. When that company closed it's doors, we decided to start doing it ourselves. 10 years later and we have a studio in NYC and San Diego, and we're rocking!
You've worked with a ton of artists, who are some of your favorites?
I loved working with Castanets, Fiery Furnaces, Gogogo Airheart, Soul Junk, Sufjan Stevens, Liz Janes, Smile Now Cry Later, Timonium, Bedroom Walls, Fol Chen, Jookabox, Shapes and Sizes.... so hard to name faves though, cause every record turns out pretty amazing to work on.
You've built your own studio, how was that experience?
Amazing life enriching pain in the ass. It was such a titanic amount of work that it's hard to wrap the brain around. We're just getting close to finishing studio #2 (build our first one then sold the property and started building #2) and I'm glad it's close to done. It's way more fun to USE a studio than to build one, though I certainly have fond memories of construction.
Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your solo work?
That's hard to say - if I had to choose one I might say my wife? We live life together and are always listening to music, bouncing art ideas off each other, dancing, hanging out... so the feel of it comes from that a lot of the times. If you mean a music artist, though? Maybe Tom Waits? Not so much stylistically, but more cause I feel like he's a constant re-inventor of his style, and I like that a lot. Though there are certainly plenty of artists who've done that - Dylan, Bowie, the Liars, John Lydon, Miles Davis, etc etc etc &mdash I just appreciate it when people don't just stick with what's working. creative risks are crucially important to me.
How is the new album different than anything you've ever done?
On this album I really tried to make it feel good &mdash solid &mdash strange but approachable. i feel like i've always skewed further towards the outer fringes of things before, but i really wanted to make a record that was solidly both an experimental piece of art and a piece of pop. i think i worked harder on this album than any other of my albums before, and I'm really happy with the results.
Of your chosen living locales (NY, San Fran, San Diego) which is your favorite music scene so far, and why?
I can't choose. Each one has its own wonderful things going on, and to pick one won't work!
What are you looking forward to most in the coming year?
I have a few new albums in the works, and I look forward to hitting the studio hard and getting them done and out! And of course the touring to support Animal Feelings
is a blast too..
A guy like you probably has a million funny stories about musicians. Can you tell us one of your favorites?
Yeah &mdash there are a million funny stories, sad stories, weird ones... but here's a fave.... we did vocal takes on one Soul Junk album where Glen was on one side of the studio singing the chorus, and I was on the other side whacking croquet balls at him as hard as I could. We ended up using the take where it finally smacked him nice n hard on the foot and he said "yeeaaaoouch!" in the middle of another word. Brings a smile to my face every time that song comes on...
Thanks for taking the time to answer these!
Thank you for taking the time to write them!
is out now, it's really great stuff.
If you happen know/have a hunch which song that Soul Junk song Rafter was talking about (the "YEOOOOUCH" one), I'd love to know... first person to email me
with the answer gets a FREE download from our concert library. Thanks! -joe puglisi