While producing unassuming, introspective folk music, Castanets auteur Ray Raposa seems unconcerned about issues of authenticity or maintaining any kind of image—or even following a career strategy, for that matter. Raposa’s songs reflect the influence of Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan during the Nashville Skyline period.
“I have utmost respect for those two,” says Raposa.
And it shows. As Castanets, Raposa hasn’t enjoyed 1 percent of the sales, recognition, or cultural impact of Dylan or Nelson, yet his music is as languid, spacious, and all-encompassing as either artist. The 11 songs on the as-yet-unreleased fifth Castanets album, Texas Rose, the Thaw, and the Beasts, tell vague stories that anyone could temper to fit their own experience and find great truths in the process. Castanets’ sonic oeuvre is equally vague—just quietly brooding tunes that evoke the grand expanses of America, American music in the tradition of Springsteen’s Nebraska that isn’t “Americana,” exactly.
There is a certain darkness to the new album, yet Raposa chooses not to purposely wallow in a morass of depression. “I think it’s the least dark of the five albums,” he says. “I think the new album is on an acceptance trip, not a darkness trip—acceptance of the whole human deal. I’m not that dark. I’m happy enough.”
For Raposa and the revolving cast of supporting players he describes as “good-time dudes,” reinvention is the key to keeping things interesting. Although Castanets’ songs are intensely personal, it’s difficult to demarcate between what might be the author’s lived experiences and fictional situations and observations.
“I love songs,” Raposa says. “I like writing them and I like playing them. But people take what they want from them. That’s their decision. If I wanted to be instilling values I would’ve been a teacher instead. I’ll skew one direction or another depending on who is asking. You know, I wouldn’t think that my life or anyone’s life is exceptional enough to be literalized and made into a product or whatnot. I think you have to put a little bit of art into it.”
So while the upcoming Texas Rose is as simple and intense as a Rothko painting, Raposa says that in the live context what he’s offering is a rock ’n’ roll show.
“I know how the songs sound—quiet, spacious, restrained—on the record. But the idea of going out on the road and trying to recreate that has never been really that appealing. I mean, there are different guys playing it, you know? You play in different rooms to different people and it’s gonna bring out different shades of a thing, you know? It’s a malleable enough form, the song, that you can emphasize different aspects of it from night to night that will change them entirely. I’ll be surprised by it, even. And it’s tough to be surprised by a song that you wrote and that you know front to back. But that still happens, and that’s what holds my interest, the fact that you bring out new shadows and new lights.”
A study in contrasts himself, Raposa writes solemn and significant songs while living the carefree life of a troubadour. Perhaps this is why his songs come across as worthwhile, even deep, but never dour or grandiose.
“The idea of setting out to be a professional musician or a songwriter kind of corrupts everything irrevocably from the get-go. I grew up playing in punk bands where the best you could do was to hit a couple of basement shows in the Midwest and hope 20 kids come out. And my heart’s still a little bit more into that. I don’t like being aware of people’s motives for making what they make. If I’d started out with some kind of goal I think that would have gummed up the gears. I don’t think that’s a good way of making things. I never predicted that it would turn out like this. I can’t even predict where I’ll be in five days, man.”