INTERVIEW: Raf Sanchez

Hi Raf, welcome to VENTS! How have you been? Can you talk to us more about your latest EP and the focus track “It Feel”?

Hey, VENTS! Thanks for having me.

Cowpoke is a solo project made up of folk songs I self-recorded and recently finished up and released via CEN/The Orchard.

This entire EP was a departure from the involved “walls” of production I found myself creating with my other projects, Pikoe and Hunting Stories. I wanted to throw away my crutches and see how I could handle my own with just an acoustic guitar, melody, and lyrics. It began as a creative exercise if anything else. Lyrically, there’s a decent amount of storytelling and metaphor. Yet, it’s the most heart on the sleeve thing I’ve ever released. The record’s ending lines, “what if love is not enough?” were genuinely felt while I did those vocal takes. While I’ve dipped my toes into melancholy and sad lyrics before, this was a cannonball plunge into the deep end.

It Feel is the most upbeat of the bunch. The ending explodes into a mini gang vocal bridge, though, and it felt good to scream out gang vox on a folk song. It takes me back to my roots playing music as a punk/hardcore rock drummer growing up.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

As all new projects go, we were working with a $5-dollar budget; we had no proof people would gravitate toward this sound or album at all, so we had to do what we could with what we had. There’s also a national pandemic happening, so vibrant party atmospheric videos like we shot for Pikoe wouldn’t fly.

My neighbor and good friend, Jake DiLucia, is a video director, and he was willing to let us take over his agency’s photo studio on a lone Saturday in March. We set up a green screen and just went to town. I brought my new rescue dog, Bee, with me, and she wandered on set and stole the show. After some editing, we had a nice dichotomy between the serious tone of the song and the Tim and Eric/Acid trip of a video. Plus, it was me hanging with my dog and best friend in the world. It was like two genuine expressions of mine, my somberness, and goofiness at once.

The single comes off your new self-titled EP from your current project Cowpoke – what’s the story behind the name?

This isn’t the most romantic story, but I have a note on my phone of band names that have come up in conversation over the years. No kidding, there are at least 100 options on there. Cowpoke has always been on the list. While writing the EP, I drew a lot of inspiration from old western movies and the idea of what exploring frontiers would look like in 2021. Before leaving NYC to move to upstate NY, I took many trips across the state and began to feel like a traveling herdsman. There are long stretches of trees, old motels, and gas stations for miles in New York State. I found comfort in letting go of being in the “coolest” place on earth, i.e., Brooklyn, and seeing how I would handle in an environment that was more neutral. One that would let me work on expressing my art as is.

So I became a modern-day cowpoke, you could say.

How was the recording and writing process?

I recorded the bulk of everything in my Brooklyn bedroom when I still lived in New York City. I had roommates, things were loud (I lived above a bar, as one does in NYC). I let the tracks sit and chill out as demos for a bit on sound cloud, and a horde of friends continued to ask me to release them so they could listen to them on the go. Eventually, I told my friend Gabby (who designed the cover art), “fine, I’ll release it! Hold me accountable.” And here we are today.

When I moved to upstate, I built a recording studio (called Egg) with one of my childhood best friends, where I put the finishing touches on the record. I was careful to not overdo it. I tracked some layers to extend the songs, utilizing local friends like Collin Zweigle to play ambient electric guitar. I then had the multi-talented Calvin Lauber, a guy who’s worked with some of my favorite artists, including Julien Baker, mix and master it.

What role does New York play in your music?

I’m a New York State boy. I love the state as a whole; I love the city, too. I’ve probably written just as many songs inspired by the landscape of the Adirondacks as I have about heartbreak and growing pains of concrete living. I’d say New York, and travel in general, play a considerable role in songwriting inspiration. Though it’s hard to pinpoint it more eloquently than simply acknowledge it.

There’s a nice 70s vibe in this record – what made you want to go into this direction?

That’s so kind of you to say! I didn’t grow up listening to a lot of typical 70s bands, and if anything, discovered them as an adult. My mom did love folk, though, so I was familiar with Simon and Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. I never thought of this record as being 70s as much as it was inspired by listening to the old Iron & Wine straight-to-cassette albums from my childhood. But I’ll take it as a compliment.

I do a lot of Elliott Smith esque voice doubling. And I do warp and play with my sounds in the studio. This started out as something I did when I had low-tier equipment, but it’s continued because I love the randomness and warmth of artifacts. Sometimes, I’ll record an organ or synth a key up or down, and digitally warp it to be the key of the song with elastic audio in Pro tools. Or I’ll play something with an old keyboard and record the speaker rather than plugging it in directly.

A lot of the low fi sampling and breaking of tools is probably what gives this an old-school vibe. I still can’t afford equipment like a 70’s deluxe reverb amp, so I have to make what I have sound adorably just sh*tty enough that it has a similar vibe. Hopefully, it comes off as charming.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I’m notoriously dodgy with these kinds of questions because I like listeners to interpret their own meanings and make the songs meaningful to experiences in their life, rather than seek out a single prescriptive story. These songs do encapsulate a decent range of my life, from family trauma to more modern snapshots on friendship and heartbreak. Lasso started with just the metaphor, the idea of feeling like someone has looped a rope around you, pulled you down, and then let go just long enough to reel you back again. This time I Swear it was biographical and related to my family. It Feel was an expression of existentialism and where I was at the time.

What else is happening next in Raf Sanchez’s world?

A lot of music! We’re making additions to the recording studio, including a small drum room. I’m refurbishing a 60’s era Pearl drum kit, the kind with the old school logo badge, and I’m looking forward to playing drums again at home. That was something I could never do in NYC.

I’m writing and recording a new record with my band Hunting Stories this year and releasing more singles for Pikoe as well. And we’re already discussing which cowpoke tracks to record next. So, stay tuned, and thank you once again for having me. Peace and love.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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