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TROY REDFERN – An Interview with British blues-rocker

Troy Redfern has become well known as Great Britian’s ‘King of the slide guitar’. The blues rocker has a new album titled The Wings of Salvation and is currently on tour in the UK with British rockers Dare. The Wings of Salvation is Redfern’s most accessible and talked about album yet, so if you’re not familiar – check out his latest singles/videos “Come On”, “Gasoline” and “Sweet Carolina”! You can also order The Wings of Salvation in various formats from his website, as well as previous albums, t-shirts, and art prints (Redfern has also created his latest few albums covers, among other pieces). In this interview Troy Redfern talks about his influences, favorite albums, his past recordings, and plenty about his new album. *Check out the links below for ordering and more info on Troy Redfern.

Can you give me a bit of background as far as where you hail from and how you came about to take up the guitar and blues direction?

I grew up on the Welsh border, near Hergest Ridge, which was made famous by Mike Oldfield – who recorded an album by the same name.
It’s quite a rural area, and that’s probably one of the things that sort of lead me to play guitar. I was into soul music from an early age, from about the age of 5.

I think one of the most important things was I first saw the film Back To The Future – that really sort of solidified my desire to want to play the guitar, and my parents got me a guitar when I was about 12, I think. And I started getting in guitar music, from Back ToThe Future I heard Van Halen, and then I got into Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles and all those kinds of bands. And then a friend lent me a Son House album on vinyl, and that was my introduction to early blues music, and that was kind of a game changer in discovering that, because this was pre-internet days. So yeah, that album really got me into blues and slide

I’ve read some of your favorite guitar players, a wide range of rock, fusion, and blues players. Could you give me a ‘top 10’ list of your favorite/influential guitar rock or blues albums?

My top 10 would probably be –
Son House – Library of Congress recordings
Zappa – Shut Up ‘N’ Play Yer guitar, box set.
Allan Holdsworth’s – Road Games
Steve Vai’s Flex-able
Queen 2
Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic
Deep Purple In Rock
Frank Zappa’s Overnight Sensation
R.L. Burnside’s A Ass Pocket of Whiskey

You’ve made a name as ‘king of the slide guitar’. Can you tell me a bit about your attraction to this style and sound?

Like I said hearing Son House when I was really young got me interested in that style of music, but i really started getting into it probably when i was about 18 or 19. A girlfriend, her dad showed me how to tune a guitar to open tunings, and sort of module tunings, and major-minor, and from that point on I just kind of started experimenting with tunings and finding my way around the fret board and obviously because it’s completely different to standard tunings, so you have to re-learn everything. It’s just kind of something that’s developed over the years,
I’ve put a lot of time into that style and found that to be one of the most natural ways for me to play. It’s just completely comfortable, and when you enjoy something, and you feel like you connect with something that’s that

You also sing – did this come about naturally or out of necessity? How do you feel about (or see yourself as) singing? Any favorite singers that either influenced you or you like in blues / blues-rock?

As far as singing goes, I enjoy singing, but it’s sort of one of those things – it’s a necessity thing. When I started going out under my own name, I just felt that it was right to not only have a voice on my guitar but to use my voice to sing. I think Elmore James was sort of one of my biggest influences

Your latest album is a great set of blues rock, and I think very accessible for those that aren’t familiar to your previous work. So, with that being said – can you give me some background on your pre-lockdown recordings? Personal favorites and highlights, successes…(?)

Background on my previous Lockdown recordings. the one I released in 2017 was called Dirt Blues Ritual, and that was maybe a bit less rock orientated, obviously still slide playing, but probably had more of a rockabilly-blues sound. It’s still identifiable with what I do now, but just the production I did was slightly different, and I was producing that stuff myself. Most of that stuff is on Bandcamp. And there’s an album I released through a Belgian label called Blues Boulevard Records; it was called Back Door HooDoo. And that was sort of a collection of material that I’d released digitally, the first album being Werewolf Etiquette, the second one being Mother Tongue and the third one being Playing with Fire – those were all released on Bandcamp. So that was like a collection of material, all the ‘best of’ from those albums, but they’re still available on Bandcamp. And like I said I was producing that stuff myself and it was sort of a free sort of time where I just learned, over the years, to record myself, and I got my home studio, so I was free to put stuff out without being self-conscious about what I was writing and just enjoying it. I think Werewolf Etiquette is one of my favorites

You made 6 (!?) albums during covid lockdown — what inspired so much writing & recording? And (again), can you give me a round-up in brief or those albums – their direction, how they varied, personal favorite tracks or highlights?

Yeah, I made 6 albums during lockdown, released that many. Well, it was actually 6 albums across that time period, one was actually released before lockdown – that was called This Raging Heart.
And then as soon as lockdown happened, I decided I wanted to record something slightly more acoustic and little more experimental, and that became the album that was called Island. And then we realized lockdown was carrying on, so I decided to release more material that was on my hard drive, because you know I’ve recorded lots of material over the years, and I archived that stuff. And then I put (out) a leftovers album called Deep Cuts, which was stuff that didn’t make it onto This Raging Heart. I put out a resonating improvisation album called Improvisations Part 1. And then I put out an instrumental album called Thunder Moon – that’s one of my favorites, because that’s non-genre specific, really. It’s all instrumental music; it shows just different aspects of my creative output that isn’t sometimes released on the official releases, you know. So that’s really why I like Thunder Moon – because it’s so free. I enjoy that one!

Did you approach your latest album any differently to your previous few albums? Any changes in writing, recording,?

Yeah, normally I take quite a while to write stuff, and I’ll make a lot of demos over a long period. The Fire Cosmic I think took probably almost a year to sort of put that together before recording it, but this one was the complete opposite where we wrote and recorded everything from scratch in just over 4 weeks. So, it was a completely different way of approaching it; it was a lot more compressed. We sort of gave ourselves a deadline, which I think really helped you know – it really drew out ideas and it got them from the initial idea to being a fully developed song very quickly, which I think really helped keep the inspired part of the song in there. And I also worked with a producer named Dave Marks who really helped with different aspects. we talked about arrangements, and sort of stylistic choices we were going to make. So that was great – working with someone like that, working with someone closely crafting an album. And like I said, when I was producing all the stuff myself, you’re doing that in isolation, in a bubble, and this was a completely different process where you’re sort of bouncing off of someone and getting things done super-quickly, you know!?

Can you give us a bit of insight (with reference to the new album’s tracks) how you come up with songs – musically and lyrically?

As far as I come up with songs, and lyrics and what-not – usually all the ideas would’ve started with an acoustic guitar or a resonator – I use a 1929 National Triolian Resonator. So, we sketch the ideas, and they would just be non-conscious stream of thought kind of whatever comes out ideas, which is how I like to work because I feel that that’s the most inspired way of getting something – because you’re not actually consciously trying to force something out, you’re just playing and seeing what happens. Let’s take an example – “Gasoline” – I just started playing a riff, which happened to be in 7/8, and I would just play that riff and see where it went, and then just sort of take different turns you know – where the chorus would go and just feel my way through those changes. And as far as lyrics go, that was the hardest part of the album because I had 10 songs to write lyrics for in a very short space of time. There were thematic ideas and narratives that I wanted to get in this time. “Navajo” is about the great walk of the native Americans in 1865, a thing sort of about loss of freedoms, and just trying to tie those 2 things together with that sort of modern loss of personal freedoms and tying it back to that narrative. And “Dark Religion” is the combination of 2 different themes – one personal of the loss of a friend who died of an overdose, all stemming back to a strict Christian upbringing, but then also wrapping that story in a narrative about a woman leaving this country in the 1800s to go to America and set up a new life and realizing that the grass isn’t greener – that kind of narrative, which is basically the same character I used a song called “Ghosts” off The Fire Cosmic and “The Line” from Dirt Blues Ritual. So, I was pleased with the lyrics on that one because they felt like little self-contained stories instead of being too abstract

There is a wide range of guitar sounds, feel, and solos on this album – can you talk a bit about the different sounds and guitars you used on this?

On this album a big part of the album was the Dobro, I’ve got a 1935 Dobro M32, so a lot of the ideas were sort of recorded on that, using a Magnatone Twilighter stereo amp, and also the National Triolian- a 1929 National Triolian, I used that one. A couple of Danelectric guitars made appearances, and an old 1962 Silvertone Jupiter. So, it was mainly vintage guitars that I was using because I think they have unique characteristics that I kind of wanted to get tonally into the tracks, so the stuff’s still quite ‘rock’ but with those kinds of nuanced sounds that has some character that you wouldn’t get with just a standard Humbucker, maybe.

Can you tell me a bit about the album’s cover art/shot? Whose idea and who put it together? (Influences in creating that look?)

On the The Fire Cosmic, the last album, I did the artwork which is kind of in a Jack Kirby comic style. And I was really pleased with that – people seemed to like it, you know. So, I thought well on this one I need to do the same sort of thing. I enjoy making the complete package – where it’s not just the music, it’s the artwork as well. When I was speaking to Dave about needing to do the artwork, we’re both comic book and Star Wars geeks, and he said to me “this album is more Tatooine than it is Jack Kirby”, and I knew exactly what he meant – the sort of browns and reds of that kind of ‘desert’ environment. So, one afternoon I just decided to get some paper, and I managed to find some sort of sandy colored textured paper and I found some charcoals and pastels. And there was a photo that my daughter took, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, and just always loved the lighting on that.
So, one of the original ideas was to use the photo and recreate that lighting, but instead I decided to have a go at charcoals and pastels, and I just worked on it, worked it up. And I was kind of pleased because it has that kind of slats of desert-y rough feel to it, texturally, and for me that seems to tie in with the music really well.

Any personal favorite tracks, solos, performances on the new album?

I really like “Dark Religion”, because that’s a style I’ve not written anything – I don’t think, in 3/4, and it has just a completely different vibe to anything I’ve done. And the solo section – I was really pleased with that, the chord progression under that kind of really octave of waves and sea which is sort of what the story’s about. And “Gasoline”, I was really pleased to get that one in there because that one’s in 7/8, and like I said before that’s something you don’t generally get in blues-rock and southern music, so it was nice to get a 7/8 in there that doesn’t throw you around and feel like jarring. And I really enjoyed the solo on “Mercy” because that’s actually not a slide solo, that’s just a standard tuning guitar solo, and I think that was just kind of nice to put it on there because it gives a different aspect, again, to just the slide thing that I’m kind of generally known for.

Have you played in North America as of yet? And when might we see you in Canada?

No – I’ve not played in North America – I’d love to. But it’s just one of those things, you know if the opportunity comes then I’ll be there like a shot because it’s somewhere … you know I’ve played in Europe, Russia, but have not been to the US or Canada yet, but I’d absolutely love to!

(*photos of Troy Redfern by Adam Kennedy)

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