Dying For Your Synths; An interview with James Raftery

Steeped in drum machines, synthesizers, loops, samples and beats along with James Raftery’s voice, his new album EVERYTHING was born on a mountaintop hideaway after a death, a move, a breakup, and a recovery.
James Raftery was known for 15 years as Rat Wakes Red, a name for his project solo and with various supporting artists and producer/arranger Jeral Benjamin. After four albums and opening for artists like Bob Mould and Hayden, he decamped from New York City to the upstate countryside. A new solitude and hard-won clarity led him to retreat to his home studio where he began work on EVERYTHING, an album that marks a new beginning and a brand new sound for an artist that had relied heavily on the acoustic.
EVERYTHING’s music was made entirely on computer and synthesizer; the only acoustic instrument is James’ voice. It was made over three years in week and month-long sessions, each song recorded as it arrived, giving it a real immediacy. Its songs are exuberant, passionate, driven, reflective and hopeful. James wrote, performed, recorded, mixed and produced while Scott Hull mastered for digital and vinyl at Masterdisk,
EVERYTHING is for anyone who loves synths and drum machines and infectious choruses. Influences include Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Giorgio Moroder, John Carpenter, Lorde, Wild Nothing, Egyptian Lover, Sufjan Stevens, School of Seven Bells and will be self released on March 24 on vinyl, CD and digital formats.

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Raftery to discuss the record, amongst other things. This is what he told us.
When did you first begin writing the material for Everything?
I started the first song in the winter of 2013 and continued through the end of January, 2016. That month I took an artist retreat for myself and worked 30 days straight on the last songs; I didn’t even open my mail. It was bliss.
This is your first release under your own name, but you’ve released numerous records under your previous moniker, Rat Wakes Red. How do you feel you’ve progressed from your debut?
Rat Wakes Red was mostly acoustic based with strings and all the albums were produced by Jeral Benjamin. I had been thinking about trying to produce myself now that I had moved so far into the country. When I sat down to start work on the new material, I wanted to approach the writing in a completely different way and with a completely different sound. I’ve loved synth since I first heard the opening beats of “I Feel Love” when I was about 10. Whereas in the past I would have the song written before I recorded it, this time I sat down with no song and no idea of what it would be. I wrote and recorded at the same time, rummaging around the giant toy box of sounds and letting the song emerge. I was often surprised at what song came out. It made for an exhilarating way to compose. Set it and forget it!
Do you feel a sense of community in the New York music scene?
Even though I am now in the country I spent 20 years in New York City being part of the music and acting scene. I have a kinship still with my friends in the city in the arts community and especially the music scene. With the internet it’s easier to be part of that community even from afar. But, I’m also finding a new community of amazing musicians who live upstate; a lot of them are ex-NYC.
Any New York artists in particular that you think have influenced your music?
Sure: Art Garfunkel, Salt-N-Pepa, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, Grandmaster Flash, Suzanne Vega, Beastie Boys, and Laurie Anderson to name a few…
We see that you’ve also done some acting, including a feature length film, opposite John Leguizamo. Are you still acting? If so, any upcoming projects you’d like to fill us in on?
I actually went to the acting department at NYU and pursued it for 10 years, but I kind of hung up my acting hat when I started writing songs at the age of 27, but it’s not to say I wouldn’t put it back on for the right project. I have definitely missed it at times over the years, but found music just so consuming and fulfilling. It felt so right. But, I’m definitely interested in doing it again someday. I really enjoyed making Night Owl. You can find the DVD on Amazon. Besides also starring Leguizamo and me, it also has Holly Woodlawn, the Warhol superstar. One thing I had always wanted to do was to star in a horror movie and as soon as I moved to the city when I was 18 I got cast in this part. It’s a fun asterisk in my life.
Any plans for a 2017 tour?
I don’t as yet. I’m trying to figure out how to translate this recording to a live show. I really only played and sang these songs once, like shooting a movie scene, so I’ve looking at this as my film as opposed to a play. But, I would love to explore that. I do miss performing.
(Visit James Raftery here: