Multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer Raul Fernandez Miro, better known as Refree, keeps his ears open wide at all times. With no ulterior motive and allowing free rein to his instincts, he pushes his partners to new creative heights and starts revolutions almost by accident – in flamenco or, more recently, in fado – that he fuels on his own or in good company.
Refree on his solo project La otra mitad at the Suds festival in Arles
With ruffled hair and a shaggy beard, when Refree picks up an instrument his eyes begin to sparkle. His guitars and keyboards are the tools that provide boundless freedom and the objects of a passionate love that shifts without warning from tender caress to unbridled ardour. Refree is no respecter of conventions; instead, he contravenes them meticulously.
Between his solo albums, the artists he partners up with and his productions, his work is eclectic but always spot-on. How does he choose his collaborations? : « The control I have over my career is about knowing what I should and shouldn’t do from the many offers I get. I don’t have a strategy. I don’t take into consideration how famous the person offering me the project is. I only work on music I like. Then I ask myself how, as a listener, I’d like to hear the artist, how I imagine them in the future. That leads me to something different every time. It’s not a question of being a producer, but of being someone who loves music. »
This love dates back to his childhood: « When I was little, I could hear my mother and grandmother playing the piano from my bedroom. Whenever I heard the music, I would get very emotional. I started playing the piano when I was five or six and have never stopped. » Things soon got spiced up: « When I was seven or eight, I had a friend whose father had a big collection of classic rock records and older brothers who listened to bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses, whose first album was very important to me. »
He was bored at the conservatory, preferring to compose his own pieces rather than decipher scores. As a teenager he began to set his course towards a jazz education and swapped the piano for the guitar. At fifteen, he formed his first group and at seventeen he joined the hardcore pop group Corn Flakes. He toured throughout Spain, performing in well-known venues, learning a lot and enjoying group life, but after a while, he began to feel as if he was going around in circles.
« The way I understand music isn’t always the same. I need to experiment with different combinations of musicians, different ideas. »
Under the name Refree, he began a career in the independent Spanish scene, playing more and more concerts, producing extraordinary records and attracting the attention of flamenco artists: « The popular music I could hear in the street or at parties had a big effect on me, but I didn’t find flamenco all that interesting to start with. But then flamenco came to me and I’m delighted that it did! »
Silvia Pérez Cruz & Refree Vestida de nit
n 2005, while looking for a voice for a song project about exile, a friend introduced him to Sílvia Pérez Cruz. They collaborated and became friends. Refree produced her all-female flamenco group Las Migas, then her first solo album 11 de Novembre (2011), which introduced Sílvia Pérez Cruz to the general public. After the album tour, they played some concerts together. He remembers: « It was very intense, something happened, the audience was really enthusiastic. So, we decided to record Granada (2014) as a duo. »
Refree & Rocio Marquez Cuando salga el sol bo entra dos aguas “La otra mitad”
Meanwhile, Refree met Sonic Youth co-founder Lee Ranaldo, with whom he began a long-term collaboration. He was also asked to produce the brilliant and innovative flamenco singer Rocío Márquez : « I saw her in Paris at the New Morning. She was incredible so I did the experimental part of El Nino (2014) and mixed the whole thing. » In 2016, Rocío called on him for her next record Firmamento. He also worked with the iconoclast and radical cantaor Nino de Elche, for whom he produced the breath-taking Antología del Cante Flamenco Heterodoxo (2018).
Rosalia & Refree Los Ángeles
The same journalist that introduced him to Sílvia urged him to meet a brilliant emerging young singer Rosalía. For six months, they saw each other every week, just to listen to music, watch videos and chat, without playing a note. One day she challenged him to take to the stage with her at a small flamenco club. He was reluctant but the trial run was so conclusive they decided to record an album together Los Angeles (2017), the future global star’s first step as a recording artist.
Lina & Refree Gaivota
The next episode takes place in Lisbon. Refree was asked to work with a young singer who, after two classic fado records under the name Carolina, wanted to make her sound more personal and reclaim her real name, Lina. He agreed, asked for carte blanche and got it. Their joint album was based on the repertoire of the Portuguese icon Amália Rodrigues. He prefers the use of keyboards to the traditional fado instruments of guitar, Portuguese guitar and double bass. A heretical approach that Refree feared would cause a scandal: « I thought the world of fado would react like that of flamenco, which criticised me a lot. But everyone said great things about the record.»
Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree Alice
As with his latest album recorded with Lee Ranaldo (Names of North End Women), his association with Lina involves him as an artist. His name appears alongside theirs and Refree takes part in all the promotional concerts. Despite this, the inexhaustible Refree continues to bring his unique touch to a multitude of pop, rock and folk projects, and his gift for revolutionising traditions has struck again alongside the Asturian queer singer Rodrigo Cuevas on the excellent Manual de Cortejo.
Rodrigo Cuevas & Refree Muiñeira para a filla da bruxa
His musical imagination is eclectic but as far as he’s concerned everything fits together:
Son imaginaire sonore est très ouvert, mais pour lui tout se tient : « I see all the projects I’m involved in as stages in my life, in my artistic career, and I learn from each stage. I don’t really separate my own records from other productions. I put all my energy into every single one. » And this incandescent energy ignites every single one of his projects.
Lina & Refree are playing at the Fondation Cartier on the 10th & 11th of September
Refree’s website : www.raulrefree.com