When folk rock singer/songwriter Rene Duplantier moved home to southeast Louisiana from Phoenix, it gave him a new perspective on the culture he’d been raised in. “I started to really notice our region’s dependency on religion and on the oil industry,” he says. “Down here, both have a way of being good for people in the short term but quite damaging to people over time.”
That was in 2017, and it inspired him to write “Refinery,” the title track from his debut album as Slow Rosary (previously, he’s released music as Braithwaite and pope saint grandpaw). Within the first verse, oil is everywhere, anointing foreheads in churches, polluting the land, and casting an iridescent film over Duplantier’s personal life. “Moving home also brought with it the end of a short but formative romantic relationship with someone who wasn’t so bogged down by her own past experiences,” he says. “’Refinery’ came out of the confusion of trying to adopt that mindset while once again living in my hometown.”
He started recording the eight-minute epic in 2019 with collaborators Lynn Motes and Blake Robicheaux. They worked out of a cabin in Weaverville, North Carolina called The Casita–Slow Rosary being a home recording project, it continued to take shape in different places with a slew of other musicians contributing.
“After that trip, Blake jumped in on the project and became as much a part of the record as I am,” says Duplantier. “We’d record parts at our respective houses and then get together to decide what recordings made it into each song. A few days that stand out to me were the sessions where we added vocals from Kate Gauthreaux, trombones from Sean Weber, and a wild harmonica track from Brad Bartee. All of those musicians showed such great talent and attention to tone and texture.”
Arriving halfway through the tracklist, he sees the song as an inflection point for the record–it starts with a long, acoustic buildup, which is a change of pace from the first act, and its fiery bridge stands in contrast to the record’s quieter second half. In both respects, vulnerability and explosiveness, it recalls the dynamism of Bright Eyes circa LIFTED. Much to their excitement, Duplantier and Robicheaux found they could end the song with a callback to the album’s first track and first single, “Montserrat” (“We were both shocked it worked and we recorded that section right away in one take”).
It also ties back into the album’s earlier lyrical themes, but maybe, says Duplantier, more pointedly. “I consider it to be a less metaphorical restating of themes introduced in ‘Montserrat’ and ‘Before’–themes of dependency, identity, and my loss of faith. It’s funny to say, because there’s still plenty of metaphor and imagery in this song, but I do feel that the events of this song happened quite like they’re described. I mean, there’s a reference to Budweiser or ‘Bud heavy’ in here.”
For an example of where the figurative meets reality, look no further than the title of the song (and the album). There’s the literal refinery that sits within earshot of Duplantier’s parents’ house, which also adorns the album’s cover. Robicheaux himself works in the oil industry. But reliance on the processing of fossil fuel also works as a metaphor for unsustainable dynamics between two people.
“It comes from a line where I’m describing the way a relationship could have grown unhealthy through some combination of contentment and obsession. ‘We’re sleeping like children…but we think like refineries. I want you to myself, you want all of me.’ To me, the danger of refineries is that they make our day-to-day lives more simple, so it’s easy to forget that they are actively destroying our planet. Comparing that relationship to a refinery is my melodramatic way of admitting I wasn’t approaching it with a healthy point of view.”
Refinery the album will be available August 27 from onefiveone as a download or cassette (plastic being another ubiquitous form of oil). In the meantime, you can stream the title track below.