an interview with Califone’s Tim Rutili, who welcomes a reissue LP today
Tim Rutili @ the IL Centennial Monument in 2011 (more by Grant MacAllister)
Longstanding experimental folk outfit Califone welcome a double LP reissue of Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People today (Tuesday, November 6) via Jealous Butcher. Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People is an expanded version of a CD of the same name. That CD collected the first two Califone EPs and features two previously unreleased songs. On this reissue, the Good Weather… songs appear on vinyl for the very first time and are backed by outtakes from the final Red Red Meat recording sessions. Purchase a copy of the reissue package via Jealous Butcher’s webstore.
We recently spoke with Califone leader Tim Rutili about the reissue, the group’s songwriting and recording processes, and what’s in store for the future.
Our chat begins below…
bvChicago: You formed Califone out of your previous outfit Red Red Meat. It started out as more or less your solo project, how did Califone become what it is today?
Tim Rutili: Wow, it has really been a long time. I would say we did whatever we needed to do; we came in and out. Making it a band was just about really enjoying working with Ben [Massarella], Brian [Deck], and Tim Hurley. I like working with people; it was good to bring them into the studio to help me finish the record (2001’s Roomsound). After that, it became a live band. And after Roomsound, we ended up bringing Jim Becker and Joe Adamik into the studio with us.
bvC: So, it sort of fell together, like a group of friends helping you out? Or was it more of a conscious decision to be a band?
Tim: Well, I don’t know if anything we did was very conscious (Laughs). It was a desire to have those guys around. We got used to working together, really enjoyed working together, and we all helped each other out on other projects as well.
bvC: What’s the songwriting process like? Does each member spearhead songs or would you say there’s one specific main songwriter in the group?
Tim: I’m the main songwriter of the group. I would say I write about 95% of the songs, and the rest come out of improvising with whoever in the studio. On the first few records, some things were just me on a guitar or a piano starting it out, then writing songs, bringing them in, recording. Other times we were in a room hitting bricks on the floor, hitting the metal radiator; it’s different.
bvC: You guys seem like you’d be a band who “jam out” ideas a lot, rather than one person presenting a fully-finished track. It feels like each member feeds off of everyone else.
Tim: Sometimes it does work that way, yeah.
bvC: With 2004’s King Heron Blues and 2009’s All My Friends Are Funeral Singers, you’ve written two “concept albums.” What is that like, working on a whole album with a specific theme in mind?
Tim: Well, it’s like having an idea that won’t go away. That idea permeates everything that you’re writing. These aren’t concept albums, like rock operas or something, they’re ideas where each song adds to a general theme.
bvC: Yeah, I’ve always found it funny that King Heron Blues is considered a “concept album.” When you think of a “concept album,” like you said, you think of these epic rock operas. I don’t see you guys like that at all (Laughs)… I don’t think that anyone does.
Tim: On that album (King Heron Blues) the songs are triggered by a reoccurring dream. I wasn’t necessarily writing about that dream, I was writing about what I thought of the images in that dream.
bvC: I’ve lived here for over two years now, and began listening to Califone way before that. When I walk around the city and listen to your music, I feel like it’s a very fitting soundtrack. Are you/have you been inspired by anything particular about the City of Chicago? I’m more or less drawing specifically from my love of 2001’s Roomsound.
Tim: Chicago’s all over that record. But it’s like the way summer smelled there, the way you get sad when winter is coming in November… real sad. It’s that super depression that happens around February, when you think that winter might never ever end. (Laughs) You know, all that stuff is in all of those records.
bvC: I’m aware that you’ve been back and forth between California and Chicago, but the group definitely began and is based in this city.
Tim: I’m exclusively in California now, but two of the guys who played on the last record are based in Chicago and one is in Indiana. I’m making a Califone record now, here.
bvC: What are your thoughts on the scene you came up in, and the current Chicago scene? Are there any new groups/solo artists that you’re especially excited about?
Tim: I don’t even know what’s happening now in the music scene anywhere. Honestly, I don’t know when the last time I went out to see a band was. I’ve just been here, working and living, making the (new) Califone record. I’ve been working with Tim Hurley, he’s actually out here staying at my house right now. The scene there was good stuff, though it was more exciting in the 90s, when we were doing Red Red Meat. I think the exciting rock scene experience comes with being in your twenties. We grew up doing that, but then all had families, so we went out a lot less.
bvC: What’s next for you folks aside from this new album? Will you be touring behind it?
Tim: Yeah, I think so! We’re going to try to tour quite a bit; that will be pretty fun. We’ll probably finish the record sometime this winter. Moving forward, I don’t think there will be much time between albums; we have enough material for three.
bvC: Oh, wow…
Tim: Yeah (Laughs), there’s a lot of stuff. I haven’t really tried too hard or even thought about making a record until probably the beginning of this past summer. It was just little ideas that were collecting over the past few years.
bvC: What has that time between albums been like? What have you been up to?
Tim: After …Funeral Singers, Ben, Joe, and Jim went and sort of joined Iron & Wine. They were touring with Sam [Beam], and I was here working on I-don’t-even-know-how-many films. It has been busy. Every time we finish a tour cycle, we’re not sure we can keep doing this; it’s tough. Yeah, so it has been busy, but it has been weird. It’s good to get back to thinking like a songwriter. Hopefully Ben, Brian, and Jim will come play on this new record if they can.
bvC: What was making the film to accompany All My Friends Are Funeral Singers like?
Tim: It was a crazy experience, but it was pretty awesome. It was really fun trying to make a film look like the way our music sounds; I think we pulled it off.
bvC: Your songs feel at least somewhat melancholy, but are presented in such an uplifting and agreeable manner. Do you feel that’s accurate, and if so, is that how you deal with their subjects?
Tim: Well… I don’t know; I think it’s different for anybody listening, you know, what they’re pulling out of it. A lot of my songs come out of depression, it’s a way of finding hope, strength, and a way to keep going. You take all of the shit that you have to deal with, and you try to make something beautiful out of it. Hopefully the people that are experiencing the things that you make can get something useful out of it as well. And it will sound like something uplifting rather than just wallowing… in shit. It’s like comedy, real dark comedy.
bvC: Why reissue 2002’s Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People now? It HAS been 10-years since it’s initial release, but I’m just wondering what has lead you to the project.
Tim: Yeah that album, which was complied from two EPs, was never released on vinyl; we LOVE records. Rob [Jones] at Jealous Butcher approached it, and we thought it was a really great idea. This is the way it was supposed to be released.
bvC: The reissue also includes some Red Red Meat outtakes. This marks the very first time the album will be available on vinyl, the debut of some old Red Red Meat tracks, and also some other previously unreleased material.
Tim: We put the Red Red Meat stuff on there because that was the last R.R.M. recording session that we did, and we ending up mining those songs to make the first few Califone records. Sometimes you write these songs and they’re not ready to be finished yet; you put down what you can and then five-years later, 10-years later, you go back. Having it on there is like showing a sketchbook or something.
bvC: I really enjoy your later material, but Roomsound was the record that grabbed me and has stuck with me; it’s a good one.
Tim: Thanks, man. That’s the one that I like the best too. That was the record where I think that we became ourselves; we found what we were doing and became a solid thing. The stuff on Good Weather… is really experimental, and a lot of it is based on chance and actions.
bvC: Do you do a lot of that, recording on-the-fly and seeing what you come up with?
Tim: Oh yeah. It’s like making a film… we record hours and hours of music and might get like 15-minutes worth of useable material. Good Weather… was a lot of home recording, learning how to use a computer for the first time. We were trying to figure out what we were doing, trying to dismantle the idea of a “rock band.”
bvC: Califone is interesting because you’re taking some of the more swampy aspects of Red Red Meat and combining that with experimental folk. It’s a great mixture of sounds.
Tim: We even used some kitchen appliances on that record (Good Weather…). We would have a 15 or 20-minute recording of banging on household objects, then make a loop of that and try to cobble it into a song. Some of it works, and some of it just doesn’t.
bvC: Yes, it’s all of the strange nuances like that, that are so enticing. I’ve found more and more “hidden sections,” I’ll call them, in your albums with each listen.
Tim: That is one of the things that I really like about what we’ve done. I think that might be why people are still interested in hearing some of the stuff. It’s music that sort of grows, and you can choose what in the mix you’d like to focus on.