Glorious Noise Interview
10 Questions for Califone’s Tim Rutili
By Derek Phillips
Since the early 90s, Tim Rutili has been crafting his own brand of “rustic pop.” From Red Red Meat to his current band, Califone, Rutili has developed a style of songwriting at once haunting and hummable. The following is an email interview with Rutili from the office of his own Perishable Records.
GLONO: I read a lot of critics describe Red Red Meat as “Stonesy” rock. Critics often project their own tastes and experiences into what they hear from bands (and that’s part of the job). But what do you hear when you go back and listen to those songs? What influences come across now that maybe weren’t quite as clear then or not at all clear to critics/reviewers/etc?
TIM RUTILI: I try not to think like a critic. When I hear music that we did a long time ago it sounds like 4 really creative (but extremely unfinished) people working together. Also, I can’t help hearing an enormous potential that we never came close to reaching while we were together. It’s a little frustrating… I don’t listen to that old stuff very often.
I was in a bar the other day and they were playing “..star above the manger..” and I didn’t recognize it at first. I thought it was some fucked up German music like Can or something. It was good to hear in that setting. It didn’t sound dated or anything but I don’t think I’d put it on at home…not feeling very nostalgic these days.
I remember really liking Spaceman 3 and Syd Barrett at the time. I also really liked Tricky and Massive Attack too. Always loved the Stones and early Rod Stewart and the Faces. We really wanted to sound like that but it always came out wrong, I guess.
2. How did that sound jive with Sub Pop? In the early 90s, Sub Pop became a sort of totem to Grunge and the alternative nation. How did you fit into that and what kinds of issues arose?
We didn’t really fit into anything and we didn’t worry about it. We were always about making our own world because we couldn’t find a place for ourselves in this one. But…I still love a lot of the stuff that Sub Pop was doing at the time. Especially Mudhoney. They are one of the best bands ever.
3. How is Califone connected—musically, rather than by personnel—to Red Red Meat? How is it different?
Califone is the next step after Red Red Meat. All the Califone stuff could have been Red Red Meat stuff, I guess. Maybe it feels a little less rock and a little more about songwriting and patience.
I don’t know. I never stopped. We always could do anything we felt like doing. It’s still that way. Everything always leads to right now…
4. I hear strains of Neil Young’s darker 70s music (Tonight’s the Night, Zuma, On the Beach, Time Fades Away) in Califone’s “Room Sound.” Am I just projecting or do you hear it too?
Sure. I love those records very, very much.
5. I am intrigued with music that combines folk spirit with modern, electronic sounds. What is it that we find so appealing about this music?
I have no idea what it is like for other people… We seem to just use the tools that we have at hand. I think if we only had a tin can and a 76-piece orchestra the music would still be about searching within ourselves for some sort of collective nature or source. Not a lot of thought goes into it. It is just instinctively where we end up. I look forward to seeing where it wants to go next.
6. What is the common thread that links all of Perishable’s artists? What is it they have in common?
The only rule we have is that Ben [Massarella, Perishable Records co-owner and Califone percussionist] and I both have to love the music in order to put it out.
A long time ago we got together with our friends in Rex. They were from Brooklyn and we toured together for a while. Usually at the end of the night we all piled on the stage and played together. Sometimes it was a huge mess and other times it was beautiful. We talked about recording together.
We actually got the chance to make a record for a label. We got together and wrote, recorded and mixed it in 10 long days. We called the band and record Loftus after our good friend Tim Loftus (no relation to our own Johnny Loftus—ed.).
The label didn’t know what to do with us at all and we got the record back and decided to release it on our own label and things kind of opened up from there. Every member of Loftus has given us something to put out. Orso is Phil’s [Spirito], HIM and Out in Worship is Doug’s [Scharin], Sin Ropas is Tim Hurley’s, Curtis Harvey has been working on his record for us for a while.
So Perishable started with us releasing the first Red Red Meat records and we kind of stopped the label for a while when we were working with Sub Pop and started it up again with the Loftus record. It’s still growing. I like what we do. Things have flowed along and good records have come to us in a very natural way.
7. Many labels, especially smaller ones, have a sort of sound that they seem to promote. I can hear a certain commonality between Perishable’s acts, but do you hear it? If so, is it a conscious and deliberate attempt to establish a “Perishable sound?”
It is not really a deliberate thing. We just try to do what we like. We tend to like a lot of different stuff and have many talented friends.
8. For many smaller labels and even some individual acts (Wilco, Aimee Mann, etc), the web has enabled them to connect directly with the audience. In some cases, they’ve severed ties with labels (other than for distribution) all together. Does Perishable use the web much? Any plans to expand web use as a promotional or delivery tool?
We try to have fun with our website. I am not that crazy about mp3s but they are a good promo tool. We still like packaging and we try to make our releases as handmade and as beautiful as possible. I still have fond memories of obsessing over vinyl records. I miss those days.
9. Popular music seems to operate in cycles with the focus on rhythm and beat oriented music (teen pop, R & B, etc) to more lyrically substantial songs (the recent “singer/songwriter” buzz all the industry rags yammer on about). Are we about due for a new shift? Are the bells tolling for teen pop and can we expect a renewed interest in more “serious” music?
I have no idea what’s coming next. I love a lot of silly pop music too.
10. Like what? Do you like anything particularly embarrassing to admit?
I listen to the radio when I drive…I liked Aaliyah, that dead girl. That song on the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack with Timbaland is amazing. I saw the video and went out and bought it immediately. The grooves and the production are really good. And I have quite a fascination with Britney. I watched her live in Vegas
Concert on HBO. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. They made it rain inside the Enormodome for the encore and Britney hung from wires in the eye of the storm and got soaked while singing. I loved it. I like her videos too. I got some stickers in a gumball machine with her sexy photos on them and put them all over one of my electric pianos.
I am still obsessed with the last D’Angelo record too. But that’s just really, really good music period. I have a dream of producing a hip-hop record someday. I have tons of really good ideas for it.
As far as pop music goes I don’t ever like the fake punk rock and earnest creed-like bands but I can usually find something to like in almost all hip hop or dance-oriented stuff. Even if it is just the drum loop or a vocal line or something interesting that they did with the computer… there’s nothing wrong with showbiz if it’s completely shameless. If I have to see people selling sex or selling sincerity, I will chose the sex any day of the week. In the pop music world both are masks and lies but I think the sex is much more entertaining. That’s what it’s all about.
Catch Tim Rutili with Califone tomorrow night, December 22, at the Hideout in Chicago.