Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Califone interview

"All My Friends Are Funeral Singers" by Califone from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.

Califone is a fantastically fascinating band based in Chicago. Leader Tim Rutili first emerged in the early '90's with Red Red Meat, an equally fascinating band who took a left turn when peers such as Smashing Pumpkins and Urge Overkill went right. Califone began in 1998 as a solo project, but quickly evolved into a powerhouse band. Rutili, who is also a filmmaker, was kind enough to discuss his music with me in advance of Califone's June 11th concert at The 930 Art Center in Germantown, which promotes their latest album, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers.

The first time I saw you was with Red Red Meat at the Middle East in Boston, probably in '93, and I can still see, in my mind, the sight of you sandwiched between two 6'7" guys. You've played to movies live, and now you're promoting a movie that goes along with your recent album. How important are visuals to you when it comes to presenting your music?
We always made visual music. Even the lyrics are usually more about images than emotions.
Playing to film has always been a great trigger for coming up with musical ideas that are a bit out of our comfort zone.
I first learned about that playing in Boxhead Ensemble and doing a tour playing live to films. Jim Becker also played in that band and we had similar experiences.
When we tried the film/music performance with Califone we found that ideas flowed a little faster and we were playing things that we wouldn't normally play. It was really fun to do. Maybe because our eyes were busy we were able to play a bit more without thinking about it too much.
With Funeral Singers, we wanted to make a song-based album but also design a film to play live to. The challenge was to make sure we were always serving the story in the film and make sure we were not being too slavish to the story on the album.
We wanted to make sure to bring the audience into the picture with us. Presenting the film with the live band is a great way to do that. It's kind of like an aural 3D movie. It seemed like making the film and presenting it this way was something we had been working toward since Califone started.

Can we expect to see your film projected at the show at the 930 Center?
The show at 930 will be just music. We've been playing to the film quite a bit and we need to play some songs again.

All My Friends is about ghosts, and different mental states. Your music also employs found voices and sounds at times. Are different mental conditions something you think about or deal with in life? How do you feel about the relationship between genius and insanity?
Genius and insanity are both probably annoying conditions. I used to think creativity came from making myself crazy and spilling my guts all over the floor. Now I know that the best ideas come when I can quiet my mind.
A lot of Funeral Singers is about this process. Letting go of all those voices, ghosts, and noises that keep us company and are familiar but also prevent us from finding some peace and joy in this world.

How do you describe your music to older relatives or new acquaintances who might not be familiar with some of your less well-known influences?

I try not to talk about it. Usually, if I have to, I just say it's a rock band - like the Beatles. I never was too good at explaining myself.

As an underground band seemingly unconcerned with pop fame, has the music industry collapse affected you?
I still love making music and I always will, but we are older and, at this point, we do what we want. I always hope people find our music and love it and give us lots of money, but I still haven't figured out exactly how to make that happen and I am trying to be OK with that.

You've played with the Louisville born-and-bred Freakwater. What's your impression of our city?
I have some great friends from Louisville but I've never really spent enough time there to explore. Can you recommend any good places to eat?

c. 2010 Velocity Weekly

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