Arranging an interview with Tim Rutilli, the man behind Califone, proves far from easy. Attempts to hook up with him at one of the band’s European shows, promoting the heart-breakingly beautiful album Stitches, are spurned in favour of an email interview. The email interview seems to disappear into the void, but after some gentle electronic prods a short, and perhaps sharp sounding response comes back.
How would you characterise the main differences between Stitches and your previous albums?
What do you hear in there? Do you hear the songs differently if there is a story attached to it or if you read someone else’s opinion of it? if I don’t tell you what the songs mean to me does it hinder you from finding any substance in the music?
You moved from Chicago to L.A to record Stitches. How important is geography and your environment to your songwriting, or to the recording process?
I moved from Chicago to LA 7 years ago.
The landscape always leaks in to the music whether we try to express it or not.
This is the first Califone album that I did where none of the work was done in Chicago.
It was a little different. Strange to not go back to Chicago to work on this music and strange to work without the musicians I’ve worked with for the last 10 years – but ultimately it was a good thing and added to the feeling of the album and the evolution of this project.
Do you think geography changes how you listen to music? For example, I’m listening to Stitches (the title track) right now in an office overlooking a busy built-up city square.
Maybe. There is some music that I only like to listen to in my car when I’m driving.
Old disco sounds better with the sound of the car and the road. Jazz records sound better on my home stereo.
Does songwriting get easier to you with experience?
There’s a beautiful melancholy atmosphere to many of the songs on Stitches. Songwriter Glen Hansard, talking to us, said that he tends to write songs when he needs healing. The question then is, can great art be made by happy artists?
I’m not sure about that. Everyone is different. I tend to write songs about ideas and visions and feelings that I don’t understand or can’t express in any other way. I tend to write a lot less when I’m not as confused.
There’s a great book called The Novelist’s Lexicon, where various writers are asked to sum up their work with one word. Let’s steal the concept, and ask you if you had to associate one word with your work what would it be, and why?
I don’t want to play that game.
Let’s talk about the biblical tones that run through the lyrics? Where does that come from – are you religious? The music to me evokes a big American sky, and there’s something very American about the biblical imagery as well isn’t there?
I’m not so religious but I was trying to understand my own spirituality a bit and dig into the archetypes of these bible characters. I was projecting myself and my regular human, flawed trip onto these strange characters that are thousands of years old. Wondering what makes a story last and how the images from the stories get twisted and absorbed into our own lives and personal mythologies.
Music, good and bad, gets under your skin like nothing else; If there was one song in the world you could forget, what would it be and why?
Right now it’s the Macarena. The song and dance makes me panic. Not sure I need it erased from the planet but it scares me deeply and I’m not sure why.
This changes. There are other songs but this is the last song that hurt my feelings and made me feel discomfort.
The one word that everyone seems to use with Califone is ‘experimental’. How do you feel about that? Is it a badge of honour or a weight around your neck?
I don’t really think about it. I make pop music.
If you could write/record with any musician – alive or dead – who would it be, and why?
Noise jam and tea with Stravinski sounds like it could have been something.
A visit to the gun range with Phil Spector? Hmmmm. There’s a long list. I like dead people.